Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 25, 1997


The State Duma has voted 253 to 14 to pass a resolution calling for all state authorities and public organizations to hold a "day of protest against NATO expansion" on 9 May, the anniversary of the World War II victory in Europe, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. The resolution describes NATO expansion as "the greatest military threat to our country over the last 50 years." In a separate resolution, the Duma called on legislators in NATO countries to take steps to prevent Europe from "slipping toward a new confrontation." U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are to travel to Moscow next week for talks with Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov over a proposed Russia-NATO charter. Primakov is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana on 6 May.


Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin says IMF and Russian officials have agreed on Russia's economic program for 1997, ITAR- TASS reports today. An accord must be signed before the IMF's board of directors decides whether to issue further disbursements of a $10 billion three-year loan to Russia. ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April that the government plans to borrow $9.8 billion from abroad this year, including $3.65 billion in IMF credits, $2.95 billion in Eurobonds, and $1.5 billion in direct loans from foreign governments. Russia also plans to extend about $400 million in foreign credits this year, more than half of which will go to Bulgaria and India.


A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax yesterday that military flights over Chechnya will continue, despite Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov's 23 April statement that aircraft violating Chechen airspace will be shot down. State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev termed the threat "absolute rubbish." Nezavisimaya gazeta today quotes an air force spokesman as claiming that the Chechen authorities do not wish to be hindered in the large-scale air transport of drugs and arms from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Cyprus. Meanwhile, a Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that Russia will take "appropriate measures" against any countries that establish ties with Chechnya beyond "economic, humanitarian, and cultural contacts," Interfax reported yesterday.


The Polish Justice Ministry has received a formal request from the Russian Procurator-General's Office to extradite former presidential adviser Sergei Stankevich, ITAR-TASS reports today. Stankevich is accused of taking a $10,000 bribe in 1992 and could face up to 10 years in prison (see RFE/RL Newsline, 21 and 22 April 1997). The extradition process could take months. Izvestiya reported on 23 April that Stankevich told a Polish court he believes he will be killed if he is returned to Russia.


Russian and U.S negotiators issued a statement yesterday saying "considerable progress" has been made in talks over some 250 jewels, paintings, and other artifacts from the Romanov dynasty that are currently in the U.S., Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Russia is demanding the immediate return of the collection, claiming the U.S. organizers of a Romanov exhibition violated their contractual obligations and put the security of the treasures at risk. Deputy Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi and ITAR-TASS director- general Vitalii Ignatenko flew to Washington this week to lead the negotiations. Many of the exhibits were moved to the Russian embassy on 23 April after two embassy cars had blocked the truck carrying the treasures for several days (see RFE/RL Newsline, 21 April 1997). The rest of the collection is reportedly being stored in Washington's Corcoran Art Gallery.


A resolution declaring First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais unfit for office gained 203 votes in the Duma- -23 short of the majority required for passage, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. The resolution was proposed by Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin of the Communist Party and Viktor Rozhkov of the Russian Regions faction. It referred to the campaign finance scandal in which two Chubais associates were caught carrying more than $500,000 out of government headquarters last June. The Procurator-General's Office recently dropped the criminal investigation of that case. Earlier this year, the Duma passed resolutions accusing Chubais of not paying his 1996 taxes on time and calling his appointment to the government a "direct challenge to Russian public opinion."


The Duma has asked the Procurator-General's Office to request again that the Federation Council lift the immunity of Yurii Kravtsov, the chairman of the St. Petersburg legislature, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Kravtsov has been accused of misappropriating 350 million rubles ($61,000) in state funds. The upper house refused to lift his immunity from criminal prosecution last November. The Duma yesterday also instructed the state's Audit Chamber to examine the activities of the Ulyanovsk Oblast administration. Deputies cited allegations of corruption and misuse of federal funds in Ulyanovsk.


The Primorskii Krai Duma has extended its term until the end of this year, defying a recent Supreme Court decision, ITAR-TASS reports today. The legislature's term expired last December, but deputies voted to extend their mandates for one year rather than call new elections. The Supreme Court on 22 April approved an earlier ruling by a Primorskii Krai court saying the deputies lacked the authority to extend their term. The krai Duma is dominated by supporters of Primore governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who has repeatedly clashed with Viktor Cherepkov, the mayor of the krai's capital, Vladivostok.


The Central Bank has lowered its annual refinancing rate from 42% to 36% as of 28 April, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. It is the second reduction this year and the seventh since February 1996, when the refinancing rate was 160%. Some observers believe the bank should lower the rate even further to stimulate investment. The State Statistics Committee has estimated inflation at 21.8% for 1996 and 5.3% for the first quarter of 1997. The government has set a goal of 12% annual inflation for 1997.


Danish Foreign Minister and OSCE chairman Niels Helveg Petersen said yesterday that the organization has suspended its regular monitoring of the front-line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, in southern Azerbaijan, RFE/RL reported. The decision was prompted by an incident on 15 April when the car transporting an OSCE monitor was fired on near the Azerbaijani town of Horadiz. Also yesterday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov expressed concern at cease-fire violations over the past three weeks, according to Interfax. The Armenian and Azerbaijani Defense Ministries each accused the opposing side of opening fire on enemy positions.


Gocha Tediashvili, a member of the banned paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, told the Georgian Supreme Court on 23 April that he was involved in the murders of three prominent Georgian political figures, Interfax reported yesterday. Tediashvili confessed to having taken part in the 1994 killings of Deputy Interior Minister Giorgi Gulua, Shevardnadze Fund President Soliko Khabeishvili, and Georgian National Democratic Party leader Gia Chanturia.


Tens of thousands of Armenians gathered yesterday at the Yerevan monument to the Armenians massacred in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Russian and Western agencies reported. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Catholicos Garegin I, former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and a visiting Syrian official were among those who paid tribute.


President Islam Karimov told the parliament yesterday to have "more courage" in reporting human rights violations, Interfax reported. Karimov said there are numerous cases of officials violating those rights and requested information on the identity of such officials. Meanwhile on 23 April, an Uzbek court summoned Abid Khan Nazarov to arraign him on charges of slander and inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred, Reuters and RFE/RL's Uzbek service reported. Nazarov was dismissed as mullah at Tashkent's Tokhtoboy mosque and medressa in 1995 and then evicted from his flat. He filed suit against the government when he did not receive a promised new apartment. Earlier this month, 300 people gathered to demonstrate solidarity with Nazarov outside a court at which the mullah's case against the government was being heard


Human rights activists and journalists from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan are requesting more information on the disappearance of Sergei Skorokhodov, who writes for the Kazak newspaper Ekonomika Sevodnya, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. On 21 April, libel proceedings were launched against Skorokhodov in connection with an interview he had conducted with an opposition figure. The next day, Skorokhodov left Almaty by car to attend a "Journalists and Rights" conference in Bishkek but disappeared somewhere between the Kazak and Kyrgyz capitals. He remains missing.


Vaclav Havel told the Bundestag yesterday that "just as today's Germany cannot bring back to life the tens of thousands of Czech victims of Nazism..., neither can today's Czech Republic give back homes to the [Sudeten] Germans who were driven out of the country" after World War II. Havel also argued that the concept of the "nation state" has outlived itself. Earlier this year, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus signed a joint declaration in which both countries expressed regret for the past injustices. German President Roman Herzog is due to address the Czech parliament on 29 April. Meanwhile, groups representing Czech Jews who survived Nazi concentration camps yesterday called on the German government and parliament to compensate Czech victims of Nazism.


Pope John Paul II today begins a visit to the Czech Republic to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the death of St. Adalbert, Czech media reported. The pope is due to meet with President Vaclav Havel tomorrow before celebrating mass in Hradec Kralove to mark the death of the Czech saint, who brought Christianity to Poland and who was the first bishop of Czech origin. The pontiff will also hold an open-air mass in Prague on 27 April. Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev arrives in Prague today to attend the funeral of his friend Zdenek Mlynar, who was one of the leaders of the 1968 Prague Spring reforms. Gorbachev will also meet with President Havel, CTK reported.


Ukraine and the Group of Seven major industrial nations have agreed on a plan to stabilize the sarcophagus encasing the reactor at Chornobyl that caused the world's worst nuclear accident 11 years ago. Ukrainian Environment Minister Yuri Kostenko and Carol Kessler, a representative of the G-7, said in Kyiv yesterday that the plan will run through the year 2005 and could cost up to $780 million. A new shell is be built around the cracked sarcophagus, while the corroded and broken parts of the present containment structure are to be removed.


Russia's Black Sea fleet is concluding10-day exercises today with a major landing operation involving 5,000 men and 500 pieces of military hardware, Interfax reported. Ukrainian ships and aircraft are also taking part. Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have worsened because Russia wants to make the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol the base of its Black Sea Fleet.


The Estonian parliament yesterday amended the 1991 land reform law to grant Churches the right to buy land at prices lower than the market price, RFE/RL's Estonian service reported. Under the amended law, both Churches and student organizations are exempted from restitution costs (of delimiting and measuring the land returned to them, for example). Previously, only private individuals did not have to those costs. The latest amendments are seen as simplifying the restitution process for Churches and organizations and as speeding up land reform, which has been criticized as sluggish.


The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Lithuania is more dependent on nuclear energy than any other country in the world, dpa reported yesterday. A new IAEA study says that more than 83% of Lithuania's electricity supply last year was generated by the Ignalina nuclear power plant. France is the second most nuclear-dependent country, with 77% of its 1996 energy derived from nuclear power. The Ignalina reactor, which also exports electricity to Belarus and Latvia, has long been criticized in Western Europe for its obsolete design and insufficient security procedures. The EU has hinted that Lithuania's reliance on Chornobyl-type reactors could hinder its bid for union membership.


Lithuania's parliament yesterday sent an appeal to NATO urging the alliance to include at least one Baltic state in the first wave of enlargement, BNS and Reuters reported. The appeal said that Lithuania is convinced the Baltic States' progress toward democracy and stability would be threatened if they were left out of NATO. Eighty-six of the 87 deputies present in the 138- seat house approved the appeal. The U.S. has repeatedly reassured the Baltic States that they will not be left in a security gray zone and that NATO entry remains open for those not included in the first wave.


Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz has criticized the EU for alleged protectionism following a row between Poland and Spain over citrus fruit, Reuters reported. Spain has insisted that Poland scrap its 22% value-added tax on imported citrus fruits, while Poland argues that if it abolishes the tax, it will lose some 200 million zlotys ($65 million) in revenues. Cimoszewicz told the news agency that Poland has opened up many areas to competition from EU countries, even though its economy is much weaker. He noted that some of those moves have not been reciprocated and that the EU's advantage in trade relations is highlighted by Warsaw's large trade deficit with EU countries, which accounted for 60% of its total shortfall in 1996 of $8.2 billion.


Michal Kovac yesterday accused the government of undermining confidence in the rule of law by postponing a referendum on whether the public or the parliament should elect the president. Earlier this week, the government ordered that preparations for the 23 May plebiscite be suspended, saying the Constitutional Court must first rule whether the constitution can be changed by a referendum. Premier Vladimir Meciar said on Slovak TV on 23 April that the basic law can be changed only by the parliament.


Ivan Mjartan, who was recalled to Bratislava for "consultations" two weeks ago, will return to Prague "in a relatively short time," Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Josef Sestak told CTK yesterday. He said Mjartan will go back to the Czech capital tasked with taking "diplomatic-political steps" aimed at resolving problems in Czech-Slovak relations. Mjartan was recalled after Czech President Vaclav Havel gave an interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro in which he described Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar as "paranoid" in his position on NATO expansion. The Slovak government has demanded an apology and demanded that the Czech Republic return some 4.5 tons of Slovak gold.


Zoltan Hodaszi, who chairs a panel screening judges, says several deputies are suspected of having worked as secret agents, Hungarian media reported yesterday. Two committees are currently examining the records of some 600 officials to establish whether any were employees of the III/III counter-intelligence department of the communist-era Interior Ministry, whether they collaborated in the hunting down of insurgents in the 1956 uprising, or whether they had links with the pre-communist Arrow Cross fascist party. Hodaszi did not specify for whom the suspected deputies are supposed to have worked. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist Party leadership has said that Istvan Nikolitis, minister without portfolio overseeing the civilian services, bears no political responsibility for the way "Operation Birch Tree" has been handled (see RFE/RL Newsline, 18 and 22 April 1997).


Leka Zogu spent only 20 minutes in the turbulent southern port of Vlora yesterday, leaving after chants from the crowd of up to 5,000 people switched from "Long live the king" to "Down with Berisha" and "We want our money back." Bystanders told reporters that Leka should run for parliament if he wants to have a role in Albanian public life. Before his departure, Leka laid a wreath in honor of independence leader Ismail Qemali. Also in Vlora, an additional 150 Italian soldiers arrived as part of the multinational force to ensure the delivery of aid shipments.


Slovenian Defense Minister Tit Turnsek announced in Ljubljana yesterday that his country will soon send a specialized medical unit of 20 soldiers to Albania. Slovenia has told NATO that the Alpine republic can make a valuable contribution to the alliance because it is able to offer trained specialists for specific projects. Meanwhile, the official news agency ATA reports that primary and secondary schools in the capital will reopen on 29 April with armed guards on duty. Schools across the country have been shut since 2 March, but it is unclear when those outside Tirana will reopen.


Representatives of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) met in Pale yesterday to discuss refugee return and the administration of localities divided by the inter-entity border, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. The SDS and HDZ expressed dissatisfaction with the composition of the joint Bosnian diplomatic service, saying that the Muslims hold an unfair number of key jobs. Next week, HDZ and SDS representatives will meet in Banja Luka to discuss the possible revision of borders between Croat- and Serb-held areas, which the Dayton treaty allows by mutual agreement.


A court in Zvornik yesterday sentenced three Muslims to 21 years in prison for the murder of four Serbs and for carrying illegal weapons. The other four accused Muslims got one year each on the weapons charge. Since they have all spent 12 months in prison already, the three men will serve 20 years each and the other four will go free. The international community has widely slammed the trial as unfair. Meanwhile in Brcko, the international community's administrator Robert Farrand announced a plan for refugees to come back to that strategic Serb-held town. It is unclear, however, who will enforce the procedure or what will happen if one side balks. Refugees enjoy the right to go home under the Dayton agreement, but that provision has remained a dead letter.


SFOR announced in Sarajevo yesterday that international commercial air traffic over Bosnia-Herzegovina has restarted after a five-year hiatus. A NATO spokesman said that air corridors at altitudes higher than 10,000 meters have been reopened for civilian aircraft. He said SFOR will continue to control the overall airspace above Bosnia-Herzegovina, while air traffic control in Zagreb and Belgrade will guide the aircraft onto established routes. SFOR gave no date for normalizing civilian air traffic within Bosnia and for reopening the airports in Mostar, Tuzla, and Banja Luka for civilian use.


Election officials in Zagreb said yesterday that final returns show the HDZ won 42 out of 63 elected seats in the upper house of the parliament. The Croatian Social and Liberal Party follows with 11 seats, while the remaining 10 are claimed by other opposition parties. Also in Zagreb, Development Minister Jure Radic unveiled a plan to enable 40,000 refugees to go back to their original homes across Croatia, regardless of the refugees' nationality. The authorities will provide temporary housing for those whose old homes were destroyed or occupied during the war. Non- citizens will not be allowed to keep the homes they have taken, however. Meanwhile in Zadar, a court has sentenced in absentia Yugoslav Gen. Momcilo Perisic to 20 years in prison for his role in deliberately shelling civilian targets there in 1991.


The steering committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) met in Belgrade yesterday to reorganize the SPS leadership in time for the Serbian elections due later this year. Prominent hard-liners returned to several key posts after having been out of the political limelight for some time, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. Meanwhile, Nasa Borba today reports the results of a poll showing that the Zajedno coalition is the country's most popular political formation. It would take 22% of the vote, compared with 15% for the SPS and 13% for the Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj. Some 31% of the respondents were undecided.


Petar Stoyanov says his country must sign the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, BTA reported. Stoyanov told reporters on returning from Strasbourg on 23 April that the Council of Europe is now looking with "new eyes at Bulgaria's new face" and that the Bulgarians deserve this respect because of the reform steps taken in recent months. Some political forces in Sofia have expressed concern that the convention would enable Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish minority to declare autonomy. Stoyanov's 23 April statement is the strongest sign to date that Bulgaria will sign the convention.


Virgil Magureanu submitted his resignation to President Emil Constantinescu yesterday, RFE/RL reported. The controversial chief of the Intelligence Service (SRI) had headed that body since it was established in March 1990. Next week, he is scheduled to present to the parliament a report on the SRI's activities last year. Recently, he has been the target of numerous attacks by Romanian journalists as well as by Romanian exiles. Former communist spy Ion Mihai Pacepa, who defected to the U.S. in the early 1980s, wrote in The Washington Times last week that Magureanu's presence at the head of the SRI hinders Romania's entry into NATO. In late 1995, Magureanu admitted to having been a captain in the Securitate, the communist secret police.


Adrian Severin said at the end of his four-day visit to the U.S. that Romania is waiting for Washington to decide on "a clear strategy" for NATO expansion. In an interview with RFE/RL Romanian service's yesterday, Severin said his country will "not abandon" its efforts to be admitted if it is not nominated at the NATO's July summit in Madrid because "this is our historical chance." But he noted that the decision not to include Romania in the first wave would have a negative impact on joint security structures that Romania has established or is about to establish with its neighbors. Also yesterday, the parliament unanimously passed a resolution appealing to all NATO members to support Bucharest's bid.


The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly yesterday announced it will cease special monitoring of Romania's commitment to respect human rights. Romania undertook to honor those rights when it was admitted to the council in October 1993. The assembly said Romania has "honored the most important obligations" but noted special monitoring will resume if Bucharest fails to keep its pledges. It also said Romania must still amend its penal code and other legislation to confirm with the European Convention on Human Rights. The assembly urged Bucharest to take "resolute action" to combat racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, particularly toward the Roma population. Romania will now be subject to the regular monitoring that applies to all 40 countries.


A group of deputies from the opposition Party of Revival and Accord in Moldova (PRAM) says the decision by 57 deputies from the ruling party and its allies to back Russian-Belarusian union is a "denial of independence and democracy," Infotag reported on 22 April. The 57 deputies issued a statement the previous day saying the union was proof of "current international integration tendencies" and set a positive example "for the further integration of the CIS." The PRAM deputies argue that the statement is "a cynical betrayal" of the signatories' "own nation" and demonstrates that the ruling party and its allies are striving to "turn the Republic of Moldova into a new colony."

Undermining Russian Federalism

by Paul Goble

Western pressure on Russia to improve the collection of taxes as a precondition for future IMF loans is likely to spark new conflicts between Moscow and Russia's far-flung regions. That is because many of those regions have not been paying what they owe, and any efforts to force them to do so now will antagonize regional elites and prompt some to demand greater autonomy. Such demands could quickly escalate beyond the capacity of the central state apparatus to control.

That potentially explosive cycle was set in motion earlier this week when IMF representatives told Russian officials that Moscow must reduce the country's budget deficit by improving and enforcing the tax code. As in the past, the IMF is focusing on the tax privileges that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has extended to certain large enterprises, such as LUKoil and Gazprom. The Western financial organization has demanded that all firms pay the Russian government what they owe.

But Russian officials have responded that an even greater source of the tax collection shortfall may be the special relations that Yeltsin has forged with 26 of the country's 89 regions. Drawn up to calm regional protests and to win Yeltsin political support at key moments in the past, those special accords have given the signatory regions various tax breaks and in some cases even allowed them to withhold funds entirely legally. The tax breaks Yeltsin gave to Tatarstan and Sakha sparked public outrage, but the special favors he has extended--generally in secret--to other regions may be even more advantageous.

Along with the general collapse of the country's tax system, the special accords have meant that only eight of the country's regions now pay more to the center than they receive. In 1994, there were 25 such regions. If Moscow attempts to reverse this situation and to collect taxes in a universal and fair way, the tax problem is likely to become a political problem as well.

Over the last several years, the central government has tried to force the regions to pay what they owe by withholding governments payments to regions that do not contribute their fair share. But instead of improving tax collection, that policy has only led to ever more regions withholding taxes from the center.

Consequently, an IMF-inspired campaign by the central authorities to collect more taxes from the regions is almost certain to backfire if it is implemented quickly. Those regions that have special agreements will view such efforts as yet another example of Moscow's failing to keep its promises. Those that do not have such accords will undoubtedly begin to demand them--to the extent that the Russian government will be forced to acknowledge the details of the current accords and will then be seen to have acted in bad faith by having extended privileges only to some regions. In both cases, such attitudes about taxes are likely to spill over into attitudes about relations between the center and the country's regions.

Yeltsin has worked hard to buy off the regions and to prevent further decay of central authority, but if he now tries to reassert the power of the center in the area of taxes, he will likely find that he has lost much of what he gained. That is not to say that a tougher approach toward the collection of taxes will spark a new drive for secession. But it is conceivable that the IMF, in its efforts to improve Russian tax collections, may undermine Russia's first tentative moves toward federalism.