YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV SPEAK OUT AGAINST NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS
President Boris Yeltsin says that NATO would "fully undermine" its relations with Russia if it expanded to include former Soviet republics, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Before departing for Paris to sign the Russia-NATO Founding Act, Yeltsin restated Russia's continuing opposition to NATO enlargement. He told ITAR-TASS that he hoped a "dialogue" with the Baltic States and other countries would persuade them that joining NATO would not improve their security. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists on 24 May that Russia remains "categorically against" NATO expansion to include former Soviet republics. He expressed concern that military infrastructure built in former Soviet republics could be used against Russia. However, Primakov stressed that Russia would not intervene militarily, "as in Czechoslovakia in 1968," in response to NATO expansion. Primakov also ruled out eventual Russian membership in NATO.
DUMA SAYS RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD SHOULD BE BINDING
The State Duma on 23 May passed a resolution declaring that the Russia-NATO Founding Act should be binding, Russian news agencies reported. The resolution also called on the president and government to develop a national security program. The resolution said Russia must take steps to prevent NATO's military forces from advancing closer to Russia's borders, lest the Founding Act be interpreted as a sign of Russia's "consent" to NATO enlargement.
PRIMAKOV ON FIRST-STRIKE POLICY
Appearing on Russian TV on 24 May, Primakov confirmed that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first if it faced conventional attack. He noted that Russia is reducing its conventional forces and might not be able to repel aggression. However, Primakov stressed that Russia's security doctrine does not allow the possibility of launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Primakov's comments echo recent statements by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and his deputy, Boris Berezovskii. They have said Russia would use nuclear weapons first if it were "driven into a corner" and had no other option.
RODIONOV BLAMES DEFENSE COUNCIL FOR HIS DISMISSAL
Former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told Russian Public TV (ORT) on 24 May that he was sacked because his planned report on military reform did not suit people "in the president's entourage." Rodionov was not allowed to deliver his report at the 22 May Defense Council meeting, at which he was sacked. He told ORT that his report recommended that there be no "additional structure"--by which he meant the Defense Council--between the president and the Defense Ministry. Rodionov welcomed the creation of the Defense Council last July, but he and its secretary, Yurii Baturin, have since been at odds over military reform plans. Baturin told the same ORT program that Rodionov angered Yeltsin at the 22 May meeting by insisting that he and Army Gen. Viktor Samsonov, then head of the General Staff, needed an hour to deliver their reports.
MEDIA REACTION TO RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN CHARTER
The Russian-Belarusian charter signed on 23 May will please neither ardent supporters nor opponents of Russian-Belarusian union, Izvestiya argued on 24 May. Among other things, the charter foresees establishing common citizenship and coordinating foreign and security policies. However, Izvestiya argued that it does little to advance the economic integration of the two countries. According to Reuters, the "basic principles and main obligations" of participants as stated in the charter include ensuring press freedoms, guaranteeing free activities for political parties and opposition organizations, and the inviolability of private property. Nezavisimaya gazeta suggested on 23 May that the presidential administration may seek to change the Russian constitution in light of the charter. The current constitution limits the president to two terms in office, but the paper said Yeltsin may seek to campaign for the presidency of the Russian-Belarusian union in the year 2000.
PRIMAKOV SAYS NO NUKES ON BELARUSIAN TERRITORY IN PEACETIME
Russian Foreign Minister Primakov says that despite plans to coordinate Russian and Belarusian security policies, "nuclear weapons will never and under no circumstances appear on the territory of Belarus" in peacetime, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 May. Primakov noted that Belarus has declared itself a non-nuclear state, which is unchanged by the signing of the Russian-Belarusian charter.
DUMA DENOUNCES GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE
The Duma on 23 May adopted the final version of a resolution declaring the government's economic performance during the first quarter of 1997 unsatisfactory, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Deputies passed a preliminary version on 21 May. Two proposed additions to the resolution backed by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov failed to pass. One of the motions, billed as a "vote of no confidence" in the president, would have blamed Yeltsin's policies for the government's "non-execution of the federal budget." However it gained only 204 votes, 22 short of a majority, Interfax reported. The second Communist-backed motion would have urged Yeltsin to reshuffle the cabinet and form "a government of truly national interests." It was supported by 206 deputies.
DUMA OVERRIDES VETO OF LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCEDURE
The Duma voted by 312 to 29 with four abstentions to override Yeltsin's veto of a law outlining the procedural details for adopting constitutional amendments, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Deputies had failed to override that veto last month. Yeltsin's representative in the parliament, Aleksandr Kotenkov, said the president might appeal the law to the Constitutional Court. Kotenkov also noted that only 179 Duma deputies were present in the chamber at the time of voting, which, he said, was unacceptable for a constitutional law. Proxy voting, whereby deputies cast ballots on behalf of colleagues in the same faction, is a common practice in the Duma. Constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of Duma deputies, three-fourths of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in two-thirds of Russia's 89 regions.
YELTSIN RESTRUCTURES FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE...
Yeltsin issued a decree on 22 May restructuring the Federal Security Service (FSB), ITAR-TASS reported on 24 May, citing Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the FSB's public relations center. Zdanovich said the decree did not grant the FSB any new powers or functions but would combine FSB sections that have common functions into new departments. The decree also says current FSB staff should not be removed, Zdanovich noted. Citing unnamed sources, ITAR-TASS said the FSB leadership welcomed the new presidential decree.
...ELIMINATES EIGHT PRESIDENTIAL COUNCILS
Yeltsin has also issued a decree dissolving eight presidential councils, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 May. The bodies to be eliminated include several advisory councils on legal and political questions, the Council of Heads of Administration (which was comprised of oblast and krai governors and republican presidents), the Council on Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Cossack Affairs, and the Council on the Russian Language.
RUSSIA RECEIVES IMF LOAN TRANCHE
Russia has received a $697 million quarterly installment of the IMF's three-year, $10.1 billion loan, a Central Bank official told Interfax on 23 May. It was the first disbursement of the IMF loan since February (see RFE/RL Newsline, 19 May 1997). Before the next quarterly disbursement will be released, an IMF mission will come to Moscow to determine whether Russia is sticking to its economic targets for the second quarter of 1997.
CIS STATES' DEBTS TO RUSSIA
CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev has proposed that Russia stop restructuring the debts of other former Soviet republics which currently amount to $6 billion, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta on 23 May. This sum is half what the Russian government owes in pensions and other benefits. The main debtors are Ukraine, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia. Tuleev advocated strict sanctions, including appropriating industrial enterprises or cutting off energy supplies, to CIS member states that are unable to repay their debts to Russia.
RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS ON NEW FOOTING
During Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda's visit to Moscow on 23-24 May, the two sides agreed to open Japanese and Russian consulates in Sakhalin Oblast and Hakodate, respectively, Russian media reported. Previously, Japan had expressed its support for Russia's entry into the G-7 (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 May 1997). Russia, for its part, invited Japan to participate in offshore oil and gas projects near Sakhalin. But a Russian proposal to grant Japan fishing rights in the waters around the Kuril Islands was rejected, with the Japanese side saying that acceptance of the proposal would be tantamount to recognizing Russia's claim to the islands. The former Soviet Union occupied the four islands at the end of World War II. Talks on the islands are expected to continue when Boris Nemtsov, Russian first deputy prime minister and co-chairman of the intergovernmental Russian-Japanese commission on trade and economic cooperation, visits Japan on 9-10 June.
RUSSIA, CHECHNYA SIGN AGREEMENT ON OIL TRANSIT
The Russian Fuel and Oil Ministry and the Chechen national oil company Yunko signed a cooperation agreement on 23 May whereby Grozny undertakes to "service and safeguard the oil and gasoline pipelines crossing Chechnya," Russian agencies reported. A separate agreement will be signed on reconstruction of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline, which is estimated to cost $1.2 million. Reconstruction is expected to be completed by October, which may delay yet again the export via this pipeline of the first "early" oil from Azerbaijan's Chirag field. Those exports are scheduled to begin on 28 August.
CHECHEN PRESIDENT OFFERS REWARD FOR RELEASE OF ABDUCTED JOURNALISTS
On 24 May, Aslan Maskhadov again offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the safe release of journalists from the Russian media who have been abducted in Chechnya in recent months, Interfax reported. Speaking on local television the same day, Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev called on the abductors to release the journalists immediately in order to avoid incurring the death penalty. Makhashev said the Chechen leadership does not have "authentic information" about the journalists' whereabouts, but security service chief Luchi Khultygov told ITAR-TASS on 25 May that he has "trustworthy information for optimistic forecasts."
SOLZHENITSYN RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL
Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has been released from Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Solzhenitsyn spent about two weeks in the hospital, where he was treated for heart problems.
TALIBAN TAKES NORTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCES
Aided by mutineers, Afghanistan's Taliban movement on 24-25 May overran the northern provinces, which previously were under the control of General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The Taliban now control some 80-90% of the country's territory. Their success prompted a quick response from neighboring countries. Uzbekistan reinforced its borders with Afghanistan, and Tajikistan said it would do the same. Kyrgyzstan sent more troops to its southern border with Tajikistan, fearing that refugees fleeing the fighting may travel north along the Khorog-Osh highway. Russian Foreign Minister Primakov said on 24 May that any incursion by Taliban forces into CIS territory would prompt "very tough and effective measures." The same day, Russia evacuated its consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, where Dostum's headquarters were located. Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani has reportedly fled to Tajikistan. And on 25 May, Pakistan became the first state to officially recognize the Taliban government.
ABKHAZIA IMPOSES CURFEW
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba has issued a decree imposing a curfew between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., ITAR-TASS reported on 25 May. The restrictions were said to be necessary to prevent further violent clashes between rival clans and political groups but not to preclude terrorist activities. Ardzinba has repeatedly accused Georgian refugees from Abkhazia of perpetrating terrorist activities in southern Abkhazia with the support of the Georgian security services.
GEORGIAN PREMIER IN TASHKENT
Niko Lekishvili held talks in the Uzbek capital on 23 May with President Islam Karimov and other officials on cooperation in transport, communications, and trade, Russian agencies reported. Karimov expressed interest in the TRASECA transport corridor, which will facilitate the export of Uzbek goods from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti. Georgia wants to receive natural gas from Uzbekistan. An agreement whereby Uzbekistan will supply Georgia with cotton fiber has been delayed pending the approval of the IMF.
FOUR KYRGYZ JOURNALISTS FOUND GUILTY OF SLANDER, LIBEL
Four Kyrgyz journalists from the weekly newspaper Res Publica were found guilty of slander and libel by a Bishkek district court, according to RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital. Zamira Sydykova and Aleksandr Alyanchikov were sentenced to 18 months in jail and Marina Sivasheva and Bektash Shamshiev were prohibited from practicing journalism for the same period. All four were sued by Dastan Sarygulov, the head of Kyrgyzstan's state gold company, for critical articles published about him between 1993-96.
RALLY IN MINSK IN SUPPORT OF UNION CHARTER
More than 15,000 people took part in a rally in Minsk on 23 May in support of the union charter, signed the same day in Moscow by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Belapan reported. The signing of the charter follows a shorter union treaty concluded last month. Both documents call for closer integration between Russia and Belarus. Semen Sharetsky, former head of the parliament disbanded by Lukashenka last year, said on 24 May that the signing of the charter adds "nothing new" to current relations between Russia and Belarus. Viktor Chikin, leader of the communist party of Belarus, expressed hope that other states would join the Belarusian-Russian union. He urged the parliaments of both countries to ratify the charter as soon as possible.
UKRAINE, RUSSIA NEAR SOLUTION ON DIVISION OF BLACK SEA FLEET
Viktor Semenov, the mayor of the Crimean city of Sevastopol, told Interfax on 24 May that the problem of dividing the Black Sea Fleet is close to being solved. Semenov spoke upon his return from Moscow after taking part in a meeting of a joint Russian-Ukrainian commission that is drawing up a bilateral agreement. The accord is scheduled to be signed when Russian President Boris Yeltsin visits Kyiv on 30 May. Semenov said that never before have Ukraine and Russia been so close to solving the problem as they are now. He refused, however, to reveal details of negotiations.
GERMANY TO BUILD HOUSING FOR ETHNIC GERMANS IN UKRAINE
Germany has announced plans to build two housing projects for ethnic Germans near Odessa, Interfax reported on 24 May. The announcement was made by a German government delegation, which visited Kyiv and Odessa to get acquainted with the problems of ethnic Germans in Ukraine. Germany has also offered to help Ukraine by supplying industrial equipment, setting up joint ventures, and modernizing Odessa airport.
RUSSIA WANTS 'CLOUDLESS RELATIONS' WITH ESTONIA
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists in Moscow on 24 May that Russia wants "cloudless relations" with Estonia, BNS and ITAR-TASS reported. But he noted the development of bilateral relations is hampered by several problems, including Estonia's intention to include reference to 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty in the parliament's statement on the Russian-Estonian border agreement and Estonian policy "aimed against ethnic Russians." He stressed that Moscow wants Tallinn to respect OSCE recommendations about its Russian-speaking population and to hold a dialogue with Russia on "humanitarian issues."
LATVIAN PREMIER READY TO RESIGN IF FOUND GUILTY OF G-24 CREDIT MISUSE
Andris Skele told a Latvian newspaper on 23 May that he will step down as premier if it is proven he was responsible for the misallocation of G-24 loans, BNS reported. Skele has repeatedly rejected allegations that he had ties to the firm Lata International, established to service farm credits. In 1992, Lata extended G-24 credits to 12 companies. Those loans--which one report estimates at $10 million -- had not been repaid when the company was declared bankrupt in November 1995. Former Agriculture Minister Dainis Gegers was charged with negligence and abuse of power. Skele was deputy agriculture minister at the time. A parliamentary investigative committee is examining the case. Meanwhile, a new party called Freedom has been formed in Latvia. Andris Rubins, one of its founders and an independent deputy, said the party aims at ensuring the welfare of Latvia's citizens.
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS EMIGRE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
The parliament has again rejected a bill that would have abolished the requirement that presidential candidates be permanent residents of the country for the previous three years, BNS reported on 23 May. The bill, proposed by the Centrist Union, was aimed at allowing Valdas Adamkus, a U.S. environmental official of Lithuanian descent, to run for the presidency of the Baltic state. Presidential elections in Lithuania are scheduled for December. Adamkus has fared well in opinion polls but would face strong opposition from parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis, who spoke out against the bill. Incumbent President Algirdas Brazauskas is to announce in the fall whether he will seek re-election.
REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTION IN POLAND
According to unofficial results based on exit polls released by Polish TV late on 25 May, the majority of voters supported a new constitution in a referendum held earlier that day. According to the polls, 57% of voters approved the basic law and 43% rejected it. President Alexander Kwasniewski said the voter's approval came at the end of a long process enshrining democracy and economic reform in Poland. He expressed disappointment at the low turnout, which was estimated at 40%. The text of the constitution is a compromise between the post-communist majority and the opposition. Among the strongest opponents of the proposed new constitution was the Catholic Church, which criticized its failure to ban abortions. Former Polish President Lech Walesa said the referendum result and turnout were "tragic."
CZECH GOVERNMENT CHANGES ANNOUNCED, PRESIDENT CRITICAL
Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told a news conference on 24 May that Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik and Interior Minister Jan Ruml have resigned. Klaus said the ministers, both members of his Civic Democratic Party (ODS), will be replaced by Jiri Waigel and Petr Necas, respectively. Waigel is Klaus' chief adviser and is not formally affiliated to any party. Necas, an ODS deputy, is chairman of the lower house's defense and security committee. Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Dlouhy confirmed at a 23 May meeting of the coalition Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) that he will leave his post as part of the cabinet reshuffle. Dlouhy's successor is not yet known. Czech President Vaclav Havel on 25 May criticized the cabinet reshuffle, saying he would not participate in what he called "half-baked, cosmetic changes." Havel said the proper constitutional solution would be for the three-party coalition government to resign and form a new cabinet.
SLOVAK REFERENDUM ENDS IN CHAOS...
The 23-24 May referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections was marred by a low turnout and confusion over whether voters should use ballots with three or four questions. The Central Referendum Commission is expected to issue official results on 26 May. However, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar has already said the turnout was less than 10% and declared the vote "invalid." The Central Referendum Commission approved ballots with four questions, of which three were on NATO admission and the fourth on direct presidential elections. But Interior Minister Gustav Krajci distributed ballots with only the three questions on NATO. President Michal Kovac refused to cast his vote when presented with a ballot including only three questions.
...WHILE OPPOSITION PLANS COUNTERMEASURES
Slovak opposition parties said on 25 May they will submit a bill to the parliament providing for the direct election of the president, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Nine opposition parties agreed to seek the constitutional amendment at an upcoming special session of the legislature. Eduard Kukan, head of the opposition Democratic Union, told journalists the opposition will demand the resignation of Interior Minister Gustav Krajci and possibly also that of other ministers. Some opposition leaders said they will bring criminal charges against Krajci for spoiling the referendum. If the parliamentary bid to change the constitution fails, then the opposition will launch a petition for another, separate referendum on the presidential issue.
HUNGARIAN JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER ELECTS NEW LEADER
Internal Affairs Minister Gabor Kuncze on 24 May was overwhelmingly elected leader of the Alliance of Free Democrats, Hungarian media report. Kuncze, who had been the party's acting chairman since Ivan Petoe's resignation in April, said he wants "to breathe fresh life into the party." He acknowledged that joining the Socialist-led ruling coalition after the 1994 elections has diminished the Free Democrats' popularity. Kuncze's mandate will expire in fall 1998.
ALBANIAN SPECIAL POLICE ATTACK MILITARY HOSPITAL
Members of the National Guard in armored personnel carriers attacked and shelled a Tirana military hospital on 25 May. The angry policemen blamed the hospital staff for negligence in the death of a guardsman the previous night from head injuries. The man was wounded in a shoot-out on 23 May in Cerrik, in which five elite policemen died and 13 were injured. The unrest erupted after a small contingent of special police forces from Tirana searched cars for arms on the city's main street. President Sali Berisha, who had planned to visit Cerrik that afternoon as part of his election campaign, pledged not to send special police forces to the city again. But the daily Dita Informacion on 25 May quoted Berisha as vowing a crackdown on southern Albanian insurgent committees.
ROW OVER POLITICAL ROLE OF ITALIAN AMBASSADOR TO ALBANIA
Rome-based news agencies and the Tirana paper Indipendent said on 25 May that the Italian Foreign Ministry is about to replace Ambassador Paolo Foresti. He allegedly meddled in Albanian politics and contravened OSCE policies. The decision to sack Foresti reportedly came after Indipendent published what it said was the text of a taped telephone conversation between Foresti and Berisha's Democratic Party chairman Tritan Shehu on 21 May. Foresti allegedly advised Shehu not to agree to a compromise that OSCE mediator Franz Vranitzky hammered out between the government and Berisha on holding elections at the end of June. Meanwhile in Durres on 25 May, Berisha rejected Prime Minister Bashkim Fino's request to lift the 9:00 p.m. curfew. Fino said an end to the state of emergency would improve the atmosphere for the elections.
CROATIA'S TUDJMAN CALLS RETURN OF ALL SERBS "UNREASONABLE."
President Franjo Tudjman told state-owned media in Zagreb on 25 May that his country has promised to reintegrate the Serbs of eastern Slavonia. He added, however, that it is "unreasonable" for foreigners to insist that all Serbs who fled Croatia be allowed to go home. Tudjman argued that "no one is making demands that all Sudeten Germans [be allowed to] go back" and said that Croatia's priority is bringing home Croatian refugees, many of whom have been displaced since 1991. The president suggested that Croatia should not take too seriously criticism from other countries, since, he argued, the others need Croatia as much as it needs them. On 23 May, ambassadors from the Contact Group countries delivered a formal protest in Zagreb over Croatia's treatment of its ethnic Serbs, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital.
"CROATIAN COMMUNITY OF HERCEG-BOSNA" SET UP
Leading representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Croats--especially of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) --met in Neum on 24 May to found a successor to their para-state, which is banned by the Dayton agreement. Delegates adopted a statute, flag, and coat-of-arms. Top Bosnian HDZ politicians present included collective presidency member Kresimir Zubak and federal Co-Prime Minister Vladimir Soljic. Franjo Greguric, who is Tudjman's special envoy to Bosnia, also attended. Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak, who is the most prominent Herzegovinian in Croatia's HDZ, told delegates that they were right in setting up their own para-state during the war. The opposition Croatian Peasants' Party refused to go to Neum, saying that it is counterproductive to maintain a para-state now that the Dayton agreement has gone into effect, Novi List wrote on 25 May.
KARADZIC FEARS HE MAY BE KILLED BEFORE APPEARING AT THE HAGUE
In the first installment of a five-part interview with the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti on 25 May , indicted war criminal and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic strongly hinted that he might implicate some other prominent Serbs before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He suggested that such individuals could have an interest in killing him before he can tell what he knows. Karadzic told Serbian journalists last week that he is tired of being hunted and wants to clear his name (see RFE/RL Newsline, 20 May 1997). Reports in the Serbian press suggest that he may try to implicate before the tribunal Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whom many Bosnian and Croatian Serbs feel abandoned them.
NEWS ABOUT FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
The assembly of eastern Slavonia's Vukovar-Srijem county held its first meeting in Borovo on 24 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Vukovar. The assembly is the first to bring together Serbs and Croats in the area since 1991. In Gostivar, at least 4,000 ethnic Albanians protested recent measures by the Macedonian authorities against displaying the Albanian flag. In Munich, a Bavarian state court on 23 May found Novislav Djajic, a Bosnian Serb, guilty on 14 counts of taking part in the mass murder of Muslims. It was the first conviction in Germany for war crimes since the Nuremberg trials.
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA
At the beginning of his three-day official visit to Romania, Arpad Goencz met with President Emil Constantinescu, Premier Victor Ciorbea, and former President Ion Iliescu, who is also leader of the main opposition party. Goencz said Budapest will do "everything it can" for Romania's integration into NATO in the "first wave" and into the EU. Constantinescu said relations between the two countries have become "a model" for others, which would have been "inconceivable" just a few years ago, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He added that he has received Vienna's agreement to a Romanian proposal to establish a "trilateral" group aimed at improving security in central Europe and comprising Romania, Hungary, and Austria. He is to discuss the proposal with Goencz.
DEMONSTRATION AGAINST GOENCZ'S PLANNED VISIT TO CLUJ
Defying the local prefect's order forbidding demonstrations against Goencz's visit to Cluj on 26 May, two organizations that call themselves "cultural" organized such a meeting the previous day. Nationalist mayor Gheorghe Funar and Vasile Matei, a deputy representing Funar's Party of Romanian National Unity, addressed the meeting, Romanian TV reported. On 25 May, U.S. congressman Tom Lantos, on a visit to Romania, handed Constantinescu and Goencz a letter from President Bill Clinton, praising Goencz "historic visit" to Romania. Meanwhile, the Romanian government announced that amendments to the Local Administration Law, which are about to be submitted to the parliament, allow for national minorities to use their mother tongue in dealings with local government authorities in areas where they make up more than 20% of the population.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT BONN
Constantinescu will meet with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during a private visit to Bonn on 2 July. The discussions, one week before the Madrid NATO summit, will concentrate on Romania's bid to be admitted to the organization in the first wave of new NATO members, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 23 May.
CHISINAU, TIRASPOL LEADERS MEET TO DISCUSS IMPLEMENTATION OF MEMORANDUM
President Petru Lucinschi and Igor Smirnov, the leader of Moldova's separatist breakaway Transdniester region, met in Chisinau on 24 May to discuss the implementation of the memorandum signed by the two sides in Moscow on 8 May. An RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported that they agreed on a protocol mainly dealing with the economic aspects of their relations. They also agreed to set up several joint groups of experts, one of which is to work on drafting a special status for the breakaway region. But Tiraspol continues to claim it is an independent state. The groups will begin working on 4 June. They will also discuss security arrangements in the Dniester River area.
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA, NATO
Nadezhda Mihailova says her country's desire to join NATO will not damage relations with Russia. Addressing an international conference on Bulgarian-Russian relations in Sofia on 23 May, Mihailova said ties with Moscow are among the foreign policy priority of the new Ivan Kostov government. In related developments, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 23 May that the state-owned Bulgargaz company announced it has reached a deal with unspecified Russian gas exporters that could bring down the price of natural gas by about 10%. The largest Bulgarian private gas importer, Overgaz, is a subsidiary of the Multigroup consortium, widely regarded as representing the interests of the Russian Gazprom company. Multigroup has been set up by former communist officials and has repeatedly claimed that the price of Russian-imported gas cannot be reduced.
EBRD APPROVES NEW LOANS FOR BULGARIA
The EBRD on 23 May announced it has approved new loans for Bulgaria totaling $300 million. Olivier Decamps, the bank's director for southeastern Europe, said he expects an increase in lending to Bulgaria and that the EBRD supports Kostov's new government. Industry Minister Alexander Bozhkov said the latest EBRD loans will help Bulgaria upgrade and develop its railroads, highways, and airports as well as privatize parts of the tourist sector and create competitive markets in agriculture. In other news, Alexander Sabotinov, who heads the Bulgarian privatization agency, announced on 25 May that Bulgaria will privatize Chimco, its main manufacturer of chemical fertilizers.
Integration as the Final Stage of Disintegration
by Paul Goble
The new Russian-Belarusian union charter calling for closer integration of those two countries makes the formation of a single federal state including them or other former Soviet republics significantly less, rather than more, likely.
As signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 23 May, the charter contains some impressive language about cooperation in a variety of spheres, including foreign policy, economic reform, energy, and transportation. It raises the possibility of a common currency and even common citizenship in the future. And it creates a Supreme Council that is supposed to increase cooperation between those two states and to prompt other former Soviet republics to sign the charter.
But like all previous efforts to promote integration in the former Soviet Union, this one does little to change the general situation. Instead, it highlights just how far apart Moscow and Minsk now are--let alone Moscow and any other former Soviet republic capital--on both the meaning or even the desirability of closer ties.
Despite his reputation of seeking unity with Russia at all costs, Lukashenka himself made it very clear that there are limits to just how far even he is prepared to go. Notably, he spoke out against any arrangement that might threaten Belarusian independence or give Moscow a free hand or even an expanded voice in Belarus itself. On 21 May, two days before signing the charter, Lukashenka said that "setting up a federation with Russia would be worse for Belarus than when it entered Stalin's Soviet Union." The next day, he forced Yeltsin to drop a clause the Russian president had inserted in the charter suggesting that the two countries should ultimately merge into just such a federal state.
And just prior to the signing ceremony at the Kremlin, Lukashenka dismissed the claims of some Russians that the charter was the first step toward the re-establishment of a single, Moscow-led state on the territory of the former Soviet Union. He told Ekho Moskvy that the new charter would do nothing more than "confirm in law what has existed in fact for quite some time."
Lukashenka's past statements, his transparent personal ambition for power in Moscow, and his increasing authoritarianism at home have combined with widespread assumptions about the supposed lack of any fundamental differences between Russians and Belarusians to conceal the broader implications of what this latest charter means. But it is precisely Lukashenka's personal approach and how close Belarus and Russia are in certain respects that provide some important clues on the more general issue of how Moscow and the non-Russian countries are likely to relate to one another in the future.
If Belarus and Lukashenka are not prepared to proceed toward total reintegration with Russia, which many in Moscow want, then certainly no other country in the region is likely to be willing to go even as far Minsk has. Even less so than Belarus and Lukashenka, no other non-Russian country or leader is willing to move toward closer integration with Russia in the absence of Moscow's recognition of the independence and equality of that country and the lack of willingness by Russia to commit to a specific set of rules that will control Russian actions just as they control non-Russian actions.
What is more, no Russian leader is willing to make such commitments to the equality of those countries vis-a-vis Russia or to tie Moscow's hands in its actions toward its neighbors. Indeed, just as in the current case, Russian leaders are the ones who have rejected any move toward a more precise definition of the permissible.
Such differences in understanding about what integration should mean are becoming an ever greater obstacle to any agreement that might be freely arrived at between Moscow and Minsk and between Moscow and the other former Soviet republics. That is certainly how many of the leaders in this region view the situation. As Kazak Deputy Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov commented, the Russian-Belarusian accord is likely to share "the fate of many other integration deals" within the CIS and remain "only on paper."
Such an outcome, of course, would not be a tragedy for many of them. Indeed, it would confirm the victories of 1991. But unfortunately, the failure of agreements like the one signed on 23 May could lead to another outcome. It could prompt some in the region to conclude that re-integration should be pursued by means other than democratic and voluntary ones. If that happens, it would be a tragedy not only for the countries most directly involved but for everyone else as well.