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Newsline - May 28, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin's 27 May promise that Russia's nuclear missiles would no longer be aimed at NATO countries stole the show on the day Russia and NATO signed the Founding Act on their relations. Early translations of Yeltsin's remarks suggested he had pledged to remove warheads from missiles currently aimed at NATO. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii later clarified that missiles would be targeted away from NATO member states rather than disarmed. The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that in line with Yeltsin's announcement, Russia's missiles would no longer be on "combat duty against NATO countries," ITAR-TASS reported. Although it is primarily a symbolic act--Russia already had agreements not to target missiles at the U.S. and U.K.--Yeltsin's gesture nonetheless won praise from NATO leaders and the European press (see also "End Note" below).


While official spokesmen hailed the signing of the Founding Act, others had mixed views on the agreement. The Carnegie Endowment's Dmitrii Trenin said the current situation was a "lose-lose" affair for Russia, regardless of whether Yeltsin signed an deal with NATO, Reuters reported on 27 May. Speaking in Denmark, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev neither praised nor criticized the accord. He said Duma deputies would approve the Founding Act "only if it really meets Russia's security interests." Addressing lawmakers in Sweden on 28 May, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev praised the document and said he believed the upper house of the Russian parliament would approve it, ITAR-TASS reported. The Founding Act does not require ratification by the parliament, but Russian officials have said it will be submitted to the Duma and the Federation Council for approval.


Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and OECD Secretary-General Donald Johnston have signed a cooperation agreement in Paris, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Under the agreement, high-level meetings between Russia and the organization will take place twice a year. An OECD statement said the organization would help Russia "in its progress to establishing a fully-fledged market economy." Russia and the OECD signed a declaration on cooperation in 1994, and Russia formally applied to join the OECD two years later. OECD officials continue to say Russia is a long way from qualifying for membership in the organization.


Four days after the unexpected landslide victory of former Minister of Culture Mohammad Khatami in the Iranian presidential elections, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov told journalists on 27 May that Russia welcomes "the election of a new president of a neighbor [sic] country," Russian agencies reported. Tarasov said Russia is prepared to cooperate with Khatami and his future cabinet "in the interests of the development of good-neighborly and mutually advantageous bilateral relations and the settlement of crisis situations in the region," according to ITAR-TASS. Interfax quoted an unnamed Russian Atomic Energy official as saying Khatami's election will not affect the agreement under which Russia is completing construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station. Khatami's defeated rival candidate, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, was feted by Russian officials during a visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg in April.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin chaired the first meeting of the government commission on military construction, one of two commissions Yeltsin created last week, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Few details were released about the meeting, which was attended by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, General Staff head Anatolii Kvashnin, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, Federal Border Service director Andrei Nikolaev, and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin. According to ITAR-TASS, the other new government commission, which is to be headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, will deal with financing the armed forces.


Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin says the Duma should change its rules to eliminate the practice of proxy voting, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Shokhin, a leading figure in the pro-government faction Our Home Is Russia, said the Duma must introduce "a legitimate method of counting deputies." Presidential legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov and Yeltsin's representative in the parliament, Aleksandr Kotenkov have said recently that allowing deputies to vote on behalf of their colleagues violates the Russian Constitution. Since the Duma began its work in January 1994, the lower house has frequently passed laws with fewer than a majority of deputies present in the chamber.


Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, a co-leader of the Popular Power faction, says the so-called "irreconcilable" parliamentary opposition is more concerned about preserving the Duma than about saving Russia. In a commentary published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 28 May, Baburin slammed leaders of the Communist Party and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia for not supporting a vote of no confidence in the government. (If the Duma votes no confidence twice within three months, the president could dissolve the lower house.) Baburin argued that the government has not met any of the 11 conditions Communists laid down last December in exchange for their support of the 1997 budget. For example, wage and pension arrears persist, Rossiiskaya gazeta is still strictly a government newspaper, there is still no parliamentary television program, and, most important, Chubais continues to run Russia's economic policy.


First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais says the 1998 budget is being drafted in line with government forecasts of 5% annual inflation and 2% GDP growth in that year, Russian news agencies reported on 27 May. Chubais, who is also finance minister, told Finance Ministry officials that 1998 budget revenues were planned to be 12.5% of GDP, while expenditures would be 4.5%. The budget deficit is expected to amount to 0.5% of GDP, he said. This would be by far the lowest deficit in Russia in recent years.


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says the federal government has "spit on" the festival planned to mark Moscow's 850th anniversary, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. He slammed the government for refusing to help fund the festival and, in particular, for not helping pay for renovations to Moscow's Luzhniki stadium. Luzhkov argued that Russia's image abroad would suffer if the capital city did not look good in its anniversary year. The Moscow mayor has frequently criticized federal authorities for ignoring regional interests. On 23 May, he complained that Moscow was under an "economic blockade" from the federal authorities, even though, he said, 43% of the federal government's total revenues in April came from taxes collected in Moscow.


Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said at a 27 May news conference that the Far East regions could "effectively be torn away from the rest of Russia," Interfax reported. According to Kulikov, who visited the regions earlier in May, the economic situation in the Far East has led a large shadow economy that circumvents customs regulations, particularly in the fishing industry. Kulikov said illegal fishing often takes place outside the 12-mile zone of Russia's territorial waters and that fish are sold off to foreign vessels "at dumping prices." He added that the Russian budget calls for increasing revenues from the Far East and that greater coordination with police and tax and custom's services in the region is therefore necessary. Kulikov wants the creation of a federal body to begin such coordination. The Far East's leading trade partner is Japan, followed by China, South Korea, and the rest of Russia.


Aleksandr Lapenkov, a high-ranking official in the presidential administration's Main Control Department, says regional authorities have diverted 5 trillion rubles ($870 million) allocated to regions to pay salaries of state employees, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Appearing at a conference in Yekaterinburg, Lapenkov said misuse of budget funds had occurred in almost every Russian region. On the same day, Chubais told Finance Ministry officials that regional governments owe an additional 13 trillion rubles in back wages to Russians. On 24 May, Vladimir Putin, the head of the Main Control Department, said pension arrears fell from 13 trillion rubles in February to 12.5 rubles by 1 April. But he noted that 667 billion rubles allocated to regions for pension payments had been misused.


Representatives of the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition have signed a protocol ending hostilities after five years, Interfax reported. The agreement gives the UTO 30% of the posts in the executive and 25% of the posts in the Central Election Commission. It calls for Tajikistan to disarm and disband UTO military units and to reform the country's power structures. It also allows the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons, provides amnesty for those who took part in the civil conflict, and removes bans on opposition mass media and political parties that belong to the UTO. The agreement was also signed by "guarantor" countries and organizations: Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, the OSCE, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.


UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata spoke with the governor of the city of Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, on 27 May about preparations for a possible influx of refugees from Afghanistan, RFE/RL correspondents and Interfax reported. Temporary accommodation is under construction to house up to 20,000 refugees in areas near the Kyrgyz border with Tajikistan. But at the UNHCR headquarters in Tajikistan, workers said they have no reports of refugees gathering near the Tajik border in northern Afghanistan. A scheduled repatriation of refugees is to take place on 28 May, and workers predict more refugees will cross into Tajikistan than previously expected. The UN estimates there are 20,000 Tajik refugees in Afghanistan.


Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with visiting U.S. congressmen on 26 May and requested the U.S. take an "active role" in settling the problems in both Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Interfax reported. Karimov told the congressmen there was still much room for "closer cooperation" between his country and the U.S.


The first shipment of schoolbooks printed in the Latin rather than Cyrillic alphabet will soon arrive in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. The 3 million books are being printed in Turkey and are to be delivered in time for the beginning of the next school year.


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, together with ranking Russian and French diplomats, will visit Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh from 30 May to 1 June in an attempt to restart the deadlocked negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to a correspondent for RFE/RL. Writing in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 24 May, Armenian presidential adviser Jirair Liparitian argued that the principle of territorial integrity applies only to international conflicts between two recognized states and that the international community should therefor not expect Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to respect it. Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov told the newspaper on 28 May that Armenian Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan's proposal that Armenia should consider incorporating Karabakh as an autonomous territorial unit proved "Armenia is waging a war against Azerbaijan". Hasanov warned that his country will use any means to defend its territorial integrity.


Addressing the Georgian parliament on 27 May, Eduard Shevardnadze rejected the recent proposal by Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba that Georgia should conclude a peace agreement with his breakaway region modeled on the Russian-Chechen treaty signed on 12 May, ITAR-TASS and BS-Press reported. Shevardnadze argued that Chechnya wanted to break away from Russia whereas Abkhazia wants to join the Russian Federation. This, however, is incorrect: Ardzinba wants either international recognition for Abkhazia as an independent state or equal status with Georgia within a confederation. Shevardnadze called for an international conference on resolving the conflict under UN auspices with the participation of the OSCE, the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., and North Caucasus leaders.


Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and his Ukrainian counterpart, Aleksandr Kuzmuk, signed six agreements in Tbilisi on 27 May ITAR-TASS and BS-Press reported. The accords cover cooperation between the two countries' air forces and air defense systems and the training of Georgian military personnel in Ukraine. Kuzmuk reiterated that Ukraine supports Georgia's claim to part of the Black Sea Fleet.


The Council of Atamans of Cossack Forces of Russia and Abroad will convene in Tbilisi in July to coordinate its position on the settlement of conflicts in the former USSR, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta on 28 May. Ranking Russian Cossack leaders discussed preparations for the congress in Tbilisi with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the leader of the Georgian Cossack Force, Vasilii Kadenets. The convention is clearly part of Shevardnadze's "Peaceful Caucasus" initiative and aims to promote cooperation between Georgia and Russia's North Caucasus republics.


Speaking on the eve of his trip to Ukraine, where he is to make preparations for Russian President Boris Yeltsin's upcoming visit, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said in Moscow on 27 May that the two countries' dispute over the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet must be resolved during Yeltsin's visit. According to Chernomyrdin, the Black Sea Fleet is "indissolubly linked" to the signing of a wide-ranging political treaty between the two countries. ITAR-TASS quoted Chernomyrdin as saying that Moscow is worried by what he called "Ukraine's increasingly distinctive policy of squeezing out the Russian language and culture" from the state and from intellectual life. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma--speaking on 27 May in Tallinn, where he attended a regional summit--said he had "very high hopes" for signing the treaty with Russia during Yeltsin's visit. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko said in Kyiv the same day that Ukraine might be willing to lease the port of Sevastopol to Russia for 20 years as part of an agreement on the Black Sea Fleet.


Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko said on 27 May that Ukraine does not have funds to improve conditions for Tatars returning to Crimea, dpa reported. He urged the international community to increase its aid. Only about half of deported Crimean Tatars who have returned to Crimea have received accommodation in Ukraine. Speaking at a seminar in Kyiv, Udovenko noted that the camps for ethnic Tatars in Crimea often do not have electricity and that 80% do not have water supplies. He also said most adult Tatars have little hope of finding employment in the country.


Lazslo Lovei, a World Bank official in Washington, says the implementation of coal sector reforms in Ukraine has been much slower than expected and that the country will not be ready for the second half of a loan to finance the reforms for another several months, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported on 27 May. In December 1996, the bank approved a $300 million restructuring loan to help Ukraine close unproductive mines and privatize the entire coal sector. Ukraine drew the first $150 million of the loan in December, but Lovei said a review team in April 1997 found that the required reforms were going slowly. The second $150 million tranche is dependent on the country's having met specific conditions. Meantime, an IMF three-year loan of up to $3 billion will only be release after Ukraine's approval of the state budget.


Following their summit meeting in the Estonian capital on 27 May, the Baltic, Polish, and Ukrainian presidents issued a joint statement expressing their approval of the Russia-NATO Founding Act, signed in Paris earlier the same day,. BNS reported. The five leaders stressed that NATO "should remain open" to all countries ready and able to join and that each state has the right to choose the best way to ensure its own security. They also called for the "further intensification of north-south European economic integration" through improved cooperation between regional organizations. During their meeting, the five presidents discussed the situation in Belarus, which, they said, "gives cause for concern." They agreed to "get together with Belarus to seek a solution to the problem."


Minister for Transport and Communications Raivo Vare has asked his Finnish and Swedish counterparts to comment on the recent scandal surrounding the Swedish-Finnish-Estonian committee investigating the sinking of the passenger ferry Estonia, ETA reported on 27 May. The vessel sank in a storm southwest of Finland en route from Stockholm to Tallinn in 1994, killing 852 people. Olof Forssberg, Sweden's chief investigator into the incident, resigned on 26 May after admitting he had lied about a letter indirectly related to the disaster. He later retracted that statement but announced his resignation after meeting with the Swedish transportation minister.


Parliamentary speakers Vytautas Landsbergis and Jozef Zych, following their meeting in Vilnius on 27 May, issued a statement saying the two countries' parliaments will adopt in June a joint resolution on setting up a Polish-Lithuanian Assembly The two leaders told journalists that the joint assembly will first seek to resolve bilateral political issues and then submit joint proposals to the countries' legislatures and European organizations. "This will doubtless facilitate the integration of Lithuania and Poland into the EU and NATO," Zych said. The first session of the assembly is to be held in summer 1997. It is planned that the body will convene at least twice a year.


Solidarity Election Action (AWS) chairman Marian Krzaklewski told journalists in Warsaw on 27 May that if the AWS wins the September elections, it will introduce crucial institutional reforms and make sure that everyone has a chance to share in Poland's economic success. Krzaklewski promised to give local governments more power, overhaul public services, and create a more equitable society while ensuring continued economic growth. Krzaklewski said AWS experts have prepared draft laws on reforming the social security and health care systems, privatization, returning assets confiscated under communism to their former owners, vetting public officials, and a pro-family tax system.


Leaders of the three coalition government parties began on 27 May to discuss a declaration to accompany the planned government reshuffle. Czech Prime Minister told journalists after the talks that he will push for rapid cabinet changes to try to end the political uncertainty, which has caused a sharp fall in the Czech crown. On 27 May, the crown lost about 8% of its value after speculators forced the Central Bank the previous day to allow it to float. Klaus said that the three ruling parties' chairmen would present a joint statement about the coalition's governing program to their respective party leaderships for approval . Czech President Vaclav Havel met all three coalition leaders earlier in the day. He demanded that the coalition present a clear program and warned again against mere "cosmetic" changes to the cabinet.


U.S. State Department spokesman John Dinger told reporters on 27 May that Slovakia's 23-24 May referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections was "flawed," RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Noting that the referendum was a matter of serious concern to the U.S., Dinger said that Slovak voters were unable to express their will on two issues of obvious importance to them. The ballot, approved by the referendum commission, contained four questions--three on NATO membership and one on direct presidential elections. However, Interior Minister Gustav Krajci distributed ballots with only the three NATO questions. The referendum was widely boycotted and officially declared void on 26 May. Dinger said the U.S. viewed the Slovak government's conduct during this referendum as a step backward from Slovakia's "democratic record of free and fair elections" since 1989. He added that the Slovak government showed a lack of respect for the rule of law.


The parliament on 27 May passed bills approving Hungary's bilateral basic treaties with Russia, Slovakia, and Romania, Hungarian media reported. Four out of the five opposition parties--the Democratic Forum, the Independent Smallholders' Party, the Christian Democratic People's Party, and the Alliance of Young Democrats--voted against the Hungarian-Slovak basic treaty, pointing to Slovakia's anti-democratic measures against its Hungarian minority. The same parties abstained from voting on the Hungarian-Russian treaty because of the unresolved issue of the return of Hungary's art treasures confiscated by the Soviet Union. The opposition Democratic People's Party voted in favor of the treaty with Romania, while the other four opposition groups abstained again, arguing that the text of the treaty is "weak." However, they expressed confidence in the current democratic changes in Romania


Visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, met in Budapest on 27 May and agreed to improve economic cooperation and to build what they called "politics-free ties, based on mutual advantage," Hungarian media reported. Horn said his country wanted to participate in several projects in Vietnam, and he offered assistance with the privatization program under way there. Tamas Horvath, an adviser to Horn, said Hungary appreciated Vietnam's "correctness" in repaying debts accumulated during the "Soviet era." He added that Horn offered "preferential treatment" if Vietnam agreed to pay the remaining debt (some $41 million) in installments larger than $ 3 million.


Representatives of 10 political parties met in Tirana on 27 May but failed to agree that the 29 June election results will be binding for all sides. Six parties, including the Socialists, repeated their demands that President Sali Berisha lift the state of emergency. Socialist delegate Ethem Ruka argued that "under the state of emergency, [Democratic Party] Interior Minister [Belul Cela]...could have more power than the [coalition] government," Albanian media reported on 28 May. The state of emergency could also be used to ban rallies of political parties, since it allows for the dissolving of any public meeting of more than three people. In Tirana, however, the Socialist Party held its first election rally on 27 May, attended by at least 10,000 people.


The OSCE sent out 14 election adviser teams to Elbasan, Durres, Kavaja, and Kruja on 27 May. Soldiers from Operation Alba accompanied them on their first day in the field. A total of more than 50 advisers will take up positions throughout Albania soon. In late June, an additional 400 monitors will join them for the final days of the campaign and for voting. Meanwhile, in Vlora there is still no civil administration in place after police abandoned the city last week, Dita Informacion reports on 28 May.


Democratic Party members in Berat demanded that former party chairman Eduard Selami run in their district, adding they will not vote for a candidate proposed by the party's national leadership in Tirana. The national leaders sacked Selami in early 1996 after he disagreed with Berisha over the question of a new constitution. Meanwhile, only 60% of the personnel of Tirana's military hospital had returned to work by 27 May, despite pledges from the Defense Ministry to fully investigate the recent attack on the hospital by elite troops, Dita Informacion reported on 28 May. And on Tirana's money markets, the lek was devalued by 8% on 27 May.


The International Herald Tribune on 28 May quotes an unnamed Western ambassador in Zagreb as saying that UN troops will stay on in Croatia's last Serb-held enclave until 15 January, which is six months longer than planned. The report says the Security Council will approve the measure soon. The article adds that "Washington and its European allies [are] angered by the stubborn refusal of the Croatian government to permit 350,000 exiled ethnic Serbs to return to their homes" and have decided to postpone the return of eastern Slavonia as punishment. The reported decision follows repeated warnings from Washington and other capitals that Croatia must let Serbs who want to go home do so. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said recently that it would be "unreasonable" to expect his country to take so many people back. He has likened the situation of Croatia's Serbs now to that of Czechoslovakia's Germans after World War II. The return of eastern Slavonia and the town of Vukovar is a highly emotional issue in Croatia, but it is unclear whether a decision by foreigners to postpone the return would hurt Tudjman politically or play into his hands.


On 27 May, the first train in almost six years ran from Croatia's Vinkovci to Serb-held Vukovar, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Vukovar. The local Serbian political leader, Vojislav Stanimirovic, returned from talks with Tudjman in Zagreb and said that the Croatian president will take his re-election campaign to Vukovar in early June. Stanimirovic added that he invited Tudjman to Beli Manastir as well and that he hopes that the president's visit will be constructive and not humiliate the Serbs by displays of Croatian nationalism. On 26 May, eastern Slavonian Serbian and Croatian political leaders met in Osijek to lay the ground rules for new local government bodies, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Osijek.


Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski announced key changes in his cabinet in Skopje on 27 May. Among those fired were Construction Minister Jorgo Sundovski, whom public prosecutors have linked to the collapsed TAT pyramid scheme. Also out are two prominent reformists, namely Deputy Prime Minister Jane Miljovski and Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckoski. The foreign affairs portfolio goes to former Defense Minister Blagoj Handziski. Foreign diplomats told news agencies that the reshuffle favors neo-communists at the expense of reformists.


Victor Ciorbea told the press on 27 May that the rate of inflation has considerably slowed down but will still reach 110% by the end of 1997. He said the rate for the first four months was 90%. The present situation is "difficult," Ciorbea said, but if reform is not pursued, it will be "unbearable." He also forecast that unemployment, estimated at 10.3% for 1997, will drop to 8.7% by 2,000 and that the budget deficit will decrease from its present 4.5% of GDP to 2.5% in 1998-2000, Radio Bucharest reported. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies on 27 May rejected an opposition motion (the third in this legislature) criticizing reductions of personnel in the education, health, justice and agriculture ministries.


Arpad Goencz on 26-27 May visited the Transylvanian towns of Cluj and Targu Mures, both of which have large Magyar populations. He was given a warm welcome, and the visit ended without incidents. The nationalist mayor of Cluj, who earlier had called for demonstrations against Goencz, urged Romanians in the city to refrain from demonstrating and not to fall victim to the alleged "provocations" of "hundreds of Hungarian agents disguised as tourists," an RFE/RL Cluj correspondent reported. Both Goencz and President Emil Constantinescu vowed to prevent extreme nationalists from undermining the historical reconciliation between their countries, Reuters reported.


The Senate on 27 May passed a law providing for a memorial to the victims of communism to be erected in the former Sighet prison in north-western Romania, where many of the country's politicians and other elites were imprisoned and perished in the 1950s. The house rejected an amendment moved by two members of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, who wanted the memorial to be dedicated also to the victims of the 1938-1944 dictatorships of King Carol II and Marshal Ion Antonescu as well as to those who perished at the hands of the Fascist Iron Guard movement, Mediafax reported on 27 May. The Chamber of Deputies approved the initiative in April.


A statement released by the movement For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova (MPMPD), the main political group backing President Petru Lucinschi, calls for early parliamentary elections, BASA-press reported on 27 May. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for spring 1998, but the MPMPD, which is not represented in the legislature, said the current composition of the parliament hinders the necessary rapid reforms and "cardinal problems remain unsolved." It added that "certain irresponsible forces" are refusing to tackle priority issues, creating a "danger of destablizing the political situation." The main faction represented in the parliament, the Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova, rejected the idea, as did parties belonging to the right wing of the political spectrum. The latter are involved in an attempt to create a unified right-wing block but have so far failed in this quest, the agency said.


Vladimir Manolov, acting chief of Bulgaria's National Security Service, says the service is investigating the State Savings Bank (DKS), which is suspected of mishandling funds and granting illegal loans to state and commercial banks, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 27 May. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported the same day that contrary to previous reports, Bistra Dimitrova, the head of the DKS, is now refusing to resign. She recently promised to quit following a demand by Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. She was appointed by the previous Socialist-dominated parliament (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 and 27 May 1997).


Bulgarian Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev says his country and Romania are not rivals in the quest to join NATO. He said "sooner or later" the two countries will occupy "their rightful place" in the alliance. Ananiev spoke on 27 May in the northern Bulgarian town of Russe after meeting with his Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Babiuc said the good neighborly relations between the two states contribute to the region's political stability. The two ministers agreed to intensify bilateral military cooperation, including an exchange of information on the reform of the military under way in both countries.

Yeltsin Draws a Line in Europe

by Paul Goble

Even as NATO moves to overcome divisions in Europe, Boris Yeltsin continues to assert there is one line in Europe that the Western alliance must not cross -- the borders of the former Soviet Union.

Prior to signing the NATO-Russian Founding Act, the Russian president warned that a NATO decision to offer membership in the alliance to any former Soviet republic would "fully undermine" Moscow's relationship with NATO. His press secretary added that such a step would force Russia, against its will, to turn to the East for allies.

Many in the West are likely to view Yeltsin's comment as strictly for Russian domestic consumption. Many others will probably dismiss it as an outburst of hard-line rhetoric just prior to what they regard as a major Russian concession -- Moscow's acceptance of NATO's eastward expansion, an alliance of which it is not a member.

But there are three important reasons why Yeltsin's remarks should not be ignored.

First, they reflect the unfortunate tendency of the Russian government to ignore the provisions of agreements that Moscow has signed or to unilaterally revise them for its own benefit. The Russia-NATO accord signed on 27 May explicitly states that neither NATO nor Russia has "a veto over the actions of the other." The document also specifies that it does not give either side the right to take actions to the detriment of the security of third countries.

Yeltsin has agreed to all of this on paper, but he is continuing to insist that those words do not mean what they say and that, in effect, Russia has a veto on both the actions of NATO and the efforts of other countries to advance their own security. The recent history of the modification of the Conventional Forces in Europe accord provides a model for how the Russian government may behave on this point as well. Moscow used the fact that Russia would be in violation of the CFE accord to pressure the West to agree to changes. And the West agreed to many of Moscow's demands largely in order to preserve the accord.

Second, Yeltsin's words are cleverly designed to prompt the West to accept such a new dividing line in Europe, at a time when Western leaders are proclaiming that they have achieved a Europe without such divisions. Many Western leaders are already congratulating themselves for securing Russia's agreement to the inclusion of three or four East European countries. And consequently, at least some of them appear to be willing to grant Russia something in return.

Yeltsin is clearly hoping that the West will -- at least implicitly --give him the recognition of Russia's sphere of influence that he seeks. But if that happens, the former Soviet republics and the Baltic States -- which were never legitimately part of Moscow's empire -- are certain to conclude that the West has indeed retreated from its own commitments and betrayed its own principles. Such conclusions -- to the extent they are justified -- will not be lost either on the many other countries around the world that depend on the West for protection against stronger neighbors or on those stronger countries that may seek to take advantage of the weakness of others.

Third, Yeltsin's words suggest a Russian agenda with respect to its neighbors that not only threatens their security but that of Europe and the West as a whole. To the extent that the West appears to accept that Russia has a sphere of influence over the territory of the former Soviet Union and the Baltic States, those countries will find themselves increasingly isolated and likely subject to ever greater pressures of various kinds from Moscow as Russia recovers from its present weakness.

Those pressures, in turn, will have a significant impact not only on the domestic development of these states but also on their relations with one other and the world as a whole. Internally, such increased pressure is likely to divide many of these countries politically, thus weakening and isolating them still further. Externally, such responses may lead to precisely the kind of conflicts that everyone wishes to avoid and no one wants to be drawn into.

Western countries are right to seek a Europe without new lines, but it would be a tragedy for everyone if they allowed Yeltsin to resurrect an old one -- the border of a country that no longer exists.