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Newsline - July 21, 1997


The NATO-Russia Joint Council held its inaugural meeting on 18 July in Brussels. The session took place at the ambassadorial level. According to an unnamed participant quoted by AFP, no contentious issues were discussed. The Joint Council is scheduled to meet again at ambassadorial level on 11 September and at ministerial level in New York later that month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 1997 and "End Note" below).


Several thousand Chechen fighters gathered at a sports stadium in Grozny on 20 July to demand military intervention to secure the release of two Chechens taken hostage in North Ossetia on 8 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1997). Deputy President Vakha Arsanov expressed support for such a move, but President Aslan Maskhadov warned against using force lest Chechnya be drawn into a new conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, according to Reuters. Maskhadov again denied the existence of any rifts within the Chechen leadership.


Abu Movsaev has resigned "at his own request" as head of the Chechen security service, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 July. Movsaev told his staff he remains a "loyal supporter" of Maskhadov, who named Movsaev's deputy, Apti Batalov, to succeed him. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 July reported that Movsaev and field commander Shamil Basaev, who recently resigned as first deputy premier, have founded the new private organization Patriot, which aims to expedite reconstruction in Chechnya and to combat crime. Interfax reported on 18 July that Umar Avturkhanov, who in late 1994 headed the Russian-backed Provisional Council that tried unsuccessfully to topple then President Dzhokhar Dudaev, is trying to set up a center of resistance to Maskhadov. But in an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 July, Avturkhanov pledges his support for Maskhadov as Chechnya's legally elected president.


Speaking to reporters after meeting with European Commission President Jacques Santer in Brussels on 18 June, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced that Russia seeks eventually to become a member of the EU and expressed hope that Russia will be admitted to the World Trade Organization in 1998, which, he said, would "confirm the status of the Russian economy as a market economy." Chernomyrdin and Santer discussed the 14 anti-dumping measures the EU has imposed against Russian goods. Those measures have drawn protests from Russian government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1997). Chernomyrdin's visit was the first to the European Commission by a Russian prime minister.


The Russian Foreign Ministry on 18 July criticized the U.S. Senate's reaction to a controversial religion law passed by the Russian parliament, Russian news agencies reported. The Senate recently passed an amendment that would cut aid to Russia in 1998 if Yeltsin signs the religion law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 1997). But a Foreign Ministry statement said both Russia and the U.S. have an interest in "mutually beneficial" and "cooperative relations, without attempts at imposing one's own vision of the world as a kind of standard." Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said on 18 July that the administration of President Bill Clinton believes that "it is not in the U.S. national interest to totally cut off, curtail American assistance to Russia because of one bill," Reuters reported.


First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 18 July described as "premature" the recent allegations of fraudulent use of budget funds by commercial banks, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. On 14 July Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin charged that former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, the International Financial Corporation bank, and Unikombank were involved in the misuse of more than $500 million in budget funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14-16 and 18 July 1997). Kudrin said a Finance Ministry examination of the banking deals cited by Dubinin had produced evidence of "administrative violations" but not of any crimes. Although the Procurator-General's Office recently announced that it will investigate the banking deals, Kudrin's remarks indicate that what threatened to become Russia's largest-ever banking scandal has been swept under the rug. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued on 19 July that Dubinin is now in an "unenviable" position.


First Deputy Finance Minister Kudrin announced on 18 July that while 15 Russian regions have the means to pay their wage arrears to state employees by the end of the year, the federal government will provide 12.5 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion) to help other regions pay their wage debts, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 July. Kudrin noted that the federal government owes some 7.7 trillion rubles to state employees, while regional governments owe 25.6 trillion rubles in back wages. Kudrin said privatization sales will raise some 5 trillion rubles toward paying the wage arrears. He added that the electricity giant Unified Energy System will soon settle 5 trillion rubles in tax debts, and changes in oil exporting rules will bring in an additional 3 trillion rubles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 July 1997).


Also on 18 July, First Deputy Finance Minister Kudrin predicted that the federal government will collect 30 to 34 trillion rubles ($5.2 to $5.9 billion) a month in taxes by the end of 1997, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 July. Taxes collected in January totaled just 14.5 trillion rubles. Some 30 trillion rubles were collected in June, but that figure was boosted by payments from a few large tax debtors, such as the gas monopoly Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 1997). Meanwhile, in accordance with a 14 July government directive, licenses for retail trade in alcoholic beverages are to be granted only to enterprises that owe no taxes or contributions to the government's non-budgetary funds, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. Those include the Pension Fund, the Obligatory Medical Insurance Fund, the Social Security Fund, and the Employment Fund.


Interior Ministry troops on 18 July halted some 500 protesters near Moscow's Prazhskaya metro station and prevented them from marching to the city center, Russian media reported. The demonstrators belonged to Viktor Anpilov's radical communist movement Workers' Russia and Stanislav Terekhov's extremist Officers' Union. They had begun protest marches on 12 July in the cities of Tula and Ryazan and had planned to demonstrate near Red Square on 18 July. However, the Moscow city government refused to grant permission to demonstrate in the city center. On 16 and 17 July, several hundred unpaid workers from nuclear power stations were allowed to march through Moscow and to demonstrate outside government headquarters. However, the nuclear workers were advancing purely economic demands, while Anpilov's supporters called for the resignation of the government and far-reaching changes in government policies.


The "Izvestiya" board of directors on 18 July appointed Vasilii Zakharko as the paper's new editor in chief, Russian news agencies reported. Zakharko had served as deputy editor of "Izvestiya" since February 1996 and had been acting editor in chief since Igor Golembiovskii was forced out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 7 and 10 July 1997). The board's decision followed an election among "Izvestiya" staff, who voted on 10 candidates for editor and sent the names of the top three vote-getters to the board for consideration. Although the board was not obliged to appoint the journalists' first choice, Zakharko received the most votes from "Izvestiya" staff. Shortly before Zakharko's appointment was announced, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that most "Izvestiya" journalists were discouraged by the selection process and have little hope that the new editor will be independent of the paper's major shareholders, LUKoil and Oneksimbank.


The heads of the Russian space program have decided to allow the next crew scheduled to arrive at the Russian space station "Mir" to do necessary repair work, Russian media reported on 21 July. Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Anatolii Solovev will lift off on 5 August. They have received training at Russia's underwater simulation chamber in Star City in order to carry out the repairs. French astronaut Leopold Eyharts will not be on board as Russian space command says extra room for repair equipment will be needed. The two Russian cosmonauts currently on "Mir" will return after the new crew arrives. But NASA astronaut Michael Foale will stay until September, when a U.S. space shuttle will bring him back to Earth.


Eduard Shevardnadze met with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington on 18 July and discussed Georgia's role in the transportation of Caspian oil. Clinton expressed support for routing a major export pipeline from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan via Georgia, according to the "Financial Times" on 21 July. U.S. officials told Shevardnadze they want part of the oil transported to the Georgian port of Supsa to be shipped to Ukraine for pumping to Western Europe. Clinton praised Shevardnadze's role in furthering democratization and market reform in Georgia and the country's commitment to the defense of human rights. The two presidents issued a written statement pledging "to work together actively to expand cooperation throughout the foreign policy, security, economic and commercial spheres."


Also at their 18 July meeting, Shevardnadze and Clinton called for the resumption of talks on Abkhazia under the aegis of the UN and with the participation of Russia and the Western states that constitute the "Friends of Georgia" group, Reuters reported. Shevardnadze told journalists the next day that he believes Russia has "exhausted its potential" for mediating a solution to the conflict but should continue to participate in negotiations. He added that Russian troops could also participate in a new peacekeeping force under UN auspices, according to ITAR-TASS. At a press conference on 19 July, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev argued that the Russian peacekeepers should remain in Abkhazia after their mandate expires on 31 July. Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh rejected the proposed replacement of Russian peacekeepers by a UN force, which, he said, Tbilisi would try to use to enforce a Bosnian-type settlement of the conflict, Interfax reported.


Azerbaijan has proposed additions to the latest peace plan submitted by the co-chairmen of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe's Minsk Group to the leaderships of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh in May, Russian agencies reported. The co-chairmen met in Baku on 18 July with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-zade said Azerbaijan will never give up the towns of Lachin (located outside Karabakh but currently under Armenian control) and Shusha but that it will agree to the continued use of the Lachin transit corridor, which is the sole overland link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Aliyev expressed optimism that a solution to the conflict will be reached this year, while the U.S. co-chairman said the impetus for resolving the conflict must come from the involved parties and that the mediators can only contribute to the process.


Eduard Yegoryan, chairman of the parliamentary commission on state and legal affairs, told journalists in Yerevan on 18 July that he intends to form a new parliamentary faction, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yegoryan said he has resigned from the ruling board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, to which he was elected on 13 July, and that he no longer considers himself a member of the movement. He said he is ready to cooperate with any opposition party, and will do everything in his power to prevent the movement from winning the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Yegoryan said that more than one-third of the APNM's members support him, Noyan Tapan reported.


The Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) began exchanging war prisoners on 18 July, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan. But while each side was supposed to exchange 50 men, the government handed over only 48 prisoners and the UTO 49. Unspecified "technical reasons" were cited for the deficit. The two sides plan more exchanges soon, but a group called the Parents Committee of War Prisoners from the Leninabad Region is also negotiating for the release of government soldiers held by opposition field commanders. A spokesperson for the committee told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that they have already negotiated the release of more than 100 POWs and reunited them with their parents in northern Tajikistan.


According to RFE/RL corespondents in Tajikistan, a bomb went off in Dushanbe near the State Opera House on 17 July. Slight damage was reported to the theater, but no one was injured. The following day, Russian border guards wounded and then detained two men who tried to smuggle more than 36 kg of opium across the Afghan border into Tajikistan. The two smugglers were given covering fire from the Afghan side of the border. Border guards have seized more than 800 kg of drugs along the Tajik-Afghan border so far this year.


Islam Karimov visited the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in Uzbekistan on 17 July, Interfax reported. Karimov told an extraordinary session of the local parliament that the region's leadership is responsible for a "gigantic cash deficit." Karimov pointed out that gross income in Karakalpak fell by 16 percent and agricultural output by 22 percent during the past three years. He added that targets for cotton and rice production have not been met. Karakalpak parliamentary speaker Ubaniez Ashirbekov was sacked and replaced by an official recommended by Karimov. Karakalpakia is likely the poorest region in Uzbekistan and suffers considerably from the ecological effects of the shrinking Aral Sea.


Eleven political parties and movements issued a statement on 18 July calling for Kyrgyzstan to join the union between Russia and Belarus, Interfax reported. "The Union of Russia and Belarus has become a reality, despite the titanic resistance mounted by those who worked for the destruction of the USSR," the statement said. It also noted that such a union is the only way to avoid "further economic and political disintegration in the sovereign republics." Among the statement's signatories are the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Agrarian Labor Party, the Popular Movement for Union and Brotherhood of Peoples, and the Slavic Fund. Usen Sydykov, the leader of the Agrarian Labor Party, said the head of the new union should be Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, whom he described as a "man of strong will and firm hand."


Suleyman Demirel on 18 July wrapped up his two-day official visit to Kyrgyzstan, Turkish media and RFE/RL correspondents reported. Demirel told the Issyk-Kul 97 Forum that the revival of the silk route will link "spiritual values" between Europe and Asia. He also stressed the important geopolitical role Central Asia has played but said only "constitutional democracy" can ensure that all ethnic groups in the region have equal rights or the "guarantee of the right to be different." Demirel also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and discussed bilateral relations.


Leonid Kuchma on 19 July vowed to thwart a bid by his opponents to seize more power for the parliament and weaken his position by making changes in the constitution, Ukrainian Radio reported. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz had said the previous day that lawmakers will meet in late August to push constitutional changes that would alter the balance of power between the president and the parliament. Kuchma accused the speaker, a Socialist, and his anti-reform allies of plotting a "constitutional coup." He said that in his capacity as president, he has "sufficient means" to block the proposed amendments. Kuchma charged the parliament with destructive self-interest, saying lawmakers "would do better to work on real problems and the creation of a legal base for concrete work."


The parliament on 18 July ratified the European Human Rights Convention, RFE/RL's Kyiv bureau reported. The convention is aimed at safeguarding human rights. Legislators, however, did not vote on a protocol that would abolish capital punishment, an issue that is the subject of an ongoing debate in Ukraine. Kyiv pledged to abolish the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe in November 1995, But according to the Interior Ministry, the death penalty was carried out some 170 times last year. No convicts have been put to death so far in 1997. Local media report there are currently about 135 prisoners in Ukraine who have been sentenced to death.


Nikolai Mechernyuk, director-general of the Beltransgas company, said on Belarusian Television on 19 July that Russia and Belarus have agreed that supplies of Russian gas to Belarus will continue at current levels for the time being. Earlier, the Russian Gazprom company had warned Belarus that it may cut gas supplies after 19 July because of Minsk's outstanding debts, which amounts to $123 million. Mechernyuk said the agreement reached between his company and Gazprom is to be in effect for a few days only. All outstanding issues are expected to be resolved in Moscow, where a Belarusian government delegation is scheduled to arrive on 21 July.


The Minsk district court on 18 July reprimanded four protesters for demonstrating against the planned closure of the Belarusian Humanities School, which is the only school in Minsk in which all classes take place in Belarusian, Belapan reported. The four were charged with participation in an unsanctioned demonstration. The previous day, several people protesting the plans to close the school were clubbed and detained by police. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had issued an order on 14 July to transfer the building housing the school to the Presidential Administrative Department. Opponents of the order say it is an attempt by Lukashenka to curb organizations to which he objects.


Estonia will not extradite to Latvia the suspected terrorist "Viktor," who in recent months threatened to blow up various buildings in Riga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1997), BNS reported on 18 July, citing the Latvian police chief. A Tallinn court will try the 35-year-old Estonian businessman on charges drawn up by the Latvian authorities. In other news, financial analysts report that the EU Commission's decision to recommend Estonia for talks on membership in the union have pushed up share prices. They are also confident that the decision means investors can count on a positive country risk rating.


Andris Skele told a press conference in Riga on 18 July that the current government crisis has been triggered by the "frivolous attitude to the anti-corruption law by a number of ministers and ultimatum-like announcements by political parties that might be perceived as political blackmail," BNS reported. He said he will soon propose a "detailed plan" to resolve the crisis but declined to elaborate. Also on 18 July, the Privatization Agency announced that the state-owned news agency LETA will be auctioned off in August. LETA has been operating with huge losses in recent years. Meanwhile, the government announced on 19 July that former Soviet passports carried by Latvian citizens will be declared invalid as of 1 November. More than 90 percent of the population have so far been issued Latvian passports, according to the Interior Ministry.


Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in Poland and the Czech Republic on 19-20 July as heavy rains continued across Central Europe. Nearly 9,000 people were evacuated as a precaution in northeastern Czech Republic, where emergency flood alerts were in force on several rivers. A state of emergency also has been declared in the northeastern industrial city of Ostrava and in Uherske Hradiste, farther to the south. In Poland, the government deployed some 45,000 troops and 80 helicopters to evacuate residents stranded in flooded villages. In eastern Germany, the Oder River reached its highest level for 50 years in Frankfurt on the Oder. The flooding in the region has killed more than 100 people in the past two weeks.


Vladimir Meciar told journalists on 20 July in Trencianske Teplice that a "big agreement" between the Slovak government and the Holy See is to provide the foundation of relations between the state and the Church. Meciar was speaking following talks between cabinet members and Church leaders on 19 July in the presence of papal nuncio Luigi Dossena. Relations between the state and the Church must be defined by an agreement, Meciar said. The agreement will anchor the adoption of mutual commitments, rights, and duties, he added. Further talks between the government and the Catholic hierarchy will take place in the second half of August.


The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland issued a joint statement in Prague on 18 July saying they want Slovakia to be granted NATO and EU membership, CTK reported. Darius Rosati of Poland said Slovakia's membership in the two organizations is in Poland's interest in terms of its nationhood and defense needs. He added that Slovakia can count on backing from Poland. Hungary's Laszlo Kovacs said that any dividing line between Hungary and Slovakia is out of the question, adding that Budapest wants Slovak foreign policy to be pro-European and pro-Atlantic. Josef Zieleniec of the Czech Republic said that Slovakia's foreign policy standing is causing considerable concern in the Czech Republic. He added that "it is impossible to imagine Slovakia remaining for a long time outside the political and economic organizations that will be joined by the Czech Republic."


Christian Democratic People's Party Chairman Gyoergy Giczy said on 18 July that he intends to dissolve the party's parliamentary faction. He said the faction has distanced itself from the party by refusing to follow policies set out by the party leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1997). Giczy will also ask parliamentary speaker Zoltan Gal to rescind the faction's right to use the party's name. Meanwhile, Interior Minister and Free Democrat leader Gabor Kuncze rejected founding party member Gaspar Miklos Tamas's proposal that the party quit the governing coalition and join the opposition until at least 2002. In a recent opinion poll published by "Magyar Hirlap" on 19 July, the Free Democrats received the support of only 9 percent of decided voters. The Socialist Party led with 32 percent.


National Security Committee Chairman Imre Konya has rejected accusations that the civilian secret services conducted an unlawful operation against politicians involved in the so-called "Operation Birch Tree" scandal (see "RFE-RL Newsline", 12 June 1997), Hungarian media reported on 19 July. Commenting on the committee's final report, which was completed on 16 July, Konya and Ferenc Koeszeg of the Free Democrats said they did not made the document public immediately as Secret Services Minister Istvan Nikolits had wanted to examine it for potential state or service secrets leaks. They also said that one newspaper misled the public by reporting only on irregularities by the Intelligence Office's staff. They stressed that the report also points out errors committed by Nikolits and his associates.


Biljana Plavsic said in Doboj on 20 July that she is "relieved" by the governing Serbian Democratic Party's (SDS) decision the previous night to expel her from the SDS. She added that she will now have more time and energy to devote to the presidency. She also shrugged off the party's call for her to give up that office in favor of Vice President Dragoljub Mirjanic. Asked about Radovan Karadzic's role in corruption, Plavsic said that "nothing happens [on the black market] without his knowledge." Western media reported on 19 July that Plavsic had told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" that she is willing to use the army and police to arrest Karadzic. She charged that her predecessor "murders his own people" and has let himself "be dragged into the criminal underworld."


The official Pale news agency SRNA said that top officials from the police and army met in Bijeljina on 20 July and gave their backing to Plavsic's opponents. No independent confirmation of the story is available. The Pale media have previously misrepresented the views of the army, which has generally sided with Plavsic. The police, however, are the most important armed force in the Republika Srpska, and they are loyal to Karadzic. BETA, meanwhile, reported that Pale Television charged Plavsic is trying to ingratiate herself with Western governments and the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The station claimed she knows that the court has indicted her for war crimes and is trying to "save her own head [by offering up] the heads of some other Serbs."


Some 11 French and Italian armored personnel carriers assembled together about 50 yards from the home of Radovan Karadzic in Pale on 19 July while a NATO helicopter hovered overhead. A NATO spokesman in Sarajevo later claimed, however, that "there is no unusual patrolling activity in Pale." In recent days, explosions took place near the homes or vehicles of SFOR or UN personnel in Doboj, Mrkonjic Grad, and Prijedor. The Vienna daily "Die Presse" wrote on 18 July that SFOR is on special alert after receiving a written threat signed by a group calling itself the Black Hand. The group dubbed SFOR "an occupying army" and said the peacekeepers would "go home in coffins." The original Black Hand was a Serbian nationalist group founded in 1911 with strong links to the Serbian army. It was involved in the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914.


Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said in Vukovar on 20 July that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman had told him the previous day that Serbian refugees with Croatian citizenship may return home. Richardson said that the U.S. welcomes Tudjman's comments and that "Croatia's behavior will be a test of its readiness to be integrated into Western institutions," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the eastern Slavonian town. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Jaksa Muljacic, the Croatian ambassador to the Netherlands, told state-run television that Croatia will not honor a ultimatum from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The court has given Croatia one month to supply key documents in the case of Gen. Tihomir Blaskic and for Defense Minister Gojko Susak to appear in The Hague. Muljacic said that the court does not have the authority to issue such demands to sovereign states.


The Socialist Party said in a statement on 20 July that President Sali Berisha is deliberately avoiding convening the new parliament, in which the Socialists and their allies have a large majority. The text also charged that Berisha refuses to say when he will resign, although he has promised to leave office. The Socialists added that Berisha's delays threaten to upset the timetable for a series of international gatherings aimed at drafting plans for foreign assistance to Albania. The Socialists, furthermore, threatened to call a session of the parliament themselves if Berisha does not do so. AFP said that Berisha is reluctant to step down before he has tried all possible means to block his arch-rival Fatos Nano from becoming prime minister. The Socialists argue that Berisha has no role in determining the composition of the next government.


The Central Election Commission stated on 19 July in Tirana that the Socialists won 100 out of the 155 mandates in the 29 June ballot. The Socialists allies took 17 seats, thereby giving the new coalition more than the two-thirds majority it needs to change the constitution. Berisha's Democrats have 27 seats. Meanwhile, the first Italian peacekeepers to leave Albania returned home on 19 July after bad weather prevented their leaving the previous day. Killings and kidnappings are reported to continue unabated in the south. In one recent incident, gangs crossed into Greece and kidnapped Greek farmers, whom the gangs then held for ransom. Albanian police said in Gjirokaster on 21 July that Greece has closed the main border crossing at Kakavia.


The Swiss Foreign Ministry has protested espionage activities carried out by Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 July 1997), the independent news agency Mediafax reported on 19 July. President Emil Constantinescu has instructed Radu Boroianu, Romania's ambassador-designate to Bern, and the Ministry of Justice to collaborate with the Swiss authorities. He said that if evidence is produced of involvement by the Romanian Intelligence Service, those responsible will be dismissed. The Romanian Foreign Ministry on 18 July said it is willing to cooperate with the Swiss authorities. Foreign Minister Adrian Severin told Mediafax the next day that the ministry is conducting an inquiry into the case, stressing that the ministry and the presidential office are "in no way" involved in it.


The Constitutional court on 18 July rejected an appeal against the treaty with Ukraine submitted by half of the judges at the Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1997). The Constitutional Court said the appeal was made after President Constantinescu had promulgated the law on the treaty previously ratified by the parliament. Also on 18 July, the Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by a group of deputies and senators against a law recently passed by the parliament on the reorganization of the judiciary system. The court ruling that the law was in line with the basic document.


The Targu Mures prefect on 19 July ordered that six signs in both the Hungarian and Romanian languages be taken down. The prefect acted on the orders of the government after unidentified persons painted the colors of the Romanian national flag on the signs, which had been put the previous day. The government says the signs have first to be approved by the local government council. The Executive Committee of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania said on 20 July that the dismantling of the signs "is in violation of international accords signed by Romania" and "gravely affect the process of the country's democratization." In line with a recent government ordinance, bilingual signs are allowed where ethnic minorities make up 20 percent or more of the population.


The parliament on 18 July elected Andrei Diaconu as its new deputy chairman. Diaconu, who represents the Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova, was elected with the support of the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo faction, which is the second-largest group in the legislature. Socialist Unity-Edinstvo conditioned its support on the dismissal of former Deputy Chairman Dumitru Diacov, a supporter of President Petru Lucinschi. Diacov's dismissal was approved by the legislature one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 18 July 1997), Infotag and BASA-press reported. In other news, the Moldovan Ecologist Party on 18 July joined the Democratic Convention of Moldova opposition alliance, which was formed in June by the Party of Revival and Accord and the Popular Christian Democratic Front. The three parties appealed to the opposition to unite before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1998.


Anatol Taranu, the head of the Moldovan delegation to negotiations with the breakaway region of Transdniester, has accused Tiraspol of procrastinating on reaching an agreement based on the memorandum signed in Moscow in early May. Taranu told Infotag on 18 July that the Transdniester authorities are attempting to circumvent the basic principle of the memorandum, which recognizes Moldova's territorial integrity. He also said that while Chisinau has agreed that negotiations be based on a draft proposed by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine and by the OSCE representatives in June, Tiraspol has "still not given a clear answer" on that issue. He also said Tiraspol's representatives rejected Chisinau's proposal that the two sides' experts meet twice a week, instead of once, in order to step up the negotiations.


by Paul Goble.

The first organizational meeting of the NATO-Russia Joint Council suggests that Moscow is likely to have more than a voice but less than a veto in future decisions by the Western alliance. The 18 July session seems certain to exacerbate rather than end the debate between those like U.S. President Bill Clinton who argue that the council gives Russia a say but not a veto in NATO affairs and others, like former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who believe Moscow has gained an effective, if not explicit, veto.

The body's inaugural session had to be delayed by one day because the Western alliance refused to give into a Russian demand for a modification of the 27 May Founding Act that established the council. That accord calls for body to have three co-chairmen--the NATO secretary-general, a representative of Russia, and a representative of NATO member countries selected on a rotating basis.

Russian ambassador Vitalii Churkin argued that there should be only two co-chairmen, one representing the alliance and another representing Russia. NATO members refused to comply, lending support to the claim that Russia will not have a veto in the council. But at the same time, the alliance did concede that the chairmanship would rotate among the three chairmen from one session to the next. As a result of that concession to Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana chaired the first part of the meeting, the NATO member representative (in this case, the Belgian ambassador) the second, and the Russian ambassador the third.

Critics who argue that the NATO-Russia Founding Act gives Moscow a veto over the alliance's actions are likely to see this diplomatic arrangement as a confirmation of their position. But the outcome of the 18 July meeting fails to fully vindicate the position of either side. Rather, it suggests the new council will give Russia more than simply a voice but not a genuine veto if NATO leaders are prepared to stand their ground.

There are three reasons for drawing this intermediate conclusion. First, the NATO countries are very publicly committed to making the council work. Confident that NATO members will not want to be blamed for any breakdown in the talks, Russia will seek to expand its influence by making demands.

Second, the likelihood that NATO will seek to adapt its position so as to avoid antagonizing Russia will extend not only to those issues that NATO agrees to include on the agenda of the council but also to those that NATO leaders may feel should not be discussed there.

At the next meeting of the council on 11 September, NATO and Russia are scheduled to discuss Bosnia. When talking about that issue with Moscow, NATO countries will find it hard to exclude military issues that they have said will not be discussed by the joint council. As a result, Russia will gain influence over matters in which, according to the Founding Act, it has no say.

Moreover, Moscow will be able to extend its voice on issues NATO might refuse to discuss in the joint council by linking agreement on something discussed there to a NATO concession on matters that the council had never had before it. And the expectation that the Russian government will do that is likely to become an implicit part of the calculations of NATO planners. That too will mean that Russia's voice will only grow with time.

Third, as the procedural debate makes clear, NATO can block or simply ignore Russian demands if the alliance is united and if its most important members indicate they are prepared to stand up to Moscow on any issue--large or small.

This last point illustrates that Russia does not have the simple veto that President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov have claimed. But the certainty that Russia will exploit divisions within the alliance and the desire of many of NATO members to reach agreement almost certainly means that the council will give Russia a much larger and more influential voice than the text of the Founding Act suggested.