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Newsline - September 1, 1997


Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin has denied reports in some Western media that Russia may have recently conducted a nuclear test near the Arctic site of Novaya Zemlya, Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. Nesterushkin said Russia is adhering to the moratorium on nuclear testing declared by Yeltsin in 1992, adding that Russia refrains from all actions that would contradict the provisions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Moscow has signed but not ratified that treaty. Earlier in the day, Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov also categorically denied the reports, saying an earthquake had caused a "seismic event" recorded near Novaya Zemlya on 16 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 1997). The U.S., Norway and Finland had officially asked Moscow for an explanation of the event.


Meeting in the Kremlin on 29 August, Boris Yeltsin and Levon Ter-Petrossyan signed a bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance that supercedes an earlier agreement concluded in December 1991, but never ratified. The agreement provides for more intensive cooperation, particularly in the military and economic sphere. Yeltsin characterized his talks with Ter-Petrossyan as "candid, sincere and trustful," and said the new treaty "marks a qualitatively new stage of Russian-Armenian relations" on the level of "strategic partnership." The Armenian president said that implementation of the treaty would result in closer integration than the Russia-Belarus Union. Ter-Petrossyan, who was accompanied on his three-day visit by the foreign, defense, economy and finance and energy ministers and controversial Yerevan mayor Vano Siradeghyan, also held talks with Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yevgenii Primakov, Igor Sergeev, Ivan Rybkin and Gennadii Seleznev.


On 30 August, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, Armenian Energy Minister Gagik Martirossyan and ITERA president Igor Makarov signed an agreement creating the joint stock company ArmRosGazprom, which will finance, construct and operate a gas pipeline network to supply natural gas to Armenia and export gas via Armenia to Turkey, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Armenia will use part of the Russian gas to generate energy, which will enable it to supply Turkey with up to 3 billion kW/hours of electricity without building new power lines. Ter-Petrossyan, who attended the signing ceremony, termed the agreement as important as the reactivating of Armenia's mothballed nuclear power station. Russia provided substantive financial and technical help in restarting the Medzamor nuclear power station in 1995.


Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev and Turkish Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer signed a $3 billion preliminary agreement in Ankara on 29 August to build a pipeline under the Black Sea from Tuapse to Samsun through which Turkey will import Russian natural gas, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. The deal is to be finalized during a visit to Turkey by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, possibly in November or December. Construction of the pipeline may begin next year, according to Vyakhirev. Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said the agreement gives "a new dimension" to Turkey's economic ties with Russia.


Yeltsin announced on 1 September that he will not run for president in 2000, Russian media reported. While visiting a Moscow school on the first day of the academic year, Yeltsin said a younger and "more energetic" generation will govern Russia after his current term expires. Article 81 of the Russian Constitution forbids a president from serving for more than two consecutive terms. Although Yeltsin was first elected president in 1991 and re-elected in 1996, there had been some speculation that he might seek a third term on the grounds that since 1991, Russia has gained independence and adopted a new constitution.


Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said on 1 September that the government is beginning "intensive work" on paying its debts to teachers, ITAR-TASS reported. A July presidential decree ordered all back wages to state employees to be paid by 1 January 1998. But Sysuev noted that while the federal government had paid pension arrears earlier this summer, regional governments would have to provide half the funds to pay back wages. In a nationwide radio address on 1 September, Yeltsin blamed chronic wage delays to teachers on regional authorities, saying, "I am ashamed for the governors of those oblasts where such a disgrace goes on." Meanwhile, the teachers' trade union in the Republic of Buryatia decided to call off a planned strike and let the school year begin on schedule after teachers finally received their salaries for October 1996, ITAR-TASS reported.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement, has described Sergei Belyaev as a poor leader of the NDR State Duma faction and has said his departure should not be considered a "tragedy," ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. Announcing his resignation from the NDR council and Duma faction, Belyaev accused the movement of becoming "bureaucratic" and of not living up to its 1995 campaign promises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 1997). The prime minister expressed regret that Belyaev had issued an "inadequate" response to "tactful" attempts by NDR colleagues to search for his replacement. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 August that Chernomyrdin recently met secretly with 26 NDR Duma deputies, 23 of whom advocated replacing Belyaev. Duma deputy Aleksei Golovkov told Interfax on 29 August that Belyaev may have feared being sacked during an upcoming meeting with Chernomyrdin.


"Izvestiya" commented on 30 August that Belyaev appears to have quit NDR "with the Kremlin's approval." On the eve of his 29 August announcement, Belyaev met with Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and Presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev, the paper said. (It is also notable that Belyaev sharply criticized NDR leaders and spoke pessimistically about the movement's prospects in a 26 August interview with "Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration.) "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 August described Belyaev's departure as evidence of the "final political divorce" between the prime minister and the government's "young reformers" (First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov). In a separate article published in that paper the same day, Belyaev criticized Prime Minister Chernomyrdin for not devoting the time or the effort to build NDR into a strong political movement.


"Kommersant-Daily" argued on 30 August that Belyaev's unprecedented public criticism of the NDR has severely weakened the movement's Duma faction. However, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated the same day that only about five NDR Duma deputies will follow Belyaev's lead. So far only Nikolai Travkin has confirmed that he will quit the faction. (Travkin gained fame in the early 1990s as founder of the Democratic Party of Russia, but he was ousted from that party in 1994 and was elected to the Duma on the NDR list the following year.) On 3 September, NDR Duma deputies will consider a replacement for Belyaev. Among the leading contenders are Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin and Duma Nationalities Committee Chairman Vladimir Zorin. The same day, NDR deputies will decide whether to expel Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who recently created an opposition movement to support the armed forces.


The new State Military Inspectorate has a mandate to oversee the activities of far more than the various branches of the armed forces, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 August. The Interior Ministry troops, Border Troops, Federal Security Service (FSB), and Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) are among organizations whose activities also will be monitored by the inspectorate, the paper said. Yeltsin recently appointed Andrei Kokoshin as head of the inspectorate and Defense Council secretary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 1997). Kokoshin told "Izvestiya" that the inspectorate will not "be in charge of the armed forces" or ministers who are subordinated to the president. Rather, it will "fulfill the president's will" by monitoring how defense policy and military reform are progressing. The Defense Council will "examine strategic questions" and make decisions, Kokoshin said, but those decisions must be confirmed by the president.


Defense Minister Igor Sergeev says that current military reform plans call for officers' salaries to be increased by 50 percent by 2001 and to be 60 percent above current levels by 2005, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. He said military reform would amount to more than a "reshuffle of furniture" in the armed forces and would raise the status and material position of military personnel. Meanwhile, a Defense Ministry statement released on 1 September warned that seven to eight percent of instructors at military institutions of higher education leave each year. The departure rate is two to three times the rate at which new teachers are trained to replace them. Only 60 percent of Russian military educational institutions are fully staffed with qualified teachers. The Defense Ministry runs 102 institutions of higher education, down from 166 that existed before the collapse of the USSR.


Newly appointed Culture Minister Natalya Dementeva told "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 August that she is "inspired" by the increasing willingness to appoint women to government posts. Tatyana Dmitrieva became health minister in August 1996, and Natalya Fonareva was picked to head the State Anti-Monopoly Committee just a few days before Dementeva's appointment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 1997). "Izvestiya" on 30 August quoted Dementeva as saying that women are more dynamic and decisive than men. Speaking to ITAR-TASS the previous day, Dementeva said "women can be trusted with important posts" because they bear many burdens in life and consequently "understand and feel some things more subtly than representatives of the stronger sex." Meanwhile, in her interview with "Kommersant-Daily" Dementeva dismissed characterizations of her as a "creature of [First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais." She said she had only met Chubais once before her appointment.


Iran's new leadership considers ties with Russia a top foreign policy priority, Russian deputy foreign minister Viktor Posuvalyuk told ITAR-TASS on 31 August. Posuvalyuk was in Tehran for talks on bilateral relations, regional problems, including Tajikistan, and economic relations. Posuvalyuk said that Russia is keen to expand trade turnover with Iran.


Speaking at a press conference at Interfax's Moscow offices on 29 August, former Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed assessed the impact on Russian politics of the accord signed by himself and Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov in Khasavyurt on 31 August, 1996, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. That agreement outlined the framework determining future bilateral relations between Moscow and Grozny over a five-year period. Lebed claimed the credit for drafting the agreement which formally ended the war, thereby saving Russia 365 trillion rubles ($62.7 billion) and "scores of thousands of lives." In a separate interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 August, Lebed claimed that Yeltsin had removed any mention of the Khasavyurt agreement from the peace treaty signed with Chechnya in May, and that his successor as Security Council secretary, the "absurdly and insanely loyal" Ivan Rybkin, is systematically discrediting it.


Delegates to the Second World Congress of Tatars on 29 August adopted an appeal to Yeltsin to pay closer attention to the cultural and spiritual development of the Tatar people, noting specifically that RFE/RL is the only radio station with daily shortwave broadcasts in the Tatar language that can be received throughout the Russian Federation, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. They also called on Yeltsin to create a mechanism for ensuring adequate representation of non-Russian ethnic groups in federal bodies. In a parallel appeal to Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, the congress delegates asked him to expedite the transition from the cyrillic to the Latin alphabet in order to facilitate communication among the world's 7 million ethnic Tatars.


One man was killed and seven more wounded, including four police officials, in fighting in the Dagestani town of Khasavyurt during the night of 30-31 August, Russian media reported. Interfax reported that the violence erupted after a group of local Akkin Chechens had tried to prevent the arrest of another Chechen. But Chechen first deputy prime minister Movladi Ugudov told ITAR-TASS that the incident was "a provocation by extremist forces" aimed at disrupting the ongoing Russian-Chechen talks. Russian deputy interior minister Petr Latyshev and the commander of the Russian interior ministry troops Leontii Shevtsov travelled to Khasavyurt on 31 August to investigate the incident.


The spiritual leader of Tajikistan's Muslims, Amonullo Negmatzoda, is being held by Rezvon Sadirov and his followers, international media reported. Sadirov is demanding the government release his brother, Bahrom, in return for the Mufti and his two sons. The Sadirov brothers' gang was responsible for taking members of the U.N. observer mission to Tajikistan hostage, once in December 1996 and again last February The government has stressed the need for avoiding violence and has been negotiating with Rezvon's group. However, the scheduled handover of Negmatzoda and his sons did not take place as planned at 12:00 local time on 1 September. But RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan report that the Mufti and his sons will be freed later in the day. UN special envoy to Tajikistan, Gerd Merrem, has condemned the Mufti's kidnapping but has emphasized it is not connected with the peace process but is considered a "criminal" action.


Benjamin Netanyahu made a brief stopover in Baku on 29 August on his return from Japan, Turan and Russian agencies reported. Netanyahu met with President Heidar Aliyev and with the foreign and economics ministers. Netanyahu told reporters the talks focused on possible deliveries of Azerbaijani oil to Israel, exports of Israeli technology to Azerbaijan, and unspecified international and regional issues. On 30 August, Iranian state radio termed Netanyahu's Baku visit "destabilizing" and accused the Azerbaijani leadership of playing "a dangerous game," Reuters reported.


Aslan Maskhadov flew to Tbilisi on 30 August for talks with Eduard Shevardnadze on regional and economic issues, including the Abkhaz conflict, and the Chechen proposals to create a Caucasus security organization similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and to build a pipeline for the export of Chechen oil via Georgia, Russian and Western agencies reported. The two presidents also visited the north Georgian town of Akhmeta, which has a sizeable Chechen population. Shevardnadze termed the meeting, which had been postponed at least once, "an important step towards good neighborly relations," while Maskhadov said it "will play a huge role for security in the Caucasus," AFP reported. (See also "Endnote")


Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, during his 27-30 August visit to Germany, met with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Roman Herzog, ITAR-TASS and DPA reported. Niyazov's meetings with the two leaders was largely ceremonial but the Turkmen president's meetings with business leaders proved fruitful. At a meeting with officials of the Mannesmann company, a contract was signed for constructing a plant in Turkmenistan to produce 200,000 tons yearly of ethylene and polyethylene. The German company "Agrevro" will help with agricultural work on a 10,000 hectare area in Turkmenistan. President Niyazov and his delegation arranged 19 new projects with German partners. The projects are worth an estimated $416 million.


On 31 August, the day after Saparmurat Niyazov returned from Germany to Turkmenistan, Turkmen television reported Niyazov will return to Germany for heart surgery in September, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Niyazov was examined by German specialists who concluded an operation to restore normal functioning of the coronary-arterial system is necessary. The date and location of the operation has not been made public.


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev arrived in Kuwait on 31 August for a two-day visit, ITAR-TASS reported. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev signed an agreement on cooperation between foreign ministries with Kuwait's Deputy Foreign Minister Suleyman Majid Shahin. Nazarbayev is scheduled to meet with Amir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah and other Kuwaiti officials before traveling on to Bahrain and Oman.


Some 1,000 people, most of them journalists from Belarusian opposition publications, rallied on 30 August in Minsk to demand the release of two Russian ORT television employees detained by Belarusian authorities, Interfax reported. Some of the protesters were dressed in prisoners' uniforms. A total of seven ORT journalists were detained over the past month by Belarusian authorities on charges of violating the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. Five of them were released following pressure from Moscow. The remaining two--both Belarusian citizens--are still in jail. On 29 August, Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich said that ORT journalists may be allowed to resume their jobs in Belarus, but only if their bosses formally apologize for their recent illegal border crossing.


Alfred Nzo on 30 August concluded what he called a "historic" visit to Ukraine. The visit came three years after the two countries established diplomatic ties. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko said at a joint news conference with Nzo that the two discussed a wide range of issues aimed at strengthening relations in the political, economic, military, scientific and technological fields. Nzo also met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko and the ministers of defense, trade and industrial policy. Nzo said his talks with Defense Minister Oleksander Kuzmuk were devoted to military cooperation agreements signed when South Africa's defense chief visited Ukraine earlier this year. On 29 August, Ukraine's foreign ministry announced President Kuchma is planning to visit South Africa late this year.


The town of Narva on Estonia's northeastern border will not cut off water and sewage services to the town of Ivangorod in Russia, the Estonian news service ETA reported on 29 August. The two towns, divided by the Narva river, shared a common infrastructure as part of the Soviet Union until 1991. The Narva municipal water supplier Narva Vesi had threatened to cut services because of mounting debts incurred by Ivangorod until an agreement was reached on 29 August. Pavel Grigoryev, mayor of Ivangorod, promised to pay the current debt of roughly 3 million kroons ($200,000) before the end of 1997, Narva Vesi director Aksel Ers told ETA. Ivangorod plans to cover back interest on the debt by exporting oil shale to Narva.


Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius and Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, meeting on 29 August in Wigry in northeastern Poland, agreed to establish a third bilateral government cooperation council, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reported. It is to convene in two weeks in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, to deliberate on such matters as joint border controls, national minorities, and the integration of Baltic states into Western international institutions. The two countries already have joint presidential and parliamentary consultative forums. The prime ministers also discussed plans for a visit by Cimoszewicz to Lithuania in September.


Polish Defense Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski, German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe , and Danish Defense Minister Hans Haekkerp met 29-31 August north of Warsaw to discuss Bosnia and the security situation in Europe. The ministers on 31 August announced plans to establish a joint military corps. The corps will begin operation after Poland's entry into NATO. Ruehe on 31 August warned Bosnian Serb hardliners in Pale against any attempts to torpedo the peace process. He said the "old forces" will not be allowed to destroy the young roots of peace in Bosnia. He said all sides should be aware that NATO is serious, and they should abide by the Dayton peace accords. Those failing to do so "will face hard times ahead." He noted that NATO peacekeepers are not in Bosnia to use force, but that their job is to ensure that the Dayton agreement is abided by.


The Solidarity Election Action (AWS) on 31 August unveiled its election platform three weeks ahead of the general elections, Polish media reported. The program has 21 points, outlining political and economic reforms. It was released on the 17th anniversary of Solidarity's emergence as the former Soviet bloc's first independent trade union. AWS chairman Marian Krzaklewski read out the planned reforms including a pro-family tax policy, stepped-up privatization, a crackdown on organized crime and the modernization of the armed forces to ensure Poland's smooth entry into NATO. The 21-point platform is a symbolic throwback to the 21 demands issued 17 years ago by striking shipyard workers.


"Mlada Fronta Dnes" wrote on 1 September that the foreign debt of the Czech Republic has grown from $8.5 billion in 1993 to a current $19.6 billion. According to the daily, the Czech Republic, previously known as one of the East European countries with a low level of foreign indebtedness, now has one of the highest per capita indebtedness in the region. The daily quotes Czech National Bank spokesman Martin Svehla as saying that the level of indebtedness has reached the point where investors have started to doubt the Czech economy's health and could start threatening the country's relatively good rating.


Michal Kovac on 31 August appealed to the government to respect a Constitutional Court ruling which in July overturned the expulsion of deputy Frantisek Gaulieder from the parliament, Slovak Radio reported. In a special address to parliament commemorating the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the country's constitution, Kovac said acceptance of the court's ruling could improve Slovakia's political image abroad. In December 1996, the parliament stripped Gaulieder of his mandate shortly after he quit Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). The Constitutional Court said the parliament had violated the Constitution, but it stopped short of ordering Gaulieder's reinstatement, saying it lacked the authority to do so. EU and NATO countries, including the U.S., have criticized the decision to expel Gaulieder. At the end of August, the Slovak coalition parties boycotted parliament sessions called to discuss Gaulieder's case on three consecutive days.


The Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK)--a five-party election coalition--said in a statement released on 30 August that it will strive for renewed democracy after the 1998 elections it is hoping to win. The coalition consists of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) , the Democratic Union, the Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and the Greens. The statement lists 15 points comprising the coalition's agenda, including efforts to secure a full-fledged position in NATO and the EU. The coalition says it will "punish crimes committed by the present government."


Eight members of the Christian Democratic People's Party's dissolved parliamentary faction, including ex-faction leader Tamas Isepy and party deputy chair Zsolt Semjen, announced on 29 August their intention to join the parliamentary group of the Alliance of Young Democrats - Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP). Zoltan Pokorni, Young Democrats' faction leader, welcomed the initiative and told "Magyar Hirlap" that FIDESZ will decide about receiving the eight new members at its September 7 meeting. He expressed hopes for a positive decision, saying the move would help establish a moderate, centrist opposition coalition. Meanwhile, the Hungarian Christian Democratic Union, established in mid-July and consisting of groups distancing themselves from the party's present leadership, elected Laszlo Surjan as the union's leader on 30 August.


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 31 August that persons from Yugoslavia were behind the organized, armed attacks on NATO troops in Brcko last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 1997). Plavsic argued that "to take such irresponsible action there, driving in criminals from Yugoslavia... and then put women and children up front as shields is insane and amoral for any normal man." Observers note that all sides, however, used such tactics during the war. Meanwhile, police loyal to the hard-line leadership around Radovan Karadzic were still in control of the well-guarded police stations in Brcko and Bijeljina on 1 September.


Farrand also said in Banja Luka on 31 August that the international community will keep contact only with Bosnian Serb officials supporting Plavsic. Foreign diplomats had earlier refused to have anything to do with the Pale-based parliament, which she has dissolved. The international community has denied charges from Pale that the foreigners are taking sides and has responded that Plavsic is the Republika Srpska's only elected president and legitimate source of authority. Meanwhile, the Sarajevo-based daily "Vecernje Novine" and the Banja Luka-based "Nezavisne Novine" announced in Sarajevo that they will begin distributing each other's newspapers on 1 September. This is a landmark attempt to break the information barrier between the Croat-Muslim Federation and the Republika Srpska.


Robert Gelbard called Karadzic spokesman Momcilo Krajisnik and other hard-line Bosnian Serb leaders "liars" during his visit to Pale on 30 August. The U.S. diplomat dubbed their policies "fascist and totalitarian" and warned the Pale leadership of tough consequences if they continue to defy the international community. Krajisnik responded that the Serbs "do not accept any threats." Some Western diplomats said that Krajisnik shrugged off the protests because only tough actions, and not tough talk, have an effect on the Serbs. Other diplomats argued that Krajisnik is nervous because he did not expect the Western reaction to the violence in Brcko to be so resolute.


NATO ambassadors warned in Brussels on 30 August that SFOR will not tolerate further attacks against international personnel. The diplomats added that peacekeepers may silence media that incite violence or oppose the peace process, which observers said is a reference to Radio-TV Pale. Several international diplomats and U.S. lawmakers had earlier called for peacekeepers to shut down especially TV broadcasts from Pale, which, the critics said, openly incite Serbs to attack NATO troops. Meanwhile near Bijeljina, SFOR took over the Udrigovo TV relay station on 31 August. The station had been broadcasting programs from Pale to northeastern Bosnia. And in Doboj, Republika Srpska legislator and journalist Milovan Stankovic has gone on a hunger strike in prison. Hard-liners jailed him after he supported a pro-Plavsic takeover of a local TV transmitter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 1997).


Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim representative of the Bosnian joint presidency, demanded in Sarajevo on 31 August that federal and Travnik-area police quickly catch the persons who killed two Croatian returning refugees in Muslim-dominated Travnik the day before. Izetbegovic added that any crime against returning refugees is also a crime against the Dayton peace agreement, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Croatian political leaders in the Travnik area warned that the murders have become a test case for the troubled Croat-Muslim Federation. The Croatian leaders said there is now reason to doubt the recent pledge by the Travnik authorities that the town is ready to receive 18,000 returning Croats.


U.N. police officials announced in Vukovar on 30 August that they have freed 35 women from eastern European countries as part of a two-month crackdown on mafia-type activities in eastern Slavonia. The U.N. has contacted the women's embassies and made arrangements for those who want to go home to do so. The women had been lured to the area under promises of good jobs but were then forced into prostitution and their passports taken away. This is a familiar pattern involving eastern European women in brothels across much of the continent. U.N. officials said that mafia-type criminals have, moreover, resisted the reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia, which the Mafiosi see as a threat to their economic interests. These involve fuel and cigarette smuggling and stolen cars, as well as prostitution.


About 10,000 Albanians who took refugee in Italy during the unrest in March will be sent back by the end of November, "Dita Informacion" reported on 31 August. Italian Defense Minister Beniamino Andreatta said that the refugees would be expelled in a step-by-step approach starting soon, depending on the expiration date of their refugee documents. And in Gjirokaster, the conflict over the appointment of the local prefect and customs officials at the Greek border continues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 1997). The local branch of the Socialist Party claims that a large number of those appointed are corrupt.


Police collected 100,000 illegally held arms as of 30 August, according to Interior Minister Neritan Ceka. Up to 800,000 arms are, however, still in private hands. Ceka accused former President Sali Berisha of having ordered the arming of more than 4,000 of his Democratic Party supporters in March by taking advantage of his position as commander of the armed forces, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. According to "Zeri i Popullit," most of these weapons have since been turned in. Meanwhile, doctors said the health of hunger-striking former parliamentary speaker Pjeter Arbnori is worsening. Prime Minister Fatos Nano and President Rexhep Meidani sent messages to Arbnori, calling on him to end his protest and offered to start a discussion about democratization of the media.


Romania and Russia have agreed to relaunch talks about a long-delayed treaty on bilateral relations, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 29 August. The treaty has been blocked by Bucharest's insistence that Moscow denounce the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact made in 1939 between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Under that pact, Romania lost control of territory in what is now Ukraine and Moldova. Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin said on 29 August that Bucharest wants to sign a new treaty with Russia as soon as possible after agreement is reached on the text. RFE/RL quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev as saying on 29 August that Russia also is prepared to resume negotiations.


Romania's former prime minister, Petre Roman, was reelected as head of the Democratic Party on 30 August during the party's national convention. Roman pledged that his party, a junior partner in the governing coalition of Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, will continue to support radical economic restructuring -- including the closure of loss-making state industries. But Roman also said his party would criticize what it sees as errors in the application of reforms. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party passed a resolution asking for fair cooperation among the parties that make up the government. The Democratic Party said it will leave the coalition and ask for new elections if its coalition partners attempt to improve their own political profiles at the expense of its allies. The Democratic Party now controls the foreign affairs, defense and transport ministries.


Emil Constantinescu plans to make an official visit to China next week in an attempt to boost ties between the two countries. RFE/RL quotes officials in Bucharest as saying that the visit will take place between 8 and 12 September at the invitation of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Constantinescu's schedule calls for meetings with Jiang and Prime Minister Li Peng, as well as with businessmen in Hong Kong and the economic zone of Zuhia. Foreign Minister Severin and several Romanian businessmen are expected to join Constantinescu's entourage.


Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov today marked his 100th day in office by issuing a report to his cabinet on its work to date. Details of the report are to be made public later today. RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reports that former interim Prime Minister Stefan Sofiansky attended the closed cabinet meeting. RFE/RL quotes a recent World Bank report noting progress toward financial stabilization and an improved climate for investment since Kostov's anti-Communist government took office. But the World Bank also says that several economic sectors, including retail trade, have so far failed to show signs of recovery.


by Liz Fuller

Russia's heavy-handed and proprietorial, but ultimately ineffectual, approach to promoting regional cooperation and inter-ethnic harmony in the Caucasus has inspired local leaders to devise alternative strategems for achieving these aims, while circumscribing Russia's influence. The Russian approach is epitomized by the declaration "For Inter-Ethnic Accord, Peace, and Economic and Cultural Cooperation in the Transcaucasus" signed in June 1996 by the presidents of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The signatories condemn any attempt to sow enmity between either individual nations of the Caucasus, or between the region as a whole and Russia. And they affirm their shared commitment to creating a strong pan-European security system of which the Caucasus is envisaged as a crucial component.

But although numerous regional political figures favor the concept of a pan-Caucasian organization that would unite the three Transcaucasus states plus the North Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation, there is no consensus over whether this organization should focus on political, economic or security issues, or whether several separate bodies should be created to perform different and complementary functions. Predictably, each Caucasus state/republic has expressed interest in those aspect(s ) which meet its particular needs, rather than assessing the merits of each alternative from the point of view of what is likely to benefit the region as a whole.

More crucially, some regional leaders have seized on the concept of pan-Caucasus solidarity as a means of taking advantage of Russia's lack of a comprehensive policy toward the region as a whole. Some Russian observers suspect Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze of conspiring with the Chechens to create an independent Caucasian Federation that would include Chechnya and possibly several other North Caucasus Russian republics. It has even been suggested that Shevardnadze has the backing of the West for such an undertaking. Armenia, on the other hand, which is Moscow's closest regional ally, opposes the exclusion of Russia from any new supra-national regional body.

Several separate models for a pan-Caucasus organization or union are currently under discussion. At a meeting in late June in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, of deputies to North and Transcaucasus parliaments, representatives from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ingushetia and Dagestan informally proposed a pan-Caucasus parliament. Other North Caucasus republics reacted with extreme caution to this suggestion, however, fearing that it would be construed in Moscow as "separatist." The Armenian leadership was likewise said to be "wary" of such an initiative, but Shevardnadze termed it "worthy of attention." As an alternative, or a complement, to such a body, the Georgian parliament has advocated a Caucasian inter-parliamentary assembly. Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev has proposed a pan-Caucasian "consultative council."

Somewhat more audacious (and, from Moscow's viewpoint, more alarming) is the idea tabled by Chechen first deputy prime minister Movladi Udugov for a pan-Caucasus security organization, with its headquarters in Tbilisi, modelled on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This proposal, too, found favor with Shevardnadze, and also with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, although the heads of Azerbaijan's power ministries expressed reservations on the grounds that such a body is superfluous, and that it would create problems in relations between Moscow and the Transcaucasus states. (One Georgian analyst has argued that a pan-Caucasus parliament, inter-parliamentary assembly and security organization are not mutually exclusive concepts, but complementary.) Although Armenia is generally in favor of closer regional cooperation on security issues, a Yerevan journalist close to the country's leadership made it clear that Armenia would only join a hypothetical Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Caucasus if Russia were an equal partner in that organization. Other Armenian commentators have similarly expressed concern that such a security body is intended as a counterweight to Russia.

Armenia and Georgia both agree, however, that closer economic cooperation could serve as the motivating force for overcoming regional conflicts. (Tbilisi is currently trying to wrest concessions from the separatist Abkhaz leadership in return for a share of the transit tariffs from the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil.) The Chechens are reportedly trying to raise funding from Saudi Arabia for a Caucasus-Eurasian Common Market comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Georgia and Turkmenistan.

While these various proposed schemes are both rational and (with the possible exception of the Chechen grandiose economic vision) feasible, they overlook the fact that, at least on paper, supra-national organizations already exist to promote security cooperation (the CIS Collective Security Treaty) and economic cooperation (the Black Sea Economic Cooperation) between Transcaucasus states and Russia. The current search for exclusively Caucasian alternatives shows that the peoples of the region continue to mistrust Russia's motives in the Caucasus and fear a possible resurgence of Russia's influence in the region. Russian President Boris Yeltsin's pronouncement on 20 August that "we need a common Caucasian approach which is to be formulated here, within the [Russian] Security Council" will only fuel these fears, and the search for alternative security mechanisms.