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Newsline - September 2, 1997


Russian and Chechen officials, meeting in Moscow on 31 August and 1 September, failed to sign five agreements on repairing the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk oil pipeline, Russian agencies reported. According to NTV, the Chechen delegation refused to sign the accords unless they receive $12 million granted in 1995 to the pro-Moscow Chechen government of Doku Zavgaev. But Chechen state oil company President Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov said the deadlock was caused by Russia's refusal to pay more than $0.43 per metric ton in tariffs. Russian First Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko told Interfax that if it proves impossible to have the pipeline operational by 1 October, when the first "early" oil from Azerbaijan is scheduled to be exported, Russia will "honor its commitments" to Azerbaijan and transport the oil by barge to Astrakhan and Volgograd for refining.


At a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in the Kremlin on 2 September, President Boris Yeltsin said he opposes construction of an alternative pipeline that would run from Baku to the Black Sea through the Russian Federation, bypassing Chechnya, Interfax reported. Yeltsin said he promised Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov that "we shall restore the Grozny oil refinery and pipeline through common efforts." Chernomyrdin confirmed that disagreement over tariffs was the primary cause of the breakdown in talks but insisted that the rate Russia offered Grozny is in line "with standard practice." Under an agreement concluded in February1996 between the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR and Russia's Transneft, Moscow will receive $15.67 per metric ton in transit tariffs. The Chechens are demanding $4.27, according to Interfax.


Anatolii Kulikov told a gathering of law enforcement officials in the southern city of Pyatigorsk (Stavropol Krai) on 2 September that worsening criminal activity in the troubled North Caucasus region threatens all Russia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Pyatigorsk reported. Kulikov told the conference that "local radical nationalist leaders" were seeking to destabilize the region by fanning anti-Russian sentiment in the region. He mentioned the 30-31 August clash in the Dagestani town of Khasavyurt, which left one man dead and seven wounded after Akkin Chechens tried to prevent the arrest of another Chechen. Kulikov said Yeltsin will pay close attention to the results of his meeting with the law enforcement officials, which is also being attended by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov.


German President Roman Herzog has vowed his country will return artifacts from the famous Amber Room if they are found to be genuine. Herzog was speaking following a meeting with President Yeltsin in the Kremlin on 1 September. Some 6,000 tons of amber mosaics were carted off by Nazi soldiers during World War II from the Summer Palace, outside St. Petersburg. Two pieces believed to be part of the collection were discovered in Germany earlier this year. If Germany returns the pieces to Russia, it could strengthen its case for winning back German "trophy art" seized by the Soviet Red Army at the end of the war. Yeltsin has twice vetoed a bill declaring the seized artifacts to be Russian property.


Following his talks with Herzog, Yeltsin called ties with Germany, Russia's leading trade partner and creditor, a "top priority among top priorities." He noted that the German president's five-day visit to Russia is another step toward improving relations between the two peoples and states. Yeltsin said he intends to invite German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to Russia sometime in the fall for an "informal" visit. Herzog's visit is the first by a German head of state to Russia since the 1990 unification of Germany.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told journalists in Moscow that the opposition has already collected 5 million signatures demanding Yeltsin's resignation, changes in government policies, and the formation of a government of national trust, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 September. A joint statement issued by Zyuganov and the leaders of the Agrarian and Popular Power Duma factions slammed the government-proposed draft budget, which, it said, would "consolidate destructive tendencies in the economy." The statement, published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 2 September, also warns that the opposition will stage massive protests in the fall. But it suggests that those protests could be called off if the authorities organize a "round table" to find solutions to Russia's problems. Such discussions should include representatives of the government, the presidential administration, the legislature, the judiciary, the regions, the major political parties, and the trade unions, the statement said.


Although his joint statement with Agrarian faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov and Popular Power leader Nikolai Ryzhkov sharply criticized the proposed budget for 1998, Zyuganov told journalists on 1 September that the Communist Party has not yet determined its stance on the draft budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Communist Duma faction is to meet on 2 September to decide its tactics for parliamentary debate on the budget, according to Interfax. Last year, most Communist Duma deputies voted for the 1997 budget in all readings. At the time, Communist leaders said their support for the budget would depend on whether the government met 11 key opposition demands. However, the government ignored those demands.


In an interview published in "Vechernyaya Moskva" on 30 August, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev defended the proposal to allow Duma factions to strip some deputies of their mandates. He argued that the 225 Duma deputies elected to the parliament on party lists have an obligation to work with their party's Duma faction. If a deputy wants to be independent of a party, Seleznev said, he should run for the parliament in one of the 225 single-member districts. If the imperative mandate were introduced, Communist Party leaders would likely use it to expel Duma deputy Vladimir Semago from the lower house of the parliament. In recent weeks, Semago has been an outspoken critic of Seleznev and the Communist leadership generally. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose Duma faction has suffered several high-profile defections, is also an outspoken defender of the imperative mandate.


In the same interview, Seleznev warned that the Duma may move to initiate impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin if Chechnya is recognized as independent from Russia. He argued that such a move would violate the presidential oath to defend the country's territorial integrity and the constitution, which names Chechnya among the 89 regions of Russia. A Duma-sponsored impeachment motion would be unlikely to succeed, since it would require not only the support of two-thirds of Duma deputies but also a Supreme Court ruling acknowledging evidence that the president had committed treason or high crimes. The Constitutional Court would also have to rule that the Duma had adhered to the constitutional procedure for accusing the president of high crimes. Even if all those conditions were met, the Federation Council would need a two-thirds majority vote to impeach the president.


An unnamed source in the pro-government Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement told ITAR-TASS on 2 September that State Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin is likely to be the consensus candidate to replace Sergei Belyaev as leader of the NDR Duma faction. Shokhin indicated the previous day that at a 3 September meeting with NDR Duma deputies, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin will nominate one candidate to replace Belyaev. The deputies will consider only the candidate picked by Chernomyrdin, according to Shokhin. Meanwhile, Belyaev pledged not to exert pressure on colleagues to quit the NDR faction, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. Belyaev has said he plans to cooperate with Duma deputies who are members of Yegor Gaidar's party, Russia's Democratic Choice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 1 September 1997).


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has defended the lavish plans for celebrations of the 850th anniversary of the founding of Moscow. The festivities will last for several days and reach their peak on 5-7 September. In an interview published in the 2 September "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Luzhkov was asked whether Moscow might be spending too much money on the celebrations. He replied that "if we missed this event, it would be a loss for all of Russia. By celebrating the birthday of the capital, Russia is saying, we are sure that we are building a better life." Luzhkov added that private sponsors had contributed some 70 billion rubles ($12 million) toward the festivities, which far exceeds the amount to come from the city budget. He acknowledged that the city was spending more than originally planned but blamed the federal government for allocating only about one-fifth of its promised funding for the event.


Luzhkov has also complained that the 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television (ORT) network is not planning to run enough live coverage of the Moscow festivities. There have been conflicting reports on how much air time ORT will devote to the events. In an interview with the 30 August "Izvestiya," Luzhkov said claims that the planned broadcasts have been cut back because of financial difficulties are merely a pretext. Instead, Luzhkov charged that Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, who is considered an extremely powerful figure at ORT, routinely uses his influence over the network's financing to "settle scores [and] discredit inconvenient politicians." He also said Berezovskii has long been at odds with the Moscow authorities. Luzhkov warned that if ORT coverage fails to provide an accurate view of the Moscow celebrations, the network will be "spitting on Russia's soul."


Sergei Dubinin told the 14th Congress of the Association of Asian Banks in Moscow on 1 September that 52 percent of the country's banks are "stable," Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. He said that only 25 percent of Russia's 1,800 or so banks can be considered unsound and that those institutions account for only 5 percent of the country's banking assets. (On 15 July, Dubinin had said Russia's 20 largest banks control 57.8 percent of the total assets in the banking system.) Some 190 banks have had their licenses revoked so far this year, while only four licenses have been issued to new banks. Dubinin predicted a 5-8 percent rate of inflation for 1998, compared with 13-14 percent estimated for this year and 22 percent recorded for 1996.


At the same banking conference, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said Russia hopes to attract $10-15 billion in foreign investment by 2000, Interfax reported. Chernomyrdin said that to achieve that goal, the main tasks are reducing inflation to annual levels of 5-8 percent, stabilizing the value of the ruble, lowering the cost of servicing the country's debt, and making credit more accessible.


The Communist Party and other left opposition groups failed to win any seats in the 31 August legislative elections in Saratov Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. All the winning candidates were supported by the Bloc of Popular Trust, which largely consists of members of the oblast government and prominent local businessmen. Directors of large local enterprises won 12 of the 33 seats in the legislature. The losers included the head of the regional Communist Party committee, who had been deputy chairman of the legislature during its last term. Turnout was 42 percent. Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said he was pleased with the results. President Boris Yeltsin recently visited the oblast and praised its leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1997). In the July 1996 presidential election, Communist Party leader Zyuganov gained 50 percent of the vote in Saratov and Yeltsin 44 percent.


At least 55 people have been hospitalized following a hepatitis outbreak in Leningrad Oblast, near St. Petersburg, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. Lidiya Chudina, deputy head of the regional epidemiological center, told the Western news agency that cases have been detected in Lesogorsk and Svetogorsk, which are close to the border with Finland. Chudina said contaminated springs and wells were to blame for the outbreak. Schools in the affected areas have been closed and residents advised to boil water before drinking.


Arkadii Ghukasyan, the 40-year-old foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was elected president on 1 September with some 85 percent of the vote, defeating two rival candidates. Voter turnout was estimated at 84.7 percent of the region's 89,000 eligible voters, according to RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent. Some 40 international monitors, including a group of Russian State Duma deputies, monitored the poll. No procedural violations were reported, but a Karabakh army officer was shot dead in a clash with Azerbaijani forces near the front-line town of Agdam, east of Karabakh. Ghukasyan, a philologist and former journalist, was appointed foreign minister in July 1993. His candidacy was endorsed by the Armenian leadership. Robert Kocharyan, former Karabakh president and now Armenian prime minister, told Noyan Tapan on 1 September that he would vote for Ghukasyan.


Armenian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told Armenian State Television on 1 September that talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict will resume only after the formation of a new government in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Interfax reported. Ghukasyan advocates direct talks with the Azerbaijani leadership on a settlement of that includes security guarantees for Nagorno-Karabakh but rules out autonomous status for the enclave within Azerbaijan, saying he is committed to the enclave's independence. Noyan Tapan on 1 September quoted Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan as saying he raised the Karabakh issue at all his meetings with Russian officials in Moscow on 29-30 August. Armenpress quoted Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin as affirming that the 29 August Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, signed by Ter-Petrossyan and Russian President Yeltsin, will contribute to the peaceful solution of the conflict.


During his 1 September meeting with Russian ambassador to Baku Aleksandr Blokhin, Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov expressed his "concern" and "bewilderment" at the provisions of the Russian-Armenian treaty, Interfax reported. The signatories pledge to assist each other in the case of armed aggression by a third state.


Russia may extend a further 249 billion ruble ($42.7 million) loan to Armenia by the end of 1997, provided Yerevan fulfills its commitments on repaying earlier credits, Interfax reported on 1 September. The loan will finance additional safety measures at the Medzamor nuclear power station. As collateral, Armenia will give Russia a 10 percent share in the Nairit chemical plant and a 7 percent stake in Medzamor. In 1994, Armenia pledged a 15 percent share in Medzamor, Nairit, the Yerevan cognac distillery, and the Armelektromash electrical engineering plant as collateral for a 110 billion ruble credit.


Tajik security forces on 2 September freed Amonullo Negmatzoda, the spiritual leader of the country's Muslims, as well as his younger brother and two other people, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The two men were taken hostage on 27 August by field commander Rezvon Sadirov, who is demanding the release of his brother Bakhrom, currently in custody for his role in the kidnapping of eight UN and three Red Cross representatives in February. Sadirov is still holding hostage two of Negmatzoda's sons, whom he seized on 31 July. Also on 2 September, Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition, agreed during a telephone conversation with President Imomali Rakhmonov to be in Dushanbe by 9 September for celebrations marking the anniversary of Tajikistan's independence, ITAR-TASS reported.


Saparmurad Niyazov underwent a five-hour operation at a clinic near Munich, Germany, on 1 September to repair vessels supplying blood to the heart, Western agencies reported. A presidential spokesman said the operation had gone according to plan and that surgeons considered the 57-year-old president's condition satisfactory.


"RFE/RL Newsline" on 29 August incorrectly reported that the Russian and Armenian presidents had signed an agreement on the transit of oil via Armenia. For information on the agreements signed, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1997.


Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Interfax on 1 September that the detention of two Russian Public Television (ORT) film crews in Belarus and subsequent developments "have not affected in any way" relations between Russia and Belarus. Lukashenka said he is sure that ORT management and "political circles" supporting it were behind the crossing of the Belarusian-Lithuanian border by one crew and the attempted crossing by the other. He argued that there are "certain forces in Russia that badly need these provocations." He also commented that Belarus remains for Russia a "true window" to the West and that there are many people who would like Belarusian policy to change to close that window. Lukashenka said he intends to familiarize Yeltsin with materials confiscated from ORT correspondents Pavel Sheremet and Dmitri Zavadsky, which, he said, "will significantly change the Russian leader's view."


Pro-Russian citizens in Ukraine's eastern industrial city of Donetsk on 1 September staged protests against the opening of the first Ukrainian-language school in the city, Interfax reported. Dozens of activists picketed the school to protest what they called the "forceful Ukrainization" of their mainly Russian-speaking region. The Russian language is widely used in some parts of Ukraine, including Kyiv and the eastern and southern regions. It is predominantly used on the Crimean peninsula, where 75 percent of the 2.7 million population are ethnic Russians. Ukraine's pro-Russian parties are in favor of the equal status of the Ukrainian and Russian languages. Also on 1 September, the Crimean authorities opened the first Ukrainian school in the region, saying they planned to open more Ukrainian schools later this year.


Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Kasoulides was in Tallinn on 1 September for the first visit by a high-ranking Cypriot official since the restoration of Estonian independence, BNS and ETA reported. Kasoulides met with Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann to discuss cooperation in the two countries' bids for EU membership. Following their meeting, Kasoulides told reporters that Estonia and Cyprus will scrap visas for each other's citizens within the next few months. Both countries were recommended by the European Commission to start accession talks with the European Union.


Aleksander Kwasniewski on 1 September filed a civil lawsuit against newspapers that reported he had contacts with a Russian spy three years ago. A presidential spokesman described the recent reports as a "pack of lies" that harm the "good name" of the president. Kwasniewski is demanding that the opposition dailies "Zycie" and "Dziennik Baltycki" issue corrections, apologize, and pay the equivalent of $1.4 million to victims of the recent flooding. The spokesman said the allegations were part of a campaign to discredit Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's former communist alliance in the run-up to the 21 September parliamentary elections. Kwasniewski is a former leader of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance.


Vaclav Havel said in an interview on Czech Television on 1 September that he is still not absolutely certain whether he will run for another term in office at the beginning of next year. He said that while he has officially declared he is prepared to run, he may still change his mind if he is not nominated by the four largest parties in the country. He added that he will not run if his popularity should drop sharply. Havel noted that his wife was right when she recently called for the minimal duties of the "first lady" to be defined by law. He argued that Dagmar Havel needs one to two secretaries and a political adviser for coping smoothly with her agenda. Havel also criticized journalists who invade the privacy of famous people. He said the death of Princess Diana should be a lesson to those journalists who had, in effect, hunted her down.


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived for a one-day private visit to east Bohemia on 1 September, together with her sister Katy as well her two daughters and their husbands. Albright visited the towns of Letohrad and Kostelec nad Orlici, where the families of her father and mother had lived. Meanwhile, President Havel's office announced on 1 September that Britain's Prince Charles has canceled his planned visit to Prague following the death of his former wife, Princess Diana. Prince Charles and Havel were to have opened the restored Palffy Garden, located beneath Prague Castle on 9 September. The renovation was financed by the Prague Heritage Fund, which the prince and Havel jointly founded in 1992.


Vladimir Meciar told Slovak Radio on 1 September that in assessing the Slovak Constitution, "we must be clear on the question of what type of political system would be most suitable for Slovakia" in the future. He listed three possibilities: a "perfected" version of the current system; a system that gave more power to the government; or a system such as the U.S. presidential one. Meciar said that he is personally convinced that "the sovereignty of the Slovak parliament must be confirmed" and the powers of the president be adjusted accordingly. Meciar also said it is necessary to determine how the decisions of the Constitutional Court should be implemented: whether legislation should be amended directly by the court or by the parliament after the court has ruled a law is unconstitutional.


A panel of judges examining the communist past of senior officials has called on Gyula Horn to resign after establishing that he served in the armed forces following the 1956 uprising and that, in his capacity as a senior Foreign Ministry official from1985-1990, he received secret service reports. Under the law, those notified by the panel should resign within 30 days, otherwise the panel's findings will be released. Horn himself made public the panel's ruling at a press conference on 1 September. "I see neither moral nor legal reasons to resign," Horn said, adding that all significant aspects of his past were known both by the voters who elected him as a deputy and by the parliament, which elected him prime minister. "With my present statement, I regard the case closed," he remarked.


Parliamentary speaker Zoltan Gal on 1 September said that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Hungary will get back property confiscated by the Hungarian communist leadership. Of the 38 properties nationalized in the 1940s, 18 have already been returned to the Church and another 10 will be returned over the next 14 years. Hungary will pay annuities to the Church for the remaining 10 properties. In other news, the government coalition on 1 September ruled that a new law guaranteeing parliamentary representation of the country's 13 minorities will be adopted this fall.


Some 300 Bosnian Serb civilians on 1 September surrounded and stoned SFOR soldiers who had taken control of a television transmitter at Udrigovo, near Bijeljina, in northeastern Bosnia. A NATO spokesman called the attack "orchestrated." Momcilo Krajisnik, Radovan Karadzic's spokesman, said in Pale on 2 September that SFOR will return the transmitter to Karadzic's TV Pale in the course of the day. News agencies added that Pale agreed to tone down its anti-NATO broadcasts if the transmitter is returned. SFOR spokesmen said that the Serbian crowds had withdrawn from the transmitter after reaching an agreement with the peacekeepers. The agreement provides for the state-owned transmitter to be used by rival stations.


The French Foreign Ministry warned the hard-line Bosnian Serbs on 1 September that future attacks on NATO personnel will be met with force. The U.S. has already issued similar warnings. In Belgrade, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic repeated his proposal that early elections be held in the Republika Srpska. He argued that such a vote is the only way to solve the ongoing Bosnian Serb political crisis. Western officials have said that the proposal is not acceptable. And in Tuzla, victims of land mines mourned Princess Diana, who recently visited that city and Sarajevo to draw public attention to the plight of those injured by mines. NATO experts have said that there are tens of thousands of mines still buried across Bosnia and that the devices will pose a danger for generations to come.


Bosnian government officials began excavating a mass grave near Bihac on 1 September. Spokesmen said the pit may contain up to 300 bodies of Muslim civilians killed by Serbian troops during the war. Officials added that if that estimate proves accurate, the site would be one of the largest mass graves found in Bosnia to date. Meanwhile in Mostar, Vladimir Soljic, the president of the Croatian-Muslim Federation, protested the recent killing of two Croats in central Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1997). Soljic said that the murders were only the latest of several incidents directed against Croatian refugees who have returned to the Muslim-controlled area near Travnik, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. The Croatian government has also protested the killings and demanded that the murderers be found and punished.


The Croatian authorities on 1 September arrested Miro Bajramovic after he told a newspaper that he had personally killed 72 Serbs in the Gospic and Pakrac areas during the war. Bajramovic added that his victims included nine women. He stated that he and the other members of a special police unit were under orders to kill all Serbs they could find, including civilians, as part of an "ethnic cleansing" campaign. Bajramovic's commanding officer was Tomislav Mercep, who is now a politician in eastern Slavonia. Meanwhile, UN troops completed their mandate in eastern Slavonia on 1 September and began turning over their monitoring positions between Serbian and Croatian lines to UN police forces.


In Podgorica, the Montenegrin government and opposition parties reached an agreement on 1 September to hold parliamentary elections by May 1998. The pact guarantees all parties access to the state-run media. In Kosovo, ethnic Albanian children and students began the school year by attending private schools run by the Kosovar shadow state. The private schools came into being several years ago to protest Belgrade's taking control of public schools from local authorities. On 1 September 1996, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and his Serbian counterpart, Slobodan Milosevic, agreed to return autonomy to Kosovo's public schools and close the private ones, but the pact has remained a dead letter. And in Belgrade, the local authorities, which are opposed to Milosevic, protested that customs officials are holding up delivery of 10 buses given to Belgrade by the city of Berlin. Improving public transportation was one of Mayor Zoran Djindjic's key campaign promises in the 1996 elections.


Following two weeks of negotiations, Albania and the IMF have drawn up a six-month economic recovery program, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 2 September. The Albanian government will close down pyramid investment companies, raise value-added tax from 12.5 percent to 22 percent, improve collection of customs duties, and guarantee the independence of the banking system. In exchange, the IMF will give the green light to an international donors conference and provide assistance to establish a social security net and rebuild the economy. A three-year agreement will be signed next March if Albania fulfills its obligations under the current plan. In related news, President Rexhep Meidani appointed Socialist Shkelqim Cani as the new governor of the National Bank, Cani replaces Qamil Tusha, whom former President Sali Berisha had appointed.


Elbasan prosecutor Niko Duro was fired on 1 September for having released from prison a man whose subsequent behavior led to a series of violent incidents several days earlier, "Dita Informacion" reported. Following his release, the unnamed man killed one member of a family in Elbasan, whose murder the family then avenged by killing the freed criminal. Police surrounded the apartment house in which the family lived but were met with heavy armed resistance. During the subsequent shoot-out, police used anti-tank weapons. Three family members were killed and five policemen wounded in the incident. The Albanian media subsequently criticized the State Prosecutor's Office for having freed a man whom the press called a dangerous criminal.


Representatives from some 75 countries have arrived in Bucharest for a three-day conference on "New and Restored Democracies," RFE/RL's Romanian service reported on 1 September. The conference, organized by the Romanian Foreign Ministry and conducted with technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Program, will focus on connections between a country's style of government and its democratic development. Among those attending are the foreign ministers from some 30 emerging democracies in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, Africa, and Asia.


Romania's consumer price index rose by 0.7 percent in July, according to information released by the State Statistics Office on 29 August. The data show a marked decrease in the growth of prices since February and March, when monthly inflation reached 30 percent. The average net wage rose in July by 7 percent to 721,728 lei (about $88). But analysts say the full benefits of structural change have yet to be felt, as loss-making state firms are still a burden on the state budget. Industrial output in July was 10.7 percent below the July 1996 level.


Workers at the Bobov Dol coal mine, some 70 kilometers southwest of Sofia, have accused the director for the deaths of seven miners in a methane gas explosion on 1 September, BTA reported. The miners say a chamber adjacent to the explosion site was not adequately ventilated when workers were sent to work after a month-long shutdown for the summer vacation. More than 20 miners have been killed at Bobov Dol in the past eight years. The National Security Council and a special government commission are scheduled on 2 September to discuss whether the mine should be closed. Konstantin Trenchev, head of the Podkrepa trade union, told RFE/RL's Sofia bureau that technological improvements are needed at mines across the country. He said working conditions for Bulgarian miners are similar to those in the Middle Ages.


More than 1,000 Bulgarians registered on 1 September to find out whether the Communist-era state security service kept secret files on them, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Requests to see those files began to be accepted that day. Andrei Raichev, a sociologist and close ally of the late former Communist Prime Minster Andrei Lukanov, was among the first 100 people to register in Sofia. In July, the parliament passed legislation allowing citizens to see files compiled about them and their families during the communist era. Information is expected to be released after 22 September.


by Paul Goble

Some fundamental shifts in the balance of power in Eastern Europe have made it possible for Ukraine to become a "state outside a bloc," as Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma recently put it.

Speaking in Kyiv on 28 August following a meeting with visiting Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Kuchma announced two major changes in the direction of Ukraine's security policy. He said that "Ukraine does not intend to join NATO structures," even though he would not rule out future cooperation with the Western alliance. At the same time, he made clear that Kyiv no longer intends to be bound by the provisions of the collective security treaty signed in 1992 by seven members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Instead, he said, Ukraine will seek to improve relations with individual countries, including Russia, as a means of promoting its security and well-being.

Kuchma's announcement that his country will not seek NATO membership undercuts earlier statements by Ukrainian officials that Kyiv's strategic objective is to join the Western alliance at some point in the future. But, just like his declaration about the CIS, his remarks about NATO reflect three broader changes across the region.

First, Ukraine's shift represents a triumph, rather than a defeat, for NATO's policy of expansion. It was no coincidence that Kuchma's remarks came only one day after U.S. troops landed in Crimea as part of a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace joint exercise. Much criticized by Moscow, those maneuvers have reaffirmed Western support for Ukraine but have also prompted the Russian government to shift its position both rhetorically and in practice.

Russian criticism of the maneuvers and of Ukraine's participation have softened since the exercises began, and Russian relations with Ukraine have continued to improve, with the two sides announcing that Kuchma will make an official visit to Moscow early next year. That shift, in turn. has allowed the Ukrainians to stake out a position -- closer ties with NATO but no ultimate membership -- that allows them to seek to boost ties with Moscow without giving up continuing support from the West.

Second, Ukraine's shift reflects the collapse of the CIS as an organization relevant to the security needs of Eastern Europe. On the same day that Russian foreign policy expert Sergei Karaganov declared the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is "dead" because of its failures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kuchma took a step toward demonstrating that the CIS is close to its grave. He did so not by withdrawing from the organization as a whole but rather by underscoring that Ukraine will give preference to bilateral ties with Russia rather than multilateral arrangements with other former Soviet republics. Moscow will hardly object to improved relations with Kyiv -- indeed, Sergeev welcomed them -- but Kyiv is the winner in this round because its stance undermines Russian pretensions to domination over the entire territory of a country that no longer exists.

Third, Ukraine's shift reflects a normalization of relations between Kyiv and Moscow. It also highlights a growing willingness on the part of the Russians to view Ukraine as an independent country and on the part of Ukrainians to see Russia as something other than an enemy.

By staking out a position outside of any bloc, Ukraine is reaffirming its position as an important country within Eastern Europe, one that will act on its own interests rather than at the behest of any other country. And as ever more Russian officials accept Ukraine's new status -- something NATO's Partnership for Peace program has helped promote -- Ukrainians will find it easier to accept Russia as a potential partner rather than the inevitable enemy.

Obviously, a single speech, even one as important as Kuchma's on 28 August, does not guarantee that the geopolitics of the region will develop without serious problems. But as an indication of fundamental shifts, Kuchma's remarks are an important milepost on the road to a better future for Ukrainians, for Russians, and for the region in which they live.