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Newsline - September 8, 1997


Following talks in Moscow on 6 September, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka agreed to sort out the row over the detention of a Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist in Belarus. "We must resolve this question in order to preserve our relations as allies," Yeltsin said. Belarusian authorities on 4 September released ORT cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky but refused to free his colleague Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian citizen, saying he had been stripped of his press credentials before he was arrested for illegally entering Belarus in July. Lukashenka told Russia's Mayak Radio after his talks with Yeltsin that the case of Sheremet will be resolved in accordance with Belarusian law. In August, Minsk released all four members of a second ORT news crew that had been detained on the same charges.


Also on 6 September, Yeltsin met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, both of whom were in Moscow for the city's 850th anniversary celebrations. Talks with Nazarbayev focused on economic ties, including possible development of Caspian Sea oil reserves, ITAR-TASS reported Topics of discusssion with Lucinschi included peace efforts in Moldova's breakaway Transdniestr region. Yeltsin was originally scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, but RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported that Aliyev canceled his trip to Moscow at the last minute to protest the friendship treaty signed on 29 August between Armenia and Russia. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry had sent a note on 4 September to the Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, explaining that Baku was concerned with statutes in the treaty calling for closer military cooperation between Moscow and Yerevan, according to ITAR-TASS.


The State Duma on 5 September adopted a resolution denouncing the televised public execution two days earlier of a couple whom an Islamic court had found guilty of murder, Russian news agencies reported. The statement called on federal legislative and executive authorities to take into account that "present Chechen leaders disregard Russian legal norms, bilateral agreements, and the principles of international legislation," Interfax reported. The Chechen government criticized the Duma vote as an attempt to meddle in Chechnya's affairs and accused Russian deputies of hypocrisy.


Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Leni Fischer on 5 September similarly condemned the killings, arguing that "for a democracy, such executions are not the way to combat criminality...and organized crime." Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, a Muslim leader in Russia, expressed concern that the executions may "trigger animosity and even hostility" towards Muslims and " represent Islam in a perverted way," Interfax reported.


The Duma on 5 September adopted a resolution calling on the Audit chamber to review the recent privatization auctions of Svyazinvest, Norilsk Nickel, and two major oil companies, Sibneft and Tyumenneftegaz, AFP and Russian news agencies reported. The Duma is seeking clarification on three points: how the starting price was established, the legality of the tender procedure, and the transfer of revenue from the sales to the state budget. The resolution was drafted by a communist deputy and two members of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, according to AFP. A document circulated to legislators before the vote noted that only two companies competed for a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel and that both were "set up by the same group which has close financial relations with Oneximbank and MFK [an affiliate of Oneximbank]."


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 5 September announced that Russia will sell 96 percent of the state-owned oil giant Rosneft, Reuters reported. No terms or dates have been set for the sale, from which the government hopes to raise more than $1 billion. One issue that must be resolved before Rosneft can be sold is the ownership of Purneftegaz, awarded to Rosneft by the government but also claimed by the SIDANKO group, controlled by Uneximbank. Nemtsov said the issue will be resolved by the time of the first Rosneft sale.


Also on 5 September, Nemtsov said that Russia is prepared to sign an agreement with Chechnya on repairing the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline immediately, Russian agencies reported. He said that if a simultaneous agreement is not signed on conditions and tariffs for the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, talks on such an accord could be continued while repairs to the pipeline are being carried out. Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, president of the Chechen state oil company, said that the resumption of talks had been postponed until 8 September. Meanwhile, maverick field commander Salman Raduev told a 5 September news conference in Grozny that Chechen radicals will prevent the commissioning of the pipeline before Russia officially recognizes Chechnya as an independent state, according to Interfax.


Russia's biggest oil company on 5 September announced that output increased in the first half of 1997, Western news agencies reported. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov predicted production this year will grow by 2 million tons over the 1996 level of 58.5 million tons He said that pre-tax profits rose, but in ruble terms only, while net profits fell slightly. LUKoil plans to invest $240 million over the next three years to build a network of some 2,000 service stations in the U.S. by 2003, Alekperov said. Its Texas affiliate Nexus Fuels, in which LUKoil has a 50 percent stake, says it has access to 5,000 sites near U.S. supermarkets. The first 25-30 stations should open by the end of this year, according to Alekperov.


Aeroflot and Air France on 5 September announced the creation of what both called a "historic" alliance that envisions coordinating passenger service and expanding both airlines' markets, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The agreement was signed in Moscow by Air France managing director Marc Vernon and his Aeroflot counterpart, Valerii Okulov. Aeroflot intends to extend its reach into France, Africa, the Caribbean basin, and Latin America, Okulov said. Vernon said the move will enable Air France to extend its network in Russia and across the CIS. Current levels of service on Aeroflot internal flights will be raised "to bring them up to international level," Okulov added.


Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, told RFE/RL that the decision to vote on his dismissal as Duma deputy speaker was a "personal decision" by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. Shokhin had submitted his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 1997); however later the same day, the Duma voted 232 to 150 to dismiss Shokhin as deputy speaker. Shokhin said his faction had proposed to vote on 10 September and that Seleznev feared the NDR would submit the issue for discussion "in the same package" with discussion on releasing another NDR member, Gen. Lev Rokhlin, from his post of chairman of the Duma Defense Committee. Shokin said Seleznev and communist faction leader Gennadii Zyuganov have confirmed that the new deputy speaker will be an NDR member.


Meanwhile, Rokhlin has said the only way to end Russia's military decline is to unseat Yeltsin, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 September. Rokhlin told reporters in Kazan that Russia will have no nuclear deterrence by 2060 and that China could pose a threat since its "national interests encompasses Russian territory up to the Urals." Rokhlin said he planned to bring together all opposition forces--ranging from the Communist Party, the People's Patriotic Union, and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party--into his new political group, For Salvation of the Army, in a bid to unseat Yeltsin. Rokhlin created a stir in June when he said the armed forces were on the verge of mutiny. The pro-government Our House Is Russia (NDR) distanced itself from his remarks but postponed a decision whether to expel him until after the Duma's summer recess.


In a closing speech at the refurbished Luzhniki stadium, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov declared Moscow's aim to lead Russia to "achieve the greatness and the power that we have the right to declare to the whole world." Luzhkov also denied he was seeking the Russian presidency in 2000, although observers said the mayor would use the spotlight on revitalized Moscow to promote his own presidential bid. On each of the three days of the celebrations, millions of people flocked to the city. On 5 September, a Human Rights Watch report criticized Moscow's continued use of the "propiska," a Soviet-era registration without which no one can live legally in the city, the "Financial Times" reported on 7 September.


Bad weather has brought a halt to efforts by three ships from the Pacific Fleet to locate a container of strontium-90 that fell from a helicopter into the ocean north of Sakhalin Island in mid-August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997), ITAR-TASS reported on 8 September. Nikolai Smirnov, the head of Sakhalin's Civil Defense and Emergency Situation's headquarters, repeated assurances that the container poses no threat to the environment.


Russian cosmonaut Anatolii Sovolev and U.S. astronaut Michael Foale left the space station "Mir' early on 6 September and spent nearly six hours searching for damage and carrying out repairs. They realigned two of the four solar batteries with the sun but were unable to locate punctures in the "spektr" modules. With the realignment of the two panels, power is expected to reach 90 percent soon. The next space walk to find punctures in the modules will not be made until after 4 October, however. Russian mission control reported on 8 September that "Mir's" main computer had failed again.


President Heidar Aliyev has created a working group to assess the relative merits of alternative routes for the main export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, Turan reported on 6 September. The group -- which includes a deputy premier, the president and vice president of the state oil company SOCAR, and three top officials of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company -- is to hold talks in Turkey, Russia, and Georgia and to present its recommendations within the next two years. The AIOC was originally scheduled to decide on the route for the main export pipeline this year but announced in June that the decision would be postponed until October 1998. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem arrived in Baku on 7 September to discuss "all bilateral issues," including the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline route for which Turkey is lobbying, the "Turkish Daily News" reported.


Mirmahmud Fattaev, the deputy chairman of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front, and three other people were detained by police at Nakhichevan airport on 6 September, Turan reported. The four men, who intended to travel to the village of Keleki to visit former President Abulfaz Elchibey, were accused of "violating the passport regime" and ordered to return to Baku.


The World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) has approved two loans totaling $65 million to Georgia to help consolidate progress toward stabilizing the economy and to push ahead on key reforms, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 5 September. The larger, $60 million loan will be used to help the Georgian government improve tax collections, restructure its public spending, accelerate privatization, improve financial discipline in the energy sector, and restructure the banking sector, among others. The IDA says the credit will also be used to help Georgia improve the targeting of social benefits, including introducing private pensions and reforming health care. The second loan, worth $5 million, is to finance structural reforms, including in the judiciary and social assistance sector.


Thieves recently broke into the national treasury and stole 160 kilos of gold ingots, the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development reported on 5 September, citing "Kavkasioni." The newspaper said that Minister of State Niko Lekishvili accused the treasury administration of failing to take adequate security measures. but "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 September reported that officials have declined to comment on the incident.


Aghasi Arshakyan, one of the leaders of the left-wing Armenian People's Initiative (HZhN), told reporters on 5 September that the group has collected more than 1 million signatures in support of Armenia joining the Russia-Belarus union, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Arshakyan said that joining a "new union" of former Soviet republics will promote "very rapid economic growth" in Armenia and thus help the country overcome its economic crisis. He said some 100,000 Armenian nationals currently residing in Russia also support the union. Telman Gdlyan, a prominent Russian politician of Armenian origin, predicted that other unspecified former Soviet republics will follow Armenia's example. The Communist Party of Armenia likewise claims to have collected 800,000 signatures in support of Armenia's joining the Russia-Belarus union. It will raise the issue at the fall session of the Armenian parliament.


A bomb exploded in a Dushanbe hotel early on 6 September, according to RFE/RL correspondents The bomb had been placed in a refrigerator in the dining hall of the Hotel Vakhsh, where fighters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and their leader, Said Abdullo Nuri, are scheduled to stay. The hotel is guarded by "bodyguards" from the UTO and government troops. So far, no one has been detained in connection with the bombing. Nuri, who was due in the Tajik capital on 8 September to participate in Independence Day celebrations the next day, has now postponed his arrival. The delay is due to a government request to limit the number of the UTO delegation. ITAR-TASS on 8 September noted that the government list of UTO delegates coming to Dushanbe does not include UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda.


Heads of border guards from the CIS countries, excluding Azerbaijan and Moldova, met in Kyrgyzstan on 5-6 September for the 26th session of border guard commanders, ITAR-TASS reported. The commanders reviewed 33 documents, including those on exchanges of information between CIS border guards and on customs procedures within the CIS and along the borders with other countries. Addressing the session, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev called the guards "one of the more effective structures" within the CIS.


The 10 East European presidents attending the European security meeting in Vilnius on 5-6 September were virtually unanimous in denouncing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's authoritarian rule, an RFE/RL correspondent at the meeting reported. Estonian President Lennart Meri took the lead in criticizing Lukashenka, and his sharp words were echoed not only by the East European leaders but also by representatives of Belarusian public organizations. The meeting's attitude toward the Belarusian leader was summed up by one official who told RFE/RL that "Lukashenka is the Lysenko of today," a reference to the Stalin-era agricultural researcher who largely destroyed the science of genetics in the USSR (see also "End Note" below).


Lukashenka told the Vilnius summit on 5 September that his country will seek to negotiate an agreement with NATO similar to the ones the alliance has signed with Russia and Ukraine. He said NATO's planned expansion should not be allowed to create tension in the region and that he wants an agreement to ensure the safety of Belarus. Lukashenka accused Western governments and alliances of "double standards," saying they view integration with the West as positive but integration with the East as negative.


Addressing the Vilnius summit on 5 September, Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin stressed Moscow's view that the eastward expansion of NATO is the "largest strategic mistake since the end of the Cold War." He said that in order to keep the Baltic states a "non-bloc region, along with Finland and Sweden," Moscow is prepared to adopt a variety of confidence-building measures for the region. Those measures include a commitment that maneuvers in Kaliningrad Oblast will be "defensive" only, the opening of a hot line between the oblast and the three Baltic military commands, the establishment of a joint military airspace control zone also involving Poland and the Scandinavian countries, and the exchange of fleet visits between those countries and Russia. All three Baltic presidents responded by stressing that their countries remain committed to joining NATO.


Following bilateral meetings with Chernomyrdin in Vilnius, all three Baltic presidents said on 5 September that they expect to sign border agreements with Moscow in the near future. The absence of such accords since the re-establishment of independence has been a major obstacle to developing good relations between the Baltic States and Russia and to integrating the three Baltic countries into the West. Most Western institutions insist that the countries to be integrated do not have outstanding border disagreements with their neighbors.


Chernomyrdin dismissed as "absolute stupidity" a statement by former Russian national security adviser Aleksandr Lebed that Moscow may have left behind some 100 small nuclear weapons in the Baltic States or in other former Soviet republis, BNS reported on 5 September. Speaking in Vilnius, Chernomyrdin said that Lebed's claim, which was made on U.S. television, was "totally out of the question." The Russian premier repeated assurances that "all Russian nuclear weapons remain under general and perfectly reliable control of the Russian armed forces."


Lukashenka told journalists in Vilnius on 5 September that the Soros Foundation in Minsk can leave Belarus but must first pay taxes. The foundation, which promotes democratic reforms in former communist states, said on 3 September it was quitting Belarus in the face of demands for tax and threats of prosecution. It said the closure of its offices in Belarus was part of a campaign to destroy civil society in the former Soviet state. The foundation noted it invested $13 million in humanitarian projects in Belarus and said it was given assurances it was exempt from taxes. The Belarusian authorities, however, are claiming it owes $3 million in taxes.


Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg and current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, said if Ukraine wants to get closer to the EU, the reforms that have taken place must continue and deepen. Juncker and European Commission President Jacques Santer headed a delegation that was in Ukraine for talks with President Leonid Kuchma and other officials. The EU leaders praised Ukraine for reducing inflation and stabilizing its currency but said the country must move ahead with further economic reforms. Juncker said after the summit that the EU has a positive view about the changes that have taken place in Ukraine since 1991. But he said there is still "much to be done."


Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko told journalists on 6 September that economic reforms will continue in Ukraine and that Kyiv hopes to further improve its economic performance. He made the comment after signing a tax agreement with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with Ukraine in 1994, replacing a trade treaty with the former Soviet Union. More than 17 percent of Ukraine's imports originate in the EU.


During a private visit to Vilnius on 7 September, German Bundestag speaker Rita Suessmuth told Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas and parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis that Germany will push for Lithuanian entry into the EU, ITAR-TASS reported. Suessmuth said "it is very important" that Lithuania have "concrete prospects" for EU membership. But she warned that Vilnius will have to work hard to merit inclusion. Up to now, she said, Lithuania has not done enough, especially "in the sphere of privatizing big economic projects."


Education minister Juris Celmins issued a degree on 3 September limiting the use of textbooks published abroad in the country's classrooms, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 September. The decree is likely to have the greatest impact on Latvia's Russian-language secondary schools, few of which have enough textbooks published in Latvia. They had been using texts published in the Russian Federation. If fully implemented, the decree will limit such use.


Following agreements on wage increases, Polish doctors ended a protest that had threatened to disrupt the country's health service, PAP reported on 5 September. Some 200 doctors in the southwestern province of Opole returned to work after health officials agreed to a 3.5 zloty ($1) increase over the 4 zloty they were receiving for each hour of emergency duty. Anesthetists also returned to work after signing a separate pay agreement with the Health Ministry in Warsaw. Provincial authorities had been forced to call in military doctors and recruit several others from Africa to shore up local health services following Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's announcement that the 1997 budget has no resources for wage hikes.


Gyula Horn told Hungarian Radio on 5 September that at a mid-August meeting in Gyor, his Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, suggested the voluntary repatriation of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia and ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary. Horn said he had categorically refused to discuss the topic, adding that it evokes "very sad" and "tragic" historical memories. He said he had not mentioned the matter earlier because he himself had not brought up the topic and because he is unwilling to discuss it. At a rally in Bratislava on 4 September, Meciar said he had proposed to Horn that those people who do not want to be Slovak citizens go to Hungary and live there.


The parliamentary caucus of the Alliance of Young Democrats--Hungarian Civic Party's (FIDESZ-MPP) voted on 7 September to admit 11 members of the Christian Democratic People's Party's parliamentary group, which was recently dissolved. FIDESZ-MPP is now the largest opposition party in the parliament, Hungarian media reported. The 11 new members can work within FIDESZ-MPP but will not join the party. The parliament's Constitutional Committee has yet to approve the move.


Patriarch Pavle mediated between Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, the spokesman for hard-line leader Radovan Karadzic, in Banja Luka on 8 September. The outcome of the talks is not known. Earlier, five buses left the hard-liners' stronghold of Pale carrying Karadzic supporters from eastern Herzegovina. They plan to hold a rally in Banja Luka, where Plavsic's headquarters is located. On 7 September, Banja Luka police banned rallies in that town lest they lead to violence between Plavsic's supporters and her opponents. Police spokesmen told BETA news agency that the hard-liners from the Serbian Democratic Party have not asked for permission to hold a rally. A spokesman for Plavsic said that the rally is one more attempt by her enemies to oppose her with street actions rather than by political means.


A military affairs spokesman for Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 6 September that she wants the U.S. to help train the Bosnian Serb army (VRS), just as Washington has already done for the Croatian-Muslim federation's military. She made the request to a visiting delegation from the U.S. Defense Department, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. Plavsic's spokesman added that U.S. assistance to the VRS would convince Bosnian Serbs that the international community is treating both sides in Bosnia equally. Observers noted that such aid would further link the international community to Plavsic and promote her program to help the Bosnian Serbs overcome international isolation. U.S. involvement with the VRS would also make the VRS a more professional organization and weaken the lasting grip on it of warlords and indicted war criminals opposed to Plavsic.


Delegates to the 6-7 September convention of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in Sarajevo reelected Alija Izetbegovic chair of the leading Bosnian Muslim political organization on 8 September. The 72-year-old chairman, who ran unopposed, told the convention that the party needs younger leaders. Izetbegovic added that the SDA must devote more time to social issues and transform itself "into a Bosnian variant of a Social Democratic party," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Izetbegovic also said that Bosnia needs more tolerance and less nationalism. Observers noted, however, that, since the end of the war, his SDA-led government has removed from office Serbs, Croats, and moderate Muslims who remained loyal to Izetbegovic's government throughout the conflict. The convention is part of the campaign for the 13-14 September local elections.


Nationalist politician Tomislav Mercep said on 5 September that he is willing to appear before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to deny charges by a former subordinate that Mercep was involved in war crimes against ethnic Serb civilians in 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 1997). In other news, the government announced that the 60,000 citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina living in Croatia can cast their votes in the upcoming local elections at 80 locations across Croatia.


The Interior Ministry announced on 7 September that police have arrested two ethnic Albanians in the Tetovo area for murder. Police spokesmen said the brothers Agim and Besnik Alili had gunned down two Macedonian policemen in the village of Dolno Palciste Tetovsko. The two policemen were attempting to search the home of one of the Albanians when the other Albanian opened fire with an automatic weapon. Macedonian TV said that the brothers were illegal immigrants from Albania. Armed gangs and smugglers have frequently crossed from Albania into Kosovo and Macedonia since early this year, when law and order collapsed in much of Albania.


Prime Minister Fatos Nano on 6 September announced that Albania will observe three days of mourning for the nun, who died in Calcutta the previous day. He also said a square in Tirana will be named after her. President Rexhep Meidani said she will remain a symbol of unity and humanity for Albania, which is deeply divided along religious, regional, and political lines. Mother Theresa was born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia, to an ethnic Albanian merchant family. She is known in Albania as "the world's most famous Albanian" and was a welcome visitor even in late communist times. In Skopje, Mayor Risto Penov said on 6 September that the city is proud to have been her birthplace and will "preserve her spiritual heritage and transmit it to future generations." In Pristina, Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova called her death a "painful loss" for Albanians throughout the world.


President Meidani signed an order on 6 September sacking 17 generals but allowing them to keep their rank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 1997). A Defense Ministry spokesman denied that the sackings are politically motivated. He charged that the 17 men had "destroyed the Albanian army" during the anarchy that gripped the country early this year. The spokesman said the generals are to blame for the collapse of military discipline and for the theft of many weapons and much equipment by looters. In other news, Meidani announced on 7 September that a "national assembly" of ethnic Albanians from Albania and abroad will discuss the Kosovo question. Observers said that the new Socialist government is likely to continue its predecessor's moderate line on Kosovo.


The government on 6 September fired Gen. Pavel Abraham from his post as head of the state police force, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported. Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu accused Abraham of showing a "lack of interest in solving cases whose perpetrator was unknown." Other reasons cited for the firing include "inefficiency" and "poor results in combating crime." Abraham was appointed to the post earlier this year.. The dailies "Ziua" and "Romania Libera" have reported that Abraham received preferential loans from the state-owned foreign trade bank Bancorex. That bank is at the center of an ongoing scandal linked to the previous former communist government.


A UN conference in Bucharest on "New or Restored Democracies" ended on 5 September with a call for continued assistance for social and economic reforms, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported. In a final communique, conference participants urged the World Bank and the IMF to remain active where reforms are helping to establish democracy and free market economics. The communique was forwarded to the UN General Assembly. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a video-taped message to conference participants that the UN has every interest in strengthening democracies and safeguarding peace.


A government commission on 8 September published a report saying "criminal negligence" resulted in the deaths of 10 coal miners in a recent explosion, RFE/RL's Bulgarian service reported. The commission implicated 24 to 30 managers in the 2 September blast at the Bobov Dol coal mine, about 70 kilometers southwest of Sofia. No formal charges have been filed. Seven miners were killed instantly and three more have since died from their injuries. About 20 others were injured. RFE/RL reports that miners told investigators they were sent to work near the explosion site before a gas-filled chamber had been properly ventilated. The methane gas is thought to have built up in the chamber during a one-month holiday recess. President Petar Stoyanov and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government reportedly are considering the closure of the mine.


Bozhidar Popov, the chief secretary of the Bulgarian Interior ministry says that former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov was killed on the order of someone within Bulgaria. On 7 September, the Sofia daily "24 Hours" quoted Popov as saying that the investigation into Lukanov's 2 October1996 assassination has uncovered evidence about who commissioned the killing. He added that investigators think there was no involvement or influence from forces outside Bulgaria. Lukanov, a former Communist Party Central Committee member who helped orchestrate the 1989 coup that ousted dictator Todor Zhivkov, had been involved in business deals with Russia's Gazprom and Bulgaria's powerful conglomerate Multigroup. As the leader of a faction within the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Lukanov was also engaged in an open feud with another BSP member--former Prime Minister Zhan Videnov.


by Paul Goble

For the first time, the countries between the Baltic and the Black Seas have found a common voice, one that will help them to integrate into the West, even as they smooth their relations with one another and with Moscow. At a meeting in Vilnius on 5 and 6 September, the presidents of 10 countries in the region sharply criticized the retreat from democratic reforms in Belarus. They stressed they want to work with both Russia and the West. And they committed themselves to broader regional cooperation.

As a result, a summit originally convened to help overcome bilateral conflicts among those states was transformed into something much bigger. That development would appear to justify the claims of some of the leaders present that they will be guided by the "spirit of Vilnius" in the future.

The meeting, organized by the leaders of Poland and Lithuania, attracted the presidents of Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, as well as the prime minister of the Russian Federation. The outcome of the meeting was defined less by the individual positions that each of those leaders took than by the collective spirit they displayed on three key issues.

First, virtually all the presidents were sharply critical of the increasingly anti-democratic behavior of one of their numbers, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Their outspokenness violated the usual diplomatic niceties of such sessions and indicated that the countries of the region are at least prepared to take a hard line against those who retreat from democracy and a free market economy. It also largely dispelled the fears of those who had thought Lukashenka might be able to exploit the Vilnius summit to escape his regime's current isolation on the international scene.

Instead, the Vilnius meeting underlined Lukashenka's isolation from his own people, from neighboring states, and from both Moscow and the West. Not only did the leaders of the other countries speak out, but representatives of Belarusian society directly challenged Lukashenka's claims.

Second, the 10 presidents indicated they want to cooperate with both East and West rather than being forced to choose between one or the other. Part of the reasoning behind that position was clearly tactical. Several leaders said they are interested in improved relations with Russia in order to improve their standing with Western governments that have made good relations with Moscow a virtual requirement for inclusion in Western institutions.

But at the Vilnius meeting, there were also strategic considerations. The Baltic presidents, for example, did not react as sharply as they have in the past to Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's latest elaboration of Russian suggestions that the three rely on Moscow rather than NATO. Each calmly reiterated the desire of his country to join the Western alliance, but each equally calmly said that his country did not want involvement with the West to preclude good relations with Moscow.

This approach led to a remarkable breakthrough. Following bilateral meetings with the Russian premier, each of the Baltic presidents was able to announce that he would soon be signing a border agreement with the Russian Federation, thus laying to rest a long-standing sore point in relations with Moscow.

Third, the 10 presidents asserted that they want to work together precisely so that they can take responsibility for themselves rather than waiting for one or the other outside power to decide their fate, as has happened so often in the past.

Two countries -- Poland and Ukraine -- offered to host a follow-up regional summit in 1999. And the representatives of several other presidents indicated they were interested in much closer consultations across the region.

In the past, efforts to promote such cooperation have foundered on tensions among those countries and on the fears in both Moscow and the West that such arrangements might become a barrier to the inclusion of Russia into European institutions. But precisely because the Vilnius summit was called to avoid setting up such a barrier, this latest drive toward cooperation among the countries of the region may be more successful than its predecessors before World War Two and in the early 1990s.

It has already attracted less opposition and more support from outside. Not only did Moscow not denounce it, but U.S. President Bill Clinton said it could play a useful role in "erasing the old dividing lines in Europe." To the extent that the countries of the region continue to act as they did in the Lithuanian capital, the "spirit of Vilnius" may prove a turning point not only for them but for Europe as a whole.