MOST REGIONAL LEADERS PLEASED WITH TAX PROPOSALS...
Almost all regional leaders welcomed proposed tax concessions to the regions advocated by President Boris Yeltsin during his speech to the Federation Council, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 September. In particular, Yeltsin called for forcing regional branches of companies to pay corporate taxes in the regions where they are based. Currently, such enterprises pay taxes only where company headquarters are located. If incorporated into the new tax code, such a measure would reduce Moscow's tax revenues, since most company headquarters are in the capital. Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov told RFE/RL that "it is about time" that Moscow share some of its wealth with other regions. Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov said his government has been trying to collect taxes from local branches of companies based in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He added he was glad to hear the president support that policy.
...BUT LUZHKOV REACTS CAUTIOUSLY TO PRESIDENT'S SPEECH
Leaving the Federation Council after Yeltsin's address, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov looked decidedly gloomy and did not stop to give interviews to journalists, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 September. Speaking to Russian news agencies later, the mayor did not criticize the speech, saying Yeltsin had articulated some "very interesting ideas" on economic matters. Nor did he comment on the proposal to make regional branches of companies pay taxes in the regions or on Yeltsin's call for enterprises in the regions to pay their federal and regional taxes through regional branches of the Federal Treasury, rather than directly to Treasury offices in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). However, Luzhkov repeated that he doubts regional leaders will support the government's draft tax code, ITAR-TASS reported.
PRESIDENT'S REMARKS ON LAND REFORM DRAW MIXED REVIEW
Federation Council deputies applauded Yeltsin's call for full land ownership rights and a single land tax to replace several different taxes currently levied on land, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 September. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev told NTV the same day that farmland should be given to rural dwellers free of charge, after which farmers would have the right to decide whether to keep, lease, or sell the land. In contrast, several regional leaders, speaking to RFE/RL, expressed reservations about allowing the purchase and sale of farmland. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said Russia "is not ready" for such a move. In July, the Council approved a land code that would have prohibited the purchase and sale of farmland. Yeltsin vetoed the code, but the State Duma sent it back to the upper house after overriding his veto on 24 September.
OFFICIAL VOWS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPEAL ON LAND CODE
Ilya Yuzhanov, chairman of the State Committee on Land Resources, told Interfax on 24 September that his committee will appeal to the Constitutional Court if the Federation Council overrides Yeltsin's veto of the land code. Yuzhanov added that "even if both houses override the veto, the president will never sign the most reactionary of documents ever passed by the Russian parliament." Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, has already said the president may appeal to the Constitutional Court against the procedure by which the Duma overrode his veto of the land code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997).
YELTSIN CRITICIZES DUMA...
Yeltsin told journalists on 24 September that he will not address the Duma this year. He added, "let [Prime Minister Viktor] Chernomyrdin, [First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais, and other cabinet members fight in the Duma," Interfax reported. (Earlier this month, Duma deputies invited the president to address the lower house on the opening day of its fall session, but Yeltsin declined, citing a busy schedule.) Yeltsin argued that the Federation Council lacks the "political anarchy" observed in the Duma. In his speech to the Council earlier in the day, Yeltsin praised the upper house of parliament as a "stabilizing force" and said it should reject laws passed by the Duma more often to reduce the number of times he has to use his veto power. When Yeltsin had the power to hire and fire regional governors, the Council more frequently rejected laws that the Kremlin opposed.
Also on 24 September, Yeltsin indicated that the diplomatic conflict between Moscow and Minsk over the continuing imprisonment of a journalist for Russian Public Television (ORT) has not blown over. When asked to comment on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent offer to resign as head of the council of the four-country customs union (whose members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan), Yeltsin remarked, "I don't want to comment on his moves any more. Pass this message to him," Interfax reported. Yeltsin recently accused Lukashenka of failing to abide by an agreement to release ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). Sheremet has been in custody since July for allegedly crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border illegally.
CHERNOMYRDIN, GORE IN SAMARA
Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore concluded three days of meetings in the city of Samara on 24 September. They toured companies with U.S. investment in order to promote an initiative of the joint U.S.-Russian Commission for Economic and Technological Cooperation, which also involves U.S. investment projects in Sakhalin and Novgorod Oblasts and Khabarovsk Krai. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 September, Gore offered Samara Oblast a $10 million U.S. loan in 1998 for agricultural production and land reform. That credit still requires the approval of the U.S. Congress, the newspaper noted.
RUSSIA TO DEMAND FULL PARTNERSHIP IN G-8
Following a meeting with the G-7 finance ministers on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Bank and the IMF in Hong Kong, Russian Finance Minister Anatolii Chubais said Moscow will "insist" on full participation in the G-8, Russian media reported. The G-7 finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Washington in April 1998. Chubais said that by then, "the formula 'seven plus one' must be done away with." Germany has already announced it favors such a move, but Japan continues to say Russia is not economically fit to participate in sessions devoted to macroeconomic issues, international finances, and foreign currency exchanges.
RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS RESUME
A Chechen delegation headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov has resumed talks in Moscow on Chechnya's future status vis-a-vis Moscow. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 24 September that Moscow is not preparing, and will not sign, an inter-state treaty with Chechnya. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin similarly told Interfax the previous day that "Chechnya should have maximum liberties and powers, but within...the Russian Federation." Udugov, however, said Chechnya insists that Moscow recognize Chechnya's state sovereignty. He added that Grozny will never agree to sign the power-sharing treaty proposed by Moscow. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 September quoted Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov as admitting that Moscow and Grozny have never discussed what precisely the Chechens mean by "independence." Meanwhile, Rybkin canceled a planned trip to Grozny for talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskahdov, NTV reported on 24 September.
FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES PENSION HIKE
The Federation Council on 24 September approved a law that would raise the minimum pension by 10 percent to 76,533 rubles ($13) as of 1 October and by another 10 percent to 84,186 rubles as of 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin is expected to sign the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997).
DEFENSE INDUSTRY WORKERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT DEBTS
Some 200 defense industry workers picketed government headquarters in Moscow for the third straight day to protest more than 2.5 trillion rubles ($430 million) in wage arrears and some 15 trillion rubles in unpaid government orders for military equipment, Russian media reported on 24 September. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, together with officials from the Finance and Economics Ministries, met with representatives of the protesters on 23-24 September. Nemtsov promised them that the government will clear its debts to defense enterprises by April 1998, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 September. "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported the same day that defense industry trade unions have vowed to continue protesting until "concrete steps" are taken to settle the debts. The newspaper said the government has not kept promises made to nuclear industry workers earlier this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 July 1997).
GOVERNOR ON CONTROVERSY OVER SIBERIAN MAYOR
Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev has blasted law enforcement officials for not warning voters in the city of Leninsk-Kuznetskii about the criminal record of Gennadii Konyakhin, who was elected mayor in the spring. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 24 September, Tuleev said that a recent investigative series published in "Izvestiya" was accurate but told only part of the story (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). He claimed that police and procurators, at both the city and oblast level, ignored his repeated requests that they inform the public about Konyakhin's record before the mayoral election. (At that time, Tuleev had not yet been appointed governor of Kemerovo.) Tuleev, who faces a gubernatorial election on 19 October, has vowed that law enforcement officials who knew about Konyakhin's record but remained silent will be held criminally responsible.
SOLZHENITSYN ON CULTURE, CHECHNYA, LUZHKOV
Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn bemoaned "the utilitarian demands of culture and the absolute power of money" at a Moscow round table organized by the Academy of Sciences, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 September. Solzhenitsyn warned that the "globalization" and commercialization of culture destroy the incentive for artists to create for "true connoisseurs." He said the future of Russian culture will depend on whether creative genius can overcome such difficult conditions. Asked about Russia's policy toward Chechnya, Solzhenitsyn said, "We must now understand that Chechnya has been separated from us." Far from destroying Russia, this separation may even benefit Russia if Chechnya is prevented from "living at Russia's expense," he added. Solzhenitsyn also praised Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, who spoke at the same round table, for both the clarity of his ideas and the high quality of the language in which he expressed them.
RUSSIAN GENERAL DENIES EXISTENCE OF SUITCASE NUKES
Senior Russian Defense Ministry official Lieutenant-General Igor Volynkin told journalists on 25 September that Russia has never manufactured suitcase-size nuclear bombs, ITAR-TASS reported. Volynkin admitted that it is theoretically possible but expensive--and therefore not economically viable--to manufacture such weapons. Two days earlier, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov similarly rejected claims made recently by former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed. Lebed said that up to 100 such suitcase bombs were unaccounted for (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1997).
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO RESTRUCTURE DEBT TO RUSSIA
The National Assembly on 24 September ratified an agreement on restructuring Armenia's estimated $73.7 million debt to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The debt is repayable over 11 years, beginning in 2000, at a 5 percent annual interest rate. The agreement specifies that the debt may be repaid in hard currency, Russian rubles, and Armenian state assets, including shares of stock in state enterprises. In 1994, Armenia pledged a 15 percent stake in its Medzamor nuclear power station, the Nairit chemical plant, the Yerevan cognac distillery, and the Armelektromash electrical engineering plant as collateral for a 110 billion ruble credit. The 1997 Armenian state budget earmarked some $62 million for debt servicing (excluding the debt to Russia), but less than one-third of that amount has been repaid in the first nine months of this year.
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES
Paruir Hairikyan, leader of the radical Union for Self-Determination, told journalists on 24 September that the opposition parties belonging to the National Accord Alliance (AHD) have decided to "freeze" their coordinated activities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hairikyan added, however, that the constituent parties are "ready to reunite, if necessary, to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law." Hairikyan said he is confident the bloc will reform before the 1999 parliamentary elections. The AHD was created in September 1996 to support National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan's presidential candidacy. Manukyan recently pronounced the alliance "dead" but not buried (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1997). The leaders of three other parties within the AHD told "Hayots Ashkhar" on 23 September that Manukyan has no right unilaterally to dissolve the bloc.
HEAD OF UN OBSERVER MISSION RETURNS TO GEORGIA
A UN spokesman said on 24 September that no disciplinary action will be taken against the commander of the UN observer mission in Georgia, Reuters and AFP reported. Major General Haroun ar-Rashid was recalled to New York to explain why he violated UN regulations by paying a $7,000 ransom for two of his men recently taken hostage in western Georgia. The spokesman said that in light of unspecified "mitigating circumstances," no action will be taken against the general.
AZERBAIJANI EARLY OIL COUNTDOWN
An unnamed spokesman for the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AOIC), which is currently developing three Azerbaijani Caspian oil fields, told Interfax on 24 September that the first oil from the Chirag field will start flowing in the first week of October. Drilling of the first well at the Chirag field is almost completed. The AIOC also denied reports that its president canceled a visit to Georgia scheduled for 22 September, according to TURAN. An AIOC commission recently visited the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa to monitor construction of a $225 million terminal from which Azerbaijani oil from Baku will be loaded onto tankers, "Delovoy mir" reported. Construction is proceeding on schedule.
DISAGREEMENT OVER COST OF AZERBAIJAN/CASPIAN PIPELINE
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 22 September rejected as "wishful thinking" Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's claim that the planned oil export pipeline bypassing Chechnya is cheaper than that through Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. A Transneft press spokesman told Interfax on 24 September that the Chechen bypass pipeline will be guarded by Russian Interior Minister and Federal Security Service personnel. He added that construction will be completed in May 1998 and that the pipeline will have an annual throughput capacity of 40 million metric tons. French ambassador to Moscow Hubert Colin de Verdiere said on 24 September that France has no objections to the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Russia, noting that cost and security are the key factors. French companies are represented in two of the five major consortia currently operating in Azerbaijan.
RUSSIAN OBLAST APPROVES KAZAKHSTAN/CASPIAN PIPELINE
The Astrakhan Oblast authorities on 24 September approved construction of that sector of the Tengiz-Novorossiisk export pipeline that traverses the oblast, Interfax reported. The oblast leadership also requested that the neighboring regions of Kalmykia, Stavropol, and Krasnodar, which must also approve construction of the pipeline across their territory, make a joint appeal to the Russian government to guarantee that the four regions will receive part of the income from the export of oil via the pipeline. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Almaty is distributing "Happiness Is Multiple Pipelines" bumper stickers, according to the "Baltimore Sun" on 24 September.
KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA SIGN OIL DEAL...
Almaty and Beijing on 24 September signed an estimated $9.5 billion deal on oil shipments and the construction of two pipelines, according to RFE/RL correspondents. China's number two leader Li Peng arrived in Almaty for a one-day visit to sign the deal with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The China National Oil Corporation will develop the Uzen and Aktyubinsk oil fields in western Kazakhstan. It will also build a 3,000 kilometer pipeline to China's western border and a 250 kilometer pipeline to the Turkmen border. Under the deal, the pipelines will begin operating within five years. Li called the deal a "new page" in Sino-Kazakh relations, while Nazarbayev said it was the "contract of the century."
....AND BORDER AGREEMENT
Nazarbayev and Li also signed an agreement demarcating an 11-kilometer section of the Sino-Kazakh border near the Khan Tengri mountain peak, according to RFE/RL correspondents. Sections of the border near Almaty and in eastern Kazakhstan are still being negotiated.
FIRST STAGE OF TAJIK REPATRIATION COMPLETED
The last 300 Tajik refugees from camps near the Nizhni Pyanj border crossing have entered Tajikistan from Afghanistan, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 25 September. This wraps up the first stage of the repatriation program. According to ITAR-TASS, 6,000 refugees from Afghanistan's Kunduz Province have crossed the border into Tajikistan since 17 July. The next stage, which is due to begin shortly, will repatriate about 7,000 refugees living in camps near the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Those refugees will pass through Termez, Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Tajik Prime Minister Yakhyo Azimov, who is attending the annual meeting off World Bank and the IMF in Hong Kong, has asked for $80 million in aid through the end of 1998 to help implement the Tajik General Agreement on Peace.
OFFICIAL RESULTS CONFIRM SOLIDARITY ELECTION VICTORY
The State Electoral Commission has released the official figures for the 21 September parliamentary elections, PAP reported on 25 September. Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) won 33.83 percent of the vote, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) 27.13 percent, the Freedom Union 13.37 percent, the Peasant Party 7.31 percent, and the Movement for Renovation of Poland 5.56 percent. No other party met the 5 percent threshold for entry to the parliament. Turnout was 48 percent. The AWS and the Freedom Union are currently holding initial talks on a possible coalition to succeed the current SLD government.
SOLIDARITY ASKS OUTGOING GOVERNMENT TO DELAY ARMS DEAL
AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski has called on the current government to delay proceeding with an arms deal, PAP reported on 25 September. Warsaw had agreed to purchase arms from Israel, but the U.S. lobbied hard for several American companies. Given the AWS's victory in the parliamentary elections, Krzaklewski's appeal suggests the issue is once again far from resolved.
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW ELECTION LAW
Following months of controversy, the parliament has approved legislation whereby half of its 450 seats will be filled by ballots cast in single-member districts and the other half by voting for party lists, Ukrainian media reported on 24 September. President Leonid Kuchma has opposed party list voting, arguing it would strengthen some of the most organized parties. His spokesman said, however, that Kuchma will sign the new legislation.
ORTHODOX PATRIARCHS CALL FOR CHURCH UNITY IN UKRAINE
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew of Constantinople and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said in Odessa on 24 September that "separations and divisions in the Church result in extensive damage." The two noted that "we must do everything possible to heal these wounds on the Church's body as soon as possible," according to ITAR-TASS. Observers say their comments are directed at the very divided Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Several days earlier, Aleksii made remarks that sparked a storm of protest from Ukrainian Church leaders (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 September 97). The two patriarchs are in Odessa to participate in the international symposium on "Religion, Science, and Environment."
ESTONIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO CONCLUDE BORDER TALKS
Estonian and Russian delegations, meeting in Moscow on 23-24 September, failed to conclude negotiations on defining the countries' common border, ETA reported. This latest round of talks was intended to coordinate maps and documents accompanying the final agreement. A spokeswoman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry commented that the meeting was not "entirely without results." She added it was "too early" to predict how many further rounds of border talks will be necessary. Estonian Ambassador to Moscow Mart Helme told BNS that Russia is focusing on "time-consuming minor details" that are hampering finalization of the agreement. A political agreement on a border treaty was reached last November.
ESTONIA AMENDS IMMIGRATION LAW
The parliament has amended the immigration law to increase the rights of temporary residence permit-holders, ETA reported on 24 September. The amendments, which were proposed by the government, seek to ensure that those permit-holders enjoy rights similar to those granted to people with permanent residency. Law-abiding foreigners who applied for temporary residence permits before 12 July 1995 may apply for a permanent resident permit beginning 12 July next year. The amendments also eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants from the EU, Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. Restrictions on the number of immigrants from other countries remain in force.
LATVIAN COALITION PARTIES PLEDGE STRICTER DISCIPLINE
Leaders of the ruling coalition parties have signed an amended cooperation agreement aimed at increasing discipline within the coalition, Interfax reported on 24 September. Prime Minister Guntars Krasts recently warned party leaders that if they did not agree to the amendments, he would reduce the number of portfolios for parties that failed to honor the accord. Under the amended agreement, deputies from the coalition parties will not support opposition demands for extraordinary parliamentary sessions or amendments to the budget or tax code unless those demands concur with the position of the governmental Cooperation Council. Deputies from Latvia's Way and the Democratic Party Saimnieks have recently supported several opposition demands.
CZECH SENATE APPROVES LAW ON AGRICULTURE
The Czech Senate on 24 September approved a new agriculture law containing measures to support farmers and protect the country's agricultural markets. But the Senate returned to the lower house an amendment to the trade law after inserting a clause regulating taxi services in Prague. In addition, the Senate repealed a paragraph of the criminal code whereby slandering the president carries a sentence of up to two years in prison, CTK reported.
SLOVAK DIPLOMAT ACCUSES HUNGARY OF VIOLATING BILATERAL TREATY
Jozef Sestak, state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, has said that while Slovakia is interested in good relations with Hungary, both sides must respect "certain principles". He told Slovakia's independent news agency SITA on 24 September that Hungary is violating two articles of the basic treaty between Bratislava and Budapest. He noted that Article 21 says disputed issues should be resolved through negotiation not through "internationalization" and that Article 6 provides for the two countries to support each other in Euro-Atlantic integration. He says Hungary violated that clause during the recent meeting of the Central European Free Trade Agreement at Protoroz, in Croatia.
HAGUE COURT RULES ON GABCIKOVO-NAGYMAROS DISPUTE
The International Court of Justice in the Hague has ruled that Hungary broke international law by abandoning a 1977 agreement with Slovakia to build the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros system of dams and hydroelectric power stations on the Danube River. But the court also said that the former Czechoslovakia, was also wrong in pressing ahead with the project and diverting the waters of the Danube from Hungary into Slovakia. According to the court, Hungary was not entitled to suspend and subsequently abandon in 1989 its part of the work on the hydropower project, a court spokesman told reporters. The court obligated the two countries to take all necessary measures to ensure the implementation of the 1977 accord.
HUNGARIAN PREMIER'S "FLOATING" PRESS CONFERENCE
Speaking at a traditional annual press conference on a boat on the Danube River, Gyula Horn said on 24 September that he has not yet decided whether to run for another term as premier. He said he disagreed with the opposition's stance that progress in relations between Hungary and neighboring countries is possible only if the conditions of ethnic Hungarians living there improve. He said that if good neighborly relations do not exist, the Hungarian government can do nothing for Hungarians abroad. Also on 24 September, Horn told representatives of the National Gypsy Minority Authority that he favors increasing minority representation in the parliament, provided they have sufficient electoral support. Horn said the threshold for a seat representing a minority should be 5,000 votes.
AGREEMENT BETWEEN HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES?
Citing "confidential sources," the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 25 September that Viktor Orban, the leader of the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) and Sandor Lezsak, chairman of the Democratic Forum, have reached an agreement on cooperation in the 1998 elections. The agreement reportedly stipulates that both formations field candidates in 116 of the 176 constituencies. FIDESZ candidates will run unopposed by the Democratic Forum in 40 constituencies, while the Democratic Forum will have no FIDESZ competition in 20 electoral districts. The two leaders also agreed that in constituencies contested by both parties, the candidate better placed in the first round of the elections will be supported by both formations in the second round.
PLAVSIC, KRAJISNIK AGREE WITH MILOSEVIC TO RESOLVE DISPUTE
Yugoslav President SlobodanMilosevic, who is mediating the Bosnian Serb power struggle, met with Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, her hard-line opponent and the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, in Belgrade on 24 September. They agreed to hold parliamentary elections in the Bosnian Serb entity on 15 November under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Elections for Plavsic's and Krajisnik's posts will be held on 7 December. They also agreed on dividing air time on state television: one side will air its views one day and the other the next day. Plavsic said the deal will help bring a democratic resolution to their power struggle. Krajisnik commented that the deal is a political compromise that preserves a united Republika Srpska while "letting the people decide" whose policies will prevail.
FINAL RESULTS OF SERBIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
In the 21 September elections to the parliament, Yugoslav President Milosevic's leftist alliance won 110 mandates in the 250-seat parliament. Vojislav Seselj's ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party collected 81 mandates and Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement 46. The Vojvojdina Coalition and the Union of Vojvojdina Hungarians will each have four seats, the List for Sandzak three, and the Presevo-Bujanovac Coalition and the Democratic Alternative one each.
CONTACT GROUP EXPRESSES CONCERN ON KOSOVO...
In a statement issued during the UN General Assembly session on 24 September, the foreign ministers of Russia, the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, and Britain expressed serious concern about tensions in Kosovo. The six-nation Contact Group urged authorities in Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanian community to join a peaceful dialogue and create conditions for Kosovar refugees to return home. The statement warned against the use of violence to press political demands and urged all sides to exercise maximum restraint. The six foreign ministers reiterated their opposition to independence for Kosovo and instead called on Belgrade to enhance Kosovo's status within the Yugoslav federation by fully protecting the rights of the Albanian population.
...AGREES TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON BOSNIA
The Contact Group also agreed to impose tougher sanctions against Bosnian ethnic factions that fail to uphold the provisions of the Dayton Peace Accords. It called on all ethnic groups to comply with the accords, saying those blocking implementation will be subject to increasingly strong measures. It condemned continuing misuse of the news media to spread inflammatory messages and disinformation. It further stressed the importance of installing the new municipal governments recently elected and allowing the winners to take office.
NATO AGREES TO DELAY START OF WITHDRAWAL OF SFOR
NATO ambassadors, meeting in Brussels on 24 September, postponed a decision on when to start withdrawing the 35,000-strong NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). The withdrawal is due to be completed by mid-1998. A decision on reducing SFOR troops is not expected before a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December.
BOSNIAN CROATS AGREE TO JOINT INVESTIGATION INTO MOSTAR BOMBING
A spokesman for the international community's high representative in Bosnia Carlos Westendorp said on 24 September that Bosnian Croat leaders have agreed to conduct a joint investigation with officials from the Muslim-Croat federation into the 18 September car bomb explosion that injured 30 people in the divided city of Mostar. Bosnian President Alia Izetbegovic had demanded a joint investigation.
CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES WASHINGTON
Mate Granic has said that U.S. pressure on Zagreb to accelerate implementation of the peace process in eastern Slavonia is "completely unnecessary and unjustified." Speaking in New York to Croatian television on 24 September, Granic commented that "everything can be resolved through dialogue, not through pressure." Meanwhile, on his return to Ankara from Zagreb on 24 September, President Suleyman Demirel told Turkish Television that during his visit to Croatia, an agreement on the prevention of double taxation and an agricultural protocol were signed. He also said a bilateral free trade agreement will be signed shortly.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON CORRUPTION
Emil Constantinescu told journalists on 24 September that corruption has depleted the country's national wealth. He said that although the government won the elections in 1996, economic power is still largely in the hands of people involved in illicit dealings. The former government of Nicolae Vacaroiu condoned corruption and some of its members, including deputy ministers, were personally involved in illegal dealing, he added. Constantinescu spoke at length on illegal dealings in the merchant fleet, the fertilizer industry, and petrol and refineries import-export companies. He said the former government allowed tens of thousands of tons of fuel to be smuggled to rump Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.
PRIVATIZATION DEALS IN ROMANIA
The State Ownership Fund (FPS) has agreed to sell the South Korean Samsung company 51 percent of the shares in the steel producer Otelinox, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported on 25 September. The previous day, FPS director Sorin Dimitriu told RFE/RL that a 51 percent stake in Romcim, the country's largest cement producer, has been sold to the French company Lafarge for $400 million. Lafarge pledged to invest $200 million in Romcim over the next four years.
TRANSDNIESTRIAN LEADER ON RUSSIAN HELICOPTER INCIDENT
Igor Smirnov on 24 September said the incident last week in which a Russian helicopter was fired on by Transdniestrian soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997) was caused by "drunk soldiers" who "were guarding the harvest." Smirnov said the culprits will be put on trial, "not for shooting at the helicopter but for the unallowed use of weapons," Infotag reported.
PRO-PRESIDENTIAL POLITICAL BLOC FORMED IN MOLDOVA
The pro-presidential Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova on 24 September joined forces with three other organizations to form the Bloc for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, Infotag reported. The three organizations are the Popular Democratic Party, the New Forces movement, and the National Youth League. The bloc defines itself as centrist.
BULGARIA'S ZHIVKOV HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE
Speaking to journalists in Sofia six days after his release from house arrest, Todor Zhivkov denied Bulgaria was involved in the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. He also said the Bulgarian secret services had not been involved in the 1978 assassination of journalist Georgi Markov. Zhivkov is currently under investigation for allegedly channeling millions of U.S. dollars to pro-communist movements in Third World countries and for initiating the compulsory assimilation of ethnic Turks in the 1980s. He argued that the investigation should be halted, noting that the country's new constitution strictly limits legal actions against past presidents, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported on 24 September.
BULGARIAN VETERAN DIPLOMATS TO BE DISMISSED
Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 24 September said the ministry will dismiss veteran diplomats to make room for younger staff who would better present the country's new foreign policy objectives, Reuters reported. He said the measure did not represent "political sackings" since it was part of the reform of the ministry, which is to undergo a 10 percent cut in personnel.
BULGARIAN PREMIER INVITES CHERNOMYRDIN TO VISIT
Ivan Kostov on 24 September invited Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to pay an official visit to Bulgaria, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The message said the two countries are "strategic partners" and that Bulgaria wants to seek to reach agreement on the "remaining unsolved problems in bilateral trade and economic relations." The invitation comes against the background of differences between the two governments over the cost of Russian natural gas deliveries to Bulgaria.
A DANGEROUS NEW ORTHODOXY
by Paul Goble
New Russian legislation restricting missionary activity in particular and religious freedom in general could threaten Moscow's relations with the West and especially with the U.S. On 19 September, the State Duma approved a revised law on religious organizations by a vote of 358 to six. Four days later, the Federation Council approved it by 137 to zero. It now goes to President Boris Yeltsin, who is expected to sign it.
Yeltsin's office drafted the revised bill after he had vetoed the original version in July, following protests by human rights groups and a threat by the U.S. Senate to block some $200 million in aid if he did not. But despite his promises that the problems of the first draft would be eliminated, the new version of the law contains virtually all the provisions of the original as well as a number of new and even more restrictive ones.
Like the original bill, the new legislation divides denominations into two groups: those with 15 years of recognized operation that could function openly and those without such standing that could not legally their religions, publish, or maintain a bank account. Advocates of the law, including the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, have suggested that such legislation is needed to protect historical Russian faiths from the impact of missionaries for other religious groups who have entered Russia since the fall of communism. And they argue that the law protects not only Russian Orthodoxy but also Roman Catholicism, the Baptist church, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.
But such claims are not justified by the text of the law. While the legislation might protect congregations and hierarchies already registered with the state, it would do little to protect congregations within those faiths not registered in the past. Thus, the many Jewish synagogues that have arisen since the end of Soviet power might not be protected by the law, and the large number of Roman Catholic congregations active underground even before 1991 might not have the right to continue to exist.
Moreover, the new legislation, which its advocates say is designed to keep out "dangerous" sects, would make it extremely difficult for groups not registered with the Soviet state in the past or with the Russian state now to survive long enough to gain the protections enjoyed by registered groups.
Because of those restrictions, both human rights activists and Western governments have already indicated their dismay. For example, Lawrence Uzzell--the Moscow representative of Britain's Keston Institute, a group that monitors religious life in Russia--said the new measure is "not a law that protects tradition but a law that protects Stalinism, as it protects only those religious bodies that were most loyal to the Soviet state." As such, he said, the measure is "manifestly unconstitutional," even if it enjoys widespread support in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, the Russian state, and the Russian public.
A spokesman for President Bill Clinton said that the U.S. leader had expressed his concerns about the law during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov in New York on 22 September. Similarly, Vice President Al Gore told Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow one day later that he, too, is worried about the new legislation.
But despite such expressions of Western concern--and possibly even because of them--Yeltsin seems unlikely to veto the law this time. Not only is he under pressure from the increasingly influential Russian Orthodox hierarchy, but he is confronted by an almost unanimous Duma and broad support for the measure among many ordinary Russians.
But both he and Russia more generally are likely to learn quickly that Americans and others who may not always understand all the intricacies of other human rights issues will immediately recognize violations of religious liberty. And their attitudes are likely to affect the way in which their governments deal with a Russian government apparently committed to a new and not very free orthodoxy on religious questions.