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Newsline - October 7, 1997


Three days after he issued his sharpest warning yet to opposition State Duma deputies, President Boris Yeltsin invited Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev to the Kremlin, Russian news agencies reported on 6 October. Seleznev told reporters that the president assured him that he "is not a supporter of the dissolution of the Duma." Seleznev said Yeltsin also supported reviving the consultative "Council of Four," consisting of the president, prime minister, and speakers of both houses of parliament. Yeltsin created that council in fall 1996, but it never got off the ground because of Yeltsin's protracted illness. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko commented to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that Yeltsin has again adopted a "carrot and stick" approach in dealing with the Duma. Also on 6 October, Seleznev and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin discussed the draft budget and Chernomyrdin's report to the Duma, scheduled for 8 October.


First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais presented the government's draft budget for 1998 at a 6 October session of the Duma Budget Committee, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Chubais said the government hopes to provide for 2 percent GDP growth next year, a 3 percent increase in industrial production, and a 3 percent increase in the average real income. He said those goals can be achieved by reducing the tax burden on enterprises (one of the aims of the new tax code), lowering rates for services provided by natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors, and adopting a "realistic budget." Chubais said defense spending will be increased significantly in light of the costs of military reform. He added that funding for the courts will be raised by 60 percent and spending on health and culture also increased.


Despite Chubais's lobbying, both the Duma Budget Committee and the Duma Economic Policy Committee have recommended that the lower house of parliament reject the 1998 budget in the first reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 6 October. The committees recommended that the document be sent to a conciliatory commission of government and parliamentary representatives. Communist representatives have previously indicated that their faction will support sending the budget directly back to the government, which is considered a "tougher" form of rejection than the creation of a conciliatory commission. Speaking to RFE/RL, Chubais expressed optimism that the Duma will support forming a conciliatory commission so as not to "stop the [budget] process." He said deputies from most factions, with the exception of Yabloko, had adopted a "reasonable" stance on the budget. Also on 6 October, the Duma Budget Committee recommended that the Duma declare the government's implementation of the 1997 budget "unsatisfactory."


Grigorii Yavlinskii announced on 6 October that his faction has decided unanimously to vote against the 1998 budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He again charged that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has an alliance with leaders of the Communist Party and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia . The Duma factions of both those parties voted for the 1997 budget, which Yabloko opposed. Yavlinskii also repeated that Yabloko supports "radical tax reform" but opposes the government's proposed new tax code. With regard to Yeltsin's recent call for the Duma to adopt a law on corruption and organized crime, Yavlinskii said the president could better fight corruption by removing officials who are generally believed to be corrupt from the government. When asked about Chubais, Yavlinskii declined to accuse any minister of corruption but blamed Chubais for helping create the "corrupt" and "oligarchic" system that, Yavlinskii said, now dominates Russia.


Russia and the London Club of creditor banks signed a deal in Moscow on 6 October to restructure the $33 billion debt inherited from the Soviet Union, Reuters and an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. In December, Russia is scheduled to pay $3 billion toward overdue interest on the debt. Other payments on interest and principal will begin in 2002 and continue until 2020. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais told reporters, "Today leaders of the biggest banks in the world recognized the irreversibility of our reforms and the prestige of Russia in the international community." He also said the deal will spur more foreign investment in Russia. Market analysts predicted that the London Club deal will earn Russia an upgrade in its credit rating, making it less expensive for Moscow to borrow money on world financial markets.


U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Yeltsin exchanged warm words during Blair's first official visit to Moscow on 5-6 October. Yeltsin greeted Blair with a bear-hug rather than a handshake, and he praised Blair's youth and energy during a press conference after the meeting. Blair expressed his admiration for Yeltsin and called for more military cooperation between Russia and the U.K., as well as full membership for Russia in the group of the world's leading economic powers, which will hold its next summit in the British city of Birmingham. Blair and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin signed an agreement on cooperating in the fight against organized crime. Blair also met with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. On 5 October, Blair had dinner with First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov.


Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 6 October issued a statement ruling that the Russian representation in Grozny will be able to return and resume its work only when Moscow implements bilateral agreements signed in recent months and abstains from "economic blackmail," Russian agencies reported. The Russian mission was forced to leave Grozny after Moscow refused permission for Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov to fly from Grozny to Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1997). Maskhadov also stressed his intention of concluding an inter-state treaty with Moscow. Russian Security Council spokesman Igor Ignatev told ITAR-TASS that there will be no official response to Maskhadov's statement as "everything has already been said."


Spokesmen for the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office have denied that Interior Ministry troops were sent to pick up former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak for questioning on 3 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 October. According to the prosecutor's office, investigators collected Sobchak from his office because Sobchak had on 12 previous occasions ignored a summons to be questioned in a corruption investigation against former St. Petersburg officials. Sobchak and his wife, Duma deputy Lyudmila Narusova of the Our Home Is Russia faction, have charged that at least 10 armed Interior Ministry troops picked up the former mayor, who is now hospitalized with heart trouble (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 1997). Sobchak and Narusova have drawn parallels with Stalin-era police techniques, and Narusova told the 7 October "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that she has filed an official protest with Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov and Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov.


Valentin Simuchenkov, the chief prosecutor of Kemerovo Oblast, has filed several slander lawsuits against Governor Aman Tuleev, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 October. Tuleev recently denounced the oblast law enforcement authorities for not informing the public about the criminal record of Leninsk-Kuznetskii Mayor Gennadii Konyakhin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). Simuchenkov told journalists that he could not stand by while "we are accused of unprofessionalism and corruption." In addition, he accused Tuleev of accepting payments from businessman Timur Tsoriev in 1996, when Tuleev chaired the Kemerovo legislature and then ran for president. After the election, when he was appointed CIS affairs minister, Tuleev appointed Tsoriev to head his ministry's department in charge of hard currency operations, Simuchenkov commented. Tuleev faces two challengers in the 19 October gubernatorial election.


The Moscow City Court on 6 October acquitted Nikolai Lysenko, the leader of the extreme nationalist National-Republican Party of Russia, and his aide Mikhail Rogozin of several charges, including terrorism, Russian news agencies reported. Lysenko was accused of staging a bomb attack in his office in the State Duma in December 1995, shortly before the parliamentary election. No one was hurt in the blast, but property damage was estimated at 100 million rubles ($20,800 at 1995 exchange rates). Lysenko's party gained less than 1 percent of the vote, despite the huge publicity surrounding the explosion. The court convicted Lysenko of stealing a computer from the Duma. It sentenced him to 16 months in prison but ordered his immediate release on the grounds he has already spent more than 16 months in custody since his May 1996 arrest.


The board of directors of Russian Public Television (ORT) has appointed Kseniya Ponomareva acting director-general, Interfax reported on 6 October. Until now, Ponomareva headed the news division of the 51 percent state-owned network. The ORT board will decide in November whether to make her appointment permanent. On 1 October, Yeltsin met with Ponomareva and publicly recommended that the ORT board appoint her director-general. Ponomareva is believed to have good relations with Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, a highly influential figure at the network. Her appointment suggests that Berezovskii's influence at ORT has not declined, despite First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's recent call for establishing state control over the finances and the "ideological foundations" of the network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August and 18 September 1997). Ponomareva's predecessor, Sergei Blagovolin, occasionally criticized ORT management.


Gazprom board chairman Rem Vyakhirev said on 6 October that his company will not withdraw from the 28 September contract with Iran and France's Total to develop Iran's South Pars Caspian gas deposit, Russian agencies reported. That deal is valued at $2 billion. Vyakhirev said "we have considered what we stand to lose and to gain if sanctions are imposed on us.... It would be madness not to take part in the project." Vyakhirev was addressing a roundtable of Russian and EU industrialists in Moscow.


Meeting with Prime Minister Farit Mukhametshin and the economy and finance ministers in Kazan on 4-6 October, a delegation from the U.S. government's Ex-Im Bank agreed to open a Regional Development Bank in Kazan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Tatarstan TV cited Mukhametshin argued that the controlling shares in the new bank should belong to Tatarstan. Ex-Im Bank has been active in Tatarstan since 1994 and has invested about $220 million in the Tatneft and Nizhnekamskneftekhim companies.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparyan told Interfax on 6 October that Armenia has no nuclear arms and that its nuclear potential "serves only peaceful purposes." Two days earlier, parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan similarly denied charges by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov that Russia has supplied Armenia with medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Sahakyan pointed out that Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin has told journalists that Russia destroyed its medium-range missiles before May 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 1997).


Azerbaijan Popular Front deputy chairman Ali Kerimov told Turan on 6 October that the front's planned congress has been postponed because the Azerbaijani authorities have refused to provide premises for it. In recent months, members of the front's board have been repeatedly prevented from traveling to the village of Keleki in Nakhichevan to visit front chairman Abulfaz Elchibey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 1997).


Eduard Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio address on 6 October that Georgia's desire for integration into Europe does not preclude rapprochement with Russia, Russian media reported. Shevardnadze noted that it is "strange" for Russian political figures to reproach Georgia for seeking closer integration with Europe when Moscow is pursuing a similar policy. He predicted that his participation in the upcoming Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg will speed up Georgia's integration into Europe. Shevardnadze also expressed satisfaction with growing Russian investments in Georgia.


Four people were injured when a bomb exploded near the presidential palace in Dushanbe on 6 October, Russian media reported. A Tajik Security Ministry spokesman attributed this latest explosion as well as the series of bomb attacks in September to extremist groups not aligned with the opposition. Also on 6 October, Russian Federal Border Service chief Colonel-General Andrei Nikolaev said a total of 6,500 refugees have been repatriated from Afghanistan. He added that once the initial stage of repatriating civilian refugees has been completed, the first group of some 300 opposition fighters will also be allowed to return to Tajikistan. United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri told Interfax on 4 October that three land corridors will be opened to permit the fighters to transit the border, where their arms and ammunition will be monitored. Nuri had earlier said that financial and logistical problems are delaying the repatriation of the opposition fighters.


Kazakh Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev, who is currently on an official visit to China, told ITAR-TASS on 6 October that consolidated defense ties with Russia remains one of his country's top policy priorities. Altynbaev singled out anti-aircraft defense as an area in which the two countries cooperate closely. He also argued that the trilateral defense pact between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan complements, rather than runs counter to, the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Two days earlier, Altynbaev met in Beijing with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, who called for expanding Chinese-Kazakh military cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 1997).


Several thousand workers from the Achisay Polimetal plant in Kentau were intercepted by police near the southern city of Turkestan, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 6 October. The workers were marching to the capital to protest the non-payment of wages. The Turkestan authorities are providing tents and free meals for the stranded marchers but are apprehensive about allowing them to continue for fear that thousands more protesters will join the march, according to Reuters.


Yevhenii Mikolutsky, a parliamentary deputy and chairman of the Mohilev Raion State Control Committee, died of injuries sustained when a remote-controlled bomb exploded in his apartment building on 6 October, Russian media reported. Mikolutsky was a friend of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the blast.


The International Atomic Energy Agency has announced it will create a fund to reinforce the concrete shield around the damaged reactor at the Chornobyl nuclear plant, Interfax and Reuters reported on 6 October. Environment Minister Yuri Kostenko was quoted as saying that the IAEA has launched an international appeal for $350 million to strengthen the so-called sarcophagus, which was hurriedly constructed around the reactor after the April 1986 accident. The total cost of the operation is put at $750 million. The Group of Seven leading industrialized countries has agreed to provide $300 million and Kyiv $50 million.


Ukraine and Russia plan to set up a joint venture to supply Ukraine's nuclear stations with fuel, Interfax-Ukraine and Reuters reported on 6 October. An unnamed government source in Kyiv said Ukraine's State Property Fund will take a 30 percent stake in the venture on behalf of the state Energoatom company, while Russia's OAO TVEL, which is the sole supplier of fuel for Ukraine's nuclear plants, will have a 35 percent share. The remaining 35 percent will be divided between Ukraine's VA-Bank, Russia's Inkombank, and the Ukrainian-Andorran AMP joint venture. According to Interfax-Ukraine, the venture is due to be finalized in December and will allow most payments through barter of food and metals. Under a 1994 deal between Ukraine, Russia, and the U.S., Ukraine transferred all strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for destruction in exchange for free fuel. That deal is due to expire by year's end.


Addressing the parliament on 6 October, Andrus Oovel acknowledged his political responsibility for the 11 September military accident but also criticized Major General Johannes Kert, commander of the defense forces, ETA reported. The accident, in which 14 peace-keepers perished, could have been avoided if the Estonian chain of command had been in force for the Estonian unit of the Baltic Peacekeeping Battallion, Oovel said. Kert on 3 October published the chain of command for BALTBAT, putting himself at the top. Meanwhile, the parliamentary State Defense Committee on 6 October announced the Defense Ministry was responsible for "insufficient legal regulation" of the defense forces and BALTBAT. Also on 6 October, the United Opposition, the largest opposition force in the parliament, called for Prime Minister Mart Siimann to accept Oovel's resignation, tendered shortly after the accident. Kert has also offered to step down, but President Lennart Meri has not accepted his resignation.


Algirdas Brazauskas said in a live television address on 6 October that he will not run for re-election in the December presidential elections. Brazauskas said he had feared his communist past would be the focus of the campaign. "My earlier political career as a member of the Communist Party, always mentioned in foreign media reports, is a big minus for Lithuania," he commented. Brazauskas, who is 65 and has consistently topped opinion polls as the country's most popular politician, also commented it is time for the head of state to come from a new generation. Five candidates have so far declared their intention to run in the presidential ballot, including former deputy prosecutor-general Arturas Paulauskas, Valdas Adamkus, a U.S. citizen of Lithuanian origin, and parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis.


General Wojciech Jaruzelski and 30 other communist-era generals have sent an open letter to military prosecutors demanding an explanation for the decision to discontinue the investigation into Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski. Kuklinski, who had spied for the CIA since 1972, fled Poland weeks before Jaruzelski declared martial law in December 1981. Kuklinski provided documents on Warsaw Pact plans to invade Poland to curb the Solidarity movement. He was sentenced to death for high treason in 1984, but the sentence was later commuted to a jail term. Kuklinski, who has been living under an assumed identity in the U.S., plans to visit Poland later this year to receive honorary citizenship of the city of Krakow, Reuters reported.


Jan Ruml said on Czech Radio on 6 October that he wants Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jindrich Vodicka to succeed him at the Interior Ministry, despite the fact Vodicka studied at the Odessa naval college before becoming a captain in the Czechoslovak merchant marine. Ruml, who intends to leave his post by the end of this year, said Vodicka meets the criteria of decency and experience in management and public administration. He added that it was not important to take public reaction into account. Both the ruling coalition and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party, to which Vodicka belongs, are divided over whether to appoint Vodicka or find a "new face."


Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar , speaking on Slovak Radio on 6 October, said he has told the police that the country's banks have granted uncovered loans totaling 220 billion Slovak crowns ($6.5 billion). Meciar described the situation as "fraud that has gone unpunished" to the detriment of the state. He also announced the government will soon start discussing several bills intended to strengthen the authorities' ability to fight crime, including clamping down on private security services.


Rasto Pisko, one of Slovakia's most popular political satirists, told journalists in Bratislava on 6 October that he was injured in an assault by an unknown assailant on 21 September. He said that one week later, he began to be followed and harassed with threatening telephone calls that referred to the previously unpublicized assault. In his shows, Pisko frequently targets leaders from both the ruling coalition and the opposition as well as President Michal Kovac. He has also been outspoken in his criticism of the ruling coalition.


The Serbian Electoral Commission has declared the 5 October run-off election for president invalid because of insufficient voter turnout. The commission said only 48 percent of eligible voters turned out at the polls. Serbian law requires a 50 percent participation for a ballot to be valid. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) said turnout was particularly low in Belgrade and Vojvodina, Kosovo and the mainly Muslim Sandzak area. The decision denied victory to hard-line nationalist Vojislav Seselj, who won 49 percent of the vote. His challenger, Zoran Lilic, gained 48 percent. Seselj predicted he will win in new elections, which must be held within 60 days.


The leaders of the opposition Democratic Party and Civic Alliance said on 6 October they may run in the next presidential election, Tanjug reported. Alliance leader Vesna Pesic said the opposition received a hard blow with the Zajedno coalition's collapse and has now decided to form a "far broader and more cooperative model of cooperation than before." Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic announced the formation within 20 days of a broad democratic bloc that could nominate a candidate for the next presidential elections. Djindjic, who was ousted as mayor of Belgrade on 1 October, announced further street protests as part of a "new offensive" by the non-parliamentary opposition. "We have no recourse but to use extra-institutional methods of struggle," he remarked.


U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 6 October. He also held separate talks in the Serbian capital with opposition leaders Djindjic and Pesic, vice presidents of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo Hidajet Hiseni and Fehmi Agani, leader of the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo Adem Demaci, as well as Serbian and Kosovar student leaders. Pesic said she had stressed in her talks with Gelbard that the U.S. "must be crystal clear as far as Kosovo's status is concerned." She said that Kosovo is part of Serbia and that a "solution must be found within the existing framework." She also commented that Gelbard confirmed the U.S. stance that there will be "no more fragmentation and disintegration of states."


Banja Luka TV on 6 October reported that the First and Third Bosnian Serb Army Corps were beginning exercises near Bijeljina, in the northeast of Bosnia, the first major military maneuvers of the Republika Srpksa Army since the signing of the Dayton agreements. General Bosko Kelecevic, the head of the First Corps Command, said the maneuvers involved several units and large amounts of military hardware. He said preparations for such exercises can now be completed within 10 days, instead of the prewar average of two months, because commanding officers and units have the experience of the recent war. Kelecevic said the final stages of the exercise will be held on 8 October on the Manjaca test range.


Momcilo Krajisnik, the hard-line Bosnian Serb member of the all-Bosnian collective presidency, prevented a counterattack on SFOR after NATO-led troops seized four Bosnian Serb Radio and Television (SRT) transmitters on 1 October, "Gradjanin" reported on 4-5 October, quoting an unnamed Republika Srpska minister. The minister was quoted as saying that Krajisnik is very angry with SRT Director Mirosav Toholj for censoring a news conference by Hague Tribunal Prosecutor Louise Arbour and thereby prompting SFOR to seize SRT transmitters. The minister also said Krajisnik managed to stop the police in Pale from organizing a "happening of the people" after SFOR seized the transmitters. "Everything was ready for a counterattack on SFOR in the areas of the seized television transmitters, but Krajisnik decided this would have ended badly and did everything to prevent it," according to the minister.


The Ploce municipal council on 6 October unanimously rejected a draft agreement on the use of the town's port, HINA reported. The proposal was drawn up by a U.S. arbitration commission and provides with Bosnian access to the port. The news agency quoted municipal officials as saying the draft was "based on destroying Croatia's sovereignty in Ploce and would mean the disappearance of the Croatian identity in the Neretva River valley and the town of Ploce."


Two explosive devices went off near the Defense Ministry in Ljubljana, HINA reported, citing POP-TV on 6 October. The news agency noted that official TV Slovenija did not mention the incident at all. Defense Minister Tit Turnsek said civil police are investigating. He said the ministry grounds did not suffer any damage.


Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano said on 6 October that he is in favor of introducing a new style of foreign policy, in particular toward Albania's Balkan neighbors, ATA reported. Speaking to newly appointed Albanian ambassadors and diplomats, Nano said "we favor the Balkans being without walls" and added that "in the hot, problem-plagued Balkans, the only solution is dialogue, not violence." Nano also called for reforming the Foreign Ministry's structures, saying that Albanian diplomats should support the government's programs and the defense of national interests.


Some 500 coal miners in the southern town of Memaliaj launched an indefinite strike on 6 October to demand payment of three months' back wages. Meanwhile, the daily anti-government rallies in Tirana have entered their third week. The protesters are demanding the resignations of Nano and parliamentary leaders. Former President and Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha, who is organizing the protests, appealed to demonstrators on 4 October to "unite in protecting democracy. That is what Europe and the USA is asking of us."


Adrian Severin on 6 October submitted to the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service documents reportedly substantiating his allegations that some party leaders and journalists are foreign agents, Radio Bucharest reported. The next day, he told the radio station that criticism directed against him displays a "lack of responsibility" and that those criticizing him should instead address the issue he has raised. Severin went on to say that corruption is not restricted to the economic sector alone. On 6 October, the major coalition partner, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, announced it will demand Severin's dismissal if he is unable to substantiate his allegations, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.


The government on 6 October amended the regulations on compensation to miners who accept early retirement or being laid off. The offer will now apply only where the work force is sufficiently large to ensure the continued operation of the mines. Decisions on whether to offer early retirement are to be taken by the six state mining companies depending on their envisaged needs, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Minister of Trade and Industry Calin Popescu Tariceanu said the leaders of the miners' unions participated in consultations with the government and agreed with its decision. He said that of the 175,000 people who were employed in the coal mining sector earlier this year, some 80,000 have left the industry.


Gyorgy Keleti on 6 October laid a wreath at a memorial in Arad, Romania, to 13 Hungarian generals executed on 6 October 1849 by the Austrians, following the failed 1848 uprising. Romanian Deputy Defense Minister Dan Zaharia also participated in the ceremony, Hungarian and Romanian media reported. Until this year, Romanian authorities raised objections to the participation of Hungarian officials in ceremonies on the anniversary of the execution, which is commemorated by the ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania. Later the same day, in the presence of Keleti, Zaharia laid a wreath at a monument dedicated to Romanian soldiers. The two men also met to discuss military collaboration in general and the planned joint peacekeeping battalion in particular.


The government on 6 October announced it will join the Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of Minorities, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. President Petar Stoyanov said he will sign the convention during the upcoming Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg.


by Liz Fuller

Less than two months after the presidents of Georgia and Abkhazia signed a landmark agreement abjuring the use of force, the search for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict has ground to a halt yet again. In late September, two Abkhaz spokesmen reasserted that the only acceptable status for their republic is that of equal partner with Georgia within a confederation. The central Georgian government has consistently rejected that demand, however.

Georgia, in effect, lost control of its western province in September1993, following a 13-month war that culminated in the flight of some 300,000 ethnic Georgians from their homes in Abkhazia. An agreement mediated by Russia and the UN in April 1994 stipulated conditions for the repatriation of the displaced persons. But that accord has not been systematically implemented, despite deployment of a CIS peacekeeping force along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to oversee the repatriation process.

In June and July 1997, Georgian and Abkhaz diplomats met in Moscow with top Russian leaders to discuss a protocol, drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, that was intended to pave the way for a political solution to the conflict. Some of the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the two sides were overcome at those talks, largely as a result of concessions by the Abkhaz. But the discussions broke down after Georgia demanded substantive amendments to a version of the protocol that the Abkhaz delegation had already endorsed. Under the terms of that document, Georgia and Abkhazia affirm their "consent to live within the confines of a shared state within the boundaries of the Georgian SSR as of 21 December 1991. Each of the two sides preserves its constitution, and relations between them will be regulated by a special treaty, which both sides agree to invest with the force of a constitutional law."

On 14 August--the fifth anniversary of the Georgian attack on Sukhumi-- Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi. The following day, Ardzinba and Shevardnadze signed a declaration abjuring the use or threat of force against each other. The accord led to government-level meetings aimed at restoring economic ties, transport links, and communications between the central government and the breakaway province. But two such rounds of talks have yielded virtually no results.

With hindsight, it appears that the Shevardnadze-Ardzinba meeting created false expectations of a breakthrough in removing the obstacles to a political settlement. It also seems to have fueled the arguments of hard-line elements on either side who opposed even the slightest concessions. On 26 September, Ardzinba's personal negotiator, Anri Djergenia, told Interfax that Abkhazia is ready to sign not the compromise version of the Russian Foreign Ministry protocol discussed in June but an earlier version based on the principle of the legal equality of the two constituent parties forming a common Georgian state.

In other words, the earlier version provided for the creation of a confederation, not a federation. Within this common state, according to Djergenia, Georgia and Abkhazia would pursue a common foreign and defense policy. They would also jointly conduct policy in minority rights, foreign trade, border control, customs, and environmental issues. Igor Akhba, who is Abkhazia's permanent representative in Moscow, told Interfax on 30 September that the Abkhaz leadership intends to demand from Tbilisi $60 billion in compensation for war damage. He ruled out any kind of autonomous status for Abkhazia within the proposed future common state. Shevardnadze, responding to Djergenia's 26 September statement, warned that if the Abkhaz continue to adhere to such a maximalist position, then "future talks have no sense."

It is conceivable that Djergenia's and Akhba's statements merely reflected Abkhaz displeasure with Tbilisi's plans to stage mass military maneuvers in early October in a region of western Georgia that borders Abkhazia. But such hard-line rhetoric could equally reflect differences of opinion within the Abkhaz leadership. Taras Shamba, Ardzinba's former rival and the informal head of the World Congress of the Abkhaz People, has told Russian journalists he considers there are equally qualified candidates for the Abkhaz presidency.

The Georgian leadership, too, has to contend with hard-line elements beyond its control. The White Legion guerrilla formation continues to target the Russian peacekeeping force, claiming that the Russian peacekeepers regularly side with the Abkhaz. And representatives of the ethnic Georgian fugitives from Abkhazia have vowed to create a parliamentary faction to press their demands for financial compensation and for a formal agreement facilitating their repatriation. Some 70 parliament deputies (of a total of 233) have indicated they are ready to join the proposed For Abkhazia faction.

While the militant rhetoric emanating from hard-line elements in Tbilisi and Sukhumi is unlikely to derail the tenuous negotiating progress, it increases the pressure on the leaders of either side. That, in turn, reduces the ability and willingness of those leaders to make further concessions.