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Newsline - December 1, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed on 30 November to hold the first of a planned series of three-way summits with France in the Urals town of Yekaterinburg in the first half of 1998, Russian news agencies reported. The agreement was reached at an informal meeting at the Zavidovo presidential residence outside Moscow. A Russian presidential spokesman described the talks, which lasted one-and-a-half hours, as "an intensive and dynamic meeting". The date and the agenda of the summit are to be set later. The idea of a "troika" summit first came up when the three nations' leaders met on the sidelines of a Council of Europe meeting in France in October. JG


Yeltsin and Kohl also agreed to hold two bilateral meetings next year, alternating between Germany and Russia. The first one, to be attended also by key ministers, will be held in spring in Germany, while the second - an informal summit - is to take place in summer at Lake Baikal, the Kremlin press service said. The two leaders also agreed that experts from the two nations will meet in about two weeks in Berlin to discuss the development of a European military- transport plane, to be based on the Russian-Ukrainian An- 70. JG


Kohl told reporters at Moscow airport before leaving for home that he had also discussed with Yeltsin prospects for Russia getting new international financial help. He said he promised to discuss the issue with his government and other countries but gave no further details. JG


Yeltsin on 30 November decided to put off for a week to 10 days a government report on its performance, originally planned on 1 December, Itar-Tass reported. A new date will be announced later. The presidential press service said the decision had been taken "in agreement with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin" and that the report had been postponed due to a parliamentary debate on the draft 1998 budget, scheduled for 5 December, as well as Yeltsin's visit to Sweden and Chernomyrdin's visit to Belarus, both set for 2 December. Yeltsin had warned in a radio address on 28 November that some ministers who fail in their duties might be sacked following the government's report. "It is not good when faces in the government change too often, but it's worse when bad ministers remain in place. And not only ministers," Russian news agencies quoted Yeltsin as saying. But he did not indicate which ministers might be dismissed. JG


Speaking in Moscow on 26 and 27 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin again argued that Iraq should be given the opportunity to increase its oil exports in order to purchase food and humanitarian goods, Russian agencies reported. Nesterushkin said that Iraq's decision to allow U.N. inspectors to resume their mission demonstrates Baghdad's willingness to cooperate with the international community. Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk said on 27 November that "much work" is needed to maintain the present favorable status quo in Iraq. During a three-day visit to Iraq beginning on 27 November, Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for international sanctions against Iraq to be lifted as soon as possible, according to Itar-Tass. LF


In a radio address on 28 November, Yeltsin also warned that he will not tolerate excuses for a government failure to pay delayed public sector wages by a January 1 deadline. He highlighted the government's poor tax collection and said that "there is no money in the coffers" to pay wage arrears. Yeltsin also said he did not expect a flow of foreign capital into Russia soon and that internal resources rather than outside investment should help revive the ailing economy. Russian Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin told a cabinet meeting in Moscow on November 27 that because of international market instability he expects foreign investors not to return to Russian assets until next year. JG


Yeltsin repeated on 28 November that Anatolii Chubais will keep his post as First Deputy Prime Minister, Itar-Tass reported. The opposition had demanded Chubais' ouster over graft allegations. The issue of Chubais' dismissal was raised again by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev at a top-level meeting in the Kremlin the same day. But according to Russian media, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev took part in the meeting alongside Yeltsin and Seleznev.. JG


After the Kremlin meeting, Yeltsin told reporters that even if some ministers are removed from their posts that "does not mean the government has to resign." He said that the issue of creating a coalition government was not raised, adding that it would have been "pointless." Chernomyrdin, however, later hinted to reporters that some new ministers could come from opposition ranks, saying professionalism and not political background is what matters in the government. JG


Yeltsin, meeting at the Kremlin on 27 November with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, said Russo-Finnish summits were becoming "a good tradition," Russian news agencies reported. The two presidents stated at their meeting - the third this year - that Russia and Finland had no territorial claims on one another. Yeltsin said not all goals set at a July informal summit had been reached but that "a lot of problems had been solved." Ahtisaari also voiced satisfaction with the talks but said much remains to be done "to get rid of the different approaches left over from cold-war times." After the Kremlin talks, two memoranda on Finnish loans to Russia and a fishing agreement were signed, Interfax reported. JG


Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Ahtisaari, Yeltsin praised Russo-Finnish relations as a model for the entire region. Yeltsin said that if all countries of CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE would follow Finland's path, they would become "bosom friends" with Russia, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin said Russia wants to improve relations with all Baltic countries. He singled out Lithuania for the "great progress" achieved in settling relations and urged Estonia to follow the same route. JG


Yeltsin met on 27 November with Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov and praised him for "clearing up" a scandal over a highly paid book contract involving several government officials. Yeltsin sacked three government officials over the deal and removed Anatolii Chubais as Finance Minister. Yeltsin told Skuratov that he had kept Chubais as First Deputy Prime Minister because of his high professionalism. Yeltsin also said that Chubais had vowed to him to hand over 95 percent of his author's fee to charity. Interfax reported the same day that Chubais had filed two libel suits against Ekho Moskvy radio station and its journalist Aleksandr Minkin, who said in a live broadcast on 12 November that the fee was a hidden bribe. JG


Russian President Yeltsin told journalists on 28 November that his trip to Chechnya announced on 25 November will take place in January, but declined to specify the precise date. Yeltsin added that the purpose of the trip is to resolve the delay in providing federal financing for rebuilding Chechnya's economy and to demonstrate his support for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. On 29 November Maskhadov similarly said that the issue of Chechnya's future status vis-a-vis Russia will not be discussed during Yeltsin's visit, AFP reported. But Maskhadov added that the visit must proceed according to international diplomatic protocol. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and a spokesman for Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev both acclaimed Yeltsin's planned Chechen visit, but radical Chechen field commander Salman Raduev denounced it, blaming Yeltsin for the deaths of tens of thousands of Chechen civilians, according to Interfax. LF


Karine Mane, a 28-year-old French woman working for an organization which provides health care for children in Tajikistan, died on 30 November, as a result of wounds she received during a rescue operation by Tajik security forces, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe. Mane and her companion Franck Janier-Dubry were taken hostage on 18 November by a group seeking to exchange the French citizens for a jailed leader of an outlaw group. Janier-Dubry was released on 29 November following the arrest of more than 20 people by government security forces. The circumstances surrounding Mane's fatal wounding are still unclear. While it is clear she died from injuries received from a grenade blast, it is not known if it occurred during an assault by government forces, or the kidnappers chose to commit suicide rather than be captured by troops which had surrounded the kidnappers' Dushanbe lair or whether the kidnappers were fighting among themselves. BP


Tajik government security forces continue their operation to capture the kidnappers of two French citizens and as of 1 December say the outlaw group is completely surrounded and "faces annihilation" if they do not throw down their weapons and surrender by evening, according to RFE/RL correspondents. Tajik officials have not said how many remain in the group but international media reports at least four of the kidnappers were killed in the attack on the house where the French nationals were held hostage. BP


During an official visit to Baku on 26-28 November, Petru Lucinschi held talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev on Moldovan participation in the TRASECA transport project and cooperation in the oil sector, Russian and Azerbaijani agencies reported. Lucinschi said that Moldova is interested in buying part of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and is currently building an oil refinery on the Danube with a capacity of 2.5 million metric tons. He added that Aliyev endorsed his proposal to export part of Azerbaijan's oil via Moldova. A total of 13 inter-governmental agreements, including a treaty on friendship and cooperation and accords on economic cooperation, were signed during the visit. On 28 November, Lucinschi proceeded to Tbilisi for talks with Eduard Shevardnadze, again focusing on TRASECA and oil transportation, but also the separatist conflicts in both countries. The two presidents signed seven accords, including a Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation. LF


Speaking at a joint press conference in Baku on 27 November, Aliyev and Lucinschi declared that they do not wish to see the CIS collapse, but Aliyev added that it is "an illusion" to believe that it will become an effective international organization while conflicts persist between its members. Lucinschi said the CIS will become effective only when relations between its members become "honest and sincere," Interfax reported. The three presidents stressed that the new alignment between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova is "a consultative body." Shevardnadze told journalists on 28 November that "these nations' cooperation does not contradict the interests of the Black Sea states or the CIS, and should not surprise anybody," ITAR-TASS reported. Lucinschi made clear that he does not support a military component to GUAM, according to Turan on 27 November. (See also "ENDNOTE") LF


Addressing a cabinet session on 26 November, Eduard Shevardnadze harshly criticized several leading officials in the energy sector for their failure to use allocated foreign credits rationally or adequately to prepare for the winter season, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. At the same session, Energy Minister Davit Zubitashvili announced that Russia's Gazprom had agreed to resume supplies of natural gas to Georgia, which had been cut because of non-payment of Georgia's $10 million debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1997). Zubitashvili warned that gas supplies will again be halted if the outstanding debt is not repaid within 10 days. He noted that industrial enterprises owe 35 million Georgian lari ($28 million) to Georgia's energy company Sakenergo, and domestic consumers -- a further 200 million lari, Caucasus Press reported. LF


Members of opposition movements and trade unions staged a demonstration in front of the Kazakh parliament building in Almaty on 30 November, according to RFE/RL correspondents and Interfax. The demonstration was called for by the Azamat movement to protest restrictions on citizens' right to meet in public. However, various groups chose the event to voice their own complaints. Workers from the national airline Kazakhstan Awe Joldari, which went bankrupt, joined in as did members of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. Reports vary as to the turnout. Interfax claims 400 people gathered while RFE/RL correspondents say 1,000. Azamat was denied official permission to hold the protest on 19 November and held the demonstration on 30 November without sanction from the Almaty Procurator General's office. BP


The Turkmen government has informed the Moscow Procurator General's office of an arrest warrant for former Oil and Gas Minister and deputy Prime Minister Nazar Suyunov, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 27 November. Suyunov was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service on 26 November but after four hours of questioning was released on the grounds of insufficient evidence. However, Suyunov told RFE/RL that he had information that the head of Turkmenistan's state security service and the deputy procurator general were in Moscow seeking his extradition. Suyunov is accused of corruption while serving as an official in his home country. BP


Abdygany Erkebaev was elected the new speaker of Kyrgyzstan's People's Assembly (lower house of parliament) on 26 November, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek. Erkebaev replaces Almambet Matubraimov who lost the position when deputies of the People's Assembly decided, also on 26 November, to reduce the term a speaker can serve from five years to two-and-a-half. BP


Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian believes that Azerbaijan may again try to include discussion of the Karabakh conflict in the agenda of the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit scheduled to open on 5 December in Tehran, ArmenPress reported on 27 November. Gasparian said that leading Islamic politicians have frequently rejected Azerbaijani claims that the Karabakh conflict is a religious one. He added that any attempt to discuss the ongoing negotiations on resolving the conflict outside the framework of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group would negatively impact on the peace process. On 26 November a group of Armenian opposition parties appealed to the OIC not to adopt an "anti-Armenian" resolution at the Tehran meeting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF


Some 380 delegates representing the 6,000 Armenian veterans of the war for Karabakh (Yerkrapah) held a two-day congress in Yerevan on 27-28 November, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, parliament speaker Babken Ararktsyan and deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan, and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, who is chairman of the Union of Yerkrapah, also attended. The chairman of the Yerkrapah parliament faction, Albert Bazeyan, said the Union is prepared to fight for a "victorious settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue" based on the right to self- determination of the region's Armenian population. Delegates adopted a statement calling for unity among Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Diaspora, and advocating a "flexible and prudent" foreign policy to safeguard Armenia's national security. The congress also decided to create a Union newspaper to propagate "the national ideology." LF


Drilling of a first test well at Azerbaijan's "Karabakh" Caspian oilfield has been abandoned after the test registered gas but no oil, Interfax reported on 27 November. The Karabakh field is being jointly developed by the Caspian International Oil Company comprising Russia's LukOIL (32.5 percent), Pennzoil (30 percent), AGIP (30 percent) and Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR (7.5 percent). Drilling of a second test well cannot begin before April or May, 1998, because the only functioning semi- submersible drilling platform is to be leased to another consortium beginning on 28 November. LF


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma held talks near Kyiv on 29 November with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts, Ukrainian media reported. The three discussed how to integrate with the West, how to expand trade among the three, and also how to deal with the increasingly authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. PG


The International Monetary Fund praised Ukraine's progress in reducing inflation and managing its economy and thus released a $103 million tranche of standby credit to Kyiv, Interfax reported 28 November. But a day earlier, Ukrainian President Kuchma directed his government's Security Service to investigate Ukrainian financial markets. His action followed reports that some Russian banks might be speculating against the Ukrainian national currency. PG


During the past five days, the authoritarian government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrested more young protesters. In Hantsavichy, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported On 28 November, a man was arrested and given 10 days in jail for displaying a poster protesting these arrests. On 29 November, more than 1,000 people marched in Minsk to demand that Lukashenka dismiss corrupt officials in his entourage, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, international censure of Lukashenka's closure of the independent Svaboda newspaper continued to spread. American and European Union delegations at an OSCE human rights conference in Warsaw, for example, on 27 November denounced this move as "contrary to the principles of a democratic society." PG


The Estonian foreign ministry reacted positively on 27 November to Russian President Boris Yeltsin's suggestion following his meeting with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari that he would welcome a chance to meet with Estonian President Lennart Meri. But the next day, a more senior foreign ministry official said Tallinn was uncertain as to just what Yeltsin had in mind, BNS reported. PG


Kaliningrad administration chief Leonid Gorbenko told Russian parliamentarians on 27 November that they should not move quickly to ratify the border accord between Moscow and Vilnius, BNS reported on 28 November. Instead, they should move slowly, possibly taking "decades or even one hundred years" to do so. Gorbenko's statement is not definitive, but it will certainly undercut Latvian and Estonian interest in seeking to sign an agreement soon, as Russian President Boris Yeltsin has urged. PG


A group of 31 European statesmen and cultural figures, including retired German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher and Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, published an open letter in major European newspapers on 28 November calling on the European Union to start accession talks with Latvia and Lithuania, not just Estonia. To do otherwise, the appeal said, might undermine the prospects for a united Europe. Danish and Swedish officials echoed these comments in press conferences on 29 November, BNS reported. PG


A Warsaw appeals court on 28 November ordered a new trial for former General Czeslaw Kiszczak, the communist official who had given the order for the use of lethal force at the start of martial law in 1981 and who had been declared innocent by a lower court in July 1996, PAP reported. The appeals court said the earlier court's decision was "unfair." PG


Even as EU leaders repeated their view that Poland should begin accession talks with the EU on March 31, 1998, European Union officials threatened to block the importation of Polish dairy products because of what they called "deplorable" hygienic conditions in that country, PAP reported 27 November. The EU spokesman also said that Poland would have to transform its steel industry to bring it up to European standards. PG


Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on 30 November formally handed in his resignation and that of his government. The decision was announced after the two coalition partners of Klaus' Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) said they would leave the coalition. President Vaclav Havel on 29 November also called on the government to resign. Following a meeting with the heads of the outgoing coalition, Havel asked Klaus to stay on at the head of a caretaker government. An extraordinary congress of the ODS will be held on 13-14 December to decide on the future leadership of the party. Klaus said he does not plan to be part of a future government. Meanwhile, on 29 November, the ODA elected Jiri Skalicky as its new leader. MS


Klaus' resignation was prompted by revelations that a donation of 7.5 million crowns in 1995 came from businessman Milan Srejber, who later acquired a large stake in a steel concern privatized by the Klaus government. Press reports also have alleged the existence of a secret ODS fund of $5 million in Switzerland collected through bribes paid by beneficiaries of privatization. Klaus claimed not to have had knowledge of the donations, which are forbidden under Czech law, but some of his party colleagues, in particular deputy ODS chairman Ivan Pilip and former Interior Minister Jan Ruml, on 28 November said Klaus must resign. In his speech on 29 November Havel said: "A politician should not lie, and when he lies, he must bear the consequences." MS


Radio Twist, viewed by many as a mouthpiece of the opposition, on 25 November complained that the state telecommunications company cut off power from the station to force it to tone down its criticism of Vladimir Meciar's administration, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. This is the second time in two months that the company cut power off from Radio Twist, claiming that it had not paid its bills. Electricity was restored in the evening hours. MS


The government proposed to add 13 seats to the 386-member parliament next year to ensure the representation of the country's ethnic minorities, Hungarian media reported on 28 November. Government spokesman Elemer Kiss said the number of votes necessary for parliamentary representation of ethnic minorities will be reduced from 7,500 to 5,000. The lists of candidates will be set up by Hungary's 13 minorities. In separate news, visiting British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Budapest on 26 November that no country has done more to fulfill conditions for EU membership than Hungary. Cook said he is confident that in January Britain will approve Hungary's NATO membership. MSZ


Three armed, uniformed and masked members of the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) appeared near Srbica on 28 November along with 20,000 other people at the funeral of a Kosovar killed in a clash between ethnic Albanians and Serbian police the previous week. The three men appealed to Kosovars to support the UCK because it "is the only force that is fighting and is capable of freeing Kosovo." It was the first time that UCK members made a public declaration. In Obilic on 26 November, the UCK kidnapped a high-ranking Serbian police official, the first political kidnapping that the UCK has carried out. In various incidents in Kosovo, some four people were killed and six injured in the course of the week, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 28 November. In at least one incident the police used helicopters and tanks, while the UCK used more powerful weapons than its usual machine guns. PM


Serbian presidential candidate and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic said on Belgrade television on 28 November that Kosovo is Serbia's internal affair and that foreign mediation is not welcome. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel had made several appeals in the second half of November to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to open talks with the Kosovars aimed at establishing autonomy for the province. In Brussels on 28 November, Kosovar shadow- state President Ibrahim Rugova appealed to the EU to seek a negotiated solution to the Kosovo question and end the rise in violence in the province. PM


Vuk Draskovic, the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement's candidate in the 7 December Serbian presidential vote, said on Belgrade television on 30 November that the Serbian authorities have robbed the public of $3 billion in savings deposits in recent years and deposited the money in accounts overseas. He pledged "to recover the money that this gang of socialists and war profiteers has put into private accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland and France and return it to Serbia." Draskovic charged that Serbia has become a hotbed of lawlessness and promised to set up a police force answerable only to himself to root out crime and corruption. PM


Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency, told a conference of Muslim intellectuals in Sarajevo on 29 November that he will not run for a second term. Izetbegovic said that he plans to leave politics by September 1998, primarily because of his advanced age of 72. He added that politicians should know when to leave the scene and not seek to become presidents for life. Izetbegovic also denied charges in the local independent media that his government covered up evidence of war crimes committed by Muslims against Serbs and Croats (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 13 November 1997). PM


U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen told the "Washington Post" of 30 November that he wants "to see a lot more contribution coming from others" before he would agree to keeping U.S. peacekeepers on in Bosnia after SFOR's mandate runs out in June 1998. Cohen, who has been opposed to extending the mandate, said that he agrees that it might be worth a new effort to guarantee that fighting does not start up again in Bosnia, but stressed that Europe will have to do more than it has. PM


Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic told a meeting of the 16-member Central European Initiative in Sarajevo on 29 November that his country "will need a substantial presence and aid from the international community for some time to come." He added that the CEI's "support for the fast recovery of Bosnia-Herzegovina is of particular importance because we share common commitments and a common destiny in the region." The conference adopted three documents -- a Sarajevo Declaration, the Final Document, and the Action plan for 1998-1999 -- calling for better communication among member states and stressing the need to protect minority rights. PM


The seventh congress of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) ended in stalemate in Zagreb on 30 November after failing to elect a new party president. Former president and current challenger Drazen Budisa polled 639 votes to incumbent Vlado Gotovac's 573, but Budisa fell short of the 667 votes necessary for an absolute majority, "Novi List" reported. The two men have both run unsuccessfully for the Croatian presidency against President Franjo Tudjman and have been at loggerheads for years. The Croatian media have long predicted that the HSLS will eventually split into pro- Budisa and pro-Gotovac factions. Last year the party lost its standing as Croatia's leading opposition party to the Social Democrats. PM


The governing Socialists and opposition Democrats held rival celebrations to mark national day on 28 November. The Socialists held their main event in Vlora in the south. Opposition Democrats centered their attention on Shkodra in the north and on Tirana. Meanwhile, the opposition daily "Albania" reported on 30 November that 32 people were killed and 45 were wounded during the previous week, mainly by robbers or in acts of vengeance. PM


Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara and Sports Minister Sorin Stanescu resigned from the cabinet headed by Victor Ciorbea. Ciumara told Reuters on 30 November that he had submitted his resignation after Ciorbea asked him to do so two days earlier. He said he will be acting Finance Minister until the cabinet is reshuffled. President Emil Constantinescu told reporters in Bucharest on 28 November that the long-postponed reshuffle must be implemented by 2 December at latest. If the coalition partners fail to reach an agreement by then, Ciorbea will be asked to reshuffle the cabinet "as it best suits him," he said. Stanescu resigned on 30 November in protest against what he described as "lack of fair-play in the country's politics" where "personal interests or group interests seem to have priority." MS


In a televised discussion with journalists marking the first year of his presidency, Constantinescu on 29 November said Romania must continue along the path of economic reforms. He criticized the media for complaining about worsening living standards and the slow pace of reforms in one breath. Constantinescu said reforms cannot be implemented painlessly and living standards can only raise after their successful implementation. He said the main achievements of the government were the reduction of budget deficits and control over galloping inflation. Constantinescu said a year ago Romania's economy looked like a "terminally ill" patient, which is no longer the case. MS


The rival groups in the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) on 29 November held separate gatherings in Cluj and Bucharest, respectively. At the meeting in Cluj, former PUNR chairman Gheorghe Funar was again elected to that position with a vote of 99 percent. The meeting was attended by PUNR members from 29 party branches, who decided to amend the party's statutes. The rival group headed by party chairman Valeriu Tabara met in Bucharest and decided to suspend from party membership those who attended the meetings organized by Funar in Cluj on 22 November, as well as those who participated in the 29 November meeting (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). The Bucharest meeting was attended by 22 out of PUNR's 25 parliamentarians and by 40 out of 42 chairmen of county branches. The dispute is likely to be deferred to a tribunal. MS


The leader of the Transdniestrian separatists, Igor Smirnov, on 28 November briefed members of the government on his 22-27 November visit to Moscow, BASA-press reported. He said he met Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov and discussed with him possible solutions to the conflict with Chisinau. Smirnov proposed Moscow and Tiraspol sign a joint document guaranteeing Transdniester's security in case of Russian troops withdrawal. The vice-chairman of the Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet, Viktor Karamanufla, said in an interview with Tiraspol television that the Liberal-Democratic and the Communist factions in the State Duma are opposed to the position of Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev, who urges the ratification of the Russian-Moldovan basic treaty, initialed in 1990, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 28 November. MS


Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc on 26 November said Gazprom has warned the Moldovan government that it will discontinue gas supplies if Chisinau fails to pay its $ 500 million debt and delays current payments, ITAR-TASS reported. Of the Moldovan debt, $332 million is owed by the Tiraspol authorities. Ciubuc said Moldova has paid Gazprom $140 million in securities to be repurchased later. The Moldova-Gaz concern has paid $60 million for current deliveries since the beginning of 1997, but the sum does not cover the entire debt accumulated this year, Ciubuc said. MS


Although Russian Foreign Economic Relations Minister Mikhail Fradkov had to cut short a planned three-day visit to Sofia and return to Moscow to participate in talks with Finnish officials, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 27 November that progress was made towards an agreement for the delivery and transit of Russian natural gas through Bulgaria. The agreement also provides for the construction of new gas pipelines across Bulgaria. President Stoyanov is expected to sign the deal when he visits Moscow on 19 December. Fradkov also confirmed that Russia would settle its $100 million foreign debt to Sofia, saying half of the debt will be settled through military equipment deliveries and the rest through deliveries to Bulgaria's metallurgic industries. MS


by Liz Fuller

The newest acronym to add spice to the New World Order alphabet soup risks confusing cartographers and laymen alike. Meeting in Strasbourg in mid-October on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit, the presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova issued a joint communique registering their shared strategic interests. The four presidents further affirmed their intention to deepen political and economic ties and cooperation, both on a bilateral basis and within regional organizations, and their mutual interest in questions of regional security.

This quadrilateral statement marked the admittance of a fourth member to the "Union of Three" comprising Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. This alignment, the brainchild of Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze, Heidar Aliyev and Leonid Kuchma, had taken shape during the fall of 1996 on the basis of a shared pro-Western orientation, mistrust of Russia, and the desire to profit jointly from the export of part of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Georgia and Ukraine. In the case of Azerbaijan and Georgia, dissatisfaction with Russia's track record as a mediator in the Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts provided additional motivation.

Predictably, Moscow assumed -- wrongly -- that the impetus for this triple alignment had originated with the U.S. as part of a strategy to accelerate the erosion of Russia's influence in the Caucasus and Ukraine. Western powers, for their part, reacted with alarm and dismay, conveying the unequivocal message: "Don't rock the boat, don't risk anything that could irritate Russia," especially during the anticipated difficult period of horsetrading over NATO's planned expansion eastwards. Consequently, in public statements during the spring and early summer of 1997, Aliyev and Shevardnadze both prudently denied the existence of any "axis," stressing that the accords concluded between their two countries and with Ukraine were exclusively economic in nature.

The unveiling during the summer of a new U.S. policy that identified both Central Asia and the Transcaucasus as spheres of national interest indirectly served to bestow Washington's approval on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kyiv alignment, and thereby to increase its attraction to other potential members.

Moldova's subsequent inclusion in the alignment served to formalize a convergence of interests that had emerged five months earlier. The so-called Flank Limitations Agreement modifying the1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe specifically allowed Russia to deploy increased amounts of weapons in the Transcaucasus, Ukraine and Moldova. Of the 32 states bound by the CFE Treaty, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova ratified this Agreement only days before the deadline for doing so in mid-May, and expressed serious misgivings about the concessions to Russia which it contained.

At the Strasbourg meeting in October, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov had underscored the economic potential of GUAM, specifically Ukraine's and Moldova's interest in the TRASECA project intended to create a coordinated transport corridor from Central Asia via the Transcaucasus to Europe, and in the possibility of exporting part of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Ukraine or Romania. At a subsequent gathering of deputy foreign ministers from all four countries held in Baku in late November, however, the primary topic of discussion was regional security. On that occasion, Hasanov advocated coordinating security policy within the parameters of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, proceeding from the formula "16 +4" (meaning NATO's present sixteen members plus the four GUAM states). The strengthening of quadrilateral ties between GUAM members, Hasanov continued, should proceed parallel to those states' integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, and will contribute to strengthening regional security and stability.

Both Hasanov and Heidar Aliyev explicitly denied that GUAM was directed either at Russia or at any other state, saying that the new union was open to other would-be members. There has not been any official Russian reaction to the Baku meeting, but Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian played down its implications for his country. Gasparian noted that "Armenia enjoys normal relations with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, and we are really convinced that this quadripartite cooperation is not aimed at any other country." (This reaction is in marked contrast to Hasanov's and Aliev's repeated vehement condemnation of the Armenian-Russian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance signed in late August which they perceive as directed against Azerbaijan.) Gasparian conceded, however, that in the light of the unresolved Karabakh conflict it is unlikely that Armenia will join GUAM.

As yet, GUAM remains a purely informal alignment, in contrast, say, to the CIS and the Russia-Belarus Union, but potentially more viable than either of those. Its chances of long-term survival will depend on two factors. The first is whether Russia reacts with paranoia or equanimity to the construction of new political, economic and security alignments in Europe from which it is excluded. The second is whether the choice of route(s) for the Main Export Pipeline for Azerbaijan's and Kazakhstan's Caspian oil could drive a wedge between GUAM members, with Azerbaijan (under pressure from the U.S.) opting for the southern route to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan, and the remaining three favoring the Western variant to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, and thence via tanker to Odessa and westwards through Ukraine.