YELTSIN RAPS MINISTERS OVER WAGE ARREARS...
On his first day back in the Kremlin following a two-week vacation, President Boris Yeltsin told top government ministers that they "failed to meet [their] obligations last year," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 19 January. During a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin in particular cited the failure to pay all wage arrears to state employees. Chernomyrdin claimed that by paying an extra 3 trillion old rubles ($500 million) to regional governments in December, the government met and even exceeded its obligations on settling the wage debts, ITAR-TASS reported. But Yeltsin replied "that is not so." Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov announced on 16 January that wage debts have still not been settled in several regions, including Volgograd and Sverdlovsk Oblasts, Primorskii Krai, and the Altai Republic. LB
...DEMANDS ACTION TO CURB SHADOW ECONOMY
Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 16 January announced that Yeltsin has given the government and Security Council one month to submit a plan to reduce the shadow economy, Russian news agencies reported. The instruction came after a report by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin claimed the shadow economy now accounts for some 40 percent of Russia's GDP and represents a threat to the country's economic security. LB
REPORTS CONTINUE TO STRESS YELTSIN'S GOOD HEALTH
National television networks on 16 January showed Yeltsin skiing at the Valdai resort. Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, who met with Yeltsin at Valdai on 16 January, told ITAR-TASS the next day that the president appeared to be in good health. Prusak added that "I don't believe an ill person would be out skiing" or riding a snowmobile. Russian officials continue to emphasize that Yeltsin, who returned to Moscow on 17 January, will have a busy schedule through the end of the month. An official visit to Moscow by South African President Nelson Mandela, scheduled for early February, has been postponed, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said on 16 January that Pretoria requested the delay, Interfax reported. LB
CHERNOMYRDIN ACKNOWLEDGES RECENT CHECKUP
In televised remarks on 16 January, Chernomyrdin acknowledged that he recently underwent a routine medical checkup, Reuters reported. Government spokesmen had denied reports that Chernomyrdin missed a 15 January cabinet meeting because he went to the Barvikha sanitarium. LB
PRESIDENT APPROVED REDISTRIBUTION OF MINISTERIAL DUTIES
Yeltsin's spokesman Yastrzhembskii announced on 16 January that Chernomyrdin informed Yeltsin about his planned redistribution of duties among the deputy prime ministers, and Yeltsin approved the changes, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In his new assignment of duties within the cabinet, Chernomyrdin took some key supervisory roles away from First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). Citing an unnamed source in the government apparatus, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 January that Chernomyrdin originally planned to reduce the first deputy prime ministers' powers even further. However, following Nemtsov's meeting with Yeltsin in Valdai on 13-14 January, the president reportedly interceded with the prime minister, and the final version of the document approved by Chernomyrdin returned some responsibilities to Chubais and Nemtsov. LB
BEREZOVSKII EMERGES AS 'REAL WINNER' FROM CHANGES?
Most commentaries have named Chernomyrdin and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak as the beneficiaries of the new distribution of powers within the government. Bulgak replaces Chubais as supervisor of media-related issues and replaces former State Property Minister Maksim Boiko, a Chubais ally, as head of the collegium of state representatives at Russian Public Television (ORT). But in an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 16 January, political analyst Andrei Piontkovskii argued that the "real winner" from the shakeup is Boris Berezovskii, who will be able to maintain his extensive influence over editorial policy at 51 percent state-owned ORT. Chubais and Nemtsov pledged in recent months to "strengthen state control" over ORT and had looked poised to do so last November, when Berezovskii was fired from the Security Council and Boiko appointed to chair the collegium of state representatives at ORT. LB
KULIKOV ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR REVENUES
According to the new distribution of duties in the government, Chubais and Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Kulikov will share responsibility for supervising revenue collection from the State Customs Committee, the State Tax Service, the Federal Tax Police, and the Federal Currency and Export Control Service. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, predicted on 17 January that Chubais and Kulikov are likely to become engaged in a bureaucratic battle for control over those agencies. LB
DETAILS OF DUTIES ASSIGNED TO OTHER DEPUTY PREMIERS
The 16 January announcement did not significantly change the responsibilities of the cabinet's other deputy prime ministers. Ramazan Abdulatipov will continue to supervise the Nationalities Ministry and government policy toward the Far North. Valerii Serov will remain coordinator of relations with the CIS. Oleg Sysuev, who is also labor minister, will supervise non-budgetary funds such as the Pension Fund, as well as government relations with trade unions, political movements, and religious organizations. Farit Gazizullin, who is also state property minister, will oversee the Russian Federal Property Fund. Yakov Urinson, who is also economics minister, will supervise the State Land Committee. But RFE/RL's Moscow bureau noted that oversight of that committee's most crucial task--drafting land reform plans--now belongs to Agriculture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khlystun, a Chernomyrdin loyalist. LB
'RUSSKII TELEGRAF' CRITICIZES CHANGES
"Russkii telegraf" on 17 January argued that Chernomyrdin reorganized the government with a view toward upcoming Russian elections. While other officials will be responsible for bringing in budget revenues, Chernomyrdin will directly supervise the Finance Ministry and, consequently, how government funds are spent. The newspaper noted that the purse strings are the "best means to influence the regions." "Russkii telegraf" added that a government geared toward elections is unlikely to implement key structural economic reforms, partly because such policies would incur social costs and partly because "natural monopolies" and financial groups are key potential "business partners" during election campaigns. The newspaper concluded that the redistribution of duties in the cabinet could cause the government to waste its "window of opportunity" for economic growth in 1998. "Russkii telegraf" is fully owned by Oneksimbank, which is considered close to Chubais. LB
RUSSIA, CHECHNYA HOLD MORE TALKS
Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Chechen Deputy Prime Ministers Movladi Udugov and Ahmed Zakaev met on 17 January at the residence of Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, outside Nazran, Russian media reported. Both sides later characterized the talks as "difficult." However, agreement was reached on appointing an investigative team to determine the reasons for Russia's failure fully to meet its commitment to fund reconstruction of Chechnya's shattered infrastructure. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the NDR Duma faction and a member of the Russian delegation to the talks, said the Chechen side insisted that Russia recognize Chechnya's independence before economic and other accords are implemented, according to ITAR-TASS. The two sides also agreed to intensify efforts to locate Russian prisoners of war held in Chechnya and Chechen fighters listed as missing in action. LF
INCUMBENT DEFEATED IN NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Russian State Duma deputy Aleksander Dzasokhov garnered an estimated 75.7 percent of the vote in the 18 January North Ossetian presidential elections, Russian media reported. Incumbent Akhsarbek Galazov--who succeeded Dzasokhov as North Ossetian Obkom first secretary in 1990, when the latter was elected a full member of CPSU Central Committee secretariat and Politburo--polled only 9.1 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 72 percent of the 429,000 electorate. The unexpectedly low vote for Galazov reflects popular dissatisfaction with the disintegrating economy and with his failure to resolve the deadlocked conflict over North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladikavkaz reported on 19 January. LF
ANOTHER FATAL COAL MINE EXPLOSION
At least four miners were killed and five injured following a 18 January explosion of methane gas in the Tsentralnaya coal mine in the Vorkuta basin (Komi Republic), RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The explosion caused an underground fire and the collapse of a mine shaft. Efforts to rescue 23 miners trapped underground continued overnight, but spokesmen on 19 January expressed little hope of finding survivors, Reuters reported. A government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Urinson flew to Vorkuta on 18 January to investigate the causes of the disaster. According to ITAR-TASS, 103 people were killed in five separate disasters at Russian mines in 1997. A 2 December explosion at the Zyryanovskaya mine in Kemerovo Oblast killed 67 miners in what was the worst such incident last year. LB
DUMA COMMISSION STILL CHECKING PRIVATIZATION AUCTIONS
The State Duma commission investigating four major privatization sales last year has requested that the deadline for completion of its work be extended until 1 March, ITAR- TASS reported on 16 January . The commission was created last September and originally scheduled to complete its work by 1 November. The deputies are reviewing last May's auction for a stake in Sibneft, the July auctions for stakes in the Tyumen Oil Company and the telecommunications holding company Svyazinvest, and the August sale of a stake in Norilsk Nickel. The Audit Chamber investigated the same four auctions and recommended in December that the Sibneft, Norilsk Nickel, and Syazinvest sales be annulled. The chamber also concluded that the stake in the Tyumen Oil Company had been undervalued but did not recommend that the sale be declared void. LB
RUSSIA TO SHUT DOWN MOST 'BABYFLOTS'
Ivan Valov, the first deputy head of the Federal Aviation Service, announced on 16 January that the number of registered Russian airlines will fall from 315 to no more than 53 over the next three years, Reuters reported. Valov said the Federal Aviation Service will enact tougher safety and financial standards for airlines, revoking the certification of those companies that fail to pass the new tests. When the process is completed, eight airlines will have federal status and 40- 45 will be regional carriers. In 1992, the airline Aeroflot, which had a monopoly during the Soviet period, split up, and some 500 Russian airlines were created. According to Valov, more than 100 of those companies went bankrupt in 1996, and another 65 went out of business the following year. LB
KARABAKH OFFICIAL ADMITS POLICY DIFFERENCES WITH YEREVAN
Differences between Yerevan and Stepanakert on how to resolve the Karabakh conflict have deepened following the 7-8 January session of the Armenian Security Council, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 16 January, quoting an unnamed Nagorno- Karabakh official. The official criticized Yerevan for allegedly "joining with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Azerbaijan" in trying to push through the OSCE's latest peace plan, which he said is "unrealistic" and endangers Karabakh's security. He added that Stepanakert will take "more drastic steps to strengthen its independence," but he gave no details. Also on 16 January, the Security Council of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic convened in Stepanakert to discuss how to overcome its differences with Yerevan over the best approach to resolving the conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
ARMENIAN STRESSES ONLY OSCE CAN RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian on 15 January told Armenpress that Armenia would welcome efforts by various countries, including Iran, to promote confidence building measures among the parties to the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. But Gasparian pointed out that the sole forum empowered to mediate a formal solution to that conflict is the OSCE. Iran is not a member of that organization. IRNA had cited Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzouamian as having told the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan on 5 January that Armenia and Azerbaijan would welcome Iranian mediation in the conflict. LF
ARMENIA'S KURDISH POPULATION DWINDLING
Almost half of Armenia's 60,000 Yezidi Kurdish community has emigrated in recent years, primarily because of adverse socio-economic conditions, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 January, quoting Aziz Tamoyan, the chairman of the Yezidi National Union of Armenia. The Yezidi National Union of Armenia was formally registered by the Armenian Justice Ministry in November 1997. Kurds in Armenia have newspaper and radio broadcasts in their native language. The Yezidis are Zoroastrians, whereas most Kurds are Muslims. LF
GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OF OBSTRUCTING ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT
Presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze told Interfax on 16 January that the Russian Foreign Ministry is obstructing implementation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's August 1997 proposals for resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Aleksidze said that "intentionally or unintentionally," the Russian Foreign Ministry's actions are encouraging Abkhaz separatist forces and thus undermining Georgia's stability. On 17 January, Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Vazha Lortkipanidze told ITAR-TASS that Georgia is "extremely dissatisfied" with the lack of progress toward resolving the conflict and expediting the repatriation of ethnic Georgian displaced persons. He repeated President Eduard Shevardnadze's proposal that the international community launch a "Bosnia-type" operation to enforce peace in Abkhazia. LF
ABKHAZIA REJECTS "BOSNIA OPTION"
Meanwhile, Abkhaz presidential adviser Anri Djergenia told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 January that international intervention to enforce peace in Abkhazia is inappropriate, given that the situation in Abkhazia does not pose a threat to the international community. He argued that the UN statutes permit such an operation only in the case of aggression by one conflict party. Djergenia further denied Georgian charges that Abkhazia is obstructing the repatriation of Georgian fugitives. He claimed that some 100,000 Georgians have so far returned to Abkhazia, of whom half have settled in their former homes in Gali Raion. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SEES CUSTOMS UNION AS NUCLEUS OF EURASIAN UNION
Nursultan Nazarbaev told military cadets on 16 January that, in a telephone conversation the previous day, he and Russian President Yeltsin agreed that the only item on the agenda of the 22 January CIS Customs Union meeting will be the upgrading of that body to a full-fledged economic union comparable to the EU, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev said he is counting on the other three members of the CIS Customs Union to back his proposal, for a Eurasian union of CIS states. He first made that proposal in March 1994. LF
TAJIK GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION EXCHANGE SWIPES
Following the 15 January decision by the United Tajik Opposition to suspend its participation in the National Reconciliation Commission, the UTO and Tajik government have accused each other of violating the 1997 peace agreement. The UTO has claimed, among other things, that the government had not yet amnestied all eligible UTO members and has failed to approve cabinet posts for UTO representatives, especially UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, who remains in Tehran. The government counters that the UTO continues to recruit new members and that former fighters of the UTO have hidden weapons rather than handing them over. Nonetheless, both sides have said all problems will be resolved shortly and that the work of the commission will resume. BP
UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER IN TASHKENT
Ukrainian Prime Minister Valerii Pustovoitenko was in the Uzbek capital on 16 January to attend the second meeting of the Ukrainian-Uzbek cooperation commission, Tashkent Radio reported. The commission signed five agreements on cooperation in science and technology and improving communications between the two governments. Pustovoitenko also met with Uzbek Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov and reached a "preliminary agreement" on Uzbek shipments of up to 6 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine this year. They also discussed joint projects in passenger and cargo airplane construction and Ukrainian assistance in building new rail tracks in Uzbekistan. BP
TURKMENISTAN RECEIVES SEAT ON UN SECRETARIAT
UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan sent Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov a letter on 17 January confirming Turkmenistan's seat in the UN Secretariat, ITAR-TASS reported. BP
TURKMENISTAN READY TO BUY FRENCH OIL EQUIPMENT
The state- owned Turkmengeologiya corporation has made public its intention to purchase more than $9 million worth of equipment from the French company Sercel, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov ordered the Bank of Foreign Economics Activities to complete the necessary paper work to buy the equipment, which is expected to "increase the effectiveness of oil and gas prospecting and production" in Turkmenistan. BP
FIRST KAZAKH OIL ARRIVES IN CHINA
A train carrying the first shipment of oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field to China arrived in western China's Uyghur Autonomous Republic on 17 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The 3,500 tons will be refined in western China. If Chinese experts approve the quality of the refined oil, Kazakhstan will ship up to 1 million metric tons of oil to China this year by rail. BP
BALTIC, U.S. PRESIDENTS SIGN PARTNERSHIP CHARTER
At a ceremony in the White House on 16 January, U.S. President Bill Clinton and his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania signed the long-awaited, non-binding Charter of Partnership. Clinton said the charter will help the Baltic States in their efforts to join European organizations, including the EU and NATO. While stressing that no one nation can guarantee admission to the Atlantic alliance, he noted that Washington is determined to create the conditions that will enable the three countries to "walk through NATO's open door." Estonia's Lennart Meri hailed the charter as "historic," while Latvia's Guntis Ulmanis called the document a "key to the next century." Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas also stressed the importance of the charter, while noting it cannot be considered a "consolation prize" for being left out of the first round of NATO enlargement. JC
BALTIC-U.S. PARTNERSHIP FUND LAUNCHED
During their three-day visit to Washington, the Baltic presidents also launched a $15 million fund, established with equal contributions from the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros. The fund is intended to promote non- government organizations and help further develop civic society in the Baltic States, an RFE/RL correspondent in the U.S. capital reported. JC
YELTSIN CONGRATULATES LITHUANIA'S ADAMKUS
President Boris Yeltsin has welcomed Valdas Adamkus's election as Lithuanian president and pledged that Moscow will work with Vilnius for the security of the Baltics, Reuters and Interfax reported on 17 January, citing a press release from the Kremlin. "I am sure that through our joint efforts we will secure the development of Russian-Lithuanian relations based on cooperation in the interests of strengthening stability and confidence in the Baltics," Yeltsin said. Adamkus, who is to be sworn in at the end of next month, has stressed he will strive for good relations with Moscow. JC
UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT IGNORES PARLIAMENT'S CALL FOR DISMISSALS
The cabinet has rejected a demand by the parliament to sack Prime Minister Valerii Pustovoitenko and two other senior officials, dpa reported on 17 January. By a margin of one vote, the parliament on 16 January passed a non-binding resolution that called on President Leonid Kuchma to fire Pustovoitenko, Culture and Arts Minister Dmytro Ostapenko, and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko for allegedly embezzling $40 million during the renovation of Kyiv's main concert/conference hall, which was completed in 1996. PB
CRIMEANS PROTEST UKRAINE-RUSSIA TREATY
A few hundred pro-Moscow protesters in the Crimean seaport of Sevastopol urged the Russian State Duma not to ratify the political accord between Moscow and Kyiv, which the Ukrainian parliament recently approved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1998), Interfax reported on 17 January. Among other things, the treaty consolidates Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea. The demonstrators claimed that Kyiv officials are "Ukrainianizing" the mostly Russian peninsula. They called for a referendum to help decide Crimea's status. PB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE
At a meeting of Russian and Belarusian regional officials in Minsk, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that the 1997 economic results for his country are "amazing," Interfax reported on 16 January. Lukashenka said industrial output rose 17.8 percent last year, propelled by "favorable conditions" created by the Russian-Belarusian union. Lukashenka added that the economic figures are drawn up in line with European standards and are "not doubted" by Western experts. PB
POLAND'S KWASNIEWSKI WELCOMES U.S.-BALTIC CHARTER...
President Aleksander Kwasniewski has said the U.S.-Baltic partnership will aid the building of a new European security system, RFE/RL reported on 17 January. Kwasniewski said Poland will "vigorously support" the implementation of the charter and the efforts of the Baltic states to join both the EU and NATO. PB
...MEETS WITH GAZPROM CHIEF
The next day, Kwasniewski met with Rem Vyakhirev, the head of the Russian gas monopoly, to discuss gas deliveries to Poland, PAP reported. The meeting in Warsaw came one day after the two sides agreed on payment of a $200 million Polish debt to Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). Under that agreement, Warsaw will pay $175 million of the debt this month and the rest in February. Poland will pay a total of $340 million for gas deliveries this year, partly in goods, according to the Polish news agency. PB
KLAUS'S PARTY WILL NOT SUPPORT CABINET
Former Premier Vaclav Klaus on 16 January told the daily "Mlada Fronta Dnes" that his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) will not support the interim cabinet headed by Josef Tosovsky in the 27 January vote of confidence. Without the backing of the ODS's 39 deputies, the new cabinet will be dependent on the opposition Social Democrats, who have said they will make a decision only after the cabinet's program is presented, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, CTK reported that Alexander Tomsky, a member of the ODS Executive Council, resigned on 16 January, saying the party cannot be reformed from within. The next day, two ODS deputies announced they are joining the newly formed Freedom Union. MS
ODS DISSENTERS FORM NEW PARTY
Meeting in Litomysl, eastern Bohemia, on 17 January, the Freedom Union formally ended its activities in the ODS, CTK reported. Former Interior Minister Jan Ruml, who is running for chairman of the union, said a national conference of the new formation should meet in five weeks. Former Finance Minister Ivan Pilip said the union should draw up a new program for the formation. In other news, the chiefs of staff of the Czech, Polish and Hungarian armies, met at Komorni Hradek, near Prague, on 17 January and agreed to coordinate arms procurement. Czech chief of staff Jiri Nekvasil said joint purchases and repairs of army equipment are much cheaper than separate deals. MS
EXTREMIST LEADER TO RUN FOR CZECH PRESIDENCY
A spokesman for the far right Republican Party on 16 January announced that its leader, Miroslav Sladek, will be the party's candidate in the 20 January presidential elections. Also on 16 January, Sladek appealed to the Constitutional Court against his detention on grounds of stirring up national and racial hatred, CTK reported. He had earlier been stripped of his parliamentary immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 9 January 1998). Meanwhile, in his regular Sunday radio address on 18 January, President Vaclav Havel said he would not mind losing the presidential election but that there is a danger that there would be "no president at all." He warned that such an outcome would add to the country's political turmoil, since only the president can call new elections under the constitution. ODS members have hinted they may not support Havel. MS
SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN ON 'VELVET DIVORCE'
Ivan Gasparovic, refering to the fifth anniversary of the independent Slovak Republic, commented that Slovaks had not wanted the Czechoslovak federation dismembered but only wider powers for the two component republics. The Czechs, however, had told them that it was going to be "either a unitary state or two independent states," he said, according to CTK. Gasparovic said the decision to split the federation had taken Slovakia "in the right direction." He also said that five years later, Slovakia has become a "stabilizing factor" in Central Europe. While elsewhere on the continent wars are still being waged, "we have protected Central Europe from similar conflicts," he commented. MS
SERBS, MUSLIMS, CROATS ELECT PLAVSIC'S PRIME MINISTER
Muslim and Croatian deputies joined moderate Serbs in the Bosnian Serb parliament to elect Independent Social Democrat Milorad Dodik as prime minister in Bijeljina on 17 January. Dodik was the nominee of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and won with 42 votes in the 83-seat legislature after hard-line supporters of Radovan Karadzic walked out. The new prime minister promised the next day to respect the Dayton agreement and cooperate with the international community, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Bijeljina. Dodik also pledged to fight corruption and lawlessness and to promote economic development. The new defense minister will be General Manojlo Milovanovic and the interior portfolio will be taken over by Milovan Stankovic. Dodik (38), who comes from northwestern Bosnia, made money during the war by selling Bosnian timber in Yugoslavia and importing fuel and coffee from there. PM
PALE SERBS CHARGE "COUP D'ETAT"
Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) leaders Momcilo Krajisnik and Aleksa Buha said in Pale on 18 January that they do not accept Dodik's election as legitimate. Buha added that the vote was "sort of a coup d'etat" by President Plavsic. Socialist leader Nikola Poplasen, an ally of the SDS, said that Dodik's election marks the culmination of the split of the Republika Srpska into two. Buha said the SDS will not recognize any of the new government's decisions as binding and will announce the party's course of action on 19 January. PM
PLAVSIC SAYS DODIK'S ELECTION "SAVED" REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
President Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 18 January that Dodik's victory means that the Bosnian Serbs will keep control over their own affairs. She noted that Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, had threatened to name a prime minister if the parliament did not do so. Plavsic added that the Karadzic loyalists "showed what they're about" with their obstructionist tactics. She stated that the Republika Srpska needs leaders who can work with the international community. PM
NATO GUARDS BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS
A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp in Sarajevo on 18 January hailed Dodik's election and called for a peaceful transfer of power. NATO spokesmen said the next day that SFOR troops took up positions outside the Interior Ministry in Pale on 18 January and stepped up their presence in Bijeljina. PM
SERBS ATTACK MUSLIMS, POLICE IN SREBRENICA
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on 17 January condemned an attack by 600 Serbs on UN police and Muslim politicians in Srebrenica the previous day. Muslim refugees elected the politicians to local government offices in last September's elections. Implementation of the election results is essential if there is to be any chance of reversing the results of "ethnic cleansing" in Srebrenica or elsewhere in Bosnia. PM
MOURNING FOLLOWS SERBIAN MINING DISASTER
A memorial service took place on 18 January at a coal mine in Citluk near the Bulgarian border for 29 miners killed in an underground accident two days earlier when methane gas exploded. Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and other top officials took part in the service. Police arrested four members of the mine's management after the explosion. Serbian mines suffer from a combination of poor safety conditions and insufficient funds to make necessary improvements. Some 232 miners have died in underground accidents since 1971, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade on 17 January. PM
RUSSIA CRITICIZES BELGRADE'S PLANS FOR NATO
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told Interfax on 16 January that Moscow strongly opposes a recent statement by Yugoslav Army Chief-of-Staff General Momcilo Perisic that Belgrade should aim toward NATO membership as a way toward ending its international isolation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). Nesterushkin said that European countries must concentrate their efforts on building a Europe without demarcation lines. Interfax quoted an unnamed Russian expert in international affairs as saying that Yugoslavia could take many steps on its own to end its isolation "before knocking on NATO's door." PM
BULATOVIC RULES OUT ROLE IN MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT
Spokesmen for supporters of former President Momir Bulatovic said in Podgorica on 18 January that they refuse to participate in President Milo Djukanovic's ongoing talks about forming a new government, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. The correspondent added that the front-runner for the premiership appears to be Interior Minister Filip Vujanovic. PM
GREECE OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN KOSOVO
Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou said in Athens on 16 January that he is willing to mediate in talks between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano, and Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova. Rugova's deputy, Fehmi Agani, told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 19 January, however, that the Kosovars will not accept the Greek offer. Agami said a Rugova-Milosevic summit cannot be held before key problems have been solved. PM
ARMED CONFLICT AMONG SHKODER POLICE
Several policemen occupied the police station in Shkoder on 17 January to protest the recent appointment of local police chief Mithat Havari, who comes from Elbasan. The protesting policemen fired shots into the air and called for Havari's resignation, "Koha Jone" reported. Earlier that day, Havari had said that some of his subordinates were to blame for a 16 January explosion at the police station, "Shekulli" reported. Havari had also claimed earlier that some of his colleagues are involved in smuggling and corruption and use "terrorism" to prevent the local police force from being reformed. The Interior Ministry has since sent special forces to the northern city. Meanwhile, a bomb exploded in Shkoder's hospital on 17 January. Nobody was injured. FS
ANTI-CORRUPTION AGENCY CHARGES EX-CHIEF WITH DESTROYING FILES
The State Control Agency, which is tasked with combatting corruption, asked the Albanian Prosecutor-General's Office on 17 January to open an investigation into Blerim Cela, a former head of the agency. The officials say that hundreds of secret files compiled under the previous Democratic government are missing. Mustafa Kercuku, who is the agency's current director and belongs to the conservative National Front Party, also charges Cela with having destroyed most of the agency's correspondence with high- ranking Democratic government officials, including President Sali Berisha, "Koha Jone" reported. FS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON COALITION CRISIS
In a televised address on 17 January, Emil Constantinescu said there is "no genuine political crisis" in Romania, but only a "government crisis" triggered by those with "narrow party interests." He stressed that all public opinion polls show that trust in those elected in November 1966 is growing and warned that the ongoing conflict is greatly harming the country's international image and economic credibility. Constantinescu said the parliament will convene in an emergency session on 21 January to debate urgent economic legislation. The government will tie passage of those bills to a vote of no confidence. If a no confidence motion is not submitted within three days, the laws will be considered to have been approved (see also "End Note" below). MS
MOLDOVAN, TRANSDNIESTER EXPERTS FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT
The first meeting this year of Moldovan and Transdniester negotiators has failed to bridge the gap between the two sides, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 16 January. Moldovan presidential adviser Anatol Taranu said the Tiraspol representatives were supposed to have submitted a draft on how to set up a joint "economic, social and judicial entity". Instead, he said, they made proposals on guarantees for the separatist region's security. Vladimir Grigoriev, the Tiraspol delegation leader, said his team will submit the expected draft at a 22 January meeting. He insisted, however, that the memorandum signed in May in Moscow grants Tiraspol the right to "conduct its external activities separately." Chisinau is hindering the memorandum's implementation, he added. MS
BULGARIAN PREMIER THREATENS TO CUT RUSSIAN GAS TRANSIT
Ivan Kostov has called on Moscow to sign a new agreement for gas deliveries, saying that failure to do so would endanger the transit of Russian gas deliveries to Turkey, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported on 16 January. The same day, Gazprom spokesman Gennadii Yezhov said Sofia "will have problems" if it curtails Russian transit rights, ITAR-TASS reported. But according to an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent, Yezhov denied reports that Gazprom has threatened to cut supplies to Bulgaria by half unless a new contract is signed soon. MS
NEW TV, RADIO CHIEFS IN BULGARIA
The National Council for Radio and Television on 17 January appointed Ivan Propyordanov as director of state television and radio journalist Alexander Velev as director of state radio. According to an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia, this ends the practice of ruling parties appointing their supporters to those posts. Velev was fired from the radio for political reasons by the previous Socialist administration. The previous day, parliamentary chairman Yordan Sokolov stripped journalists from the popular weekly "168 Chasa" of their accreditation, claiming their "distorted reporting" undermined the legislature's authority, Reuters reported. The news agency also reported on 18 January that an explosion smashed windows of the widely read "Trud" daily. Deputy chief editor Nikolai Stefanov told state radio that "someone is trying to threaten us." MS
WORLD BANK HOLDS TALKS WITH SOFIA
Kenneth Lay, director of the World Bank's southeast European department, told journalists in Sofia on 18 January that the bank is discussing a three-year funding strategy that may amount to $400-$600 million, Reuters reported. Lay is on a one-week visit to Bulgarian to review the government's reform program. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PUTS BALL INTO DEMOCRATS' COURT
by Michael Shafir
President Emil Constantinescu's televised address on 17 January surprised many political observers and, presumably, the leadership of the Democratic Party as well. Having threatened to leave the coalition by 31 March unless Premier Victor Ciorbea was replaced and a new reform program adopted, the Democrats no doubt expected the president to seek to mediate between themselves and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), which has rejected the Democrats' ultimatum.
The presidential response to the Democrats' bid at brinkmanship was to announce that the parliament will meet in an emergency session on 21 January at which the government will submit a package of reform bills. That legislation is to be tied to a kind a confidence vote. If no objections are raised to the bills, they will be considered to have been approved by the legislature. A motion of no-confidence can be moved by at least one-third of deputies and senators. In such a case, the vote is to take place within three days.
Constantinescu's option is astute because it puts the ball back into the Democrats' court. Led by Senate chairman and former Premier Petre Roman, the party has complained that reforms are stalling because the PNTCD and other members of the Democratic Convention of Romania are more interested in promoting relatively minor interests (such as the full restitution of property to its former owners) or adopting pro- monarchy positions instead of devoting their energies to securing legislation that would bring about structural reform and large-scale privatization. While that argument may be considered partly valid, it is strange that Democrats agreed to the government's program less than one month earlier, when Ciorbea's reshuffled cabinet was approved by the parliament. What was the reason for this sudden change?
The answer is to be found in the reshuffle itself. The reform process had indeed been stalling owing to the coalition partners' inability to compromise on different programs. "In-party" fighting (since the government is a "coalition of coalitions") played a role, and what seemed to be a promising reform-minded team in November 1996 had come to look like a rather infantile, inefficient group. The reshuffle did not take place until early December 1997 because of bickering and each coalition formation's jealous guarding of fiefdoms. The Democrats, meanwhile, seemed to have come out of it least damaged.
But just several weeks later, on 23 December, former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin, the Democrats' most prominent member of the government, had to resign after his allegations of "foreign agents" among political leaders and prominent journalists, which he had made some two months earlier, proved untenable. Severin was replaced by former dissident Andrei Plesu, who, though nominated by the Democrats, is not a member of that party. As a result, the Democrats had now suffered losses comparable to those of their coalition partners, which in the December reshuffle had been forced to agree to relinquish some of their prominent members. The same day Plesu was sworn in, Ciorbea was forced to ask Transportation Minister Traian Basescu to resign, following Basescu's refusal to retract harsh, though hardly unjustified, criticism of the way the government functioned.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to assert that the "Basescu episode" seems to have been a deliberate provocation. Ciorbea could hardly have acted differently, particularly after his announcement in early December that he would no longer tolerate public criticism from members of the government. At the beginning of January, the Standing Bureau of the Democrats called on Ciorbea to reinstate Basescu. When Ciorbea refused to do so, the bureau accused Ciorbea himself of stalling reform and announced that the party's participation in the coalition is conditional on his replacement by 31 March and agreement among the coalition members on a new reform program. The latter of those demands was presented as the main bone of contention. But in reality, it was not. A new government could mean Severin's and Basescu's return to the cabinet, possibly to other portfolios.
Constantinescu's response now calls the Democrats' bluff. If the Democrats are really interested in relaunching the reform process, they must support the program to be submitted to the legislature. Roman responded temperately to Constantinescu's statement, saying his formation will support the package, which, by implication, would mean the complaints about Ciorbea are no longer justified. But he is a minority within his party. On 18 January, the Democrats released a statement repeating their criticism of Ciorbea and rejecting Constantinescu's "insinuations" that narrow party interests are seriously affecting Romania's credibility abroad, its chances for Euro-Atlantic integration, and the chances of attracting foreign investors by exacerbating the country's already tarnished image of prolonged political instability.
Constantinescu implied that it is irresponsible to compromise not only the country's reform program but perhaps its democratic process as well. Indeed, the extremists (who have a growing number of supporters, according to recent opinion polls) would be the only ones to profit from the failure of a coalition to which, all its members agree, there is no viable democratic alternative. The consequences of such a scenario cannot be overlooked.