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Newsline - February 17, 1998


In his fifth annual address to a joint session of the parliament, President Boris Yeltsin on 17 February said the draft 1998 budget must be "realistic," even if that requires amendments to the document. The State Duma is scheduled to debate the budget in the fourth and final reading on 18 February. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has called for amending the budget in light of recent trends on Russian financial markets. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 17 February, Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction described Yeltsin's comments on the budget as a "sensation." Ryzhkov said the government is to submit its proposed budget amendments to the Duma later on 17 February. According to Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, Yeltsin may refuse to sign the budget if those amendments are not approved, Reuters reported. LB


In his address to the parliament, Yeltsin said the government must reduce the growth of non- payments in the Russian economy by the end of 1998, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 February. He added that wage arrears to state employees must not be allowed to mount this year. Yeltsin was interrupted by applause only once during his 35-minute speech, in response to his statement that cabinet changes may follow if the government fails to cope with its economic tasks, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. (Yeltsin told reporters on 16 February that he will not dismiss any cabinet ministers soon after his speech.) Also on 17 February, Yeltsin said a new tax code must be passed this year, echoing an appeal for tax reform in his 1997 speech to the parliament. The president also called for the 1999 budget to be balanced, excluding debt servicing costs, Reuters reported. LB


During his 17 February address, Yeltsin described ratification of the START-2 arms control treaty as an "urgent task" for the parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma is not scheduled to debate that treaty during the first half of the year. In his speech, Yeltsin also said Russian policy toward NATO remains unchanged: Moscow opposes the eastward expansion of the Western military alliance and will review its relations with NATO if the alliance offers membership to the Baltic States. With regard to relations with CIS states, Yeltsin said that Russia will pursue greater cooperation within the CIS but will not sacrifice its own national interests for the sake of such cooperation. LB


Yeltsin also expressed the hope that large Russian banks will increase their investments in Russian industry this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 February, citing a text of the address that was circulated to State Duma and Federation Council deputies. In that text, the president said Russia "can count on the investment activities of banks, above all large banks, that bought important industrial enterprises during the course of privatization. To this end, the state promoted the concentration of financial and industrial resources. Now society has the right to count on reimbursement." While Yeltsin acknowledged the need to attract foreign investment in Russian industry, he said government policy should not be based on attracting "speculative foreign investment" in the markets. LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 17 February that Yeltsin's address was an "empty" and "uninteresting" speech that contained no priorities, tactics, or strategy. The government's proposed amendments to the draft 1998 budget are expected to cut projected spending. Planned expenditures were increased largely at the insistence of the Communist-led opposition during negotiations between government and parliamentary representatives last fall. LB


In the days preceding Yeltsin's address to the parliament, the Russian press was replete with speculation about what the president would say and rumors about how drafts of the speech had been revised. However, only one of Russia's three major television networks--fully state-owned Russian Television--carried Yeltsin's speech live on 17 February. Russian Public Television, which is 51 percent state-owned, showed footage of the Olympic Games instead, while the private network NTV broadcast a game show. LB


Also on 17 February, Yeltsin warned that the use of force against Iraq is the "ultimate and most dangerous means" of resolving the ongoing crisis. But he pledged that Moscow "will firmly demand Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions." Speaking to journalists in Athens the previous day following his talks with Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov similarly warned against the use of force, arguing that the diplomatic and political possibilities of persuading Iraq to allow UN inspectors unrestricted access to suspect sites have not yet been exhausted. He greeted the growing international support for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to visit Baghdad but added that Annan "should not present an ultimatum." Also on 16 February, Russian special envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk met in Baghdad with Iraqi Deputy Premier Tareq Aziz to assess ongoing diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. LF


In a letter to Duma deputies, which Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev circulated on 16 February, Primakov said that Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovsky's behavior during his forced stopover in Yerevan was "shameful" and "outrageous." In particular, Primakov criticized Zhirinovsky's physical and verbal assault on Russian ambassador Andrei Urnov at Zvartnots airport on 11 February. A plane carrying Zhirinovsky, other LPDR members, and Russian and foreign journalists was forced to land in Yerevan three days earlier, after being refused permission to overfly Iran. LF


During his 16 February news conference in Athens, Primakov said Russian-Greek relations are characterized by "great proximity or unanimity of views" on most issues, Interfax reported. The Russian foreign minister affirmed Moscow's intention to proceed with the planned sale to Greek Cyprus of S-300 air defense systems. He argued that those systems are defensive weapons, adding that Russia will halt the agreed sale "only if the entire island is demilitarized." He repeated Russia's long-standing opposition to any restrictions on maritime traffic through the Turkish straits but said recent shifts in Turkey's position on that issue are "constructive." Primakov also held talks with the Russian- Greek Prometheus Gas enterprise, in which Gazprom is represented, to discuss possible Russian gas deliveries to Albania and Italy via Greece, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


The Central Bank on 16 February announced plans to lower its annual refinancing rate from 42-39 percent, effective 17 February. The bank raised that rate, at which it lends to commercial banks, from 28-42 percent on 2 February. Irina Yasina, the director of the Central Bank's press service, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that the bank was reacting to the recent "stabilization" on the Russian financial markets. However, some market analysts say the interest rate cut was motivated by political considerations. Mikhail Rubinchik, the chief executive of Pioner-Bank, told RFE/RL that the cut does not reflect any significant improvement on the markets. Instead, he argued, the change was a "gift" to Yeltsin on the eve of his annual address to the parliament, intended to show that the government and Central Bank are working in tandem and closely monitoring the situation on the financial markets. LB


Yeltsin praised the work of Russian law enforcement agencies during meetings on 16 February with Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, and Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to reporters before the meeting, the president noted that progress has been made in several high-profile cases, such as the 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov. Skuratov gave Yeltsin materials related to alleged financial improprieties at the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January and 2 February 1998). LB


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin returned to the Kremlin on 16 February following a two-week vacation. The premier spent at least two days of his vacation at the Barvikha sanitarium, where he underwent unspecified medical tests but continued to hold meetings with cabinet officials, according to government spokesmen on 3-4 February. LB


Former Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii checked into Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital on 16 February. Citing unnamed sources close to Berezovskii, ITAR-TASS reported that he suffered mild spinal injuries in a recent snowmobile accident but is expected to return to work in several days. LB


Igor Rodionov, who was defense minister from July 1996 until May 1997, has been registered as a candidate for a State Duma by-election in Moscow this April, Interfax reported on 16 February. Rodionov said that if elected, he will cooperate with "state-minded people, like [Duma Speaker] Gennadii Seleznev." He added that he shares many of the views of Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Some 24 candidates have declared their intention to run for the Duma seat vacated by Irina Khakamada when she joined the government last fall. Would-be candidates who have submitted registration documents include former Federal Border Service Director Andrei Nikolaev, former RSFSR Prime Minister Ivan Silaev, Officers' Union head Stanislav Terekhov, and Yurii Chernichenko, the leader of the pro-reform Peasants' Party. LB


Konstantin Kobets was released from custody on 16 February, Russian news agencies reported. He was arrested in May 1997 on charges of bribery, corruption, and illegal possession of firearms. According to an official in the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office, the charges against Kobets have not been dropped, and he is prohibited from leaving the Moscow area, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 February. Kobets was transferred to a hospital in January but had remained under guard. He is said to have chronic health problems and reportedly has lost some 40 kilograms (88 pounds) since his arrest. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Said Amirov was elected mayor of Makhachkala on 15 February with more than 70 percent of the vote, "Kommersant-Daily" reported two days later. According to RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent, Amirov is reputed to be a competent and efficient administrator who has registered some successes in battling corruption. To date, he has survived four assassination attempts. A staunch secularist, Amirov opposes the so-called "Islamic path" of development for Dagestan proposed by his election rival Shirukhan Gadzhimuratov, who polled 29 percent of the vote. Local observers say that Amirov's election as Makhachkala mayor improves his chances in the vote later this year for a new head of Dagestan's State Council. LF


"Izvestiya" reported on 17 February that various officials and public figures in Krasnodar Krai assailed the Russian authorities and mainstream media at a forum recently convened by the krai administration. Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, who has frequently expressed anti-Semitic views, assailed Zionists in his speech to the forum. Krai Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Denisov called for defending the public against the "cosmopolitans around the Kremlin, who provide intellectual services to the policy of genocide against [ethnic] Russians and other peoples of Russia." Human rights activists have charged that official racism has run rampant in Krasnodar since Kondratenko was elected governor in December 1996 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1997). In a recent interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," human rights defender Sergei Kovalev argued that the local media have exacerbated the situation by portraying certain ethnic minorities, such as Meskhetians, as "criminal elements." LB


In his traditional weekly radio address on 16 February, Eduard Shevardnadze called on Russia to "cooperate" in restoring "the best traditions" of relations between the two countries. But Shevardnadze stressed that Russia's interests in the Caucasus can be served only by a friendship with Georgia based on equality Shevardnadze said that last week's failed bid to kill him has served to consolidate Georgian society and that some 88 percent of the population support his policies, according to Caucasus Press. Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said the assassination attempt was an internal Georgian issue. He added that Russia would assist the Georgian authorities in investigating the attack if asked to do so but noted that no such request has been received to date. LF


Another three candidates have announced their intention to contend the 16 March presidential elections, raising the total number of candidates to 12, Armenian agencies reported on 16 February. The latest contenders are Hrant Khachatrian, the chairman of the Union of Constitutional Law, parliamentary deputy Artashes Gegamian of the National Unity organization, and former Deputy Education Minister Ashot Bleyan of the "New Path" political movement. At a special congress on 16 February, the Armenian Pan-National Movement decided not to propose a presidential candidate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That movement is the senior member of the Hanrapetutyun coalition, which lost its parliamentary majority earlier this month. Former President Levon Ter- Petrossyan attended the congress but refused to speak to journalists. LF


Speaking at a news conference in Baku on 14 February, National Security Minister Namik Abbasov said that Iran is continuing to engage in espionage in Azerbaijan, Turan reported. He also claimed that the intelligence services of unnamed states are seeking to promote Wahhabism in Azerbaijan. Abbasov disclosed that an investigation has confirmed the sale of Azerbaijani oil products to Armenia. His ministry has handed over to Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade the findings of that investigation, Abbasov added. LF


At talks between Russian and Kazakh experts in Astrakhan on 9-10 February, agreement was reached on delineating the two countries' sectors of the Caspian Sea bed and on the common use by all five littoral states of the Caspian's water resources, Interfax reported on 16 February, quoting Kazakh Ambassador to Russia Tair Mansurov. The delegations also proposed holding talks with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran on coordinating approaches to dividing the sea's resources. At their Moscow summit last month, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev, agreed that by 15 March their governments should draft and submit to the other littoral states a convention on the legal status of the Caspian. LF


Kazakh President Nazarbaev was hospitalized in Almaty on 15 February with "complications from a cold," AFP reported the following day, quoting the presidential press service. LF


Leaders of organizations representing the Uighur communities in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, held a press conference in Almaty on 17 February, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Among those organization were Ittifaq and Liberation of Uighurstan. The speakers criticized "severe and cruel measures" taken by the Chinese authorities against the Uighur population of Xinjiang. LF


Muratbek ImanAliyev concluded a six-day visit to China on 16 February, during which he met with his Chinese counterpart, Qian Qichen, and Prime Minister Li Peng, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. ImanAliyev also traveled to Xinjiang, where he reached agreement with the local leadership on establishing a working group to promote bilateral cooperation. Xinjiang is home to an estimated 150,000 ethnic Kyrgyz. LF


Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov told journalists in Tashkent on 16 February that underground Islamic organizations in Pakistan are training some 400 Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz citizens to carry out sabotage and terrorist acts. Kamilov said that they are being prepared to destabilize the situation in Central Asia with the ultimate aim of establishing Islamic states there. He said that such militants were responsible for a series of attacks in Uzbekistan's Namangan province in 1997 in which several local officials were killed. Kamilov absolved the Pakistani government of involvement in the training program but added that Uzbekistan has formally asked Islamabad to crack down on such activities. LF


President Leonid Kuchma says an "economic criminal elite" is attempting to gain influence in the country by financially backing various political parties, AFP reported on 16 February. Kuchma, who was addressing an anti-corruption panel in Kyiv, warned that Ukraine is threatened "by the transformation of some political parties into criminal organizations." He blamed the previous government of Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko for the "criminal elite" that he claims is infiltrating energy companies. Lazarenko, sacked last summer, is the leader of the opposition Hromada party. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 29 March. PB


The editor in chief of a daily newspaper was shot and seriously wounded in the Black Sea port of Odessa, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. Leonid Kapelushniy, editor of "Slovo" and a correspondent for the Russian daily "Izvestiya," was ambushed by two men in the city center and shot twice. A police spokesman said Kapelushniy is also the chairman of the regional election commission. He is one of several journalists to have been attacked in Ukraine so far this year. PB


Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko said in Havana on 16 February that Ukraine's view on the crisis in Iraq "fully coincides" with the Russian position that an armed conflict must be prevented, ITAR-TASS reported. Udovenko, who is also chairman of the UN General Assembly, said Ukraine has offered specialists to the UN who could investigate alleged sites of biological or chemical weapons in Iraq. Udovenko is in Cuba for a two-day visit. He met with his Cuban counterpart, Roberto Robaina, and visited a resort where Ukrainian children from the Chornobyl region are undergoing treatment. PB


The presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania issued a statement on 16 February saying they "unequivocally support the United Nations resolution on destroying chemical and biological weapons in Iraq," BNS reported. They stressed that the UN special commission in Iraq must be allowed to carry out its work unhindered and that all diplomatic efforts should be undertaken to solve the crisis. At the same time, they said the Baltic States are ready, if necessary, to provide whatever support they can to ensure implementation of the resolution. JC


The United Opposition has demanded that Prime Minister Mart Siimann dismiss Paul Varul but has postponed calling a vote of no confidence in the justice minister, ETA and BNS reported on 17 February. Toivo Jargenson, the leader of the opposition Fatherland Union, said Siimann should first be given the opportunity to resolve the controversy surrounding Varul and Prosecutor-General Indrek Meelak, whom the opposition also wants to have dismissed. Meelak recently claimed that Varul had exerted pressure on him to close a criminal case against the late banker Rein Kaarepere. Varul denies those accusations and claims Meelak's allegations are in revenge for the minister's decision not to recommend him for a second term in office. JC


Former Prime Minister Andris Skele has denied a Latvian Television report that he received a kickback from a German company in 1992, while serving as deputy minister of agriculture, BNS reported on 16 February. According to the report, Skele helped Tetra Pak conclude contracts with dairy enterprises and in return the company paid DM 14,000 for a bathroom set ordered by Skele from a German firm. Skele was quoted by the Latvian press as saying he paid for the bathroom set himself and that Tetra Pak had only helped him with the money transfer. Skele resigned as prime minister last year in the wake of an investigation that revealed several of his ministers had violated anti-corruption legislation. JC


Josef Tosovsky and Jerzy Buzek, meeting in the Polish town Bielsko-Biala on 16 February, discussed coordinating efforts to join NATO and the EU and how to better deal with flood prevention. Last year, floods devastated large parts of both countries. The same day, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek met with his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Tabacaru, in Warsaw to discuss bilateral relations and the Transdniester conflict, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Polish capital reported. Tabacaru expressed the hope that Geremek, in his capacity as current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will contribute to efforts to reach a settlement of the Transdniester conflict. Geremek said he will soon present a plan of action for the disputed region. PB


Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) chairman Jiri Skalicky, who is also deputy premier and environment minister, told journalists on 16 February that he has tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky over the scandal involving donations to the ODA in 1995. On 13 February, Skalicky had revealed that the donors were two Czech companies and the U.S Philip Morris tobacco concern, but all three deny this was the case, CTK reported. Asked whether he would accept Skalicky's resignation, Tosovsky said he believed it was "his duty" to do so but added he has not yet decided whether to notify President Vaclav Havel about the matter. He also said he does not consider it necessary to request the resignation of Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova and Industry and Trade Minister Karel Kuhnl, both of whom belong to the ODA. MS


Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Milos Zeman told journalists on 16 February that the British Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the Swedish Olof Palme Foundation, and the Dutch Alfred Moser Foundation donated a total of 1 million crowns ($29,000) to his party. He said he will make more details known at a press conference on 20 February, adding that Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party will "certainly be glad" to learn that Baroness Thatcher provided assistance to the Czech Social Democrats." Former British Premier Margaret Thatcher is a member of the Westminster Foundation's managing board. A spokesman for the foundation said the body had "indirectly" helped the CSSD's election campaign in 1996 via the British Labor Party. MS


Premier Tosovsky is the most popular politician in the Czech Republic, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Institute, CTK reported. Tosovsky received 75 percent support, followed by Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Deputy Chairwoman Petra Buzovska (70 percent) and CSSD parliamentary faction leader Stanislav Gross (65 percent). President Vaclav Havel, who for years led popularity surveys, has dropped to fourth place (60 percent). MS


Prime Minister Gyula Horn told the parliament that on 17 February, Hungary is to pay off its last remaining debt to the IMF, Hungarian media reported. This means Hungary will be free of IMF debts for the first time since the country joined the organization in 1982, he noted. Meanwhile, Mark Allen, the IMF's chief representative in Hungary, praised Budapest's economic policies in recent years, saying the country has met its targets with greater success than expected. MSZ


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic on 16 February fired General Pero Colic as commander of the Bosnian Serb army in Banja Luka and named General Momir Talic to replace him. Colic succeeded indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic as commander in November 1996 and subsequently claimed to steer a middle course between Plavsic and her rivals in Pale. He nonetheless remained too close to the Pale faction for Plavsic, who regarded First Army Corps commander Talic as her principal supporter in the military. PM


The North Atlantic Council decided in Brussels on 16 February to keep an international peacekeeping mission in Bosnia after SFOR's mandate runs out in June. A final decision on the new force will be made on 20 February, when representatives of NATO member countries will meet with officials from Russia and other non-NATO participants in SFOR. The new contingent is widely expected to continue at or close to the current SFOR strength of 34,000 until the Bosnian general elections in September. After that vote, the force will most likely be somewhat reduced in response to calls from several participating countries for signs that the peacekeepers' mission is winding down. PM


The 11 ambassadors monitoring the reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia issued a statement in Vukovar on 16 February in which they noted "the growing feelings of insecurity in the Serbian community" since the region formally reverted to Croatian control last month. The ambassadors added that Croatia has not made noticeable progress in correcting that problem, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Vukovar. Local Serbs have charged that Croatian former residents of the area often return and intimidate Serbs who live in the Croats' former homes. PM


A UN spokesman on 15 February in Zagreb criticized the Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP) for holding a nationalist rally in Vukovar and Borovo Naselje in eastern Slavonia the previous day. The 800 HSP members and sympathizers "sounded their car horns, made Nazi salutes, waved Ustashe flags, and sang nationalist songs," according to the spokesman. Vukovar Mayor Vladimir Stengl called the rally a "serious disturbance of the peace," while the Committee for Reconciliation, which consists of Serbs and Croats, described it as "inadmissible." On 16 February, President Franjo Tudjman chaired a meeting of the steering committee of the governing Croatian Democratic Community, which adopted a resolution criticizing the rally. But HSP leader Anto Djapic denied that the demonstration was intended as a provocation, saying it was an "official welcoming" for the Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dodik, who was in Zagreb on the day of the rally. PM


The Kosovo Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms charged in Pristina on 16 February that an ethnic Albanian electrician found dead near Glogovac the previous day was tortured to death by police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). The committee added that the police had sought information from the electrician and another ethnic Albanian about the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), BETA reported. Serbian state-run media, meanwhile, suggested that the UCK killed the man as part of its campaign to intimidate ethnic Albanians employed by the state. PM


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered the Montenegrin-Albanian border open but only for trucks carrying Albanian scrap metal for Montenegro's Niksic iron works, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica on 15 February. The mill is in danger of having to shut down if there are no deliveries of Albanian scrap. Trucks have been openly smuggling metal in from Albania since law and order broke down in that country about one year ago. At that time, Belgrade officially closed the frontier. Montenegrin officials estimate that the closure has cost their country's economy some $10 million. On 10 February, Milosevic urged Serbian and Bosnian business and political leaders to include the Niksic works in their plans to cooperate in mining and metallurgy. PM


Albanian Interior Minister Neritan Ceka on 16 February charged that the federal Yugoslav secret service is financing terrorists in Albania, "Koha Jone" reported. Ceka claimed to have received information that Belgrade financed those involved in a recent police mutiny in Shkoder (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 22 January 1998). He argued that the Albanians conspiring with Belgrade intended to destabilize Albania and were mostly from the north of the country. Ceka further claimed that most of the alleged conspirators had smuggled oil to Yugoslavia during the wartime embargo and developed ties to Belgrade's secret services at that time. FS


Two large bombs destroyed most of the Socialist Party headquarters in Gjirokaster on 16 February, "Shekulli" reported. The town hall and the local prefecture were seriously damaged in the blast, but nobody was reported injured. Police said that more TNT was used in the blast that in any of the previous 15 bomb attacks in Gjirokaster since December. FS


Police have issued warrants for the arrest of two Democratic Party sympathizers who allegedly fled the scene of last weekend's clash between legislator Azem Hajdari and police, "Koha Jone" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). Police claimed that the two had been involved in a bank robbery in the northern city of Tropoja and were carrying the stolen money with them at the time of the incident involving Hajdari. For his part, Hajdari has maintained that no criminals accompanied him and that the police staged the incident in a bid to kill him. He added that three bullets hit his car, "Albania" reported. FS


A spokesman for the Party of Social Democracy in Romania said on 16 February that the government's declaration of readiness to participate in a military solution of the Iraqi crisis was "hasty" and contrary to Romania's economic and national interests. The Greater Romania Party argued that "at no point in Romanian history did a government display such a lack of responsibility." But a statement released by the Defense Ministry said Romania's possible participation in an eventual attack reflected the fact that the country would be "threatened" by the "uncontrolled proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." Defense Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu said no Romanian combat troops would be involved but that sending a contingent specialized in eradicating the effects of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons was being considered. MS


Daniel Daianu on 16 February said there are no differences between the government and the IMF on the "main targets" of the 1998 budget but revealed that the two sides disagree on "some details." An IMF delegation led by Poul Thompsen has been in Romania for one week to discuss the draft budget. Daianu said a "solidarity tax" like that imposed in Germany may be necessary to meet the costs of restructuring, which is likely to result in large- scale unemployment. Last week Labor and Social Affairs Minister Alexandru Athanasiu proposed a "solidarity" tax to cover the costs of meeting the wage demands of paramedics, who have been on strike for the past six days, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region have begun debating whether to hold a referendum on 22 March to decide on a new status for the region. The plebiscite would take place at the same time as the Moldovan parliamentary elections. The Moldovan Justice Ministry recently rejected a draft drawn up by legal experts in the region, saying it contravened the constitution and the region's current special status, RFE/RL's Chisinau Bureau reported. But the ministry said that, together with representatives from Gagauz-Yeri, it will "try to bring the draft into line with existing Moldovan legislation." Meanwhile, Piotr Pashaly, the chairman of the Popular Assembly, has sent the draft to the Council of Europe for that body's opinion. Moldovan parliamentary chairman Dumitru Motpan is in Comrat to participate in the assembly's debates. MS


In his weekly radio address on 17 February, President Petru Lucinschi called for improving the protection of children's rights, Infotag reported. He said Moldovans must "root out" indifference to the plight of children and particularly of orphans. He urged that a bill on children's rights be passed and that existing legislation be amended to prevent children from being turned into "victims of illegal transactions as regards their dwellings and family property" or from being forced to earn their living by "theft and begging." MS


Four communist-era militia officers have been sentenced to prison terms of up to two-and-a-half years for killing the prominent ethnic Turkish dissident Bilian Hadjiev in March 1989, AFP reported on 16 February. Hadjiev was beaten to death by the four officers, who were trying to force him to inform on ethnic Turks opposed to Todor Zhivkov's policy of enforced assimilation. Last month, Zhivkov (who is now 86), former Premier Georgi Atansov and former Minister of Interior Dimitar Stoyanov were indicted for abusing public office in connection with the assimilationist policies. If found guilty, they face prison sentences of up to eight years. MS


by Paul Goble

Tatarstan has announced it will open a representation office in the United Arab Emirates later this year, the 15th such institution that the middle Volga republic has established since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Were Tatarstan internationally recognized as an independent country, such an announcement would be entirely normal and probably unworthy of any particular notice.

But Tatarstan is, by both its own acknowledgment and that of the international community, part and parcel of the Russian Federation. Consequently, the existence of such institutions raises some important questions: Is Tatarstan on the way to becoming an independent state? Or do those representations reflect nothing more than the efforts of a region to attract international trade and investment?

While there is no definitive answer to those questions, Tatarstan's use of such institutions appears to reflect an innovative combination of three very different traditions.

First, from the earliest days of the USSR, the union regions and republics maintained what were called "permanent representations" in Moscow and the capitals of some of the other republics. While such institutions often served as little more than post offices for documents being sent between cities or as travel agencies for people visiting in one direction or another, they retained a certain symbolic importance for peoples who had few other trappings of sovereignty. Not surprisingly, these institutions often figured prominently in fiction of non- Russian writers. One Uzbek novel of the late Soviet period, for example, was set largely in the office of the Uzbek SSR permanent representation in Moscow.

Then when the Soviet Union fell apart, those permanent representations of the union republics served as the foundation for the development of genuine embassies. To that extent, the Tatarstan permanent representations--particularly those in Moscow, Sverdlovsk, and St. Petersburg--continue a tradition with deep roots in the Soviet era.

Second, in the scramble to attract foreign investment, many regions of the Russian Federation have established trade offices abroad modeled on those that the regions of European countries and the states of the United States have in other countries. Frequently, those institutions were set up on the advice, if not the insistence, of Western countries interested in developing regions long cut off from outsiders. As in the case with these other regions and republics, Tatarstan has done the same, implicitly in the case of its permanent or plenipotentiary representatives in France, Australia, the U.S., Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan and explicitly in the case of trade representatives in Ukraine, Lithuania, and Austria.

Third, those institutions reflect the assertion of Tatarstan's sovereignty, of its interest not only in promoting its unique economic interests but also in establishing its political presence.

On the one hand, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiyev is simply acting on the advice of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who famously told an audience in Kazan some years ago that Tatarstan, like the other parts of the Russian Federation, should assume as much sovereignty and independence as it could handle.

Many in Tatarstan took and continue to take Yeltsin's words to mean that they could hope some day to have their own independent state, recognized by the world community and with a seat at the UN. For such people, the creation of ever more representations abroad represents a step-by-step approach toward that goal, an approach less likely to offend Moscow than a more dramatic assertion of independence and hence one more likely to be effective.

On the other hand, Shaimiyev and other politicians in Tatarstan undoubtedly see the existence of such representative offices abroad as a useful lever in their negotiations with Moscow. That lever may help the Tatars to achieve more from the central Russian government even if full independence is not on the agenda of either the Russians or themselves.

By highlighting Tatarstan's ability to reach beyond the borders of the Russian Federation and by attracting a kind of implicit, if not explicit, international recognition of that republic's distinctiveness, such institutions seem destined to play a major role in the future not only of Tatarstan but of the Russian Federation's other regions as well.

But whether they will continue as a vestige of the Soviet past, as a means of decentralization of the Russian Federation, or as a harbinger of more radical changes will depend less on how many such representations are created than on how they are viewed by those who send them, by those who receive them, and by Moscow.