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Newsline - March 9, 1998


Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Georgii Kaurov confirmed on 6 March that Moscow and Tehran have agreed "in principle" that Russia will build a third and fourth reactor at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, Reuters reported. But another ministry spokesman, Vitalii Nasonov, told ITAR-TASS the same day that no talks have yet taken place on building those reactors. Nasonov also said Russia will not sign any further nuclear energy agreements with Iran until the Bushehr plant is completed. He added that Russian contractors will supply the required turbines for Bushehr following Ukraine's 6 March decision not to do so (see Part II). On 9 March, "The New York Times" quoted unnamed senior U.S. officials as saying Washington is prepared to offer Russia the chance to increase launches of commercial satellites if it undertakes to stop selling nuclear missile technology to Tehran. LF


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 6 March wrapped up a three-day visit to Germany, an RFE/RL correspondent in Berlin reported. Nemtsov's talks with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, and German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt focused on preparing the agenda for the 25-26 March summit in Yekaterinburg between Kohl, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and French President Jacques Chirac. Foreign investment was also high on the agenda of Nemtsov's talks with German political and business leaders. AFP quoted Kinkel as saying on 5 March that Russia must improve its legal framework and economic conditions in order to secure increased German investment there. During his visit, Nemtsov also urged that Europe recognize Russia as a market economy, which, he said, would pave the way toward lifting some anti- dumping penalties against Russian goods. LB


In a televised address to mark International Women's Day on 8 March, Yeltsin praised women for their ability to "make the home comfortable...[and] to reach agreement and find compromises," ITAR-TASS reported. After citing many qualities traditionally viewed as women's virtues, the president told women that although their current role is for the most part restricted to the family, "I am certain that if your experience is needed for your region, your republic, and even the entire country, you won't let us down." Yeltsin also noted that the women in his family play an important role in his life. First lady Naina Yeltsin is credited with helping Yeltsin boost his popularity before the 1996 presidential election, and Yeltsin's younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, is an influential member of the presidential administration. LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says he prefers women who "do not ask too many questions and, after offering advice, do not insist the next day that their advice be acted on." In a 5 March interview with ITAR-TASS regarding International Women's Day, Zyuganov added that women "should not argue about the most important matters." The Communist Duma faction includes 18 women, approximately as many as the combined total of women in all other Duma factions. LB


Alevtina Fedulova, former Duma deputy and leader of the Union of Russian Women, told ITAR-TASS on 6 March that her organization is seeking to set up a network of commissions on women's rights in the Russian regions. She said the commissions will provide women with legal advice on how to counter infringements of their rights. Fedulova also said she hopes every Russian region will establish a women's rights commissioner. The Union of Russian Women is preparing a report on violations of women's rights, and Fedulova predicted that the report will place special attention on discrimination against women in the workplace. Fedulova, one of the leaders of the Women of Russia movement, lost her seat in the Duma when Women of Russia failed to gain 5 percent of the vote in the 1995 parliamentary elections. LB


Human rights activists from several organizations have called on Russian authorities to fight violence against women and especially family violence, which is estimated to claim the lives of thousands of women in Russia each year, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 5 March. They cited a recent Human Rights Watch report, which assailed the treatment of women victims by the Russian law enforcement and criminal justice systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). The activists called for adopting a law on domestic violence, which would increase penalties for violent crimes within the family. They also advocated educating police investigators, prosecutors, and judges about violence against women and evicting batterers from state-owned housing developments. A new series of public-service advertisements promotes the message that "violence against women is not a private family matter but a problem for all of society." LB


Two women held a mock wedding ceremony in a St. Petersburg night club on the eve of International Women's Day, Interfax reported on 7 March. Same-sex marriages are not legal in Russia, but the couple had previously traveled to The Netherlands in order to register their marriage. LB


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says he is not yet thinking about the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000. In his debut appearance on his weekly call-in show on Russian Television, Chernomyrdin said that "the government wants people to feel changes for the better. That's what we should think about, not elections," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. Many Russian media reports have interpreted the premier's weekly television appearances as a sign that Chernomyrdin is trying to boost his prospects for succeeding Yeltsin. LB


In recent weeks, the private network NTV has portrayed Chernomyrdin as a strong presidential contender who is gaining power and stature. However, opinion polls reported nearly every week on NTV, most recently on 8 March, consistently make no mention of the level of support for Chernomyrdin. The polls, conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, show Communist Party leader Zyuganov leading First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. In hypothetical second-round matches, Luzhkov defeats Zyuganov, Lebed, and Nemtsov. In an article for a February edition of the weekly "Argumenty i fakty," sociologist Nuzgar Betaneli published results from the latest poll by his Institute of the Sociology of Parliamentarism. That survey placed Chernomyrdin eighth among possible presidential candidates, with 3.7 percent support. LB


In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 March, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais argued that "Nezavisimaya gazeta" "is not a newspaper in the ordinary sense of the word" because it reflects the interests of only one person: its financial backer, Boris Berezovskii. He said his friends read "Nezavisimaya gazeta" with "loathing" and "disgust," and quoted one acquaintance as suggesting the newspaper is for hire. Chubais, long considered one of Russia's least popular politicians, also claimed that Berezovskii is far more hated in Russia than is Chubais. Until last summer, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" provided largely--though not exclusively--favorable coverage of Chubais. But since he and Berezovskii fell out over privatization sales, the newspaper has repeatedly criticized the first deputy premier in extremely harsh terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 September and 18 December 1997). LB


In a commentary published on 7 March, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor-in-chief Vitalii Tretyakov leveled numerous accusations against Chubais. Tretyakov alleged that when Chubais headed the State Property Committee several years ago, he secured the support of one unnamed newspaper by giving it a large building in the center of Moscow. Tretyakov also suggested that shortly before the 1996 presidential election, Chubais personally asked him to publish false stories about Communist paramilitary units in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." In addition, Tretyakov claimed that in fall 1996, he witnessed Chubais (then Yeltsin's chief of staff) warning the editor of "Komsomolskaya pravda" that "you will do what the newspaper's owner says. And if you don't, bones will be broken!" The October 1996 dismissal of Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed was accompanied by a wave of negative coverage of him in many Russian media outlets. LB


Yeltsin announced on 6 March that he will "fight to the end" to give farmers full land ownership rights, ITAR-TASS reported. The president praised an auction held the previous day in Balakovo (Saratov Oblast). In accordance with a law passed in Saratov last November, 18 plots of land, two of which were farmland, were sold for a total of 468,000 rubles ($77,000). The Duma has criticized the Saratov law for allowing the purchase and sale of farmland, which would be prohibited under a land code passed by the Duma. But Yeltsin has vetoed that code, and on 6 March he confirmed will not sign a law that does not give farmers the right to buy and sell land. However, Yeltsin has agreed in principle to certain restrictions on transactions involving farmland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). LB


Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev warned on 9 March that Chechnya will shut off the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk oil pipeline if Moscow persists in violating peace agreements, AFP reported. Vachagaev was speaking in Baku, from where he will accompany Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to London. The previous day, Maskhadov's motorcade was involved in a crash near the Chechen town of Gudermes while heading for Baku. Maskhadov escaped uninjured. LF


Five of the 12 presidential candidates, including Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukyan, have signed a memorandum pledging to make every effort to ensure that the 16 March poll is free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 March. The previous day, Union for Self-Determination Chairman Paruir Hairikyan said that the Armenian authorities' failure to halt illegal attempts by local officials to secure Kocharyan's victory will cast doubt on the fairness of the vote. Also on 6 March, the Central Electoral Commission voted by 13 to seven to register Kocharyan as a candidate. Opposition representatives on the commission argued that Kocharyan, who comes from the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, does not qualify as an Armenian citizen. LF


Two Manukyan aides were attacked and seriously injured while campaigning in Ararat, south of Yerevan, on 8 March. A third Manukyan supporter claimed that the half dozen assailants were associates of Kocharyan, but the premier's spokesmen have denied any knowledge of the incident. The Armenian Prosecutor- General's Office has launched an investigation. LF


The Russian Embassy in Baku issued a statement on 7 March saying Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov's claim that Moscow plans to assassinate Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev is "irresponsible and unfounded," ITAR- TASS reported. Such allegations are aimed at disrupting "friendly relations" between Russia and Azerbaijan and undermining stability in the Caucasus, the statement said. Also on 7 March, ITAR-TASS quoted the Azerbaijani news agency Azertadj as reporting that a large cache of weapons, including grenade-launchers and machine guns, have been discovered in western Azerbaijan, close to the Georgian frontier. LF


Shukrullo Mirsaidov, a leader of the Democratic Opposition Coordinating Council, told RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau on 6 March that the council has formally ceased to function. Mirsaidov criticized "democratic opposition groups" for being out of touch with the realities in the country. He said since it is impossible to bring together all democratic forces, he had decided to quit politics. Mirsaidov, who in the past has criticized the cabinet, said the government has "laid down the foundations for establishing a democratic and legal state and implementing reform program toward a free market- oriented economy." BP


Muhammed Salih, the chairman of Uzbekistan's Erk opposition party, has left Turkey at the request of Turkish authorities, RFE/RL's Uzbek service reported. Salih flew to Romania on 5 March and is now in Bucharest. After running for the Uzbek presidency in 1991 against incumbent President Islam Karimov, Salih went into self-imposed exile. The Turkish move may be connected to the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz to Uzbekistan at the end of this month. BP


The Agriculture and Food Ministry has announced that the target for cotton production this year is to more than double the 1997 level. Interfax reported on 7 March. Last year, cotton growers produced only 620,000 tons, less than half of the targeted amount. The target for this year is 1.5 million tons. The Central Bank has granted interest-free loans to farmers totaling 304 billion manat ($73 million). But according to Interfax, President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree earlier this month stipulating a 2 percent interest rate on those loans and ordering them repaid by year's end. BP


In an address to mark International Women's Day, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said industrial production grew by 33 percent last year, the revenues of 200 privatized enterprises increased 10 percent, and real incomes rose 10 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. The president also said there are currently 1.36 million automobiles owned by Kazakhstan's 4.5 million families and that 32 percent of rural residents own plots of land. BP


Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko announced that Ukraine will cancel a deal to supply turbines to an Iranian nuclear power plant (see also Part I). That statement followed a 6 March meeting in Kyiv with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at which the two officials signed a 30- year nuclear cooperation agreement. Under that agreement, U.S. companies will be allowed to aid in the completion of two Ukrainian nuclear reactors needed to secure the permanent closing of Chornobyl. Iran responded by saying it has "no need for Ukraine's unreliable partnership" and by criticizing Ukrainian leaders for "succumbing to America's humiliating attitude and threats." Also on 6 March, Albright urged President Leonid Kuchma to accelerate economic reforms and to increase the battle against corruption to ensure a more stable environment for foreign investors. PB


Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko said on 6 March in Moscow that he has reached agreement with Gazprom and Russian officials to pay $750 million of Ukraine's debt to the Russian gas giant, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, which followed two days of talks between Pustovoytenko and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, calls for that sum to be paid by 1 October. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also participated in the talks. Ukraine owes some $1.2 billion to Gazprom. In other news, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development says it has approved additional funding for the repair of the leaking sarcophagus over Chornobyl's fourth reactor. PB


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Tehran on 7 March that he welcomes closer bilateral cooperation and that such ties should not disturb other countries, AFP reported. Lukashenka held talks with President Mohammad Khatami and the Islamic republic's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khatami called for the boosting of economic, political, and scientific ties between the countries. Lukashenka is to meet with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus on 9 March. PB


The Coalition Party, the leading ruling formation in Estonia, has decided not to include any more parties in the government coalition, ETA reported on 6 March. Last week, Prime Minister Mart Siimann, who is also chairman of the Coalition Party, had met with all parties represented in the parliament to discuss, among other things, expanding the ruling coalition. BNS on 7 March quoted Siimann as saying the talks had been frank and open, although the opposition had promised him a tough year in the runup to the March 1999 elections. Siimann also said there is a "serious possibility" that some cabinet ministers may be replaced before the next elections, but he declined to give any names. The opposition Moderate Party is demanding the dismissal of the justice, finance, social affairs, defense, and economics ministers on the grounds of incompetence and/or alleged involvement in various scandals. JC


Valdas Adamkus, who was recently inaugurated as president, has signed a decree asking the parliament to vote to keep Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius in office, BNS reported on 6 March. Under the Lithuanian Constitution, a newly elected president has the right to ask the legislature whether it has confidence in the head of government. Deputies are expected to endorse Vagnorius as premier in a vote scheduled for 10 March. Adamkus and Vagnorius have agreed to cut the number of cabinet posts from 17 to 14. JC


Jerzy Buzek said on 6 March that Warsaw will have to make some tough choices during EU accession talks scheduled for 31 March, Reuters reported. Buzek said he expects Poland to enter the union by 2003. He noted that adapting Polish agriculture to EU standards would be the most difficult task, adding that he expected to receive EU assistance in that sector. In other news, President Aleksander Kwasniewski unveiled a plaque at the Warsaw train station on 8 March marking the 30th anniversary of the forcing out of thousands of Jews during a Communist-led, anti- Semitic campaign. Between 12,000 and 20,000 Jews left Poland in 1968 under pressure from Polish authorities. PB


At the end of a one- day visit to Bratislava, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on 6 March told journalists: "I came here to say to this country that the decision on NATO membership will be made in Slovakia and if there are any problems, these problems are not in Brussels...but in Bratislava," Reuters reported. Solana said that the "door to NATO" will remain open but that the membership requirements must be met. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said Slovakia is "aware of the steps it has to undertake in political and military areas." MS


Gyula Horn told the 8 March national congress of his Socialist Party that after the May elections, he intends to continue the coalition partnership with the Free Democrats, despite occasional tensions between the two parties. "I think the present governing coalition has produced very good results, particularly in reviving the economy, making progress toward Euro-Atlantic integration, and improving relations with our neighbors," he said. Horn, whom the congress elected as the Socialists' candidate for the premiership, criticized the opposition Young Democrats for their "scandal-mongering campaign." MSZ


Some 40,000 ethnic Albanians staged a brief, peaceful demonstration in Pristina on 9 March against what their spokesmen called "Serbian terror and violence." Other marches took place in various towns across Kosovo. The previous day, thousands of women held a silent protest in Pristina to mark International Women's Day. Some of the women said they were refugees from the besieged Drenica area, from which they had fled. They said the Serbian police shot at women and children attempting to flee after the police fired indiscriminately into Kosovar villages. Some women added that they spent several days in the woods without food or shelter. PM


A Serbian police spokesman on 8 March told a group of foreign reporters, diplomats, and Red Cross officials on a closely supervised trip to Prekaz that security forces have destroyed the power base of the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in an armed assault that began on 5 March (see RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 1998). "We have struck at their heart and we have dealt terrorists a lethal blow. Some have escaped and we are going after them." Interior Ministry spokesmen said in Belgrade and Pristina on 7-8 March that the action in Prekaz was directed against the Jashari clan, whose members allegedly constitute the core of the UCK. Police also said the dead included Adem Jashari, whom they described as the leader of the UCK. On 9 March, police in Srbica turned over the bodies of 62 Albanians to Kosovar representatives. PM


Spokesmen for the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the leading Kosovar political party, said in Pristina on 8 March that the Serbian police offensive is continuing in the Drenica region, west of Pristina. Special Interior Ministry units attacked the villages of Josanica, Ovcarevo, and Broja near Srbica with tanks and armored vehicles. The previous day, the Belgrade independent weekly "Vreme" reported that Serbian police looted Albanian homes in the Drenica area after attacking them. PM


Bujar Bukoshi, the prime minister of the Kosovar shadow-state government, told the Croatian weekly "Feral Tribune" of 8 March that the Kosovars demand nothing short of independence from Serbia and Yugoslavia. He stressed that following the recent violence, "no kind of autonomy is acceptable" and that the Albanians can "no longer tolerate being under Serbia or with Serbia." A UCK spokesman told the same Croatian newspaper that Belgrade has left the Kosovars only one option: a war for national liberation. The conflict, he predicted, will eventually draw in all Albanians currently under the rule of Serbs, Montenegrins, and Macedonians. The international community, however, has repeatedly told the Kosovars that their future lies within Yugoslavia, albeit with wide-reaching autonomy. PM


President Suleyman Demirel on 8 March sent a message to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic urging that the situation in Kosovo not be allowed to degenerate into a conflict like the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. Milosevic replied that Kosovo is an internal affair of Serbia, which rejects all outside "interference." In Istanbul, several thousand Turks, most of whom were of Albanian origin, demonstrated to show solidarity with the Kosovars. The previous day, Turkish officials told an RFE/RL correspondent in Istanbul that Ankara's ability to press the Kosovars' case in international forums is limited by considerations stemming from its own Kurdish problem. PM


Meeting at the Black Sea resort of Slanchev Briag on 7 March, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and his Turkish counterpart, Mesut Yilmaz, called for a dialogue between the Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Kostov told journalists later that the crisis must be peacefully resolved "within Yugoslavia's [existing] boundaries." He said his country is worried "about a possible spillover of the conflict." He added that if another embargo is imposed on Yugoslavia, Bulgaria could incur new heavy economic losses. Yilmaz urged the Balkan states to support Sofia's proposal for a joint declaration on a peaceful solution to the Kosovo crisis. MS


A spokesman for the state prosecutor's office said in Belgrade on 6 March that the authorities will take unspecified measures against several independent newspapers and radio and television stations because their reporting allegedly "encouraged the actions of terrorist bands [a reference to the UCK] in Kosovo." The newspapers are "Nasa Borba," "Blic," "Dnevni telegraf," "Danas" and " "Demokratija," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. PM


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Rome on 7 March that Washington holds Milosevic "personally responsible" for the developments in Kosovo and that the U.S. "will not tolerate violence." The following day in Bonn, she and her German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel, discussed possible concrete measures that the international community might agree on at the Contact Group meeting in London on 9 March. Those measures include extending the peacekeepers' mandate in Macedonia and sending peacekeepers to Albania. The two leaders also recommended allowing the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to investigate atrocities in Kosovo, and sending Spanish former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales to Yugoslavia as a mediator. On 8 March in Paris, President Jacques Chirac told Albright that "only a message of great firmness, addressed firstly to the authorities in Belgrade... can break this spiral of war and lead to a durable peace for all in Kosovo." PM


Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Bijelo Polje on 8 March that Kosovo is a part of Serbia and Yugoslavia and that no changes in its borders or political status will be permitted, BETA reported. Vujanovic added, however, that Kosovo requires a peaceful, political solution and that the Kosovars should receive broad autonomy in education, culture and social affairs. BETA also reported that 3,500 ethnic Muslim refugees have arrived in recent days from Kosovo to join their relatives in Sandzak. PM


President Kiro Gligorov told the 6 March issue of "Puls" that he has "no illusions about Kosovo" and realizes that events there could easily "lead to changes in Macedonia." He added that, at his request, the army's general staff has made the necessary preparations for Kosovar refugees to stay in Macedonia until they can go home or to transit Macedonia on their way to Albania if need be. The same day, at least 20,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Skopje to show solidarity with the Kosovars. On 7 March, Gligorov and Defense Minister Lazar Kitanovski discussed Kosovo with NATO supreme commander General Wesley Clark. And on 8 March, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to consider extending the mandate of U.S. and Scandinavian peacekeepers in Macedonia. PM


Defense Minister Sabit Brokaj, Interior Minister Neritan Ceka, and the U.S. military attache inspected military facilities in northern Albania on 7 March and discussed with local officials the coordination of military and civilian efforts ahead of the possible arrival of up to 200,000 refugees from Kosovo. Brokaj said his ministry is prepared to mobilize reservists, guard strategic installations, and send additional stocks of food and other vital supplies to the north, "Koha Jone" reported. And in Tirana the previous day, the government and opposition staged a pro-Kosovo rally attended by 30,000 people. President Rexhep Meidani and his predecessor, Sali Berisha, both appealed to the international community to prevent the Kosovo conflict from developing into a full-scale war. FS


At a 7 March meeting, the leaderships of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the Democratic Party decided to continue to meet and not to make statements to the media. PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu said that "for the first time since the outbreak of the crisis," the two sides managed to "agree on some points" over which they had previously differed, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The previous day, Democratic Party leader Petre Roman repeated that his party will not give parliamentary support to a budget submitted by any cabinet headed by Victor Ciorbea. The National Council of the Democratic Convention of Romania said that if the Democrats vote against the draft budget, they will be "automatically excluded" from the coalition. MS


Premier Victor Ciorbea on 6 March said consultations will begin with opposition parties to attempt to secure their support for the draft budget. A meeting between Ciorbea and the leadership of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) is scheduled for 9 March. PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu said his party will support a budget submitted by the cabinet only if the PDSR's suggestions are reflected in it, RFE/RL Bucharest's bureau reported. MS


Following the merger of the Party of Civic Alliance with the National Liberal Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1998), the two other major liberal parties in Romania have agreed to set up a Liberal Federation. The agreement was signed on 6 March by Liberal Party chairman Nicolae Cerveni and Radu Campeanu, the leader of the National Liberal Party- Campeanu Wing. The Liberal Monarchist Party and Emil Tocaci, a member of the National Liberal Party (which rejected the setting up of the federation), are also to join the new umbrella organization. MS


In an interview published in the 7 March "Momentul," President Petru Lucinschi said Russia is not exerting any pressure on Moldova and that the accusations of the pro- Romanian opposition that Chisinau is "selling out the country's independence for gas and petrol" are groundless. Lucinschi said that last year, Moldova paid for 90 percent of gas and petrol imports from Russia with "produce, not with money." He also said the attitude of a group of Duma deputies toward the Transdniestrian conflict should not be confused with Russia's official position, which he described as "correct." Lucinschi also rejected leftist parties' accusations that Moldova is "flirting with NATO", stressing that no one could even begin to think of membership in the alliance when 20 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty line, BASA-press reported. MS


Radio Tiraspol on 6 March reported that Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has asked State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev to postpone debates on the ratification of the 1990 basic treaty with Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Primakov is reported to have said that postponement of the debate is also in line with a "personal request" from President Lucinschi, who wants the debates to take place after the Moldovan 22 March parliamentary elections. Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister Vasile Sova told RFE/RL that he "would not say" that Lucinschi initiated postponing the debate; rather, the Duma made that decision last December. MS


by Christopher Walker

In obtaining its invitation to be among the first wave of NATO entrants and in achieving recognition as a candidate in the first round of accession talks to the EU, Poland is on track to achieve two of its main strategic goals in the post-Soviet era. At the same time, it faces challenges that arise from its relations with neighboring countries and that are incompatible in the short-term with invitations to those Western clubs. Sharing borders with the former Soviet bloc states of Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Russia (the Kaliningrad Oblast), Poland is preparing to face disputes that could upset the current delicate regional balance.

While building its networks to EU member countries and managing a heavy foreign-policy workload in preparation for entry into Western institutions, Poland is forging new relations with its Eastern neighbors. By virtue of its key geographical position and size, it has a special responsibility to build a new post-Soviet framework for effective security and economic ties in the region.

Security and economic matters are no longer determined by a bipolar European order but rather by still-forming regional spheres. Crises that are local in nature can quickly become of regional concern. As a result, Poland must take into consideration that a crisis in Ukraine or Belarus, for example, could spill over, thus negatively affecting relations with Warsaw's future NATO and EU allies.

With regard to regional security, Belarus is a particularly difficult case. Should Minsk choose to engage in a more assertive military relationship with Russia, the security landscape of the region would be significantly altered. Such a development would be of direct concern to the expanding NATO alliance and would influence the behavior and response of other post-Soviet countries in the area, requiring them to more clearly declare their status within the evolving regional security structure. Moreover, Poland, the key alliance member on NATO's new "front line," would find itself in an especially sensitive position.

As regards the economy, Poland is rapidly being absorbed into the Western zone of trade. With the exception of the Czech Republic, all the traditionally Central and East European states sharing borders with Poland are currently outside this zone. Those "second-tier" countries are likely to remain outside for some time to come.

Slovakia, once mentioned in the same breath as candidates invited in the first round of EU and NATO talks, has now slipped into the second group. Its advancement is conditioned on the country's adapting to international norms of political behavior. The incorrigibility of Slovakia's "old-style" leadership has all but assured a place further down the line of accession to many key Western institutions.

To address the challenges presented by some of its neighbors, Poland has negotiated a host of bilateral agreements with its neighbors. Most recently, it concluded an agreement to enhance cooperation in a range of areas--including economics, agriculture and transportation--with regions from six countries bordering the Baltic Sea. That accord, along with others like it, is a constructive step toward creating an atmosphere of confidence in the area.

At present, the likelihood of violent conflict is minimal among the countries of the region, many of which have been adversaries in the past. Economic instability, organized crime, and migration-related issues are more likely to pose short-term threats. Recent friction between Poland and Belarus over visa requirements for Belarusian nationals is just one example of such disputes. Meanwhile, to the West, Polish-German relations continue to develop, with unified Germany eager to institutionalize Poland's integration into the Western community.

The success of that integration will depend on the Polish leadership's ability to deal with the challenges posed by its neighbors to the East while simultaneously preparing for economic competition within the EU and the responsibilities of military participation in NATO. The West should bear that burden in mind as it presses Poland to meet its obligations for admission into Western institutions. The author is manager of programs at the Prague-based European Journalism Network.