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Newsline - March 11, 1998


The 10th session of the Russian-U.S. Commission on Economic and Technical Cooperation, also called the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, began in Washington on 10 March. The commission focused initially on Russia's contribution to the Alpha space station. Construction of that station is scheduled to begin this summer, but it seems unlikely Russia will be able to come up with the $21 billion it has pledged. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore are scheduled to meet with executives of the U.S. companies Lockheed-Martin and Boeing to discuss cooperation in launching commercial satellites and helping Russia raise money for its space program. Cooperation in health care was also discussed, particularly with regard to AIDS and tuberculosis. Russian Health Minister Tatyana Dmitrieva, who also attended the meeting, said "never before have the questions of health care been examined in such detail." She added Russia is requesting loans from the U.S. to help fund the fight against infectious diseases. BP


U.S. State Department deputy spokesman James Foley said on 10 March that Russia has twice turned down formal U.S. government requests for information on U.S.-made supercomputers allegedly being used in Russian nuclear research facilities. Foley said the issue will likely be a topic of discussion among commission members. The U.S. government is concerned that five high-speed Silicon Graphics and IBM computers, sold in 1997 without licenses, are now in use at the Chelyabinsk and Arzamas nuclear development facilities. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has rejected a request from the U.S. Justice Department for assistance in investigating the sale and use of those computers, the "Washington Times" reported on 10 March. BP


At a Kremlin meeting on 10 March with elders from all regions in the North Caucasus except Chechnya, President Boris Yeltsin said he is "worried by the unstable situation" there and especially by "the growing distaste that people show for local as well as federal officials," Interfax reported. But while promising assistance to the region and even suggesting he might pay a personal visit there, Yeltsin said that Russia is a "great multinational state that feared no one from [U.S. President Bill] Clinton to anyone else" and will do what it has to do to ensure stability across its territory. Earlier, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov said Moscow is ready for any compromises on problems in the North Caucasus as long as they do not undermine Russia's territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported. But he suggested that there are no ethnic conflicts in that region, only "struggles for high posts." PG


While the Kremlin built up expectations over Yeltsin's meeting with the elders, the regions of the North Caucasus do not have consensus figures whose views carry widespread authority and influence over political developments. In most cases, residents of the regions learned the names of their "elders" only a few days before the delegations flew to Moscow, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladikavkaz reported on 10 March. Many delegates were former Soviet officials. For instance, the North Ossetian delegation included a Brezhnev-era trade minister. Among the "elders" chosen by the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria was a former NKVD officer who participated in the deportation of Balkars in 1945, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. RFE/RL commentator Andrei Babitskii, an expert on the North Caucasus, described the concept of "elders" as grounded in "fairy tales" rather than current political realities. LB


Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov snubbed Moscow by not sending any elders from the breakaway republic to meet with Yeltsin. But even if he had wanted to send representatives to the meeting, selecting them would have been extremely problematic, RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent reported on 10 March. The term "elder" has negative connotations in Chechnya, where it is assumed to refer to a person appointed by Moscow. The last person to use the services of "elders" was Doku Zavgaev, who headed the pro-Moscow Chechen government during the war in Chechnya. Those elders were mainly old party officials and veterans of Soviet agencies who, on behalf of their villages, signed a protocol recognizing Zavgaev's government in the hope of escaping bombardment by Russian forces. LB


In remarks to the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, Maskhadov said he had told former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that he would like an international commission to examine the extent to which Russia has kept to its promises on Chechnya. Citing Winston Churchill's observation that Russia has no tradition of living up to its commitments, Maskhadov said he did not expect the commission to find that it had. And noting that Russia had no money, he added that Grozny does not expect to obtain promised funds from Moscow. In conclusion, Maskhadov repeated his argument that Chechnya is an independent country: "To those who say we have to break away from Russia, we say: 'Find a single document which says we are legally part of Russia. Such a document does not exist.'" PG


A British Foreign Office official told Maskhadov that London cannot consider providing any assistance to Chechnya until there is a settlement of the conflict and until all hostages are released, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 March. Maskhadov told the BBC that he has done everything he can to secure the release of the hostages and will continue to do so. PG


Chechen acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev on 11 March questioned the use of holding further talks between Moscow and Grozny, saying Russia has "proved to be a bad partner," Interfax reported. Basaev charged that the Russian side has not implemented any of the agreements it signed with Chechen authorities. As for a planned meeting between Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin, Basaev predicted the two men will "have a cup of tea, exchange diplomatic niceties, and...interpret the results of the meeting differently." Basaev led a raid on the town of Budennovsk (Stavropol Krai) in June 1995. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office brought criminal charges against him, which have not yet been dropped. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev says Yeltsin has called for tougher measures to ensure that federal funds earmarked for social programs do not go astray in the regions, Russian news agencies reported on 10 March. Following a meeting with Yeltsin, Sysuev said the president is to appoint a commission to monitor how social benefits funds are allocated there. Sysuev and Mikhail Shmakov, the leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, are to head that commission. According to Sysuev, Yeltsin sharply criticized some regional authorities for using federal funds "to solve their own problems." Regional officials say that because the federal government fails to meet its spending obligations, funds intended to pay wages, pensions, and child benefits sometimes must be diverted to pay for other vital needs, such as fuel supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1998). LB


The Justice Ministry on 10 March registered State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin's Movement to Support the Army, Rokhlin told Interfax. Last fall, the ministry refused to register the movement on the grounds that its charter does not describe it as a "political" movement, even though it is pursuing political aims. Rokhlin subsequently called a second congress of his movement to revise the charter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1998). He told Interfax that branches of the Movement to Support the Army have been formed in 68 out of Russia's 89 regions. Meanwhile, Duma deputy Aleksandr Shokhin on 10 March confirmed that the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction will continue its efforts to replace Rokhlin as Defense Committee chairman, ITAR-TASS reported. Last September, Rokhlin left the pro-government faction, which had nominated him for that post. LB


The international credit rating agency Fitch IBCA announced on 10 March that it has decided not to downgrade Russia's sovereign debt rating. The agency recently reviewed the financial situation in Russia. Some market analysts had expected a downgrade, because IBCA's rating for Russia was one notch higher than that of either Moody's or Standard & Poor's, Reuters reported. Both of those agencies are also considering whether a downgrade is warranted, but they have not yet announced their decision. A lower Russian sovereign debt rating would mean higher costs of foreign borrowing for both the government and commercial banks since those banks' credit ratings would automatically be lowered. LB


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 10 March announced that the capital will not do away with residence permits, ITAR-TASS reported. The Constitutional Court recently ruled that local authorities can keep records of citizens' places of residence but cannot use the registration process to grant or deny citizens permission to live in a given location (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1998). Luzhkov called for overruling that decision, saying that residency permits (also known as "propiski") are needed to protect Moscow from an influx of citizens seeking benefits. He noted that social benefits payments already make up 41 percent of city budget expenditures. He did not specify how the court's decision could be overruled. Article 27 of the constitution grants citizens the right to choose their place of residence. LB


"Novye izvestiya" reported on 10 March that proceeds from imports of chicken legs from the U.S. will fund the funeral for Russia's last tsar. Nicholas II and his family are to be buried in St. Petersburg this July, and the event will be financed from non-budgetary sources. "Novye izvestiya" alleged that a firm linked to Oneksimbank will import the chicken legs through the government commission on burying the tsar's remains, thereby gaining exemptions from various taxes and customs duties. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov heads that commission. The newspaper charged that Oneksimbank has unparalleled access to both Nemtsov and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. "Novye izvestiya" was founded last year by journalists who left "Izvestiya," in which Oneksimbank is a major shareholder. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ empire, a leading business rival of Oneksimbank, reportedly helps finance "Novye izvestiya." LB


The Arkhangelsk Oblast Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case in connection with illegal alterations to a law on the oblast's human rights commissioner, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 March. The text published in the local press differed from the version of the law that had been approved by the oblast legislature and signed by Governor Anatolii Yefremov. For example, a passage prohibiting the commissioner from belonging to political parties or movements had been mysteriously removed. According to the 26 February edition of "IEWS Russian Regional Report," a scandal erupted in Arkhangelsk last October when the legislature appointed Yefremov's chief of staff as human rights commissioner. It emerged that the published version of the law had been revised to grant only the governor the right to nominate candidates for that post. A process to select a new commissioner is under way. LB


Residents of Komi Republic are outraged over the federal law on the procedure for calculating pensions, which went into effect on 1 February, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 March. Moscow-based critics of the government say that pension increases have been insignificant under the new law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 27 January 1998). Residents of Russia's northern regions have in fact seen their pensions decline, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." The law ties pension benefits to the number of years a citizen was working and does away with the practice of granting special benefits for those who worked in the Far North. Meanwhile, during his meeting with the North Caucasus elders on 10 March, Yeltsin promised that pensions will be raised by 20 percent in 1998 and increased further in coming years, ITAR-TASS reported. LB


The Latvian Foreign Ministry on 10 March officially protested to Russia over Moscow's sharp criticism of the way Riga handled the 3 March rally staged by mainly ethnic Russian pensioners. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrejs Pildegovic said a note that included a full description of the incident had been handed to the Russian ambassador. He commented that some remarks made by Russian officials over the incident "went beyond diplomatic and even ethical norms." He also said Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs has suggested an official visit to Moscow to clarify Latvia's position and "directly inform" the Russian government and the State Duma on the incident. Also on 10 March, Birkavs's Estonian counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said in Riga that "everything we have seen from the so-called incident is that Latvia behaved entirely properly and that the accusations made are groundless," Reuters reported. JC


The Latvian Foreign Ministry also expressed regret over the desecration of a tomb of Soviet soldiers in Liepaja, Latvia, BNS and ITAR-TASS reported. The statement came one day after the Russian Foreign Ministry had expressed outrage over the incident, claiming that vandalism is a logical extension of "nationalism, Russophobia, and trampling on human rights" in Latvia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998). Riga appealed to Russian senior officials to refrain from "hasty and non-objective comments." It also expressed confidence that the Latvian authorities will conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and punish those responsible. JC


Georgia will present a draft plan to the CIS summit in Moscow on 19-20 March calling for the establishment of a special commission to monitor CIS decisions and a special administrative region in Abkhazia's Gali district to facilitate the return of refugees. The plan also calls for CIS member states to turn to the UN and other international organizations if the CIS does not make progress soon on the Abkhaz crisis, Vakhtang Abashidze, a spokesman for Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told ITAR-TASS on 11 March. Abashidze added that the Georgian president has sent a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin arguing that it is well and good "if the CIS promotes the independence of CIS member countries"; if it does not, then "disintegration processes may develop" within the commonwealth. Abashidze said the letter made clear that CIS membership must not block expanded ties between member states and European and international institutions. PG


The 8 March attack on participants at an election rally held by supporters of Vazgen Manukian in the town of Ararat continues to dominate the presidential campaign, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 10 March. While Manukian expressed his satisfaction with the way the authorities are investigating the matter, other candidates have either criticized the government or sought to place the blame for the attack on one or another faction. Acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharian suggested that the attack was directed "against the prestige of our country and me personally." Meanwhile, Self-Determination Union candidate Paruir Hayrikian suggested to Kocharian that he withdraw as a presidential candidate but continue as premier. PG


Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed a decree on 10 March dismissing Deputy Prime Minister Komiljon Rakhimov, ITAR-TASS reported. The news agency commented that Rakhimov has been relieved of his duties "on the traditional pretext of being transferred to another post," which "usually means a considerable reduction in rank." Last week, a security adviser to the president was replaced (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 1998). BP


Tursun Uazhanov, a senior official from the Kazakh border guards, said that beginning this spring, Kazakh navy vessels will patrol the Kazakh section of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported on 10 March. Uazhanov said initially naval operations will focus on "countermeasures against poaching." But he added that once there is an official division of the Caspian, "we will start full-fledged patrolling of our maritime borders." BP


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has made an offer to "modernize and service" Syrian weaponry, Reuters reported. Speaking in Damascus on 10 March, Lukashenka said Belarus has experience servicing Soviet-made hardware and is ready to utilize "those capabilities in Syria." The Syrian Defense Ministry reported that Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas met with his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Chumakov on 9 March to discuss military cooperation. In the 10 March issue of the official daily "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," Lukashenka is quoted as saying during his 6-8 March visit to Tehran that "military cooperation with Iran will be carried out without danger to the world or security in the region." The newspaper also said an agreement was signed in Tehran whereby Belarus will repair Iran's Soviet-built aircraft and tanks. Belarus recently denied a U.S. newspaper report that it will sign a military cooperation deal with Tehran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 1998). PB


Boris Tarasyuk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Benelux countries and head of the Ukrainian mission at NATO, said on 10 March that Kyiv's membership in the alliance will be discussed in the future, ITAR-TASS and the "Eastern Economist" reported. Tarasyuk said Kyiv cannot currently raise the question of joining NATO since certain "conditions for this have not been created." But he did not exclude the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO "when the time is ripe," since, he said, NATO is the key institution of European security. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said during a recent visit to Moscow that Kyiv has no intention of joining the alliance but will "closely cooperate" with it. PB


Some 3,000 Tatars demonstrated in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on 10 March for the right of non-citizens to vote in the upcoming elections, ITAR- TASS reported. The protesters asked the Ukrainian parliament to pass a law allowing Crimean Tatars without Ukrainian citizenship to take part in the 29 March elections, in which the Crimean parliament will also be elected. Since the late 1980s, some 250,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea from Central Asia, to where they were exiled under Stalin. An estimated one-third of those Tatars do not have Ukrainian citizenship. PB


Lawmakers on 10 March voted by 92 to 19 with nine abstentions to keep Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius in office, BNS and Reuters reported. The vote was largely a formality following the election of President Valdas Adamkus. Under the Lithuanian Constitution, a newly elected president has the right to ask the legislature whether it has confidence in the head of government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1998). Vagnorius told reporters after the vote that his government's main aim is to begin "individual" talks on entry to the EU. Adamkus stressed that, apart from joining the EU, the government's main task is to launch administrative reform. JC


The parliamentary faction of the Social Democrats (CSSD) in the Chamber of Deputies has dropped its demand that NATO accession be approved in a referendum, CTK reported on 10 March . Faction Chairman Stanislav Gross commented that the CSSD has "never maintained a referendum is a condition for NATO accession." He added that although the CSSD considers it is "unnecessary" to hold a special parliamentary session to ratify the accession treaty on 14 April, it will not block the initiative proposed by the Civic Democratic Party and will support NATO accession, CTK reported. Gross said the faction vote on the issue was "almost unanimous." MS


The Slovak Foreign Ministry on 10 March officially protested Czech President Vaclav Havel's recent comments on Slovak political developments, saying they amounted to "unacceptable interference in Slovak domestic affairs" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998).The "sharp protest" was conveyed to the Czech charge d'affaires in Bratislava, CTK reported. The Slovak statement said Havel's comments were all the more unacceptable as he used a visit to a third country to assess the situation in Slovakia. Also on 10 March, Bronislaw Geremek, Polish foreign minister and current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told Havel that the Slovak government has agreed to the presence of OSCE monitors for the September parliamentary elections. MS


Meanwhile, Czech President Havel continued his call for support of democracy in Slovakia, despite protests from Bratislava, Reuters reported on 10 March. Havel said during a lecture at Warsaw University that there is "a great potential of longing and will for democracy" in Slovak society. He also said it was "our common duty towards our friends" to support "mechanisms directed against the authoritarian inclinations of one or another politician" in Slovakia. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski seconded those remarks, saying what happens in Slovakia is "far from the procedure that characterizes a country governed by the rule of the law." PB


The European Union on 10 March expressed concern at Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar's decision to halt criminal investigations into the abduction of Michal Kovac Jr. and at the manipulation of the 1997 referendum on NATO accession and the election of the president by direct vote. In a statement issued by the EU presidency, which the U.K. currently holds, the union said Meciar's use of the presidential powers he took over following the departure of Michal Kovac from that office "brings into question his commitment to commonly accepted principles of good governance and the rule of law," AFP reported. The statement warned that those measures "do not make a positive contribution to Slovakia's efforts to prepare for EU membership." MS


The Serbian government said in a statement issued to Tanjug on 10 March that the authorities are willing to "hold an open dialogue about solving all concrete problems" with "responsible representatives" of the Kosovars, meaning those who renounce violence. Serbian Television noted that talks must proceed on the "basis of the Serbian Constitution," which stipulates that Serbia is an integral state. The "new" offer thus appears to be no different from Belgrade's long-standing position, which is that the Serbian authorities are willing to hold talks with Kosovars provided the latter renounce violence and agree to the constitution. All Kosovar political parties support independence and accept autonomy as, at best, a first step toward independence. In the wake of the recent Serbian assaults on Kosovar villages, many Kosovar spokesmen have become increasingly reluctant to denounce the violent tactics of the shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). PM


Fehmi Agani, a leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, the main Kosovar political party, told Belgrade's independent Radio B-92 on 11 March that Milosevic's offer is "not serious." He added that the Belgrade authorities are "arrogant" because they coupled their offer of talks with a statement that praised the recent police action in Kosovo that has led to at least 74 deaths. Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, for his part, said in Pristina that "the only acceptable solution for us is an independent Kosovo, not some kind of autonomy." Also in Pristina, the UCK issued a statement promising to continue the armed struggle for Kosovo independence. PM


President Milo Djukanovic said in a statement in Podgorica on 10 March that "the bloodshed in Kosovo must end immediately, the fighting must give way to political discourse.... The use of police to resolve the problem must be replaced by a top-level dialogue between the president of Serbia and the Albanian leadership in Kosovo, immediately and without pre-conditions.... A start must be made without delay on resolving the problem of Kosovo, which has been neglected and naively underestimated for too long." Djukanovic added that Kosovo is an international problem and that it is "demagogic" for Belgrade to maintain that Kosovo is purely Serbia's internal affair. PM


Serbian police buried 51 Albanians in Donji Prekaz on 10 March. Relatives refused to claim the bodies and insisted that independent experts first perform autopsies, which police refused to allow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998). Albanian spokesmen charged that police wanted literally to bury the evidence of "a massacre" of Albanian civilians, including a five-year-old boy and elderly women. Survivors of the recent police action said some of the dead were shot after they surrendered to police and that others were killed without having had an opportunity to surrender. Serbian police maintain that the dead were "terrorists" who died in combat with Interior Ministry forces. Some survivors from Donji Prekaz said the Serbian assault force was led by the paramilitary Tigers of Zeljko Raznatovic, better known from the Croatian and Bosnian wars as "Arkan," the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported. PM


A State Department spokesman in Washington denied recent media reports to the effect that a remark by special envoy Robert Gelbard may have been interpreted by Belgrade as a license to strike in Kosovo. The spokesman said on 10 March that during talks with Milosevic in February, Gelbard criticized "terrorist acts" by the UCK, but the spokesman added that Gelbard did not identify the UCK as a terrorist organization, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington. The Kosovar and independent Serbian media reported recently that Milosevic took Gelbard's remarks linking the UCK to terrorism as a green light for the crackdown. Speaking in Pristina on 10 March, Gelbard criticized the Serbian authorities' use of "brutal, disproportionate, and overwhelming force" and demanded that independent experts be allowed to examine the Albanian dead. He added, however, that "the future of Kosovo lies within...Yugoslavia" and urged both sides to refrain from violence. PM


China on 10 March blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement on Kosovo, which Chinese diplomats called Serbia's internal affair. U.S. and U.K. diplomats in particular wanted the council to endorse the decisions of the Contact Group in London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998). In Belgrade, Milosevic's office issued a statement slamming the London decisions as interference in Serbia's internal affairs. In Pristina, Rugova said the Kosovars "had expected much more" from the Contact Group. In Moscow, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said it is "counterproductive" to focus on sanctions and added that "Russia puts the accent on an end to terrorist activities and an end to the use of massive force." PM


Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 10 March called the London decisions "the best that could be had" under the circumstances. He said the package is "an important first step" to ending the crisis. But opposition parties said in a joint statement that international military action is needed to defend Kosovo's "unarmed Albanian population.... The first signs of the Bosnia syndrome were seen in the London meeting, that is, the weakness of the international community in defending with determination and efficiency the principles of the agreements and conventions on which international order is based." Democratic Party leader and former President Sali Berisha added that major powers should declare Kosovo a "no-fly" zone. PM


Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey have called for a dialogue to end the crisis in Kosovo, AFP reported on 10 March. The Bulgarian-initiated joint statement condemns "terrorist attacks serving political ends, as well as violence used as a means of repressing political ideas." The signatories expressed "serious concern over a deterioration of the situation in Kosovo and the serious consequences which an inter-ethnic conflict spreading in the region could have." They stressed that a solution to the conflict must be found "while strictly respecting the existing borders." And they urged Belgrade to "seek mutually acceptable solutions based on a wide autonomy for Kosovo." Also on 10 March, Bronislaw Geremek, Polish foreign minister and chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, disclosed a nine-point action plan for solving the Kosovo conflict. The plan is similar to the Bulgarian initiative but adds points concerning OSCE mediation and monitoring. MS


Meanwhile, "Duma," the mouthpiece of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, wrote on 10 March that U.S. policy toward Kosovo aims at establishing a military presence there, as has been the case with Bosnia and Macedonia. Washington, the newspaper wrote, is looking for "pretexts" to achieve that aim: "In the Balkans this is a very simple matter--one sets Islam against Eastern Orthodoxy, and everything is in the bag, including the US military presence." The daily noted that "Madeleine Albright snapped [her fingers]" and "the most powerful lungs of the most powerful diplomacy" began "blowing the trumpets most militantly." MS


Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal, said in The Hague on 10 March that her office is gathering information and evidence relating to recent events in Kosovo and will continue to monitor any subsequent developments. She added that the court is legally competent to deal with atrocities committed in Kosovo and that it expects full cooperation by the Yugoslav authorities in its investigation. In Banja Luka, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said the Kosovo problem will be solved as part of the democratization process in Serbia. She added that the current international attention focused on Kosovo provides an excellent opportunity for all parties involved to work toward a solution. PM


Unidentified persons on 10 March planted a bomb at the Tirana home of Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Ermelinda Meksi, "Koha Jone" reported. The blast destroyed part of the building but caused no injuries. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. FS


Some 600 professional drivers blocked traffic in Bucharest's Constitution Square on 10 March to protest the government's decision to raise gasoline prices, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In Brasov, some 12,000 workers marched in protest at the recent price hikes in general. MS


Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc on 10 March protested Ukraine's decision to fence off a site on the Danube estuary and thereby push the border 100 meters into Moldovan territory, ITAR-TASS reported. That move deprived Moldova of its only access point to the river in the area, where it is building an oil terminal with aid from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. After visiting the site, Ciubuc said the Ukrainian move is "contrary to international law" and said Ukraine cannot proceed with the fencing until ongoing bilateral talks on border delimitation are completed. Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister Vasile Sova, who heads the Moldovan delegation to those talks, told RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau that mutually acceptable solutions have been reached in "90 percent" of such cases. MS


The Central Election Commission on 10 March rejected the Party of Moldovan Communists' (PCM) demand that the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc be banned from running in the 22 March parliamentary elections. The PCM accused the bloc of breaking the law by promising to give $1 million to the electoral district where it receives the most votes. The bloc responded that the promise had been made by one of the candidates running on its list. Also on 10 March, a group monitoring media coverage of the election campaign said the pro- Lucinschi party has already received more air time than it is entitled to. The group asked the Central Election Commission to intervene. MS


Ivan Kostov attended a dinner with prominent U.S. businessmen in New York on 10 March in a drive to further boost investments in Bulgaria, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Figures released by the U.S. Foreign Investment Agency show that U.S. companies invested nearly $66 million in Bulgaria in 1996, while that figure soared to $410 million in the first nine months of 1997. The Bulgarian cabinet says that by the end of this year, some 85 percent of companies in Bulgaria will be in private hands. MS


by Lowell Bezanis and Liz Fuller

At the beginning of this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem invited his counterparts from Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to attend talks in Istanbul aimed at reaching a consensus on the merits of what may prove to be a $2.5 billion white elephant The project in question is the planned 1,730 kilometer pipeline from Baku via Georgia to the southern Turkish terminal at Ceyhan, which could pump 35-50 million tons of Caspian oil a year to a soft Mediterranean market.

The Baku-Ceyhan route is one of three options for the so-called Main Export Pipeline (MEP) currently being evaluated by the government of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), which is developing three Azerbaijani offshore oil fields. The others are the northern route from Baku via Grozny to Novorossiisk and the western route through Georgia to the Black Sea port of Supsa. The final choice is slated for October 1998 but may well be postponed.

Turkey's publicly stated reason for plugging Baku-Ceyhan is to preclude an increase in the volume of oil tanker traffic through the Turkish Straits, which could pose a serious environmental hazard to Istanbul and its population of 10 million as well as slow up traffic in an already congested waterway. Another complication is that the projected volume of AIOC oil-- 2 million barrels a day to come on stream years from now--could be consumed by the Black Sea littoral states, including Turkey, which imports about 700,000 barrels a day. Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine also have an interest in using Caspian oil for domestic consumption and possibly re- export. In any event, the MEP could not rely on AIOC oil alone but would have to include not only volumes from fields currently still being explored in the Caspian but also Kazakh and possibly Turkmen oil, too.

Turkey remains upbeat, however, not only because the project is viewed as a means to realize Ankara's geopolitical ambitions and its bid to become a regional energy and transport hub for Caspian and Central Asian gas but also because Washington is aggressively supporting the Turkish leadership as part of a larger scheme to funnel gas westward via Turkey by piggy-backing gas and oil pipelines. Turkey needs gas to fuel power plants worth $40 billion to be tendered in the next decade.

As for the producer and other potential transit countries, Azerbaijan has repeatedly affirmed its preference for the Baku-Ceyhan route, although Azerbaijani oil is already being exported northward through the Baku- Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan see Baku- Ceyhan as a possible alternative or additional outlet to international markets. But that would likely necessitate laying a technically problematic underwater Trans-Caspian pipeline to Baku, which Russia and Iran jointly oppose. Turkmenistan's only other export routes are via Iran or Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has a choice between the westward-bound Tengiz-Astrakhan- Novorossiisk pipeline and eastwards via China but will go with whichever pipeline is operational first. It will also likely pursue a swap option with Iran, which many in the AIOC would presumably like to see if only Washington would tolerate it.

Georgia, meanwhile, will be laughing all the way to the bank whether the MEP terminates in Supsa or Ceyhan. Russia wants to see the bulk of oil flow north and argues--with justification--that the northern route is more economical. But the U.S., whose oil companies are major players in the Caspian, favors Baku-Ceyhan as a means of anchoring Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to the West and thereby further undercutting Russia's already waning influence in the Transcaucasus.

In the event, the Istanbul talks revealed significant differences between Turkey and all participants except Georgia and failed to result in an unequivocal public endorsement of the Baku-Ceyhan option, as Turkey had hoped. The talks also irked Russia, which was not invited to participate. But that does not necessarily reflect a lack of determination to proceed and to find ways of buying off Moscow. Since 1994, Turkey has been talking about Russian participation in Baku-Ceyhan on the production side. It also wants to see Russian oil exported through Baku-Ceyhan.

In late January, Cem floated the idea of giving "all regional states," including Russia, a cut of the profits from exporting Caspian oil to Ceyhan. That offer is likely to engender more cut-throat, behind-the-scenes bargaining. Given the magnitude of the stakes involved, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's 2 March assertion that "an oil pipeline is not a tug- of-war" is simply wishful thinking. Lowell Bezanis is a Washington-based specialist in Turkish and Transcaucasian affairs.