BATTLE LINES DRAWN OVER KIRIENKO...
President Boris Yeltsin predicted on 30 March that the State Duma will confirm Sergei Kirienko as prime minister, Russian news agencies reported. The Duma is expected to consider the nomination on 3 April. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax and NTV on 29 March that his party will not back Kirienko, who, Zyuganov said, lacks the experience needed for the job. Yeltsin on 27 March had warned Duma deputies not to provoke a "confrontation" by refusing to confirm Kirienko. But Zyuganov charged that the president himself has provoked a confrontation by nominating a new premier without consulting either parliamentary or regional representatives. Meanwhile, Kirienko told NTV on 29 March that he will not name cabinet appointments before the Duma votes on his candidacy. But he said there will be "more than a few new names" in the new government. LB
...BUT COMMUNISTS MAY EVENTUALLY SUPPORT HIM
Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist Party, expressed disappointment on 27 March that Yeltsin spurned calls for consultations before nominating Kirienko, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Yeltsin "once again demonstrated his attachment to an authoritarian type of leadership." But Seleznev stressed that the lower house will not give Yeltsin constitutional grounds to dissolve the Duma by rejecting his choice for prime minister three times. Meanwhile, Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin told ITAR-TASS on 27 March that the Duma may support Kirienko's nomination on the third try and that members of the Communist faction may vote "according to their personal convictions." Podberezkin is considered a close Zyuganov adviser. His remarks suggest that the vote on Kirienko will resemble the votes on the 1998 budget, in which the Communist leadership rejected the document but a significant minority of Communists cast ballots in favor. LB
YAVLINSKII SLAMS 'UNPREDICTABLE' AUTHORITIES
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has expressed concern about the increasing "unpredictability" of the Russian authorities, which, he charged, is "dangerous" and is fostering political instability. In interviews with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and NTV on 29 March, Yavlinskii noted that Yeltsin fired the government last week without explaining why he decided to dismiss Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, and others. According to Yavlinskii, the president also demonstrated that he lacked an action plan that had been well thought out: first, Yeltsin had said he would become acting prime minister himself and then hours later, he appointed Kirienko to that post. Yavlinskii said he has nothing personal against Kirienko but added that the Yabloko faction sees "no grounds" to support Kirienko's confirmation since neither the composition of the new government nor new policies have been announced. LB
STEPASHIN BECOMES ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER
Yeltsin on 30 March appointed Sergei Stepashin as acting interior minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin was director of the Federal Counter-intelligence Service (now the Federal Security Service) until June 1995 and was appointed justice minister last July. It is unclear whether he will continue to head a presidential commission on battling extremism, set up last fall. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 March that a report by the Prosecutor-General's Office on high-level corruption in the Interior Ministry lay behind Yeltsin's decision to fire Anatolii Kulikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). The newspaper said Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov had discussed the conclusions of that report with Yeltsin during a 2 March meeting. LB
BUDGET FINALLY GOES INTO EFFECT
After signing the 1998 budget on 27 March, Yeltsin ordered acting Prime Minister Kirienko to make quarterly reports on its implementation and on progress toward meeting the government's 12 priority tasks for the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 27 January 1998). In the absence of a budget, federal spending so far this year has been allocated in accordance with a December government directive, which set monthly spending at one-twelfth of 1997 expenditures. Aleksandr Livshits, the deputy head of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 27 March that the signing of the budget will promote economic and political stability. However, officials have already acknowledged that revenues will fall below targets, forcing the government to cut planned spending as early as April. The 1998 budget calls for some 500 billion rubles ($82 billion) in spending, 368 billion rubles in revenues, and a deficit of 132 billion rubles. LB
CHERNOMYRDIN ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID
Former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 28 March announced he plans to run for president in 2000. In an interview with Russian Public Television, Chernomyrdin said he had discussed the issue with Yeltsin and that he "understood" that Yeltsin agrees with his plans. While he was in the government, Chernomyrdin repeatedly refused to confirm that he had presidential ambitions. The latest nationwide poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation showed Chernomyrdin with 6 percent support if presidential elections were held today, NTV reported on 29 March. The former premier trailed Communist Party leader Zyuganov (21 percent), Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Yabloko leader Yavlinskii (10 percent each), and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed (9 percent each). LB
YELTSIN HOLDS BACK FROM ENDORSING CHERNOMYRDIN
Yeltsin on 30 March again said he does not plan to seek a third term in office but held back from endorsing Chernomyrdin's presidential bid, ITAR-TASS reported. He told journalists that Chernomyrdin's plans "do not fall outside the general sphere of our policy or the president's thoughts." At the same time, Yeltsin emphasized that "successors" are for monarchies, not for Russia, in which the constitution grants the people the right to elect a president. Yeltsin said earlier this year that he had chosen the politician he would like to succeed him as president but had refused to disclose the name of his favorite (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998). LB
WILL NEW GOVERNMENT INCLUDE POWERFUL BUSINESSMAN?
Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin told journalists on 27 March that a "representative of big business" may be put in charge of macroeconomic issues in the new cabinet, Russian news agencies reported. Asked whether he meant that former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii will return to the government, Rybkin replied that "I do not think he will agree to that." Berezovskii was sacked last November, and neither Yeltsin nor other officials ever explained the reason for his dismissal. Berezovskii is considered close to presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev and to Yeltsin's daughter and adviser Tatyana Dyachenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin was first deputy prime minister in charge of economic policy from August 1996 to March 1997. LB
YELTSIN REORGANIZES SECURITY COUNCIL
The Security Council's staff is to be cut to a maximum of 200 under a new presidential decree, the Kremlin press service announced on 28 March. The secretary of the Security Council is to have six deputies, including one first deputy. The number of department chiefs within the council is to be cut from 21 to 10, even though the council will be tasked with responsibilities on military reform that were previously assigned to the Defense Council and Chief Military Inspectorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1998). LB
CHUBAIS'S FUTURE AT ELECTRICITY GIANT UNCLEAR
Speaking to NTV on 29 March, Kirienko ruled out any chance that former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais may be chosen to head the board of directors of the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES). Kirienko noted that the state has a controlling stake in the company and argued that the chairman of the board should be a "representative of the state"--a role Chubais cannot fill, having left public service, Kirienko added. Kirienko's latest remarks contradict his 23 March comment that Chubais was still in the running to head the EES board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS on 30 March quoted an unnamed source in the Fuel and Energy Ministry as saying that while Chubais will not be elected chairman of the EES board, he may replace Boris Brevnov as EES chief executive. LB
PRESIDENT SUBMITS INCOME DECLARATION
The presidential press service announced on 28 March that Yeltsin has declared his 1997 income at 1.95 million new rubles ($320,000), Russian news agencies reported. According to the president's income declaration, Yeltsin's earnings came from his salary, royalties from his second set of memoirs (published in 1994), and interest on Russian bank accounts. The president listed the same property holdings he declared last year, including a dacha and plot of land outside Moscow and a BMW automobile. Government and Kremlin officials are required to disclose their income and property holdings, but critics say the income declarations bear little relation to reality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998). LB
OIL COMPANY HEAD SAYS ROSNEFT OVERVALUED
Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the head of the Yuksi oil company, says his firm has concluded that it would be "unwise" to take part in the upcoming auction for a controlling stake in the oil company Rosneft, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. Khodorkovskii argued that the minimum bid for the stake of 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft--set by the government at $2.1 billion--exceeds the real value of the shares by some $800 million. But he left open the possibility that Yuksi may participate in the auction together with another "serious investor." A commentator for "Moskovskie novosti" argued in that newspaper's 22-29 March issue that the government will not be able to sell the Rosneft stake for the price it is demanding. The weekly noted that an independent audit of Rosneft valued the entire company at some $2.3 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 1998). LB
CHECHNYA EXPANDS DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has announced plans to send diplomatic representatives to 21 countries, Interfax reported on 28 March. At the same time, the Chechen leader announced that he is closing all Chechen offices in regions of the Russian Federation. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 28 March denounced the move as "nothing less than an attempt to proclaim the Chechen Republic a subject of international law." In other diplomatic moves, Maskhadov asked Russian President Boris Yeltsin for assistance in dealing with landslides in his republic, Interfax reported on 30 March. Meanwhile, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Mahomed Mahomedov visited Turkey on 28 March to discuss measures aimed at releasing hostages. And the Lithuanian parliament's international Chechnya support group held a seminar in Vilnius on 29 March to call attention to the plight of the Chechens. PG
NEW CHECHEN BONDS "ONLY FOR PATRIOTS"
The Chechen authorities have issued no-yield bonds that can be redeemed only after ten years, Abdurashid Zakayev, the chairman of the National Bank of Chechnya, told Interfax on 28 March. Zakayev said that "only true patriots of their motherland will subscribe" because if inflation is taken into account, the bonds will actually cost investors money." The Chechen banker said that the bonds will be marked primarily in the Chechen Diaspora. PG
ISLAMIC OFFICES BOMBED IN CHECHNYA
As yet unidentified groups attacked four Muslim institutions in Grozny and Gudermes on 29 March with bombs and grenades, Russian news agencies reported. Among the targets were the Supreme Shariat Court, the offices of the republic's mufti, and a regional Muslim court building. PG
SITUATION REMAINS TENSE IN CENTRAL TAJIKISTAN
Opposition fighters led by field commander Pir Muhammad has released 16 government soldiers whom they were holding in the Kofarnikhon region, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 29 March. Two other field commanders continue to hold more than 60 government troops captive, having released some 40 on 30 March. A tentative cease- fire agreement was reached the previous day between the fields commanders and a team of representatives of the government and United Tajik Opposition. That accord provided for the withdrawal of all armed forces from the Kofarnikhon region. But ITAR-TASS reports that fighting broke out again on the evening of 29 March and continued the next day. BP
UZBEK PRESIDENT ON CENTRAL ASIAN UNION
Following a meeting of the presidents of Central Asian Union in Tashkent on 27 March, Islam Karimov said Tajikistan had made "a historic decision" in joining the union, whose founding members are Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. Karimov added that he hopes Turkmenistan will soon join the organization so that "the Central Asian region will be completely represented." With regard to Russia, which has observer status in the union, Karimov commented that Central Asia "cannot do without Russia, just as Russia cannot do without Central Asia." BP
KAZAKH COUNCIL ASKED TO REVIEW FREQUENCY AUCTION
The Kazakh International Bureau on Human Rights has called on the country's Constitutional Council to examine the 1997 auction for frequencies, AFP reported on 27 March. Jemis Turmagambetova, the deputy director of the bureau, said the auction failed to "correspond to the spirit and letter of Kazakhstan's constitution." Turmagambetova also commented that the state "abuses its monopolist rights to own the broadcasting spectrum" in order to regulate the "broadcasting opportunities of certain television and broadcasting companies." Three television and radio stations recently appealed their failed bids at the 1997 auction. BP
ARMENIA VOTES FOR PRESIDENT
Armenians go to the polls on 30 March to choose between acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharian and former Soviet-era Communist Party leader Karen Demirchyan in a run-off election for president. The campaign ended on 29 March with each of the candidates accusing the other of dishonest behavior and election fraud, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian also lashed out at the international community for its criticism of the Armenian elections: "We are electing a president for ourselves..., not for the international community," he said. In final campaign appearances, Kocharyan announced he would create a special political council of the heads of Armenia's leading political parties to help guide the country, while Demirchyan said he would devote all his energies to improving the country's economy. Public opinion polls suggest the race may be extremely close. Final results are not expected until 31 March at the earliest. PG
ABKHAZIA AGAINST GEORGIAN APPEAL TO CIS
An Abkhaz Foreign Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 28 March that any CIS decision on that breakaway republic that did not take Sukhumi's views into account would have serious consequences. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze earlier asked that the CIS presidents seek to come up with a plan for resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 28 March noting that tensions between Georgia and Abkhazia are growing, Interfax reported. The statement placed most of the blame on Georgia, which has recently introduced additional military equipment into border areas. PG
AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA ANNOUNCE SHIFTS ON CASPIAN
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev on 27 March called for the demilitarization of the Caspian, ITAR-TASS reported. On a visit to Baku the next day, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said Moscow now backs the division of the Caspian into sectors, a shift Azerbaijani officials welcomed. But Russian press reports that the two sides have signed a protocol on this point are premature, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported 29 March. And Pastukhov said Moscow is also prepared to increase the annual capacity of the Baku-Novorossiisk oil pipeline to 17 million tons in the near future, which would allow Azerbaijani oil to flow westward sooner than via Georgia. Both these developments are part of an effort by Moscow to warm relations with Baku, Interfax reported on 28 March. PG
COMMUNIST PARTY LEADS IN UKRAINIAN ELECTIONS
Preliminary returns from Kyiv show the Communist Party leading in the 29 March general and local elections. With 20-40 percent of the vote counted, Central Election Commission Chairman Mykhaylo Ryabets projected that as many as eight parties would overcome the 4 percent threshold to enter the parliament. Both the commission and two polling organizations predicted that the Communist Party will win some 25 percent of the votes. Ryabets said it appears that just over 50 percent of registered voters participated in the election, with turnout largest in the western part of the country. Half of the 450 seats in the unicameral parliament will be directly elected, the other half apportioned to parties and blocs. PB
NO SERIOUS VOTING IRREGULARITIES, ONLY MILD CRIMEAN PROTESTS
International observers monitoring the elections reported no serious violations, Reuters reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Mykhaylo Ryabets said some 400 monitors from 38 countries had observed the election throughout the country. Alain Chenard, the head of the Council of Europe's monitoring team, said "everything went more or less smoothly." Ukrainian television reported an arson attack at a polling station in western Ukraine. ITAR-TASS reported that voting took place without any major incidents in Crimea, but there were some peaceful protests by disenfranchised Tatars. Crimean Tatar leaders had called for a boycott of the election by those Tatars eligible to vote. PB
KUCHMA PLEDGES COOPERATION
Conceding that left- wing parties fared well in the election, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 29 March that his government will do everything possible to work with the new parliament, Reuters reported. Kuchma said the previous day that his government had laid the foundation for economic growth, and he urged voters not to back "extremism." Oleksandr Moroz, the parliamentary speaker of the current parliament, said however that Kuchma's policies are at a "dead end." Former President Leonid Kravchuk, one of the leaders of the centrist Social Democratic Party, said the "people are voting against the economic situation in this country." PB
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST SENTENCED
Vadim Kabanchuk was given a three-year suspended sentence for hooliganism on 27 March, Reuters reported. Kabanchuk had served six months in jail since his detention last fall for staging protests and resisting arrest. Kabanchuk said he will remain active in Belarusian "political life." He also remarked that conditions in the detention center violated human rights, saying he shared a cell with 32 others and was denied medical aid. PB
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER IN WASHINGTON
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott expressed strong support for human rights in Belarus during a meeting with opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Sannykov, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 28 March. Talbott also praised the Charter '97 group, which aims to draw attention to human rights violations in Belarus. Sannykov is the international coordinator for Charter '97, which has been signed by more than 70,000 people since it was founded last November. Sannykov said the situation in Belarus is regressing and that the number of people subjected to persecution is growing. Sannykov also met with several members of Congress. PB
ESTONIAN RULING COALITION OPEN TO VIRTUALLY ALL PARTIES?
ETA reported on 29 March that during talks over the weekend, the minority ruling coalition showed willingness to include virtually all opposition parties in the government. So far, an official offer has been made only to the Reform Party, the largest opposition group. Reform Party chairman Siim Kallas said he is not prepared to accept the offer immediately but will discuss it again at talks scheduled for 31 March. The Farmers' Party, one of whose leaders is Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, declined the government's invitation to join talks on enlarging the coalition. The party said it is prepared to take part in the government through Foreign Ilves but that it will not ally itself with either the ruling coalition or the opposition. JC
LATVIAN PREMIER DENIES COALITION UNSTABLE
Guntars Krasts on 27 March denied that his six-party coalition is unstable but acknowledged that rumors on the matter are constantly circulating, BNS and Reuters reported. Krasts told journalists he is concerned that calls in the parliament for more public spending could threaten the balanced budget ahead of the October general elections. Earlier this month, Krasts failed in his bid to have the parliament hold a vote of confidence in his government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1998). JC
GERMAN MINORITY OPPOSES ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM IN POLAND
An ethnic German organization in Poland says that a plan to consolidate the provinces discriminates against the country's German minority, PAP reported on 28 March. The Social-Cultural Association of Germans are protesting the government plan to reduce Poland's 49 provinces to 12, which, the association says, continues "the communist-style forced assimilation of our national group." Some 250,000 ethnic Germans live in Poland. PB
MALTA PROTESTS TO CZECH GOVERNMENT OVER HOTEL CONTROVERSY
Maltese Prime Minister Alfred Sant on 29 March described as "unacceptable" the Czech government's announcement that it is considering legal action against the Malta-based Corinthia Hotels Group for purchasing hotels in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech Republic, Reuters reported. Sant said his government has sent a protest note to Prague about what he called the "false reports" that Corinthia Hotels is Libyan-owned. He stressed that the majority of the chain's share holding is Maltese-owned. The U.S. State Department last week warned U.S. citizens that if they stayed in hotels owned by the Corinthia Group, they would be in violation of U.S. laws banning trade with Libya. MS
MECIAR'S PARTY NAMES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 28 March unexpectedly announced it has selected Milan Secansky as its candidate for the president in the vote scheduled to take place on 16 April, AFP reported. It is doubtful whether Secansky, a parliamentary deputy, can garner the three-fifths majority required for the election of a president. The 16 April round will be the fifth attempt to select a successor to Michal Kovac, whose mandate ended in early March. It will also be the first time that the HZDS will run its own candidate. A public opinion poll released on 29 March by the TASR official news agency shows that 52 percent of Slovaks are opposed to Meciar's running for president and that only some 20 percent support his candidacy. MS
SLOVAK HUNGARIANS TO RUN ON UNITED LIST?
The three main parties that represent the Hungarian minority in Slovakia are considering joining forces ahead of the September elections, AFP reported on 28 March. The Federate Hungarian Party would include the present Movement of Hungarian Christian-Democrats, the Egyutteles movement, and the Hungarian Civic Party. If the three parties run as a united formation, rather than as a coalition of parties, they would need to pass a five percent threshold rather than a 15 percent one ( five percent for each member of the alliance). Such thresholds are envisaged in the amended election law that has already passed in the first reading in the parliament. MS
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY COMPLETES NATIONAL LIST
Tamas Sepsey, the chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Forum's (MDF) national board, announced on 28 March that the party has finalized its national list for the May general elections. The list is headed by party chairman Sandor Lezsak. The MDF board has also amended the statutes of the party to allow the inclusion of Imre Pozsgay, a leading member of Hungary's former communist party, on the MDF's national list. MSZ
UCK OFFERS SERBS CHOICE
A spokesman for the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) told Reuters on 30 March that a peaceful solution is still possible to the Kosovo question provided that Serbian forces leave the province immediately and the Serbian authorities launch talks with the Kosovars. The spokesman added: "We have always favored independence through negotiation but in recent years we started to fight because nothing was changing in our situation and there were no meaningful talks. It's up to the Serbs whether we fight or talk. If they want to negotiate they must first withdraw their police and other forces. We won't walk away from negotiations, but we won't lay down our weapons either." The spokesman stressed that the Serbs "have already lost the war" because the UCK's morale is higher than that of the Serbian paramilitary police. PM
THIRD ETHNIC ALBANIAN DIES FOLLOWING LATEST FIGHTING
Spokesmen for the leading Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) said in Pristina on 29 March that a third ethnic Albanian has died of wounds he received in last week's fighting in the Djakovica-Decani area. The authorities said on 24 March that one Serbian policeman died as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). PM
BELGRADE RAPS FOREIGN MEDIA
Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said in Belgrade on 29 March that the VOA, CNN, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, "and others" have "massacred the truth in Kosovo" through their reporting on the ongoing Serbian crackdown. He said that domestic Yugoslav radio stations that rebroadcast the foreign stations' reports are guilty of "subversion" and of being "a Fifth Column." Referring to unnamed foreign journalists who have reported on the UCK, Matic added that "our state must establish a clear relationship [with] certain foreign journalists that are in contact with Albanian armed terrorist groups." In Washington, the VOA's Croatian Service denied the charges in its morning broadcast on 30 March. The VOA said it is committed to accurate and objective reporting. PM
BULGARIA WARNS ABOUT SITUATION IN KOSOVO
Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said in Belgrade on 28 March that Kosovo cannot be considered a purely internal affair of Yugoslavia, as the Yugoslav authorities maintain. She stressed that a large number of countries have become involved in finding a solution to the Kosovo question. Mihailova added that Yugoslavia's neighbors fear that events in Kosovo could lead to problems in their own countries and that consequently "Kosovo could become an internal affair of the neighboring countries," RFE/RL reported. PM
MONTENEGRO SLAMS MILOSEVIC...
Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 29 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had been both rude and politically unwise in refusing to meet with U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 1998). Vujanovic stated: "If you want to talk to the international community, you don't refuse to receive the emissary of the president of the United States.... We must respect the emissaries of those who have the political and economic power. It is an elementary obligation toward citizens and the economy whose fate depends on what emerges from dialogue with these envoys, and above all it's a question of elementary political decency." PM
...AS DOES ALBANIA
Prime Minister Fatos Nano told a cabinet meeting on 28 March that through his handling of the Kosovo question, Milosevic "has lost a chance to join the civilized world." Nano added that he is optimistic that the efforts of the international community will prevent Kosovo from experiencing the open warfare that Bosnia did. Earlier in Bonn, the prime minister told "Nasa Borba" of 30 March that Kosovo should have the same rights within the Yugoslav federation as Montenegro does. Nano stressed that Kosovo should not have the right to secede from Yugoslavia but that it should be able to "open up to and integrate with countries in the region." PM
NATO SENDS EXPERTS TO ALBANIA
A NATO spokesman said in Brussels on 27 March that the alliance will send eight teams of border monitoring experts to Albania over the next two months. The decision follows a recent request by the Albanian government for NATO support in guarding its border with Kosovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). Each team will consist of seven people, including both civilian and military personnel. The first team is scheduled to arrive this week. The official added that NATO will "consider additional activities in the next months to help Albania." NATO has ruled out sending ground troops to help patrol the border. FS
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER TO STREAMLINE GOVERNMENT
Fatos Nano told a government meeting on 28 March said that he will soon announce measures to streamline the government. Pandeli Majko, the leader of the Socialist Party's parliamentary faction, recently requested such a move. Nano called on the current coalition parties to take part in negotiations on the composition of a new, smaller cabinet, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. FS
CROATIAN SERBS WARN TUDJMAN
Speaking in Zagreb on 30 March, Deputy Prime Minister Ljerka Mintas-Hodak said countries that want Croatia to expedite the return of Serbian refugees should help pay for it. She argued that it is unfair for donor countries to make aid dependent on the successful return of refugees. She asked that aid be given outright, before the returns are completed. Speaking in Vukovar on 29 March, Gelbard warned Croatia that it must enable more Serbs to return in safety if it expects economic and political support from the international community. And in Zagreb, ethnic Serbian leaders Milorad Pupovac and Vladimir Stanimirovic said they will withdraw from the joint commission aimed at confidence-building if President Franjo Tudjman does not take concrete measures by 15 March to ensure the return of more Serbian refugees, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. PM
CIORBEA'S DEPARTURE--NOT IF, BUT WHEN
The Bureau of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 27 March empowered PNTCD leader Ion Diaconescu to start "immediate negotiations" with "all coalition partners" to find a solution to the ongoing political crisis. PNTCD Secretary-General Radu Vasile said the search for a solution does not exclude" forming a new government." But also on 27 March, the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), said it wants the draft 1998 budget to be submitted to the parliament by Victor Ciorbea's cabinet. The CDR decided that if the National Liberal Party (PNL) congress approves the resolution demanding the premier's replacement, such a move would be viewed as a "PNL proposal to be discussed by the CDR." Following that anouncement, Ciorbea withdrew his demand that the PNL ministers resign. MS
LIBERALS APPROVE DEMAND FOR CIORBEA'S REPLACEMENT
A PNL congress on 28 March approved the resolution adopted by the party's bureau demanding that the cabinet be replaced before the budget is submitted to the parliament. The congress also approved the merger of the PNL with the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC) and elected former PAC chairman Nicolae Manolescu as chairman of the PNL National Council. The following day, the Democratic Party welcomed the PNL's decision, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania's Executive Council said coalition members must begin negotiations on forming a new cabinet immediately rather than waiting for the passage of the 1998 budget. MS
INDEPENDENT CABINET MINISTERS WARN AGAINST LINGERING CRISIS
In an open letter to Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea on 28 March, the three non-party affiliated ministers in his cabinet warned that the ongoing political crisis threatens to have "irreparable results." Finance Minister Daniel Daianu, Reforms Minister Ilie Serbanescu, and Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu said that structural problems are at the root of the crisis, rather than "personalities, programs, or ideologies." They added that there are "neither providential individuals nor miraculous recipes" to solve the crisis, arguing that a solution requires "firm and consistent measures" rather than the "populism, demagogy, and electoral incitement" characterizing the current political discourse. MS
MOLDOVA'S DEMOCRATIC FORCES LEADER RULES OUT COALITION WITH COMMUNISTS
Valeriu Matei on 27 March said the "ideological and political barriers" that are dividing his Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) and the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) are "insurmountable" and that no coalition involving both those formation is feasible. Matei was responding to PCM leader Vladimir Voronin's statement the previous day that a coalition could be formed by the PCM, the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova (PMPD) Bloc, and "possibly the PFD." Matei said his party continues to opt for a coalition with the PMPD and the Democratic Convention of Moldova , RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS
'BLANK SPOTS' AND 'GRAY ZONES'
by Paul Goble
Boris Yeltsin's claim that he and the leaders of France and Germany are in complete agreement about the future of Europe has sent shock waves through the countries situated in the zone between those three great powers.
Following an informal summit outside Moscow with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on 26 March, Yeltsin said the three leaders had "agreed on all points. There are no 'blank spots.'" While Yeltsin suggested that this accord pointed the way toward a multipolar world--one in which no country would suffer-- many states lying between NATO and the EU in the West and Russia in the East drew a different conclusion.
The countries of this zone--sometimes called "gray" because of its lack of a clear geopolitical definition--have suffered when Russia and the West have disagreed. But they have also suffered when Russia and the West have agreed--especially if the agreement is about them.
This last kind of agreement appeared very much in evidence at the so-called "troika" summit outside Moscow. Following Yeltsin's claim of complete unanimity, Kohl took the occasion to adopt a very hard line toward Latvia, a country with which Moscow has been having difficulties.
Condemning a recent march by veterans of the World War II-era Latvian Waffen SS Legion, Kohl noted that the EU would evaluate applicant countries according to their human rights record and also according to their relations with their neighbors. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, which gave extensive coverage to Kohl's remarks, quoted the French president that he fully agrees with the German chancellor on this point.
No one could fault any of the three leaders for being concerned about the human rights records of countries seeking to join Western institutions, but there are three reasons why their comments at the Troika summit have troubled some East Europeans.
First, despite Yeltsin's claims, Kohl's comments, and Chirac's apparent agreement, most international agencies and observers have found Latvia to be in compliance with the generally accepted human rights norms. Russian claims to the contrary, including Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's recent suggestion that the Russian government should use all means "short of force" to defend the rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia, are one thing. But German and French acquiescence with these Russian claims are quite another. Not surprisingly, the stance of Kohl and Chirac is troubling to governments and peoples who remember occasions in the past when Western leaders have deferred to Russian demands with respect to their fate.
Second, Kohl's assertion that the EU will evaluate applicant countries in terms of the quality of their relations with their neighbors enhances Moscow's ability to influence not only Eastern Europe but Western Europe as well. On the one hand, Moscow can use its power to define the nature of these relationships as a threat to extract concessions from its neighbors. If those countries do not do what Russia wants, Moscow will say that relations are bad and will limit their chances of entering the West. On the other hand, by accepting this Russian claim, West European countries like Germany and France are in effect accepting the notion that Russia should have an effective veto over just how far east Western institutions should be allowed to move.
And third, Kohl's remarks and Chirac's agreement quickly led to reports that the three summit participants have agreed that the Baltic States, as well as perhaps other East European countries, should not be allowed to join NATO. So widespread were such reports that ITAR- TASS even queried Paris on them. An anonymous senior official in the French President's Office said Chirac had not taken a position on Baltic membership in NATO in Moscow because those countries are not yet candidates.
But if his words on that point were likely to be reassuring to the Balts, another remark by this unnamed French official seems likely to have an opposite and broader effect. The official suggested that the Moscow meeting demonstrated Paris has dropped its historical policy of using "Russia as a counterweight against Germany and vice versa." A belief that France was still pursuing that approach has animated the foreign policies of many countries in Eastern Europe, some of which assumed that their best course is to play off France against Germany and both of those countries against Russia. But if this latest statement from Paris is correct, then their hopes in this regard have been misplaced. And they may now have to reassess their relations not only with these three powers but with others as well.
To the extent that happens, the "troika" summit may prove to be a turning point, one in which the absence of "blank spots" may lead to the darkening of a "gray zone."