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Newsline - April 3, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin on 2 April submitted a second letter to the State Duma nominating Sergei Kirienko as prime minister and withdrew his 27 March official nomination, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau. The Duma received Yeltsin's new letter on 3 April and now has seven days to consider the candidacy of Kirienko, who needs the support of a majority of deputies in order to be confirmed. Kirienko was scheduled to deliver a report to the Duma on 3 April, but that event has been postponed until after roundtable talks scheduled for 7 April. Those talks will include representatives from the government, presidential administration, Duma, and Federation Council. First Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction told RFE/RL that the Duma is likely to vote on Kirienko's candidacy on 10 April. LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 2 April that the Communist Duma faction will not support Kirienko's nomination as prime minister, "not the first, not the second, not the third time," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The decision was adopted at an extraordinary plenum of the Communist Party's Central Committee the same day. The constitution stipulates that the president must dissolve the Duma if his nominee for premier is rejected three times. Duma deputy Valentin Kuptsov, a high-ranking Communist official, told ITAR-TASS that the Central Committee plenum adopted a resolution on completing preparations for parliamentary elections. But Zyuganov informed journalists that his party is "ready for dialogue" and will bring its proposals for the new government to the 7 April roundtable talks. He declined to name the Communists' preferred candidate to head the cabinet. LB


Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist Party, has called for a compromise on the new prime minister in order to avoid the dissolution of the Duma. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 April, Seleznev expressed confidence that the Communist Party would not be hurt by new parliamentary elections and would gain at least a third of the seats in the Duma. However, he explained that "more than anything else, I fear leaving the president for even one day" without a lower house of the parliament, which, he said, would give Yeltsin more latitude to rule by decree. Seleznev recently predicted that the Duma will not give Yeltsin constitutional grounds to disband the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 1998). LB


It is still unclear whether Boris Yeltsin will travel to Japan for an informal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto from 11-13 April. ITAR-TASS and Interfax quotes presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying on 2 April that the meeting will go ahead as scheduled. However, AFP reported the next day that Japan's "Yomiuri Shimbun" and "Asahi Shimbun" say the meeting has been postponed for one week. Japan's Kyodo news agency reports that Russia has asked that the meeting be put off until 18 April and last only two days, instead of three. But Kyodo also reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka repeated his 2 April statement that Moscow has not requested a change of date. BP


Meeting with acting Defense Minister Igor Sergeev outside Moscow on 2 April , Yeltsin called on Russia's military and diplomatic leaders to coordinate their efforts to persuade the Duma to ratify the 1993 START-2 treaty, Russian agencies reported. The same day, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists in Moscow that Russia neither intends nor needs to resume the arms race. He pledged that his ministry and the Ministry of Defense will do their best to persuade the Duma to ratify START-2. Primakov added that while consultations on START-3 have already begun, full-scale talks will begin immediately after the ratification of START-2. Primakov and Sergeev lobbied Duma deputies last September in an attempt to expedite ratification, but without success (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1998). LF


The Federation Council on 1 April approved an appeal to Yeltsin warning that a government decision on calculating pensions may violate citizens' rights and "destabilize social conditions," ITAR-TASS reported. Since 1 February, individual pensions have been calculated in accordance with a new law stipulating that the base figure for the calculation is the average salary for the fourth quarter of 1997. The government set that figure at 760 new rubles ($125), even though the State Statistics Committee estimated the average salary for the last three months of 1997 at 940 rubles, the Council's appeal noted. The Duma has expressed similar concerns over the figure used to calculate pensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). LB


Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk says pension arrears totaled 800 million rubles ($130 million) as of 1 April, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported two days later. Payments have been delayed in 30 Russian regions. Last summer, the government made strong efforts to settle pension arrears equivalent to 14 billion new rubles. Barchuk said contributions to the Pension Fund fell sharply in early 1998. He attributed the decline in part to a Constitutional Court decision striking down an article of the Civil Code requiring employers to pay wages before taxes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev announced on 1 April that the Pension Fund is owed 88 billion new rubles. He said the delays in pension payments can be partly blamed on the law on calculating pensions, which since 1 February has required the Pension Fund to pay out an additional 1.3 billion rubles monthly. LB


Vagit Alekperov, the president of LUKoil, on 2 April said his company will not bid for a controlling stake in the Rosneft oil company under the current terms of sale, Interfax reported. LUKoil formed a consortium with Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell last year in preparation for the Rosneft auction. But Alekperov said it "would make no sense" to spend $2.5 billion for 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft. The government has set the minimum bid for the shares at $2.1 billion, and the terms of the auction require some $400 million in additional investment in the company. Alekperov warned that if the price is not lowered, the auction will fail, as did attempts in recent months to sell state-owned stakes in the Russian-Belarusian oil company Slavneft and the Eastern Oil Company. LB


"Novye izvestiya" argued on 2 April that officials have broken several laws while preparing for the privatization of Rosneft. The newspaper argued that the government was required to consult the Audit Chamber when valuing the Rosneft shares. (Instead, it consulted only the international firm Kleinwort Benson, which valued a 75 percent stake in Rosneft at $1.6 billion to $1.7 billion.) "Novye izvestiya" also quoted an Audit Chamber official as saying the planned sale is illegal because the parliament has not approved a privatization list for 1998. Boris Berezovskii, who is believed to help finance "Novye izvestiya," is a founder of the Yuksi oil company, which appears to have backed off from plans to bid for Rosneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 30 March 1998). LB


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 2 April warned that the state will be the loser if the Rosneft auction goes ahead as planned, Interfax reported. He said he has prepared a different plan, which would bring $10 billion to $14 billion to the budget within four to five years while allowing the state to retain control over the company. Luzhkov said he and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin have discussed that plan, which would involve exchanging Rosneft shares for a loan that the state would repay in energy resources. LB


According to a tax declaration released on 2 April, former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and his wife earned a combined income of 1,446,400 new rubles ($233,000) in 1997, Interfax reported. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 3 April that the figure is 31 times higher than the income Chernomyrdin claimed last year to have earned in 1996. According to the tax declaration, the 1997 income came from Chernomyrdin's salary as prime minister, his wife's pension, and the sale of part of a house and plot of land. Last spring, officials said Chernomyrdin's 1996 earnings consisted entirely of his salary of some $800 per month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 1997). LB


Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has sent a letter to Polish Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Hanna Suchocka criticizing her decision not to extradite former Russian presidential adviser Serge Stankevich, Russian news agencies reported on 2 April. Suchocka recently left in place two court rulings saying Stankevich should not be returned to Russia to face trial on bribery charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998). Skuratov warned that Suchocka's decision "sets a dangerous precedent" that could be used by corrupt officials to escape responsibility. Ekho Moskvy on 2 April quoted Stankevich as saying he plans to visit Russia soon, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Stankevich left the country in late 1995 after the criminal case against him was opened. LB


Tension is mounting in Nizhnii Novgorod following the decision to cancel the results of a 29 March mayoral election and hold a new election in three months, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported on 3 April. Andrei Klimentev, the apparent winner of the election, was arrested on 2 April while facing a retrial on embezzlement charges. The same day, a crowd of several hundred Klimentev supporters gathered outside the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Court, where Klimentev is being tried, to demand his release. Several demonstrators hit the court's chairman as he left the building. The next day, court hearings resumed but were closed to the public, the press and even to Klimentev's family. The same day, Nizhnii Novgorod trade unions canceled plans to hold rallies on 9 April, the day trade unions across Russia are scheduled to stage protests. LB


The Duma on 3 April voted to form a commission to investigate the mayoral election and subsequent events in Nizhnii Novgorod, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov, a member of Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice, proposed forming the commission. Yushenkov told RFE/RL that the arrest of Klimentev reflects "telephone" justice and appears to be "the fulfillment of an order" from the presidential administration. Russian media also continue to express concern about recent events in the Nizhnii Novgorod. "Segodnya" on 2 April charged that the decision to annul the election violates the constitution, while "Komsomolskaya pravda" argued the following day that Klimentev's arrest shows that "the authorities have decided to make [him] into a national hero." LB


Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko on 2 April said his commission will ask Yeltsin to help give voters more access to information about candidates for public office, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He said that when collecting signatures from citizens, candidates should include on their petitions information on their criminal record, income, and assets, as well as whether they have dual citizenship. First Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov on 2 April advocated a special law to prevent people with a criminal record from contesting elections, ITAR-TASS reported. An RFE/RL correspondent noted on 3 April that if such a requirement were adopted, it would be difficult to distinguish those convicted of political crimes during the Soviet period from others with a criminal past. LB


A Moscow court has reinstated Vladimir Kostousov as chairman of the state- run television network in Sverdlovsk Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 April. It is Kostousov's second successful court appeal against efforts to dismiss him by supporters of Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. The court ruling means that in the final weeks before elections to the Sverdlovsk Oblast legislature, the state- run network will not be run by a Rossel ally. The court decision is the second major blow to Rossel in the past two weeks. The Sverdlovsk Oblast authorities spent an estimated $9 million preparing for a summit between Yeltsin, French President Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl before that summit was moved from Yekaterinburg to Moscow. Because of the venue change, Yeltsin did not sign 16 decrees prepared by Sverdlovsk authorities that would have increased federal funding for the oblast. LB


Defeated Armenian presidential candidate Karen Demirchyan has claimed that the 30 March runoff poll was marred by "numerous instances of fraud, falsification, intimidation, and vote-buying," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 2 April. In a statement released by the official news agency Armenpress, Demirchyan said the preliminary final results released by the Central Electoral Commission do not reflect the real outcome of the vote. According to those data, Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan received 59.48 percent of the vote and Demirchyan 40.52 percent. Demirchyan said the poll results had dealt a blow to people's faith in democracy, but he cautioned against mass protests, which, he said, could lead to a split in society. He also affirmed his intention to continue his political activities. LF


U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin issued a statement on 1 April congratulating Kocharyan on his election as president and wishing him success in forming a new government, implementing democratic reforms, and working for a political solution of the Karabakh conflict. The following day, French President Jacques Chirac and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, likewise extended congratulations, Yerevan News Agency reported. A spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry said Paris hopes the new Armenian leadership will do its utmost to resolve the Karabakh conflict under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, whose co- chairmen are from France, Russia and the U.S Acting Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Anatolii Adamishin remarked that Moscow "found a common language" with Kocharyan during the latter's tenure as premier and hopes to do the same while he is president, Noyan Tapan reported. LF


Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Manasaryan has said there will be no substantive changes in Armenia's foreign policy following Kocharyan's election as president, Interfax reported on 1 April. Manasaryan said that "everything will remain in force" and that Armenia will continue to work for "neighborly relations" with the countries of the region. He predicted that Kocharyan will take a "principled and consistent" line on the Karabakh conflict, rather than a tough one. Acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told "Hayots ashkhar" on 2 April that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group will visit the region later this month to "clarify the conflict parties' positions in the negotiations." LF


In his annual address to the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Lyudvig Chibirov said that future relations between the republic and the central Georgian government should be mutually beneficial and based on the principle of equality, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 April. Chibirov repeated his commitment to reaching an agreement with Tbilisi of which Russia and international organizations would act as guarantors. At the same time, he warned that he will defend his republic's sovereignty and not give in to pressure. Chibirov said he hopes to meet personally again this year with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss the reconciliation process. He also said that the new leadership of North Ossetia shares his commitment to intensifying economic integration between North and South Ossetia. LF


The Belarusian Popular Front, the main opposition force in Belarus, staged an unauthorized demonstration on 2 April to protest official festivities marking the first anniversary of the union between Belarus and Russia, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. While the authorities celebrated the national holiday with concerts and street fairs, several hundred oppositionists shouted slogans such as "Belarus Lives!" and burned the Russian flag. "It is an artificial holiday, dedicated to an artificial union. We recognize neither this union, which does not meet our national interests, nor this holiday," Vyacheslaw Siwchyk, a Belarusian Popular Front activist, was quoted as saying. JM


As the opposition demonstrators started to disperse, unidentified plainclothes policemen emerged from nearby automobiles and attacked many of the demonstrators, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Witnesses say the police arrested some 20 protesters from the Belarusian Popular Front, including its acting chairman Lyavon Barshchewski and deputy chairman Yury Khadyka. Some 200 members of the front's youth branch tried to march toward the president's residence, but they were beaten and dispersed by about 150 riot policemen armed with batons and shields. JM


Belarusian businessman Alyaksandr Pupeyka told an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw on 2 April that he has been granted political asylum in Poland. Earlier this year, Pupeyka fled Belarus for Poland after the Belarusian authorities accused him of grand larceny. Pupeyka, who supported the Belarusian opposition, claims the charges are politically motivated. Pupeyka told the press last month that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has deposits in foreign banks, causing a stir in Minsk. JM


"Poland is interested in supporting Lithuania in its strategic decisions on entering EU and NATO," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told journalists after meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus in Warsaw, Reuters reported on 2 April. Adamkus, who was elected to the presidency in January, was making his first trip abroad in his new capacity. JM


Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz says Warsaw and Bratislava have agreed to increase military and technical cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Onyszkiewicz spoke after meeting with his Slovak counterpart, Jan Sitek, in Warsaw on 2 April. They also agreed to modernize military equipment to meet NATO standards. Slovakia offered to supply Poland with armaments, while Poland said it is ready to discuss deliveries of communications technology, helicopters, and aircraft for training. "We consider Slovakia a state seeking to join the North Atlantic Alliance," Onyszkiewicz assured Sitek. JM.


Tallinn City Council Chairman Edgar Savisaar and three deputy mayors, all members of the Center Party, have survived a no confidence vote, ETA and BNS reported on 2 April. Mayor Ivi Eenmaa, a leading member of the Coalition Party and one of the initiators of the vote, said she has no intention to resign. She also said she has no problem cooperating with the centrists but was dissatisfied with the work of the three deputy mayors. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Mart Siimann had said on national television that "power games" in the Tallinn council were forcing him to start talks with political parties aimed at securing the country's stability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998). Siimann's Coalition Party is currently negotiating with the Reform Party on expanding the ruling coalition. JC


The U.S. has offered the services of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help Latvian authorities find those responsible for the 2 April bombing of the Riga synagogue. The Latvian Prosecutor General's Office is to oversee a nine-member working group that will investigate the bombing. U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, on an unofficial visit to Latvia on 2 April, visited the synagogue and described the attack as cowardly. Latvia's president, prime minister, and foreign minister have all condemned the bombing, while the Simon Wiesenthal Center has said it suspects the blast is "connected" with the recent anniversary parade by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion. Meanwhile, the police chief and state secretary of the Interior Ministry have been suspended for failing to ensure the security of the synagogue after a swastika was painted on its facade last year. JC


Vaclav Havel signed a decree on 2 April calling for early elections to the lower house of the parliament to be held on 19 -20 June, Reuters reported. Havel said he believes early elections will lead to a "clarification of the composition of political powers in our country." Last week, Havel signed a constitutional amendment reducing the mandates of current deputies to two years. The opposition Social Democrats continue to head opinion polls, although their lead has fallen recently due to allegations of influence-peddling by party leader Milos Zeman. PB


More than 100,000 people have so far signed a petition calling for the direct election of the president, RFE/RL's Slovak Service reported on 2 April. Organizers of the petition drive, which was launched last week and is sponsored by the opposition blocs Slovak Democratic Coalition and Hungarian Coalition, are seeking to collect 500,000 signatures. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said on 2 April that neither he nor parliamentary chairman Ivan Gasparovic will stand as presidential candidates because they want to concentrate on campaigning for the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. PB


Government spokesman Elemer Kiss told journalists on 3 April that the cabinet will not appeal to the Constitutional Court over the 1 April ruling by the National Election Committee that a referendum will be held on building the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam if 200,000 signatures are collected. Kiss said, however, that the cabinet disagrees with the timing of such a vote, saying it should have been held in 1993, before Hungary and Slovakia agreed to settle the conflict at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The Together for Hungary Union launched the initiative for a referendum on the controversial dam. MZS


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 2 April that "today, Kosovo is caught up in a vicious cycle. First, there is Serb repression. Then, [Albanian] extremists wage hit-and-run attacks against Serb authorities. Then, Serb special police strike back with summary executions, house demolitions and helicopter gunship attacks. For the Balkans, this escalating violence is the road back to Hell. Unless stopped, tensions will flow out of control. The result could be a full-fledged civil war, putting at risk the peace in Bosnia and spreading conflict like an infectious disease to neighboring states." PM


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic sent a letter to Serbian leaders on 2 April asking them to call a referendum on the question: "Do you accept the participation of foreign representatives in the resolution of the problems in Kosovo?" The letter made it clear that Milosevic wants a demonstration of popular support for his policies in Kosovo, including his refusal to allow foreign involvement in what he regards as an internal affair of Serbia. He charged that "those who want to dictate to the entire world how it should live and even think have an extremely negative and aggressive stand toward our determined position to resolve our problems as a sovereign state." Milosevic added that over the past few days, "we have heard how [the unnamed foreigners]...even love us and are sorry that the people will be subject to pressures." PM


The Serbian parliament will meet on 6 April to discuss Milosevic's proposal, Serbian news agencies reported on 2 April. If the legislature agrees with Milosevic, as seems most likely, the referendum could be held as early as May or as late as August, Tanjug added. Serbian President Milan Milutinovic praised Milosevic's proposal, as did Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. But in Pristina, Fehmi Agani and other leading Kosovar spokesmen dismissed the idea as "a cynical propaganda exercise" and an effort to buy time. The Kosovar leaders added that they will call for a boycott of the referendum. PM


NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Sofia on 3 April: "my reaction to [Milosevic's referendum] proposal is very negative. This is a maneuver to waste time and increase a risk of conflict. We think this is just another mistake by President Milosevic." PM


Serbian paramilitary police recently brought heavy guns into the area near Kosovar villages in the Drenica region, where the Serbs began the current crackdown on 28 February, the satellite television station "Euro News" reported on 3 April. The broadcast quoted local Kosovars as saying that no international aid has reached Drenica this month. The Kosovars added that Serbian police roadblocks prevent food from reaching the region and that local people have no alternative but to smuggle food through Serbian lines at night. PM


Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Paris on 3 April that "the current pressure is not enough to bend Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A financial embargo, including a freeze of Serb assets abroad, should be added." Nano added that Kosovo should be made an autonomous republic within Yugoslavia. He rejected the idea of a greater Albania and called for a dialogue mediated by the U.S., the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the EU. Nano noted that OSCE monitors are stationed on Albania's frontier with Yugoslavia and that arms "smuggling is completely blocked, as far as it can ever be in a mountainous area." PM


More than 400 French and Italian troops backed by 15 tanks, 80 other military vehicles, and several helicopters occupied the Bosnian Serb hard-liners' stronghold of Pale on 2 April. SFOR spokesmen said that the operation was a routine inspection to monitor illegal weapons and that nothing was seized. Local and foreign observers suggested that the real aim of the mission was to intimidate ultranationalist leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, who lives in Pale. Karadzic's security forces are no longer as formidable as they were before the Bosnian Serb government moved from Pale to Banja Luka, "Nasa Borba" reported on 3 April. PM


The opposition political party Istrian Democratic League will soon introduce a bill aimed at banning the display of portraits, emblems and symbols associated with the fascist Ustasha movement and its wartime Axis-puppet state. The bill would also forbid political parties and "other activities" portraying that state in a positive light, "Slobodna Dalmacija" wrote on 3 April. The draft law calls for establishing a 15-member "De-Ustashization Commission" in the parliament. The Split daily added that the bill is likely to evoke negative comments from most leading politicians because they fear that a public discussion of the Ustasha issue could lead to unnecessary negative publicity for Croatia. Anto Djapic, the leader of the small pro- Ustasha Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights, told "Vjesnik" of 3 April that the real purpose of the bill is to ban his party. PM


Several thousand opposition supporters took part in a rally in Shkoder on 2 April to mark the seventh anniversary of the killing of four anti-communist protesters by police in that city, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. The four were protesting the election victory of the communist Party of Labor of Albania in the country's first multiparty elections since World War II. The 1991 protests sparked an uprising that forced the government to resign and call new elections the following year. FS


Belul Celo, who was interior minister from March to July 1997 interim government, left Albania after being summoned to the Military Prosecutor's Office. Celo had been asked to testify about the role of the elite Presidential Guard during the unrest in March 1997, "Republika" reported on 3 April. Celo may be held responsible for atrocities that the Presidential Guard committed during the unrest. The Socialist Party daily "Zeri i Popullit," however, claimed on 2 April that Celo is hiding, possibly in Greece, from former Guard members who threatened him after he gave testimony on the unrest to the prosecutor's office. FS


Romanian Prime Minister-designate Radu Vasile began talks with coalition parties on forming a new government on 2 April. Under the constitution, Vasile has 10 days in which to submit a government to the parliament for approval. Vasile said after being confirmed as premier- designate that he will govern with "speed and authority." He also pledged that his government will differ from the cabinet of Victor Ciorbea, whom Vasile criticized in an interview with "Libertatea" for his "incompetence and laxness." Opposition leader and former President Ion Iliescu said the "causes of the political and economic crisis will persist" as long as the current coalition is in power, regardless of who is prime minister. PB


Romanian President Emil Constantinescu told visiting NATO Secretary-General Solana that the price of expanding the alliance into Eastern Europe is worth paying, AFP reported on 2 April. Constantinescu said the costs for Western countries are often overestimated, and that Bucharest would pay much more on defense if it were not in NATO. Solana said that the political crisis Romania is currently experiencing is common in Europe and should not be dramatized. PB


Bulgarian Deputy Premier Yevgeni Bakardjiev has said Sofia will sign a deal with Royal Dutch Shell International that will help break the Russian monopoly on gas supplies to Bulgaria, AFP reported on 2 April. Bakardjiev, who was returning from meetings with Shell in Holland, said that Sofia will own a section of a pipeline that is to run from Turkmenistan to Germany and transits Bulgaria. The pipeline will take four years to build. Bulgaria imported some 6.5 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia last year and has encountered difficulties making payments to Moscow on time. PB


Nadezhda Mihailova said on 2 April that Bulgaria will do everything NATO asks in order to prepare for membership in the alliance. Mihailova said she assured visiting NATO Secretary-General Solana that the government, parliament, and president will fully cooperate so that the country is ready for the next round of NATO expansion. Solana, who is on a two-day visit to Sofia, said that NATO's "door is open" for all states in a second round of enlargement. PB


by Floriana Fossato

Russian President Boris Yeltsin this week repeated that he will not seek a third term in office in the next presidential election. But he flatly refused to confirm ousted Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as his chosen successor.

"You speak about succession when it concerns royalty. Here the people make the choice," Yeltsin said in his first official reaction since Chernomyrdin announced in a television interview on 28 March that he plans to run in that election. Chernomyrdin had said he "understood" he would have Yeltsin's support if he ran for the presidency, but he admitted that the president had not clearly designated him as a successor. Yeltsin, for his part, said only that Chernomyrdin's plans "do not fall outside the general practice of our policy or the president's thoughts."

Yeltsin, 67, has made contradictory statements about his own plans for the next presidential elections. In recent months, he has repeatedly said he does not plan to run. But most Russian politicians and observers have said they find it hard to believe that Yeltsin would consider leaving his grip on power.

However, Yeltsin said there was "something not quite right" with Chernomyrdin's declaration that he himself would stand.

Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, told RFE/RL that Yeltsin's statement was meant to make clear that, in the president's view, Chernomyrdin "has been removed as he was a threat to Yeltsin." The president, Petrov argues, may still "change the tone of his statements and run himself." Chernomyrdin's best chance now will be to act as the chief presidential campaigner on Yeltsin's behalf, as presidential aides Oleg Soskovets and Sergei Filatov have done in the past, according to Petrov.

However, other observers interpret Yeltsin's moves since last week as a sign that the president has given Chernomyrdin the chance to prove he would be a worthy candidate of the so-called party of power, provided that he makes clear he can find support for his candidacy. Immediately after Chernomyrdin was fired, many Russian politicians and analysts were quick to write him off, saying he lacks charisma. They added that powerful Moscow and regional officials who had joined Chernomyrdin's political movement, Our Home is Russia, would be quick to withdraw their support after Chernomyrdin's ouster.

But, Chernomyrdin immediately made it clear that he will soon launch his presidential candidacy--with or without Yeltsin's blessing. At a meeting of Our Home Is Russia two days after being fired, Chernomyrdin said that "for many years, you have known me as Russia's Number 2, after the president. Believe me, that was not an easy part to play. But now, nobody can hold me back. From now on my style will be uninhibited and it will be that way as long as I stay healthy."

Chernomyrdin's statement appears to be a direct response to warnings made after his ousting by businessman Boris Berezovskii. "If Chernomyrdin demonstrates will and strength, he will have a lot of supporters," Berezovskii said. "He has an opportunity to fully use his potential popularity in this country and abroad.... But, then, he has to bear in mind that power is not given, it is taken." Following the television interview in which Chernomyrdin announced his intention to run, Berezovskii seemed to give his endorsement, saying that "Chernomyrdin has changed from being a premier to being a genuinely powerful political leader."

Chernomyrdin will need as much qualified support as possible from business circles willing to bankroll his campaign and improve his image through the media assets they control. A nationwide poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation last week showed Chernomyrdin with 6 percent support in a hypothetical presidential election.

Chernomyrdin's "natural" base of support includes Gazprom, the gas giant that he helped create and led until his appointment to the cabinet in December 1992, as well as other Soviet-era industrial complexes. Some analysts say that base would guarantee him the financial funding and media coverage needed to campaign effectively. Others remark, however, that the Gazprom leadership is likely to consider several factors, including political developments surrounding the formation of the new cabinet and Chernomyrdin's standing in opinion polls, before making a final decision. And if Gazprom gives its support, the company's growing media arm--Gazprom Media Holding-- may also come out in support of Chernomyrdin.

Meanwhile, Andrei Vavilov, who was recently appointed as financial adviser to Gazprom, said he thinks Chernomyrdin will likely have the support of the company's leadership. "I don't decide for Gazprom, but it seems to me that the leadership supports Chernomyrdin," said Vavilov. He added that Chernomyrdin may return to hold an unspecified post in the leadership of the company.

Stephen O' Sullivan, an analyst at MC Securities in London, told Reuters that he doubts Gazprom will say anything significant in public until the company has carefully analyzed the situation--to assess which way the political wind is blowing.

The next presidential election is scheduled for June 2000. Looking like a contender for more than two years could prove to be one Chernomyrdin's main obstacles to winning the election, assuming, that is, that Yeltsin's health does not falter dramatically. As for the incumbent president, he enigmatically said on 1 April said that "some start sooner, some later." The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.