Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 28, 1998


Aleksandr Kotenkov, President Boris Yeltsin's representative in the State Duma, announced on 27 April that the new cabinet will be far "younger" than the government of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russian news agencies reported. Russian commentators have named many Duma deputies as possible ministers in Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's cabinet. Kotenkov said that "there are many worthy people" in the Duma but argued that only around 10 of them are "fit for ministerial posts." Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction, submitted his faction's proposals on the composition of the new cabinet during a 27 April meeting with Kirienko, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin is expected to make the first appointments following a 28 April meeting with the prime minister. LB


Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 27 April stepped up his efforts to obtain cabinet appointments for members of his party. He claimed that the LDPR faction, which unanimously voted to confirm Kirienko on 24 April, persuaded 30 deputies from other Duma factions to support Kirienko, Interfax reported. Zhirinovsky told journalists that he is to meet with Kirienko to discuss the composition of the government, although he acknowledged that the premier has not offered any specific cabinet posts to his party. Meanwhile, senior Communist Party official Valentin Kuptsov told Interfax that Kirienko did not hold consultations with Communist leaders on 27 April. The Yabloko faction's press service said Kirienko has not sought to meet with the Yabloko faction to discuss cabinet appointments. LB


Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev says Communist Duma deputies who defied party discipline to vote for Kirienko on 24 April will not be punished, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 27 April. Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has said the party will consider expelling members who supported Kirienko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). However, Seleznev said "score-settling" would have "grave consequences" for the party. Citing unnamed Communist sources, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 April that the party leadership planned for Kirienko to be confirmed in the third Duma vote and approved in advance a list of Communist deputies who were to support his candidacy. However, the sources said Communist leaders wanted Kirienko to be approved by a very narrow margin and were dismayed when he won confirmation easily, with 25 votes to spare. LB


In an interview with NTV on 26 April, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valerii Zubov said he intends to warn voters that if former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed becomes governor, the vast resources of Krasnoyarsk will be used "for political ends rather than for the good of the krai." Lebed outpolled Zubov by a margin of 10 percent in the first round and is the favorite going into the runoff election. The opposition newspaper "Pravda" argued on 28 April that Lebed's financial backers, who reportedly include businessman Boris Berezovskii and Lev and Mikhail Chernyi, powerful figures in the aluminum industry, plan to "use" Lebed to gain control over government institutions. In an interview with the French daily "Le Figaro" on 28 April, Lebed said influential businessmen are financing his campaign because they "have had enough of living in a country where to be rich is dangerous for your health," AFP reported. LB


The Sociology Department of Moscow State University awarded Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Zhirinovsky a doctorate following his defense on 24 April. In lieu of a single doctoral thesis, Zhirinovsky submitted 10 small books and numerous newspaper articles on the subject of "The Past, Present, and Future of the Russian Nation." For a successful defense, he needed the support of two-thirds of the 15- member faculty committee. "Izvestiya" reported on 28 April that he barely cleared that hurdle, with the scholars voting 10 to four with one abstention to give him the title. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has also received a doctoral degree from Moscow State University. LB


Sergei Belyaev, former leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) Duma faction, says his new movement, the Russian Progressive Union, seeks to unite all "constructive" forces in society, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 April. Belyaev convened a session of the political council of his movement on 25 April, the same day that the NDR held its fifth congress. Belyaev fell out with the NDR last year and sharply criticized then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 1 September 1997). But he failed to attract enough defectors from the NDR to set up a new Duma faction, and the Russian Progressive Union so far has neither significant financial backing nor a broad base of supporters. LB


Dmitrii Ayatskov on 27 April announced plans to create his own party, which will aim to unite all "democratically inclined" parties and public associations, ITAR-TASS reported. Ayatskov is believed to have political ambitions at the federal level. During the 25 April NDR congress, he advocated naming "at least three" potential presidential candidates from the ranks of the NDR. (The NDR has confirmed that it will back Chernomyrdin's presidential bid in 2000.) Ayatskov's party may come to dominate politics in Saratov, but like many previous attempts to unite Russia's "democratic forces," it is unlikely to have an impact nationwide. Last year, former Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko announced that his Reforms-- New Course movement and the NDR were forming a Union of Progressive Reformist Forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1997), but little has since been heard about that union. LB


The foreign ministers of the EU member states agreed during a 27 April meeting in Luxembourg to stop classifying Russia as a non-market economy, Reuters reported. The change will allow Russian industries to be considered on a case- by-case basis when the EU is weighing whether anti- dumping penalties are justified. Sir Leon Brittan, the European trade commissioner, announced that the change, which also applies to China, reflects the fact that "Russia and China have made real economic progress toward becoming market economies." However, a statement issued by the European Commission noted that "the onus is upon the exporter to demonstrate that it is operating in market economy conditions." Russian officials are likely to be pleased with the change, despite having sought a broader recognition of Russia as a market economy in general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1998). LB


Addressing the eighth annual congress of the Association of Russian Banks, the association's president, Sergei Yegorov, said the combined capital of Russian commercial banks rose 26.5 percent in 1997 and totaled 112.3 billion new rubles ($19 billion) as of 1 January 1998, Interfax reported on 27 April. At the same time, the public's confidence in Russian banks and in the ruble appears to be limited. Speaking to the congress, Inkombank head Vladimir Vinogradov estimated that Russian citizens held some $35 billion worth of foreign currency in cash as of 1 January. Yegorov said it has become much easier for Russian businesses to borrow money, as annual interest rates for three-month commercial loans issued by banks have dropped from roughly 66 percent to 25 percent. However, real interest rates remain extremely high, since inflation in 1998 is expected to total less than 10 percent. LB


Yegorov told delegates to the congress of the Association of Russian Banks that the Central Bank stripped 333 credit institutions of their licenses in 1997 and that the figure could be higher this year, Interfax reported. He said that since 1994, a total of 922 banks and lending institutions have had their licenses revoked. In his speech to the 27 April congress, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin said 25 percent of Russian banks have "serious problems" but added that those banks have a combined total of only 5 percent of all assets in the banking system, ITAR-TASS reported. During his trip to Washington earlier this month, Dubinin predicted that 350- 400 Russian commercial banks will be closed over the next two years. As of January 1998, there were some 1,700 commercial banks in Russia. LB


A Moscow municipal court has ordered that the poet Alina Vitukhnovskaya be released from prison on 27 April, three days after she was convicted on charges of possessing a small quantity of drugs with the intent to sell them, ITAR-TASS and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Vitukhnovskaya was sentenced to 18 months in prison but released because she spent 18 months behind bars awaiting trial and has reportedly expressed the intention to commit suicide. She was first arrested in October 1994, released a year later, and arrested again last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). Her case has drawn protests from the Moscow PEN center and international writers' groups, who have accused law enforcement authorities of planting evidence against Vitukhnovskaya and pressuring her to reveal her sources for an article she wrote in 1994 about drug-taking. LB


Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov and his Swiss counterpart, Carla del Ponte, signed a memorandum on 24 April aimed at fighting organized crime and money laundering, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Del Ponte, Swiss banks may currently be holding billions of illegally gained dollars. Skuratov said such money may be returned to Russia once it is proven to have been acquired illegally. The agreement provides for a better exchange of information on organized crime and will help in locating "criminal money" in Swiss banks. But Del Ponte stressed that no one will violate the secrecy of Swiss bank deposits. BP


The Duma on 24 April voted unanimously to send a letter to the German government on "the inadmissibility of destroying monuments to Soviet soldiers who perished" during World War Two, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Valerii Varennikov, chairman of the Duma Veteran's Committee, said "destruction of several monuments to Soviet troops killed on German territory gives rise to concern." He noted that Germany signed an agreement with Russia in 1992 providing for the maintenance of the graves of military servicemen. The German government is currently debating closing down a memorial due to lack of financing. Varennikov said that for those who fought in the war, the monument has value as "a symbol of the victory over German fascism." BP


Russian and Chechen government officials reached an agreement on 24 April on the export of Azerbaijani oil via the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline, Interfax reported. Spokesmen for the Russian pipeline company Transneft, which operates that pipeline, said that it will handle as much oil as Baku wants but that agreement has not been reached on the transit tariff that Chechnya will receive. But Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, Chechen presidential adviser for fuel and energy, told Interfax that the pipeline will transport 2.2 million metric tons of oil in 1998 and that Chechnya will receive $3.58 per metric ton. Last year, Chechnya transported 200,000 metric tons of crude for which it received $0.43 per metric ton plus $854,000 toward the cost of renovating the pipeline. LF


Smolensk Mayor and Communist Party candidate Aleksandr Prokhorov has a commanding lead going into the second round of the gubernatorial election in Smolensk Oblast, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 April. According to the preliminary results of the first round of the election, held on 26 April, Prokhorov gained 46.5 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, incumbent Governor Anatolii Glushenkov, garnered just 26.9 percent and is not expected to win the runoff election, to be held in May. The strong showing for Prokhorov is consistent with recent election trends in Smolensk. The Communist Party gained 32 percent support in the oblast in the 1995 Duma elections, and Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov outpolled Yeltsin in the oblast in the 1996 presidential election by 56 percent to 38 percent. LB


Leonid Potapov has signed a decree ordering that Buryatia's voters be asked whether they support a four- year moratorium on the purchase and sale of farmland in the republic, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 April. The referendum will be held on 21 June, the same day as presidential and legislative elections are scheduled in Buryatia. Yeltsin supports the right to buy and sell farmland, but such far-reaching land reform is unpopular in many largely agricultural regions of the country, such as Buryatia. LB


At their summit in Trabzon on 26 April, Heidar Aliev, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Suleyman Demirel affirmed their collective support for the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline as the optimum means of exporting Caspian oil. They also stressed their commitment to the TRACECA project, including the planned rail link from the south Georgian town of Akhalkalaki to Kars, and their readiness to cooperate to resolve regional conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia while preserving the territorial integrity of the states involved. The three presidents noted that deepening neighborly relations is a necessary precondition for peace, stability, and economic development throughout the Caucasus. LF


Shevardnadze on 27 April named Colonel David Tevzadze, head of the Georgian military inspectorate, to succeed Vardiko Nadibaidze as defense minister. Tevzadze joined the Georgian military during the early 1990s after graduating from NATO training courses and a U.S. military college. Shevardnadze fired Nadibaidze for his failure to provide military aircraft to escort Shevardnadze's plane to Trabzon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). LF


Shevardnadze has denied that either he or former Prime Minister Otar Patsatsia were culpable to any extent in the sale of nine Georgian ships, saying he is as "pure as Christ," Caucasus Press reported on 27 April. Shevardnadze was responding to allegations made by Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze at a press conference in Batumi on 24 April that the president made a huge personal profit from those sales. Shevardnadze said that he had issued an edict empowering the Georgian navigation department to sell the vessels for scrap in order to finance the purchase of new ones. LF


Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 27 April that Abkhazia will refuse to endorse any ruling adopted at the 29 April CIS summit revising the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia unless such a ruling is coordinated beforehand with the Abkhaz leadership, Interfax reported. A draft document on resolving the conflict was approved by Abkhazia and subsequently amended without consulting the Abkhaz leadership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 8, 1998). Meanwhile the chief of police in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi has appealed to the local branch of the youth wing of the Union of Citizens of Georgia to abandon plans to hold a mass demonstration on 29 April at the Rukhi bridge on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The police fear violent reprisals by the Abkhaz, Caucasus Press reported on 28 April. LF


Lawmakers on 27 April approved in the first reading a bill permitting citizens to acquire non-automatic weapons provided that they have a license from the local police, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The draft law also permits the production of and private trade in such arms but imposes restrictions on the purchase of ammunition. Razmik Martirosian, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security and a member of the majority Yerkrapah group, argued in favor of the bill. State and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Viktor Dallakian, also a member of the Yerkrapah group, opposed it, arguing it will contribute to an upsurge in violent crime. LF


Fazail Agamaly, chairman of the pro-government Ana Vatan Party, has advocated creating a confederation of the Azerbajian Republic and Iranian Azerbaijan as the first step toward unification of the two regions, Turan reported on 27 April. In December 1997, former President Abulfaz Elchibey founded the Single Azerbaijan Union to lobby for the unification of the two Azerbaijans. Speaking at Ana Vatan's third congress in Baku on 25 April, Agamaly expressed support for the leadership of President Heidar Aliev, in whose favor he rejected a bid by delegates to nominate his candidacy for the October presidential elections. Agamaly also affirmed that if a peaceful solution is not found to the Karabakh conflict, "we are all ready to put on full-dress uniforms." LF


Meeting in Beijing on 27 April, Askar Akayev and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, signed a declaration of friendship and vowed to further improve ties, RFE/RL correspondents in the Chinese capital reported. The two presidents also exchanged the ratification instruments of the border demarcation agreements they signed in June 1996. China has promised to invest 100 million yuan (some $8 million) to build a factory producing cardboard in the Kyrgyz city of Tokmok, near Bishkek and will provide a 1 million yuan grant to help develop the Kyrgyz health care system. Akayev said his government "stands wholly on the side of China and firmly opposes national separatism and religious extremism," a reference to China's western Xinjiang Province, which is inhabited mostly by Turkic Muslim peoples and borders Kyrgyzstan, AFP reported. BP


Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said at a press conference in Tehran on 27 April that his country will "at the first opportunity" ask Turkmenistan about a deal to build a pipeline on the bed of the Caspian Sea with help from the U.S., AFP and Iranian Television reported. Kharazi said that once Turkmen authorities have clarified the details of the agreement, Iran will "adopt a position." He noted that both his country and Russia are opposed to such a pipeline "because of environmental considerations." Last week, the Iranian ambassador to Russia complained about a Russian-Kazakh proposal for dividing the sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). BP


Kazakh Defense Minister General Mukhtar Altynbayev told reporters on 27 April that his country is considering selling military hardware inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Reuters reported. Altynbayev admitted that the weaponry is outdated and that "therefore it looks like third-world countries will buy [it]." Reuters quotes an unnamed Kazakh army colonel as saying MiG-21 and MiG-25 fighters would retail for $150,000-180,000 and Mi-8 helicopters for $70,000. BP


Chornobyl nuclear plant director Serhiy Parashyn has announced that the restarting of the plant's third reactor following repairs will be postponed until mid- May, Ukrainian Television reported on 27 April. According to Parashyn, the European Bank For Reconstruction and Development requested the postponement on behalf of the 3,000 delegates who are to attend an EBRD annual conference in Kyiv in 8-12 May and fear for their safety. French experts have found cracks in the reactor's circulation system, Western news agencies reported last week. JM


Opposition politicians, journalists, and writers have set up a Belarusian Association of Prisoners of the Lukashenka Regime in Minsk, Belapan reported on 26 April. The association unites people who have been imprisoned for political activities under the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. It includes poet Slavamir Adamovich, journalist Pavel Sharamet, and Belarusian Popular Front Deputy Chairman Yury Khadyka. The organization has adopted a statement demanding that trials of current political prisoners be fully open. JM


Pavel Karnazytski, the 22-year-old former chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party youth organization, disclosed at a news conference in Minsk on 24 April that he had rejected an attempt by the Belarusian KGB to recruit him, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Karnazytski said he resigned his party post after he was approached by a man who identified himself as KGB Captain "Uhulanitsa" and showed him a document bearing Karnazytski's signature under an alleged agreement to work for the KGB. He claims he never agreed to work for the organization but recalls that he was abducted last summer by Uhulanitsa and several other men in civilian clothes, who interrogated and sought to intimidate him. Karnazytski said he passed out and regained consciousness on a park bench in the city center. JM


Toomas Hendrik Ilves told visiting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on 27 April that the EU should come out in support of Latvia, ETA reported. Ilves said that in the current situation, Latvia needs the firm backing of the EU, which last week advised Russia not to use trade and economic sanctions against Latvia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). According to the Estonian foreign minister, since Tallinn began accession talks with the EU, Estonian- Russian relations have started to improve. JC


In their first direct contact, Boris Yeltsin and Valdas Adamkus discussed bilateral relations by telephone on 27 April, BNS and ITAR-TASS reported. According to the Lithuanian presidential office, the two leaders expressed the desire to further develop those relations in the spirit of good neighborliness, stressing the need for political dialogue, expanding trade links, and boosting cooperation between Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast. The Kremlin press office reported that they also focused on Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius's visit to Moscow in June. With regard to Russian-Latvian relations, the Baltic news agency quoted Adamkus as telling Yeltsin that he believes Riga will take the necessary steps to ensure the rights of ethnic minorities, while Yeltsin expressed the hope that Latvia will follow Lithuania's example. JC


Some 100 members of the right- wing August 80 Free Trade Union have protested the government's plan to cut jobs and streamline production in the coal mining sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 21 April 1998), "Zycie Warszawy" reported. Gathering in Katowice, the protesters burned the EU flag and threw eggs at a building where an international conference attended by EU officials was taking place. They then stormed the Solidarity regional headquarters and broke into Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski's office. The trade unionists fear the restructuring announced by the Solidarity-led government will "liquidate the Polish coal mining industry." JM


Ryszard Kuklinski, Poland's most famous spy for the CIA during the communist era, visited his homeland on 27 April after 17 years in exile. Kuklinski fled Poland in 1981 after informing the CIA about the communist regime's plan to impose martial law. A Polish military court sentenced him to death on charges of treason and desertion. He was fully rehabilitated only in September 1997. A recent opinion poll in Poland showed that more than 25 percent of Poles still think Kuklinski committed treason. On his arrival, Kuklinski was welcomed by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. He is to tour six Polish cities. JM


According to an opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research, support for joining NATO in the Czech Republic dropped from 54 percent in March to 50 percent this month. Of those who support membership in the alliance, 22 percent said the government should "definitely try to join the alliance" and 28 percent said it "should try to join" it, CTK reported. MS


Slovakia's state-owned electricity company on 27 April started loading nuclear fuel into a reactor at the Mochovce power plant, Reuters reported. But after meeting with Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima in Vienna the same day, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told journalists he has ordered the loading to stop. An Austrian team of experts is to check the safety of the plant on 5-7 May. Meciar did not say whether Slovakia would take any action if the team found the plant to be unsafe. The Soviet-designed nuclear plant, which is due to begin operating this summer, is close to the Austrian border and has been the target of protests by anti-nuclear activists from both countries. MS


In his first trip abroad as Ukrainian foreign minister, Boris Tarasyuk said in Budapest on 27 April that his country supports a pro-European foreign policy, Hungarian media reported. Tarasyuk's Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, said Hungary has a vested interest in seeing a democratic, independent, and stable Ukraine and seeks to expand bilateral trade, border cooperation, and joint efforts toward fighting organized crime. He told Tarasyuk that Hungary will support Ukraine's integration into international bodies such as the EU and NATO and asked him to continue pursuing minority policies that are in line with European norms. MSZ


The governing Socialists are considered the most suitable party to head a government, but the public is more sympathetic to the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP), according to the results of a poll published in the 28 April "Nepszava." FIDESZ-MPP is the favored party of intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and young people, while older people and pensioners tend to prefer the Socialists. "Magyar Nemzet" reports that the Socialists' support outweighs that of FIDESZ-MPP in Budapest and in villages, while FIDESZ-MPP leads in medium-sized towns. The two parties are leading all opinion polls ahead of the 10 May general elections. MSZ


An unnamed top U.S. official said in Washington on 27 April that the U.S. will propose a package of both positive and negative incentives at the international Contact Group meeting in Rome on 29 April. The aim of the measures is to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end the violence in Kosova and launch talks with representatives of the ethnic Albanian majority there about the province's future. The official said that Washington is prepared "to show much more leadership" on the political and diplomatic fronts if the Contact Group does not accept the package unaltered. The official stressed that "consensus is not [Washington's] goal; a strong substantive package is the goal. We will not settle for an agreement just for the sake of an agreement. We will not settle for a lowest common denominator solution." PM


The foreign ministers of the EU member countries agreed in Luxembourg on 27 April to ban the export of police equipment and armored vehicles to Serbia and to deny visas to Serbian officials. The ministers turned down a proposal to freeze export credits already approved for Belgrade, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. They took no decision on a proposed freeze of Serbian assets abroad. The ministers praised Macedonia as a "stabilizing factor" in the Balkans and approved an emergency credit of $3.3 million for Montenegro. They agreed that there has been no improvement in relations between the EU on the one hand and Bosnia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia on the other. Meanwhile in Thessaloniki, Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos said that Kosova is "a hand grenade, and if we pull the pin just a little bit more, it will explode." PM


Daan Everts, who is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's ambassador to Albania, said in Tirana on 27 April that he calls into question Serbian charges that large numbers of fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) recently crossed into Yugoslavia from Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). Everts added that "that must have been an incident much deeper [within Kosova]. I haven't even seen proper confirmation there, and it's been all Serb sources. There is reason to be suspicious of this reporting out of that area unless it is really documented properly." The ambassador argued that Albania does not support hostile acts against Yugoslavia and has shown "great restraint" in the Kosovar crisis. Everts suggested that Belgrade wants world opinion to think that Albania is partly responsible for the crisis in order to reduce pressures for new sanctions against Yugoslavia. PM


In Prishtina, Kosovar spokesmen said on 27 April that some of the bodies of Kosovars killed in recent days by the Serbian paramilitary police and the Yugoslav army have no bullet wounds. The spokesmen charged that the authorities executed the ethnic Albanians well inside Yugoslav territory after capturing them in recent raids on villages. Also in the Kosovar capital, the leading Democratic League of Kosova said in a statement that the Serbian campaign of violence and "psychological warfare" is aimed at promoting "ethnic cleansing" by forcing Kosovars to flee the province. Meanwhile in Moscow, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov stated on 28 April that his ministry "possesses information that there are camps for training terrorists in Albania" and that this information is known to all the Contact Group countries, ITAR-TASS reported. PM


Albanian Interior Ministry officials told "Koha Jone" and "Gazeta Shqiptare" on 27 April that approximately 10 soldiers entered the village of Pogaj in the Has Mountains from Kosova in the night of 25 April. Villagers told police that the soldiers wore masks, spoke broken Albanian and claimed to be from the UCK. The men asked the villagers about where to make contact with UCK fighters in Albania, to which the villagers did not reply. The intruders then asked some locals to guide them back into Kosova, which the villagers refused to do. The villagers, suspecting that the visitors were Serbian soldiers on an intelligence mission, alerted the Albanian police. FS


Montenegrin Information Minister Bozidar Jaredic said in a 27 April letter to his Yugoslav counterpart, Goran Matic, that Montenegro will not relay the signals of the federal station RTJ, which went on the air the same day. Jaredic said Podgorica has no objection to creating a federal television station, but he added that it must be independent and its activities transparent. He noted that Montenegro has no say in the activities of RTJ, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica. PM


German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in a letter to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman on 27 April that he expects Croatia to help end attacks by Croats in Drvar against recently returned Serbian refugees. "I ask you to urgently help to put an immediate end to the violence against Serbs.... This recalls the time of ethnic cleansing [which] must not be repeated." Kinkel added that it is "not acceptable that Serbian apartments be ransacked and possessions torched" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). Meanwhile in Tuzla, a UN police spokesman said on 28 April that peacekeepers removed the Serbian roadblock on the Doboj-Tuzla highway during the night and that Muslims took down their own roadblock at the same time. PM


A roundtable that included representatives of Albania's main political parties failed to draft a joint resolution on Kosova in time for the 29 April Contact Group meeting. The session broke up after Democratic Party General Secretary Ridvan Bode demanded the resignation of the current government and the setting up of a new government of experts to "defend pan-national interests." Government representatives at the roundtable declined to discuss that demand, BETA news agency reported. FS


The Constitutional Court on 27 April elected Socialist legislator Fehmi Abdiu as chief justice, Albanian state-run television reported. Abdiu, who is currently head of the parliament's legal commission, replaces Rustem Gjata. Legislators voted to sack Gjata last month after the parliamentary lustration committee charged him with having cooperated with the communist- era secret service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1998). FS


Poul Thompsen, who is on a three-day visit to Romania, met with Premier Radu Vasile and Finance Minister Daniel Daianu on 27 April, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Daianu told journalists that Thompsen's visit was aimed not at negotiating the terms of a new stand-by loan but at "getting acquainted" with the new government and its program. He added that a team of IMF negotiators will come to Bucharest at a later date to discuss the terms of a new stand-by agreement. Vasile said last week that Romania would like the IMF to agree to an increase in the budget deficit from 3.5 percent of GDP to about 4.5 percent. He also said Bucharest would like to negotiate a three-year stand-by accord. An existing agreement expires next month. MS


The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania is demanding that the parliament set up a special commission to investigate the "cigarette-smuggling affair," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 27 April. The same day, presidential counselors Zoe Petre and Dorin Marian asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch criminal proceedings against Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Both counselors say Tudor libeled them in the letter he addressed to several Euro-Atlantic organizations about the affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 1998). Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's office said it has issued a warrant for the arrest of Protection and Guard Service Colonel Gheorghe Trutulescu in connection with the affair. Trutulescu took leave of absence when the affair was uncovered and has not returned to his workplace. MS


Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev and visiting Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev have signed an agreement on gas deliveries, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported on 27 April. The agreement, which is valid until 2010, provides for expanding Russian pipeline transit rights across Bulgaria to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. Vyakhirev declined to give details about the price of Russian gas deliveries to Bulgaria but said some of the payment will take the form of barter trade and pipeline construction work. Gazprom recently acquired a 100 percent stake in Topenergy--the firm that had the monopoly in Bulgaria on gas supplies and was a joint venture between Gazprom, state-owned Bulgargas, and Bulgaria's private conglomerate Multigroup. MS


by Paul Goble

As the debate on NATO expansion intensifies, its supporters are pointing to the benefits it offers to new members, while its opponents are calling attention to how a larger NATO might harm Moscow's relationship with the West.

But neither side in this ongoing debate has acknowledged that the expansion of the Western alliance-- at least in the way that it is now taking place--may ultimately bring the greatest benefits not so much to the new members but to Russia itself--the country that some people suggest the alliance is still directed against.

First, in managing the expansion of NATO, Western countries have worked hard to give Moscow an unprecedented role in alliance decision-making. The NATO- Russia Charter signed last June certainly grants the Russian government a voice, if not a veto, in what the alliance will do in the future.

Indeed, as Russian diplomats have regularly pointed out, Moscow obtained a seat in NATO councils long before the alliance offered membership to any of the other former Warsaw Pact states. The new Russian presence at alliance headquarters in Brussels means that the alliance itself has been transformed even before it has expanded.

Second, in the course of the often intense public discussions about the expansion of the alliance, Western leaders have been at pains to specify what the alliance will and will not do in Eastern Europe. They have made commitments about the basing of various kinds of weaponry, the level of integration of commands, and transparency of the alliance with respect to Russia.

In virtually every case, those Western statements have been intended to reassure Moscow that, as all alliance spokesman point out, NATO is not and never will be directed against Russia. Some have even suggested that at some future time, Russia itself could join the alliance, which was created to contain its Soviet predecessor.

Consequently, even as Russian officials, politicians and commentators have complained about the growth of NATO, they have often welcomed, if far more quietly, those alliance commitments as a form of Western acknowledgment of a special Russian role in Eastern Europe and especially on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, the most thoughtful of Russian commentators have noted that the process of NATO expansion has led the West to make commitments to Moscow that it could not have made any other way.

Third, the expansion of the alliance eastward benefits Russia in ways that many Russians may not appreciate now but will likely see in the future as a major force pushing for the democratic reform of that country and its further integration into Europe. By including some of the countries of Eastern Europe into its ranks, NATO effectively removes them as possible targets for those in Russia who would like to reverse the events of recent years or at least project Russian power in ways that will likely make it more difficult for Russia to reform itself.

On the one hand, by providing a security guarantee to the new members, NATO will help transform the political debate in those countries, just as it did in Western Europe four decades ago. By taking foreign policy out of the center of that debate, NATO will give those countries both a chance to direct their primary energies to domestic affairs and the confidence to deal with Russia less as a political threat than as an economic opportunity.

And on the other hand, by defining more precisely the immediate international environment within which Moscow must operate, the Western alliance will help to limit the influence of nationalists in Russia who may be interested in reversing the changes following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But as was the case when NATO introduced forces into Bosnia, the chief beneficiaries of the alliance's preparations for expansion will be Russian reformers who find a way to use the opportunities the alliance offers rather than simply oppose it for domestic purposes.