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Newsline - July 10, 1998


The Federation Council on 10 July voted by 97 to four to support in principle the government's plan to deal with the current economic and financial crisis, Reuters reported. Of the more than 20 laws in the government's program, most have not been adopted by the State Duma and therefore cannot yet be considered by the upper house of the parliament. Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko addressed the Council on 10 July and urged deputies to support the government's plan. He warned that "the situation on financial markets has worsened, treasury bill yields are rising, social tension is also growing." He also repeated that one of the main goals of the government's policies is to shift the tax burden from industry to consumption, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 July 1998). LB


Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told the Federation Council on 10 July that the government will not sacrifice its debt servicing requirements in order to ensure the timely payment of wages to state employees, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He rejected a proposal by Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko that the government temporarily halt repayments of Russia's domestic debt in order to help solve the chronic problem of wage arrears. In his address to the upper house, Prime Minister Kirienko also said that the government is "ready to consider any proposal, but we simply cannot fail to repay treasury bills," Reuters reported. The Russian bond market has declined significantly over the last two months, forcing the government to borrow at higher interest rates and increasing future debt servicing costs. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev announced during a 10 July session of the Federation Council that the government wants to stop paying pensions to those who continue to work, ITAR-TASS reported. He said pension arrears in Russia now total 12.5 billion rubles ($2 billion) and added that the figure could rise considerably by year-end. Sysuev also claimed that working people do not receive pensions in any other country. The relatively low level of pensions, as well as their irregular payment, prompts millions of elderly people in Russia to work to supplement their incomes. On several occasions in 1997, officials announced provisional plans to reduce or eliminate pension payments to working pensioners, but each time President Boris Yeltsin or government ministers backed off from such plans (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 7 February 1997 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997). LB


In his speech to the Federation Council, Sysuev also said the government wants to return pensions to their pre- February 1998 level and halt further indexation of pensions, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 July. The proposal would suspend implementation of a law that took effect in February, which calls for pensions to be recalculated every three months, using the average monthly wage as a baseline. In addition, Sysuev said the government is seeking to raise Pension Fund contributions from individuals from 1 percent to 5 percent while reducing Pension Fund contributions by employers from 28 percent to 21 percent. The planned changes in pension policy are part of the government's anti-crisis program to boost federal budget revenues and reduce expenditures. LB


Viktor Khristenko announced on 9 July that the government is preparing two additional documents to add to its "stabilization program" (the phrase officials now prefer to use instead of "anti- crisis program"). He said the documents will address the liability of corporations for the debts of their subsidiaries and measures that can be taken against corporations that do not pay their taxes, Russian news agencies reported. Khristenko said federal budget revenues in June totaled some 22 billion rubles ($3.5 billion), including 11.2 billion rubles in tax revenues (up 600 million rubles from the total in May) and 7.44 billion rubles in customs duties (240 million rubles more than were collected in May). Speaking to the Federation Council on 10 July, Prime Minister Kirienko said Russia must spend 30-31 billion rubles a month on debt servicing. LB


The Federation Council on 9 July approved a law regulating mortgage procedures, overriding a presidential veto. The law allows enterprises, buildings, apartments, and some land plots to be mortgaged, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, it prohibits mortgages of farmland or property belonging to the state or municipalities. Several deputies called attention to flaws in the law, and the Council approved it on condition that certain passages be amended. Also on 9 July, the upper house overrode Yeltsin's vetoes of a law to double the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5 percent to 1 percent and of legislation granting discounts on transportation fees for children who need treatment at sanitoria, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin is obliged to sign laws after both houses of the parliament override his veto. LB


The Federation Council on 9 July rejected a law that would have outlined a procedure for determining the president's fitness to serve, Russian news agencies reported. The law would have allowed the Supreme Court to rule on whether the president displays a persistent inability for health reasons to perform the duties of his office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998). The same day, the Council voted down a law passed by the Duma, which would have declared 23 February a non-working holiday. During the Soviet period, 23 February was celebrated as Red Army Day and was a major holiday. Now it is Defenders of the Fatherland Day and is not a guaranteed day-off from work. LB


The Federation Council on 9 July decided not to consider the budget code, which was passed by the Duma on 3 July. Instead, the upper house voted to form a conciliatory commission to amend that law, which is part of the government's anti-crisis program. The budget code outlines the procedure for adopting and amending the federal budget and also regulates relations between federal and regional budgets. Also on 9 July, the Council approved several laws that would increase 1998 budget spending, ITAR-TASS reported. The laws seek to add a separate article to the budget on funding for teachers' salaries and to allocate 30 million rubles ($4.8 million) for the office of Russia's human rights commissioner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 1998). Another law would allocate more government funds for low-interest credits to agricultural enterprises. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told a 9 July congress of the main trade union for coal miners that the blockade of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Kemerovo Oblast is an insulting response to government measures to help the coal industry, such as the lowering of freight tariffs on coal by 25 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. Nemtsov urged the congress to oppose the economically "devastating" blockade and proposed that unions make a proposal for trade-union control of federal expenditures to the coal industry. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Nemtsov said the current blockade is "not linked to the worsening of the social or economic position of miners," which, he argued, has somewhat improved since May. Instead, Nemtsov claimed, "on both the regional and federal level, there are political forces that try to use miners to achieve their own narrow goals." He declined to elaborate, but called for "the toughest measures" to be imposed against those behind the protests. BT


Most union representatives opposed Nemtsov's appeal to condemn the blockade of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 July. Telegrams from miners who did not receive back wages promised by recent government protocols were presented at the congress, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Of the two candidates expected to run for leadership of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" anticipated the victory of Ivan Mokhnachuk, who supports the miners' demands for Boris Yeltsin's resignation. Meanwhile, the number of pickets on the Trans-Siberian in Kemerovo Oblast doubled by 10 July, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, Deputy Prime Minister Sysuev sent a telegram to Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev offering to chair a meeting of the Inter-Departmental Commission for the Problems in Mining Regions in Kemerovo Oblast before 25 July, on condition that the blockade is immediately lifted and the miners' "political demands" not discussed. BT


First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman announced on 10 July that the government has extended the deadline for the privatization auction of a 75 percent stake plus one share of the oil company Rosneft, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The government had scheduled the auction for this month after the first attempt to sell the controlling stake in Rosneft failed in May. But in recent days, the companies considered most likely to purchase Rosneft have announced that they will not bid for the shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1998). Braverman said the government will now accept bids for the Rosneft stake until 27 October and will announce a winner three days later. Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov told NTV on 9 July that the government hopes world oil prices will rise by this fall, making Rosneft a more attractive investment. LB


Tamara Rokhlina has been charged with premeditated murder in the 3 July killing of her husband, former State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 July, citing Vladimir Solovev, the deputy head of the team from the Prosecutor- General's Office that is investigating the killing. Rokhlina confessed to the crime while being questioned by police. The weekly "Argumenty i fakty" reported in its latest edition that Rokhlina had threatened to kill her husband on many occasions. But several other newspapers, most recently "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 10 July, suggest that police forced her to confess and have pointed to evidence that casts doubt on her guilt (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1998). "Novye izvestiya" on 8 July speculated that the special services may have been involved in the murder. Rokhlin's allies have also charged that his death was a political killing. LB


The Russian military and the Interior Ministry are engaged in systematic large-scale preparations for a new war in the North Caucasus, according to "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 9 July. The newspaper identifies as the key figures in those preparations Colonel-General Leontii Shevtsov, who commands the Interior Ministry's Operational Force in the North Caucasus, and Chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, both of whom were involved in drafting plans for the 1994 invasion of Chechnya. The plans reportedly include "surgical strikes" by Russian bombers against guerrilla bases in Chechnya. Any decision on the beginning of combat actions must be endorsed by the Russian Security Council, of which Russian President Yeltsin is chairman. LF


Interfax on 9 July issued a revised version of a report released the previous day on a Tbilisi press conference held by newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Spencer Yalowitz. Interfax admitted that the original report "contained an error which significantly affected the essence of what the ambassador said." That report cited Yalowitz as saying the U.S. intends to promote a decision on the deployment in Abkhazia of a NATO peacekeeping force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1998). The revised dispatch quotes Yalowitz as saying that a political decision by Georgia and Abkhazia is a necessary precondition for the deployment of a NATO force and that since no such decision has been made, there are no grounds for deploying NATO peacekeepers in Abkhazia. LF


Abkhaz presidential envoy Anri Djergenia and Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Vazha Lortkipanidze have reached agreement on "the basic principles" of a document to be signed by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 July. Djergenia said the planned meeting between the two presidents can now take place "in the very near future." The document focuses on measures to repatriate and guarantee the security of the estimated 35,000 ethnic Georgians who fled from Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion during the fighting in late May. LF


Fifty-two opposition representatives on 9 July announced they will appeal to the Constitutional Court to abolish the existing territorial- administrative division of the country, Caucasus Press and RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili told journalists that the present division of the country into administrative regions is inadmissible, both politically and economically. He added that unspecified regional administrators may demand formal autonomy for their fiefdoms and that the funds allocated for local administration could better be spent on social needs. Natelashvili said that his party and other opposition parties agree on the need for changes in the Constitution to redefine the role of the Cabinet of Ministers and to introduce a two-chamber parliament. LF


Meeting on 9 July in Yerevan, the Presidium of the Union of Yezidis of Armenia unanimously agreed to propose to the president, prime minister, and parliament that the new election law allow the Yezidi community to elect a representative to the Armenian parliament, Noyan Tapan reported. There are an estimated 50,000-70,000 Yezidi Kurds in Armenia, some of whom are lobbying for recognition as an ethnic group distinct from the Muslim Kurds. LF


In accordance with the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, the Supreme Court has been superseded by a Court of Appeals, which is vested with fewer responsibilities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 9 July. The new court is divided into two "chambers": criminal-military and civil- economic. It will examine only those appeals against verdicts handed down by lower courts. Introducing chairman Henrik Danielyan to the new court, President Robert Kocharian rejected criticism of the new Criminal Procedural Code adopted by the National Assembly, according to Noyan Tapan. LF


The Democratic Congress, which is composed of 10 opposition parties, issued a statement on 9 July assessing the recent changes to legislation on the upcoming presidential elections, Turan reported. The statement said the changes are not substantive and do not address the opposition's criticisms. It stressed that the opposition will nominate a candidate for the elections only if the minimum turnout is reduced from 50 percent plus one vote to 25 percent and if parity is observed in forming electoral commissions. Also on 9 July, the Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan announced it will join the opposition boycott of the 11 October ballot. President Heidar Aliyev has signed a decree empowering the parliament, Foreign Ministry, and Central Electoral Commission to invite foreign observers to monitor voting. LF


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed displeasure after hearing a report on the country's economic performance in the first half of 1998 but did not sack the government of Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev as had been rumored, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 10 July. ITAR-TASS the previous day had quoted an unnamed government official as saying Nazarbayev would dismiss the government after hearing the report. Interfax the same day quoted presidential press secretary Kairat Sarybayev as refuting such rumors. According to the report, tax revenues and investments are down and the economic situation is worsening. While not dismissing the government, Nazarbayev told cabinet members "I am warning you, perhaps for the last time." BP


Traces of cholera bacteria have been found in the reservoirs and rivers that provide water to Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 July. Local epidemiologists have requested that all water reservoirs within city limits be drained, their beds dredged to a depth of 1.5 meters, and the soil transported outside Almaty for treatment. Waste from recreation areas in the nearby mountains is being blamed for the problem. BP


Flooding in the Uzbek section of the Fergana Valley has left at least 71 people dead, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 July. A landslide in the mountains of neighboring Kyrgyzstan two days earlier causes the water of lakes to rise by 3-4 meters; those lakes were already over-filled as a result of earlier rains. The Uzbek village of Shakhimardan was especially hard hit when water in the Ak-su River also rose by 3-4 meters. An Uzbek official from the Fergana Oblast said "the main reason" why people were not evacuated from the area was the lack of a timely warning by the Kyrgyz authorities of the approaching flood. BP


Aydar Akayev, the oldest son of Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev will marry Aliya Nazarbayeva, the daughter of Kazakh President Nazarbayev, in the second half of July, Interfax reported on 10 July. The ceremony will be held at President Akayev's residence on the shores of Issyk-Kul near the town of Cholpon-Ata. The wedding will follow a Central Asian Union summit meeting in Kyrgyzstan scheduled to begin on 17 July. BP


President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Uladzimir Herasimovich to lead negotiations with charges d'affaires of the countries whose ambassadors have been recalled from Belarus over the diplomatic housing scandal, Belapan and RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported. Herasimovich said on 9 July that the Belarusian government is taking "no tough positions" on the relocation of ambassadors and that "no deadlines" have been set for diplomats to remove their belongings from the Drazdy compound. He added that Minsk has already reached agreements with France and Germany on moving their ambassadors to other residences. But dpa quoted a German Foreign Ministry spokesman as denying that claim. JM


Referring to "European diplomatic sources," ITAR-TASS reported that EU countries on 10 July will draft a resolution on restricting the number of EU entry visas for Belarusian senior officials. That resolution will reportedly be approved by EU foreign ministers on 13 July at an EU Council session. According to the Russian news agency, the resolution is a punitive measure for the eviction of EU diplomats from the Drazdy compound, near Minsk. The agency adds that the visa restrictions will also be supported by East European countries applying for EU membership. JM


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana stressed during his 8-9 July visit to Ukraine that NATO cooperation with Ukraine is "fruitful" and has "good prospects," Ukrainian Television reported. Solana visited Kyiv to mark the first anniversary of the signing of the NATO-Ukraine special partnership charter. He said NATO wants to cooperate with Kyiv in peacekeeping operations as well as in the spheres of military command and communications. JM


After his meeting with Solana on 9 July, President Leonid Kuchma said NATO has no alternative in the creation of a security system in Europe. Kuchma added that Kyiv is "on the right path" by cooperating with NATO. Ukraine and NATO will cooperate "on a much broader scale" than simply in military issues or within the Partnership for Peace program framework, Ukrainian Television quoted him as saying. The Russian Foreign Ministry is lobbying for an increased role for the OSCE as the cornerstone of the European security system.JM


The Supreme Council on 9 July elected two deputy speakers proposed by newly elected speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko. The parliament voted by 270 to 23 to appoint Communist Adam Martenyuk as first deputy speaker and Social Democrat Viktor Medvedchuk as deputy speaker. According to Ukrainian Television, the Popular Rukh and the Popular Democratic Party strongly opposed both candidates. After holding 19 rounds of voting to elect its speaker, the Supreme Council broke another record on 9 July when 22 votes were needed in order to pass the motion to elect both deputy speakers in one ballot. JM


Valdas Adamkus's adviser on social policy, Darius Kuolis, told reporters on 9 July that Valdas Adamkus will not sign the recently passed lustration law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1998), Interfax reported. That law bans former KGB agents from holding posts in government and state bodies for 10 years following the passage of the legislation. Kuolis said that the law creates "moral, legal, historical, and national security problems that call for very subtle solutions." He also noted that the director of a center for the study of genocide against Lithuanian residents convinced Adamkus that documentary evidence on former KGB agents in Lithuania is "scant." According to Interfax, Adamkus has until 11 July either to return the law to the parliament or not to sign it and let the speaker do so instead. Speaker Vytautas Landsbergis initiated the lustration law. JC


Jerzy Buzek, on a three-day visit to the U.S., said during a 9 July meeting in Washington with Congressmen that Poland will spare no effort to become a trustworthy partner in NATO. "Poland wants to prove in the near future that our country will meet all commitments under North Atlantic Alliance membership," "Rzeczpospolita" quoted him as saying. According to AP, Buzek pledged that Poland will participate in all NATO's out-of-area operations, including any possible intervention in Kosova. JM


Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leader Milos Zeman and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) head Vaclav Klaus on 9 July signed the agreement on a CSSD minority cabinet. The agreement stipulates that the ODS will receive the chairmanship of both houses of the parliament as well as of the lower house's Budget Commission and other key parliamentary commissions. The ODS agreed not to initiate a non-confidence vote during the chamber's four-year term, AP and Reuters reported. Zeman told reporters that the agreement was a "long-term one" that could remain in force if the election results were reversed in 2002. Klaus said the ODS is "moving into the opposition" and that it remains a "political rival" of the CSSD. MS


President Vaclav Havel said after meeting with Zeman that he will "in all likelihood" nominate Zeman as premier but will first seek "expert opinion" on whether the agreement is constitutional. Havel said he worries that the agreement may lead to "a permanent limitation of political pluralism." The leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Josef Lux, called on Havel to reject the accord. He said the agreement is "anti-democratic and anti-constitutional" because it attempts "to replace the old [constitutional] article on the leading role of the Communist Party with a similar role" for the CSSD and the ODS. MS


The Slovak Parliament narrowly failed to elect a new president in two rounds held on 9 July. In both rounds (the ninth and the tenth since the end of former President Michal Kovac's term on 2 March), the candidate backed by the governing parties, Otto Tomecek, was four votes short of the required 90 votes. Since the opposition parties have 81 representatives in the legislature, it is clear that some of their members or some independent deputies must have voted with the government. Deputy Prime Minister Josef Kalman, attending the opening of Slovakia's EU mission in Brussels, told journalists that the failure of the parliament to elect a president for four months must not be interpreted as an indication that Slovakia is unfit for EU membership. Rather, he said, it is a "sign of democracy, of respect for the opposition," Reuters reported. MS


Diplomats from the U.S., U.K., Russia, The Netherlands, and Belgium visited the Prizren, Gjakova, and Peja regions of Kosova on 9 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The envoys, who traveled without journalists, said that their mission helps them to identify regions that require additional monitoring. An U.S. diplomat told the VOA that both sides are more likely to "be on their best behavior" if they know they are being observed, even though the monitors have no authority to intervene (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1998). In Vienna, spokesmen for the OSCE said that the Yugoslav authorities have agreed to admit OSCE monitors to Kosova. Until now, Belgrade refused to allow OSCE missions to work in Kosova until that body restores Yugoslavia's membership, which was suspended in 1992. PM


U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said in Washington on 9 July that the crisis in Kosova "is tougher than Bosnia [and] enormously dangerous." He added that Kosova "is a crisis, and it could, without too much difficulty, slip into an emergency if things go wrong. In Bosnia we didn't get engaged for two or three years. Here, we got engaged early because the danger of this fighting exploding into a general war is very great." In London, unnamed officials of the Foreign Office told Reuters that the meeting of the Contact Group in Bonn the previous day was "very difficult." Diplomats from the U.S., U.K., Russia, Germany, France, and Italy agreed on a package aimed at giving Kosova broad autonomy within Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1998). PM


Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano on 9 July welcomed the peace plan for Kosova. Speaking to the government in Tirana, Nano said that Serbia "should create all conditions for the safe return of the Albanians displaced from their homes in Kosova." He added that Belgrade should allow international observers full freedom of movement throughout Kosova and invite EU monitoring teams there. Nano stressed that "the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team should be as representative of all ethnic Albanians as possible." That comment suggests he advocates including the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). But Nano warned against inviting Belgrade to resume its role in international institutions until the Kosova dispute is settled. FS


Villagers from Letaj north of Kukes said Serbian border guards shot and killed three Albanian citizens inside Albania on 9 July, "Gazeta Shqiptare reported. They added that Serbian forces took three other Albanians hostage. Albanian authorities have not confirmed the report but have sent police and border guards to the village to investigate. FS


Customs authorities confiscated one-and-a-half tons of arms and ammunition in Durres on 9 July but made no arrests. The weapons were hidden in a van with a Zagreb license plate that arrived on a ferry from Ancona, "Koha Jone" reported. Durres prosecutors declined to comment on the preliminary results of their investigations but said they believe the arms were bound for the UCK. Customs officials in Durres seized a large quantity of arms on 18 June. FS


German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in Tirana on 9 July that not much time is left to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Kosova, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote. He added that the Contact Group wants the province to have broad autonomy but not the full status of a republic that Serbia and Montenegro enjoy. Kinkel noted that Russia agreed in Bonn to the stationing in Kosova of "mixed" police units that would include foreigners, Serbs, and ethnic Albanians on a model similar to that used in Bosnia. Kinkel urged the international community to give Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic positive incentives to end the crisis. The minister stressed that the prospect of renewed OSCE membership could be a "light at the end of the tunnel" for Milosevic and help convince him to change his policies in Kosova. PM


A spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Podgorica on 9 July denied recent accounts in the domestic and foreign media that the Montenegrin and Yugoslav federal authorities have reached an agreement on Montenegro's border with Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1998). The spokesmen said that Podgorica does not recognize the federal government of former Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, whose election to that post Podgorica considers illegal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 1998). PM


A spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Sarajevo on 9 July that U.S. Agency for International Development and the EU have suspended $20 million in development assistance for the Bosnian capital. The payments will resume only when the city honors the pledge it made in March to allow up to 20,000 non-Muslims to move back to the Muslim-controlled city. Since the Dayton agreement was signed at the end of 1995, only 2,000 or so non-Serbs have returned to the Republika Srpska and 36,000 Serbs to the Muslim-Croatian federation, about half of whom went back to Sarajevo, AP reported. PM


Two men were killed instantly in Bijeljina on 9 July when they tried to plant a bomb in the car of Ljubisa Savic, also known as "Mauser." He is the local chief of police and is loyal to Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic. Savic led a paramilitary unit known as the Panthers in ethnic cleansing operations in the area during the early stages of the 1992-1995 war. PM


The Romanian Orthodox Church on 9 July said it "remains open to the possibility of a visit" by Pope John Paul II to Romania but wants such a visit "to be thoroughly prepared" by "creating an atmosphere of [mutual] understanding" between Orthodox believers and [Rome-affiliated] Uniate Church members in Transylvania. That understanding would "contribute to a rapprochement between the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church," it added. Observers say the statement in effect amounts to a rejection of the Pope's visit. In a press release, the Orthodox Church said it has "repeatedly asked" the Uniate Church to "begin a dialogue on litigious problems" between the two sides. It noted, however, that such a dialogue cannot begin because the Uniates insist that Uniate churches and other properties confiscated by the Communists first be returned by the Orthodox Church. MS


Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu on 9 July told Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe General Wesley Clark that Romania's "new strategic concept" for integration into NATO is one of "active attendance." Defense Minister Victor Babiuc told journalists after meeting with Clark that this new concept, first presented by Premier Radu Vasile, does not signify that Bucharest no longer gives priority to NATO integration. Rather, it seeks "to avoid over-dramatization" in the event that Romania again fails to be invited to join the organization in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1998). MS


Miron Cozma, the leader of the miners who several times went on a rampage Bucharest in 1990-1991, has been freed from prison after completing an 18-month sentence for his role in the September 1991 disturbances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 1998). On 9 July, he was welcomed in Petrosani by Ilie Neacsu, a parliamentary deputy of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM). Cozma joined that party while in pre- trial detention. Neacsu said it is up to Cozma to decide whether he will run for the legislature on the list of the PRM or return to his former position as miners' union leader. MS


Participants at a 9 July OSCE meeting in Vienna on "Military Transparency in Moldova" said the process of Russian troop withdrawal from the Transdniester is "stagnating" and must be accelerated, Romanian Radio reported. Moldovan delegation member Mihai Critincea told the forum that Romania is ready to assist Moldova and Russia financially for the purpose of accelerating the withdrawal. MS


President Petar Stoyanov on 9 July told the permanent representatives of NATO member states in Brussels that the situation in the Balkans in general and the Kosova crisis in particular are "additional arguments in favor of Bulgaria's accession to the organization" as soon as possible. Stoyanov said Bulgaria's and Romania's accession would "create a security belt" between the organization's northern and southern flanks, BTA reported. Meeting with the president of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, one day earlier, Stoyanov said he was bringing "a realistic assessment of our achievements but also an awareness of what remains to be done." Santer said the commission has registered Bulgaria's efforts toward political and macro-economic stabilization but noted that Sofia must still implement reforms of the economy, public administration, and judiciary. MS


"RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly reported yesterday that a former Bulgarian premier has been appointed ambassador to the UN. Filip Dimitrov (not Dimitri Filipov, as reported) was in fact appointed ambassador to the U.S.


by Paul Goble

The actions of Western oil companies and the concerns of their Russian counterparts have prompted Moscow to change its position on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

But Moscow's shift, as reflected in a new accord with Kazakhstan signed earlier this week, seems unlikely to end disagreements among Caspian littoral states over the exploitation of the natural resources in and below that body of water. Instead, both Moscow's response and the Western actions that appear to have triggered it may mean that development in the Caspian basin will proceed without any formal resolution of this dispute.

That development, in turn, could set the stage for some new and even more intense disagreements among the countries and companies involved in the dispute.

On 6 July, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and visiting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed an accord delimiting the northern Caspian sea bed and thus allowing the two countries to exploit resources lying under the sea bed without having to worry about a legal challenge from the other.

Both Russian and Western media suggested that this was a major change in Moscow's position and that Moscow's new position in effect settles the conflict over the status of the Caspian Sea. And Umirsek Kasenov, a senior Kazakhstan scholar, told RFE/RL two days later that the accord marked "the first step toward the full regulation of the issue."

In fact, the accord may not do anything of the kind. It does not represent a complete negation of Russia's earlier insistence that the Caspian be treated as a lake and exploited only on the basis of a joint agreement of all littoral states. Rather, it simply draws a line on the sea floor of one small part of the northern Caspian that adjoins the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. And it specifically holds that exploitation of the fish and other bio-resources of the sea should be governed by a joint agreement between all five littoral states.

Moreover, the Russian-Kazakh agreement does not satisfy the other littoral states, which continue to insist that the Caspian be treated as a sea and thus subdivided on the basis of territorial waters. And it has already been denounced by two of those countries as a breach of earlier internationally recognized agreements.

Azerbaijan, for example, continues to insist that both the sea and the sea bed must be divided, while the leaders of Turkmenistan and Iran denounced the Russian-Kazakh agreement.

Speaking in Tehran on 8 July, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said that "the sea bed and the waters of the sea cannot be divided on a bilateral basis." And the previous day, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that Tehran "will not recognize" a bilateral accord that is "contrary to the existing legal regime of the Caspian Sea."

But three other announcements this week suggest that the Russian shift may mark a turning point in the development of the region, albeit one very different from the kind many are predicting.

First, Russian reporting on the accord suggested that it had been concluded for largely economic reasons. Several Moscow experts described as "equally distant from the internal political ambitions" of Yeltsin and Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said Moscow had acted because it is seeking "cheap credits" from the West.

By suggesting that the latest shift does not reflect Russia's strategic interests, they implicitly pointed to the power of Russian oil and gas interests in forcing Yeltsin's hand. That, in turn, suggests a new coalition in the Russian capital that may try to cut economically beneficial deals with other littoral states even at large geopolitical costs.

Second, another Russian analyst suggested that "only Washington" will be able to promote a consensus on the Caspian, "considering the interests of American oil and gas-producing companies." Having argued that Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have "granted the Americans de-facto the right to divide the Caspian," this analyst suggested that Moscow had little choice but to modify its earlier views.

Third, and perhaps most significantly, Azerbaijan indicated on 8 July that it would no longer let disputes on the Caspian affect the construction of pipeline under the Caspian between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

Vafa Goulizade, a senior adviser to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, said that the building of this pipeline should "absolutely not" be linked to a resolution of the legal question of the status of the sea.

If that attitude receives the support of Western oil and gas companies and the deference of Russian petroleum concerns, that in itself could set the stage for a new kind of competition over the Caspian. Instead of being between governments, it would be among firms.

But as has happened so often before, the actions of large companies could draw in the governments as well. And in the absence of any semblance of legal regulation of the status of the Caspian Sea, such involvement by strong firms and regional governments might not only lead to potentially serious clashes but draw in outside powers as well.