YELTSIN'S RETURN SPARKS NEW RESHUFFLE RUMORS
President Boris Yeltsin's abrupt return to Moscow from Karelia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 1998) has fueled intense speculation in the Russian media that he plans to reshuffle the cabinet. NTV reported on 30 July that Yeltsin has requested a meeting with Anatolii Chubais, head of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System and presidential envoy to international financial institutions. The Kremlin press service said Chubais on 31 July will brief the president on Russia's recent negotiations with the IMF. But NTV cited rumors that Yeltsin will bring Chubais back into the government, possibly as deputy prime minister in charge of financial matters. "Moskovskii komsomolets" speculated on 30 July that Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who is in charge of social policy, will become deputy head of the presidential administration, filling the slot vacated by new Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Putin. LB
KREMLIN OFFICIAL DENIES DEFENSE MINISTER VULNERABLE
Yevgenii Savostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 30 July that the possibility of replacing Igor Sergeev as defense minister "has not been raised." Some Russian newspapers have reported in recent weeks that Sergeev is in poor health and has submitted his resignation. But Savostyanov said Sergeev is well and denied that there are any political or health-related reasons for sacking the defense minister. LB
NDR OFFICIAL WANTS MORE REGIONAL LEADERS IN GOVERNMENT
Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) State Duma faction, told Interfax on 29 July that he favors creating before the year 2000 a government based on a "broad coalition." Shokhin said his proposal differs from Communist calls for a "government of national trust." He described it as a "government led by a strong prime minister and with strong cabinet members capable of taking and implementing decisions," in which "regional leaders must be strongly represented." The NDR is one of many political groups claiming to represent the interests of Russia's regions, but the movement's base of support among regional elites has eroded since Yeltsin sacked NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister in March. Several regional leaders have reportedly rejected invitations to join the cabinet in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 July 1998). LB
LEBED SAYS AUTHORITIES BOUND TO LOSE POWER
Addressing the third congress of his Russian Popular- Republican Party (RNRP), Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said a change of power is inevitable in Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 30 July. Speaking to supporters in Krasnoyarsk, Lebed said the RNRP and his Honor and Motherland movement seek to "come to power relying on the common sense of the people, not bayonets." He claimed that loans from international financial institutions have staved off a ruble devaluation for at most six months. He also compared the government's tax policy to Soviet "requisitioning of farm produce in the early 1920s" aimed at "taking away everything possible and impossible." Lebed characterized himself and the RNRP as representing a "third force" in Russian politics. That expression was frequently used in 1996, when Lebed campaigned for president as an opponent of both Yeltsin and the Communists before eventually teaming up with Yeltsin. LB
FINANCE MINISTRY APPROVES TOUGH BUDGET FOR 1999
The Finance Ministry's board on 29 July approved the main parameters of the draft budget for 1999, Russian news agencies reported. The draft will be sent to the government in early August and must be submitted to the Duma by the end of that month. The Finance Ministry approved planned revenues of 376.1 billion rubles ($60.3 billion) and spending of 456.1 billion rubles. The revenue figure is little changed from the 1998 budget, but planned expenditures are significantly lower than the 500 billion rubles foreseen in the 1998 budget. (The government has unilaterally cut spending in many areas because revenues collected have fallen far short of budget targets.) The draft 1999 budget calls for a deficit of 80 billion rubles (or 2.7 percent of estimated GDP). In terms of percentage of GDP, that deficit is a little more than half as large as the 1998 budget deficit, a Finance Ministry official told ITAR- TASS. LB
DRAFT BUDGET FORESEES 1 PERCENT GDP GROWTH
The draft 1999 budget approved by the Finance Ministry foresees economic growth of 1 percent in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 July. The 1998 budget was based on the assumption that Russia's GDP would grow by 2 percent, but this year's economic crisis has in effect eliminated growth prospects. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov recently predicted that Russia's GDP will contract by up to 1 percent in 1998 and will remain flat in 1999, Reuters reported on 27 July. The turmoil on Russian financial markets has increased the government's borrowing costs, although recent loan agreements with international financial institutions have somewhat reduced the government's need to borrow domestically using treasury bills. ITAR-TASS on 29 July quoted a Finance Ministry official as saying that the draft 1998 budget calls for 36 percent of expenditures to go toward debt servicing. In the 1998 budget, the corresponding figure was 31 percent. LB
MORE CRITICISM OF 'STATEMENT OF FOUR' ON CHECHNYA
Krasnodar Krai governor Nikolai Kondratenko on 29 July echoed the criticism made by his Saratov counterpart, Dmitrii Ayatskov, of the 27 July statement by former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Lebed, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. That statement called for a clear Russian policy on Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Kondratenko told Interfax that there is no sense in persons based in Moscow or Siberia trying to act as peacemakers in Chechnya. He said that the Association of North Caucasus Peoples, whose political council includes the heads of the North Caucasus republics, is better qualified to do so. LF
ABDULATIPOV CALLS ON 'FOUR' FOR FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 29 July, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov appealed to the signatories of the "statement of four," who were all present, to donate contributions to a fund he proposed establishing to finance reconstruction in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Abdulatipov said he intends to donate the royalties from his recent book on the North Caucasus to that fund. Abdulatipov also predicted that the North Caucasus will become a key issue in the Russian presidential campaign in 2000, noting that the Caucasus "is already an indicator of the capacities of government and statesmen," Interfax reported. LF
CHECHNYA SAYS IT EXPELLED JAPANESE NATIONAL
Chechen security officials said on 29 July that a Japanese citizen has been expelled from Chechnya after being apprehended near Gudermes on 16 July. Yoshikama Mumora was variously said to have been engaged in gathering information on military facilities for Japanese intelligence or to have intended to stage his own abduction with the aim of pocketing part of the ransom. But Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev claimed to be unaware of the incident, as did the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Japanese Embassy in Moscow. LF
RUSSIA, IRAN COMMENT ON U.S. SANCTIONS DECISION
Russian Security Council official Nikolai Uspenskii told Interfax on 29 July that he was not surprised by the U.S. decision to blacklist seven Russian research centers and companies suspected of supplying dual purpose technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari told Russian media that the U.S. decision is based "exclusively on rumors." Addressing a Moscow news conference on 29 July after signing a cooperation agreement with his Iranian counterpart, Mahdi Karbasian, Russian State Customs Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov said the Russian customs services "have all the necessary means" to prevent the export of military and dual-purpose technology. He added that investigations conducted by his agency into alleged illegal exports of such technology have established that the items in questions were of an exclusively peaceful nature. LF
GOVERNMENT TO PUSH FOR LAW BANNING FASCIST PROPAGANDA
The government on 30 July approved a draft law that would ban "nazi symbols and literature in any form," Russian news agencies reported. Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said the draft outlines specific criteria and would ban symbols used by Italy's National Fascist Party and Germany's National-Socialist Party during the 1930s and 1940s. He said the law would make exceptions for films and books that "propagandize humanitarian ideas and denounce fascism," according to ITAR-TASS. Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko called for submitting the law to the State Duma as soon as possible. The Duma has twice rejected laws to ban fascist propaganda (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 24 March 1997 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). On both occasions Communist deputies and their allies warned that the laws were vague and consequently could be used to crack down on various opposition groups. LB
PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON TRANSFER OF PRISON SYSTEM
Yeltsin signed a decree on 28 July ordering the long-delayed transfer of the prison system from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry to take place by 1 September, news agencies reported. Justice Minister Krasheninnikov told a 29 July press conference that the transfer was made possible by 20 laws that recently came into force, ITAR-TASS reported. Human rights groups have warned that epidemics of AIDS, food poisoning, and tuberculosis plague Russia's unsanitary and overcrowded jails. Krasheninnikov said the Justice Ministry is planning major reforms in prisons, such as limiting the duration of trials to one year, reducing the time suspects are held in pre-detention centers, and creating separate jails for convicts infected with HIV and tuberculosis. However, Interior Ministry official Vyacheslav Bubnov told Reuters on 29 July that "if the government does not have any money, it will be hard to solve these problems wherever you put the system." BT
POLICE BACK DOWN FROM CONFRONTATION WITH SAKHALIN MINERS
Sakhalin Oblast authorities sent 60 unarmed Interior Ministry troops to break up the six-day blockade of a Sakhalin power station, but the troops withdrew without breaking up the protest, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 July. Earlier that day, Sakhalin Deputy Governor Ivan Malakhov said he "cannot allow a group of pickets to hold the entire island hostage," referring to the sporadic power outages resulting from the blockade of the power plant. The miners announced they will let through enough coal to keep one power unit functioning for safety reasons. Meanwhile, miners in Kemerovo Oblast on 29 July lifted the 25-day blockade of the local Novokuznetsk- Tashtagol railroad near Osinniki after the town received 5 million rubles ($800,000) to pay back wages. BT
CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATE REGISTERED FOR NIZHNII MAYORAL ELECTION
The Nizhnii Novgorod electoral commission on 29 July registered the entrepreneur Andrei Klimentev as a candidate in the mayoral election scheduled for 27 September, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported. Klimentev narrowly won a mayoral election in March, but the result was subsequently annulled. He has since been sentenced to six years in prison on embezzlement charges. On 30 July, the Supreme Court was to hear Klimentev's appeal against that prison sentence, but the court postponed consideration of the case until 10 August, ITAR-TASS reported. "Kommersant- Daily" predicted that if the Supreme Court leaves the sentence against Klimentev in place, the electoral commission will annul his registration as a mayoral candidate. Even if he is allowed to run for mayor, Klimentev faces an uphill battle because of a recent amendment to Nizhnii Novgorod's electoral law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 1998). LB
JUDGE SAYS NEW ELECTION IN BASHKORTOSTAN UNLIKELY
Irek Muksinov, the chairman of Bashkortostan's Constitutional Court, says the republic is unlikely to hold a new presidential election regardless of court rulings on the federal level. The Russian Supreme Court recently ruled that two candidates were illegally kept off the ballot in the June election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 1998). But "Vremya-MN" on 29 July quoted Muksinov as saying that Bashkortostan has its own legal system, in accordance with a power-sharing agreement signed with the federal authorities in 1994. Since there is currently no mechanism for coordinating the republic's constitution and laws with their federal equivalents, Muksinov said the Bashkortostan authorities "will be governed by our own laws." Forcing the republic to implement federal court rulings will be difficult, since President Murtaza Rakhimov appoints judges in Bashkortostan and enjoys the loyal support of the republican legislature. LB
KHAKASSIAN LANGUAGE TO BECOME REQUIRED SUBJECT IN REPUBLIC
Khakassian, which is a Turkic language, will become a required subject in schools in the Republic of Khakassia in line with an education policy approved by the republic's government on 30 July, ITAR- TASS reported. The plan also envisages courses in Khakassian history and nature in the eastern Siberian republic. In addition, some schools will offer language courses in Chuvash (another Turkic language) and Polish. The plan is to take effect in the new academic year, provided that it has been coordinated with the federal Education Ministry by then. LB
RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN SIGN CASPIAN PROTOCOL
A Russian government delegation headed by First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov and including the Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Yurii Yukalov, held talks in Baku on 28-29 July on Russian-Azerbaijani relations and the status of the Caspian Sea. Pastukhov told journalists on 29 July after meeting with President Heidar Aliyev and Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov that Russia and Azerbaijan are ready to sign a formal agreement on the division of the Caspian sea bed and that Azerbaijan "holds the key" to reaching agreement among all five littoral states on dividing water resources. Azerbaijan wants the sea's waters similarly divided among the littoral states, whereas Russia favors the "condominium" principle, whereby each state would receive a 10 or 12 km zone of territorial waters, leaving the remainder of the sea under joint jurisdiction. Such an agreement, Pastukhov said, would facilitate the demilitarization of the Caspian. LF
PROGRESS ON TRANS-CASPIAN GAS PIPELINE
The U.S. company ENRON has won the tender for conducting a feasibility study on laying an underwater gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Baku, Turan and Interfax reported on 29 July, quoting Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Redjepbai Arazov. Under a U.S.-Turkmen agreement signed in April, 1998, the U.S. has made available $750,000 for such a study, which is expected to be completed by mid-November. Speaking in Baku on 29 July, Azerbaijani State Counselor Vafa Gulu-zade rejected Russian and Iranian claims that an underwater gas pipeline would pose a serious ecological threat to the Caspian. Gulu-zade said such arguments, which figured in a joint statement released after Pastukhov's visit to Tehran earlier this month, are tantamount to an attempt to prevent the export of fuel to the West via Azerbaijan and to have all export pipelines routed through Russia and Iran instead, according to Interfax. LF
ARMENIA ADVOCATES 'UNCONVENTIONAL' STATUS FOR NAGORNO-KARABAKH
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told journalists in Yerevan on 27 July that a formal settlement of the Karabakh conflict should give Karabakh a status that is "unique and non- conventional" in international practice, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gasparian said Armenia would welcome the introduction of "elements" of the status enjoyed by the Principality of Andorra, which is an independent country and a member of the OSCE and is headed by two "co- princes," France's president and Spain's bishop of Urgel. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES DECENTRALIZATION
Meeting on 28 July with the mayors of more than 20 Armenian towns, Robert Kocharian argued that decentralization is an essential precondition for stability throughout the country, Noyan Tapan and "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" reported. Kocharian proposed that local administrative bodies take over from various ministries the responsibility for kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. Financing will continue to be the prerogative of the central government. Kocharian vowed that the decentralization process will be completed before the local elections due in 1999. LF
GEORGIA REJECTS RUSSIAN ALLEGATIONS
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 29 July rejecting as "unfounded and irresponsible" claims that the Russian Foreign Ministry had made the previous day, ITAR- TASS reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry had accused Tbilisi of failing to take adequate measures to preclude further terrorist incidents in Abkhazia's Gali raion. More than a dozen Russian peacekeepers have been killed or injured in land-mine explosions in Gali in recent weeks. Under the terms of the cease-fire protocol signed in Gagra on 25 May, the Georgian government undertook to prevent Georgian guerrillas from infiltrating Gali. The Georgian Foreign Ministry also accused Abkhazia of violating the remaining three provisions of the 25 May protocol. Meanwhile, a top Russian military official told ITAR-TASS on 29 July that the Defense Ministry has no plans to withdraw the Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia when their mandate expires on 31 July. LF
FORMER GEORGIAN STATE MINISTER GIVEN NEW POST
Niko Lekishvili was named deputy chairman of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) at a meeting of the party's council on 28 July, Interfax reported. That meeting was attended by President Eduard Shevardnadze. Announcing his resignation on 26 July, Lekishvilki had said he planned to work with the SMK in the runup to the parliamentary elections due in November 1999 and that he will support Shevardnadze's candidacy in the presidential elections the following year. Interviewed by Interfax on 29 July, the head of the "Popular" parliamentary group, Mamuka Giorgadze, described the resignation of virtually the entire Georgian cabinet as "theater of the absurd" intended to distract the population from the unresolved Abkhaz conflict. Giorgadze argued that parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania and the heads of parliamentary committees should also step down. LF
TAJIK GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL INJURED BY CAR BOMB
Ali Imomnazarov, deputy head of the Tajik customs committee, was seriously injured when a bomb exploded in his official car close to the presidential palace in Dushanbe early on 30 July, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. An unidentified Interior Ministry official told Reuters the attack was probably not politically motivated. LF
TWELVE RUSSIAN GOVERNORS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR LUKASHENKA
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 July met with 12 Russian governors who were in Belarus on an official visit to take part in festivities marking the 54th anniversary of the liberation of Brest from German troops, ITAR-TASS reported. But according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk, the main reason for the governors' visit was to express political support for Lukashenka in the continuing diplomatic conflict over the eviction of Western ambassadors from the Drazdy residential compound. Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn told Belarusian Television on 28 July that Lukashenka's "independent policy" is supported by 90 percent of the residents in his region. Belarusian official media had announced last week that as many as 40 Russian governors were expected to come to Belarus to meet with Lukashenka. JM
LUKASHENKA DEMANDS MORE CONTROL OVER FORESTRY
Lukashenka has demanded that government officials "introduce order" into the republic's forestry sector, Belarusian Television reported on 28 July. According to the television station, the country's timber trade is controlled by "small firms and profiteers" who export timber "for a song." It added that the West readily allots credits for developing Belarusian forests but does not support the wood-processing industry in Belarus. Lukashenka stressed that Belarus has only three main natural resources: water, wood, and potash fertilizers. He demanded to know why "those brokering swindlers bought timber for...1 million Belarusian rubles (some $25) per cubic meter and exported it for $800-$1,000." The report suggested that Belarus will introduce licenses for timber exporters. JM
UKRAINE ALLOCATES FUNDS TO ASSIST CRIMEAN TATARS
The Ukrainian government has allocated 1 million hryvni ($475,000) to help resettle Crimean Tatars who were expelled from their homeland by Joseph Stalin during World War II, AP reported. The funds will be used to improve gas and water supplies to Tatar settlements near the Crimean capital of Simferopol. Another 7 million hryvni will be provided to Tatars in the form of construction materials and equipment. Last month, a UN-sponsored conference of 26 donor countries in Kyiv pledged some $5 million to build infrastructure, create new jobs, and provide for cultural needs of the returning Tatars. JM
ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR UPBEAT ON ECONOMY
Vahur Kraft told journalists on 29 July that Estonia is not threatened by an economic crisis and that there are no problems in Estonian banking that could jeopardize the economy, ETA reported. Kraft's statement was backed up by visiting IMF representative Ishan Kapur, who said Estonia is living up to the promises it gave the fund. "We have reason to be certain that the developments of the next six to 12 months [will be] in harmony with the agreements that have been signed by the IMF and the government," Kapur said. He added that the country's major economic problems are currently the huge current account deficit and inflation. JC
LATVIA TO BEGIN UNILATERALLY DEMARCATING BORDER WITH RUSSIA
Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told reporters on 30 July that Latvia will start unilaterally demarcating the border with Russia "as talks on signing the [Latvian-Russian] border agreement are making no headway," BNS reported. "It should not be viewed as an unfriendly act but as a wish to settle the borders which are already signed at the level of delegations," he added. Birkavs also pointed out that the description of the border and the delimitation maps have been completed. JC
VILNIUS REACHES DEAL WITH WILLIAMS
Lithuanian Economy Minister Vincas Babilius on 30 July signed a letter of intent with Williams International Co., a subsidiary of U.S.-based Williams Cos. Inc., to sell the firm one-third stakes in the nation's three key oil companies for $300 million, Reuters reported. Williams is to pay $150 million for 33 percent stakes in the oil refiner Mazheikiu, an oil pipeline owned by Naftotiekis, and the planned oil terminal Butinges Nafta. It will later reinvest another $150 million. The agreement is a compromise on Williams' original offer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1998). Vilnius had valued the companies at some $390 million but agreed to exclude some $40 million worth of assets from Mazheikiu, Babilius told Reuters. "We have met Williams halfway. The price did not go up; we simply decreased the value of the objects by taking away some parts," Babilius said. JC
POLISH PREMIER CONDEMNS DESECRATION OF JEWISH GRAVES
Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 29 July condemned an attack on Jewish graves at the Palmiry cemetery near Warsaw. In the cemetery, there are some 2,000 graves of Jews and Poles executed by the Nazis in 1939-41. Vandals broke off name plaques from some 30 Jewish tombstones and scattered them in the adjacent woods. They also damaged the memorial to Maciej Rataj, a speaker of the Polish parliament before World War II. "This is a shocking act. In our country graves have always been honored," Reuters quoted Buzek as saying. Jerzy Buzek and parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski both laid flowers at the damaged graves. JM
SOLIDARITY COALITION EXPELS FORMER PARTNER, ACCEPTS ANOTHER
The National Council of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) voted on 29 July to expel from its ranks the Confederation for an Independent Poland-Patriotic Camp led by Adam Slomka, PAP reported. Slomka, who was also AWS deputy chairman, was expelled from the AWS parliamentary caucus after he did not vote with the party over the number of future provinces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June and 17 July 1998). The council also decided to accept into its ranks the National-Catholic Movement, led by former Interior Minister Antoni Maciarewicz. JM
HUNGARY WILL NOT SEND TROOPS TO KOSOVA
Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 29 July said Hungary will not participate in any "direct military operation" in Kosova, Hungarian media reported. Orban told journalists after visiting the U.S. military base in Taszar, southwestern Hungary, that "Hungarian soldiers can under no circumstances face [other] Hungarian soldiers." He was referring to the fact that several hundred ethnic Hungarians are conscripts in the Yugoslav army in Kosova (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 1998). He added that Hungary is nonetheless ready to offer its military bases as a launching point for NATO military operations in Kosova. MSZ
BUDAPEST READY TO FINANCE HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY IN ROMANIA
Zsolt Nemeth, state secretary at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, told national television on 28 July that the cabinet headed by Orban is ready to finance a Hungarian-language university in the Transylvanian city of Cluj. He said that the only obstacle to reopening that university is the Romanian government's hesitation to make its views known "on this delicate matter." MSZ
SERBIAN OFFENSIVE CONTINUES IN KOSOVA
Serbian paramilitary police and Yugoslav army troops took control of the road linking Mitrovica and Peja in northern Kosova on 29 July. They also continued their attacks on Junik, which is controlled by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998). Heavy fighting also took place in the Gjakova region along the Albanian border. Serbian police killed four UCK fighters and captured seven others who had tried to take control of a stretch of the road linking Malisheva and Kijeva, Serbian sources reported from Prishtina. Kosovar sources said that up to 300,000 ethnic Albanian civilians have fled their homes throughout the province as a result of the fighting and that many live "in the forests and without basic necessities of life." PM
RUGOVA CALLS FOR ACTION
Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 29 July that he and leaders of other political groups have reached a compromise on setting up a coalition government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He did not elaborate. Rugova also called upon the U.S., EU, and international community to take measures to "prevent ethnic cleansing and the stem the flow of refugees." PM
STILL NO AGREEMENT WITH UCK
In the Drenica region, U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill continued talks with UCK representatives about their forming a joint team with the civilians to negotiate with the Serbian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 1998). He did not finalize the deal, which involves the UCK being represented in talks by politicians close to it, Reuters reported. An unnamed senior U.S. diplomat told the news agency that the guerrillas are still "considering" the proposal. Observers noted that the recent reverses suffered by the UCK on the battlefield may be a factor in holding up their agreement on joining any future talks. PM
UCK SOLDIERS AT TIRANA RALLY
More than a dozen UCK soldiers attended a meeting of the nationalist Albanian National Movement on 29 July in central Tirana. Idajet Beqiri, a deputy leader of the movement, introduced to those present a UCK commander called "Skender," who urged the participants to support the UCK's "fight for the national liberation from the occupier." Beqiri called for setting up a "Front of National Unity" among ethnic Albanians everywhere to draft a joint program for a solution to the Kosovar problem, "Koha Jone" reported. Daut Gumeni, who is the secretary of President Rexhep Meidani, was present and praised the plans for closer cooperation between Kosovars and Albanians. He added that "such a movement would also compensate" for the inability of the government for political reasons to support the UCK openly. FS
MORE SHELLS HIT ALBANIA
Albanian border guards in Tropoja told "Gazeta Shqiptare" that there were six separate incidents in which Serbian forces fired with mortars and machine guns on Albanian territory on 28 and 29 July at different areas in the Has Mountains and near Tropoja. Nobody was injured in any of the incidents, but one shell almost hit four children near Padesh, in Albania. Meanwhile in Tirana, the parliament met in closed session on 28 July to discuss the security situation with Foreign Minister Paskal Milo and Interior Minister Perikli Teta. No results of that meeting were reported. FS
ARGENTINA TO SEND NADA SAKIC TO CROATIA
Victor Ramos, who is the head of the Argentine government's anti-racism unit, said in Buenos Aires on 29 July that the authorities will soon deport Nada Sakic to Croatia. He added that Argentina has turned down Yugoslavia's request for her extradition because the atrocities took place on what is now Croatian territory. Both Zagreb and Belgrade want her to stand trial on charges of war crimes she allegedly committed at a concentration camp during World War II. Argentina recently extradited Nada Sakic's husband, Dinko, to Croatia to stand trial on similar charges of war crimes. PM
SHELLINGS, EXPLOSIONS IN BOSNIA
Some 70 Muslims returned to their former homes in the Croatian-held Stolac region on 29 July. Before they arrived, unidentified persons fired mortar shells at five of their houses. The Stolac region has witnessed many Croatian nationalist attacks on Muslims or their property since the Dayton agreement was signed at the end of 1995. Meanwhile in Muslim-controlled Kakanj in central Bosnia, a bomb damaged a Roman Catholic church. Bosnian Croats have frequently complained about harassment and discrimination by Muslims in that region. And in Sarajevo, a bomb went off outside the offices of the independent bi- monthly "Dani." The magazine's offices have been the scene of several incidents recently following "Dani's" publication of an article linking some members of the Muslim political establishment to organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1998). PM
BOSNIAN SERB POLICE STORM RADIO STATION
In Pale on 29 June, police loyal to Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic stormed the offices of Radio Serbian Sarajevo, whose hard-line management refused to accept their recent dismissal by Plavsic's government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998). In Sarajevo, the governing board of Radio-Television Bosnia-Herzegovina elected Mirsad Purivatra as its new director. Elsewhere, spokesmen for the office of the international community's Carlos Westendorp said that Bosnian nationals may legally hold dual citizenship provided that the other country in question has signed an agreement on dual citizenship with Bosnia. To date, however, no country has done so. Many Bosnian Serbs have Yugoslav passports, and Croatia freely issues its travel documents to Bosnian Croats, who are allowed to vote in Croatian parliamentary elections. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER ATTACKS 'ANTI-REFORM MANEUVERS'
Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 29 July said he will "not admit" the "perverse maneuvers of anti-reform forces". He added that "any blocking of the reform process will place a question mark over [the country's] future." Speaking in Ramnicu Valcea at festivities marking Romania's first-ever "Day of the National Anthem," Vasile attacked unnamed trade union leaders and "extremist parties" for attempts to hinder the reform process. He also said it is "inadmissible" that the Financial Guard has delivered to the state budget only some 6 million lei ($687) in exposed tax evasions when some 30 percent of Romania's economic activity takes place "underground." He again criticized the State Property Fund for being inefficient and over-bureaucratized, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER ON POSSIBLE COALITION CRISIS
Daniel Daianu on 29 July said there are indications that "dissenting forces reminiscent of those that brought about the fall of the [Victor] Ciorbea cabinet" are now emerging in the ruling coalition, Mediafax reported. In an interview with Reuters, Daianu rejected Premier Vasile's recent accusations that his ministry failed to bring in sufficient tax revenues and said he needs the support of the whole coalition, not merely that of the National Liberal Party (PNL), to carry out reform. Daianu said at a meeting with the PNL leadership the same day that "under no circumstances" will he stay in the cabinet if the contract with the U.S.'s Bell Helicopters is approved. PNL deputy chairman Valeriu Stoica said the party will withdraw its support for Daianu if he fails to adhere to its decisions. Agriculture Minister Dinu Gavrilescu and Industry Minister Radu Berceanu also criticized the performance of the Finance Ministry. MS
ROMANIAN DEFENSE COUNCIL DISCUSSES NATIONAL SECURITY
The Supreme National Defense Council, which is chaired by President Emil Constantinescu, discussed the country's national defense strategy on 29 July. Presidential counselor Dorin Marian said on national television after the meeting that the discussion was prompted by the need to "update" the strategy in light of developments in the course of the last year, particularly NATO and EU expansion. The council said joining the two organizations and cooperating with them will continue to be Romania's main focus. It added that the country's main objectives are "protection of [the country's] citizens, safeguarding fundamental and individual rights," promoting Romania's international interests, and supporting the "ethnic identity" of Romanians who live beyond the country's borders. The document approved by the council is to be discussed with political parties and put to public debate by 15 August. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER DISCUSS NATIONAL MINORITIES POLICIES
President Petar Stoyanov on 28 July urged Premier Kostov to speed up the ratification of the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. Bulgaria signed that document some 18 months ago. The premier said after the meeting that the government is "ready to seek consensus" for its ratification. Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, who also attended the meeting with Stoyanov, said consensus- seeking rather than a "strong-arm policy" is required when "serious problems concerning the nation" are at issue, BTA reported.
METHOD TO LUKASHENKA'S MISCHIEF?
by Christopher Walker
As the controversy surrounding the Drazdy diplomatic housing compound in Minsk continues, it may be useful to examine more closely Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's strategy for diverting attention from domestic ills in Belarus, while simultaneously consolidating his position as one of the most effective populist politicians in the post-Soviet world.
While the boorish action taken by Belarusian authorities against foreign diplomats is emblematic of Lukashenka's blatant disregard of international norms, this approach has also served his purposes, helping him to burnish his image as a politician prepared to stand up to the West and further his goal of becoming a player on a larger stage in the former Soviet Union. Lukashenka's recent public dialogue with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov provided a forum in which Lukashenka could portray the West as a bully set on dictating terms of behavior to former Soviet states, thus rallying his base in Belarus and gaining political mileage with Russians frustrated by the slow pace of economic reform.
Lukashenka's railing against the West is part of an ongoing effort to blame present-day economic pain on Western reform programs and methods rather than on the backward Soviet era policies that originally brought on economic implosion. In Russia, where a great deal of reform has been undertaken, the distress resulting from social and economic dislocation has created an environment where reforms already applied are more closely associated with current pain than the decades of Soviet communism that crippled the country's economy and infrastructure.
Whether Lukashenka will be able to wedge himself more deeply into the Russian political scene is not yet clear, but if he fails, it will not be for lack of trying. Albeit on a limited scale, the Belarusian president continues to travel to Russia and to broadcast his populist, Soviet- style message via Belarusian State Radio to Russian regions. As times get tougher, Lukashenka's claims of Western heavy-handedness and his own promises of stability and order may gain greater currency.
Lukashenka will not likely ignore the fact that Boris Yeltsin nearly had to beg the Western financial community to stave off collapse of the Russian ruble and financial markets. The tough conditions set by the IMF to encourage needed restructuring of the Russian economy may be characterized by some as a noose being tightened around the country's economic neck, rather than medicine to help it get better. With the Russian economy and so many of its key institutions in disarray, it is easy to understand how many Russians could be led to the conclusion that the West does not have Russia's best interests at heart or at least is not fully sensitive to the depth of the hardships being experienced there. Loss of prestige as a world power is now as palpable as ever in Russia, and Lukashenka does not hesitate to play upon this sensitivity.
In Belarus, the operative word is "control." This wide- ranging control enables Lukashenka to exert his authority over virtually all spheres of Belarusian life. He himself deems this governing style as necessary for avoiding the problems Russia and other former Soviet republics are now facing. This domination extends over the judiciary, parliament, media, NGO community, and economy. It is, however, Belarus's own poor economic health under Lukashenka's stewardship that may be his greatest domestic political problem.
It is telling that during the dispute over diplomats' housing, both the IMF and the World Bank recalled their respective representatives from Belarus. The IMF and the World Bank explained that move by citing Belarus's failure to fulfill mutual agreements and the obdurate refusal of the regime to implement serious economic reform. With its low levels of foreign investment and privatization and its heavy reliance on barter arrangements with Russia, the World Bank's country director for Belarus has said that the Belarusian government needs "to have a fundamental rethinking of its economic strategy".
Russians may have been compelled to swallow their collective pride in requesting this latest massive IMF loan package, but Belarusians will enjoy only short-term relief from their own government's economic policies, such as restriction on foreign exchange trading and other quick-fix measures taken in Minsk to prop up the Belarusian ruble. In addition, Lukashenka's attempt to distinguish Belarus from Russia with respect to wage arrears has been simply to direct his treasury to print more money in order to pay workers, thus raising the specter of inflationary pressures.
But while Lukashenka and his inner circle may possess a weak grasp of market economics, he does understand the politics of the economic and social pain experienced by people in former Soviet republics. The very issues to which Lukashenka routinely refers--corruption, fraud, wage arrears, profiteering, and economic insecurity--are, in fact, those which plague Russia.
As Russia contends with its most severe economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka gathers more fodder for his arguments against the incomplete results of Western-style reform. The stakes are high. Russia's internal situation is weak and its foreign policy--less Western-friendly since the parliamentary elections of December 1994--is being contested by nationalist xenophobes and those who seek greater integration into and cooperation with the West.
With all of his apparent limitations, there is a danger that in some disturbing ways, the times in post-Soviet Russia could increasingly be more suited to Lukashenka and his brand of populist politics. Though Lukashenka may not be able to make good on his claim of being "president for life", he may remain in power long enough to cause a great deal of discomfort to those hoping for greater cooperation and integration east of the newest NATO member countries.
Never short on surprises, Lukashenka has made stability his rallying cry at home; at the same time, his approach will generate just the opposite effect abroad. The author is based in Prague and manager of programs at the European Journalism Network.