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Newsline - August 28, 1998


"Kommersant-Daily" on 27 August argued that the presidential staff no longer pretends that "everything is fine." They expect acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin "not only to overcome the financial crisis but also to secure guarantees from the [State] Duma if President [Boris Yeltsin] wants to resign." A "high-ranking" source told the newspaper that the Kremlin is seeking a special law that would provide for the president's financial and physical well-being in retirement. The newspaper adds that now "Yeltsin will share any powers with Chernomyrdin." In March, one of the reasons Yeltsin reportedly dismissed Chernomyrdin was because he conducted talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as an equal. However, on 26 August, Chernomyrdin flew to Crimea with Yeltsin's full approval to meet with the Belarusian and Ukrainian heads of state. JAC


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 27 August insisted that there is no truth to a CBS news report that President Yeltsin has written but not yet signed his resignation. Yastrzhembskii said "I would like to calm the Russian public and the Russian and foreign media: There is no talk of, nor can there be any talk of, any resignation by the president." The same day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted a "high-ranking staffer close to presidential circles" who said that sometime in October or November the Kremlin will create "a fitting excuse for Yeltsin's departure from political life." The newspaper suggests that Yeltsin will resign only after his chosen successor, Chernomyrdin, has been confirmed as prime minister. JAC


The first draft of the political agreement crafted by the Duma commission and to be approved by a tripartite commission composed of members of both legislative chambers and the administration envisions a significant transfer of power from the executive to the legislature. According to "Russkii telegraf" on 27 August, the Duma wins the right to approve the appointment not only of the prime minister but also of his deputies and key ministers. And it would be able to hold a no-confidence vote on individual ministers and not just on the government as a whole. In exchange for these broader powers, the Duma promises to freeze the impeachment process, to refrain from holding a no confidence vote in the government for at least three months, and to review and pass legislation in a speedy manner. JAC


Enacting the Duma's version of the political agreement would require revising the Russian Constitution because the agreement significantly enhances the powers of the legislature. And at least some Duma factions apparently do not mind having their enhanced powers enshrined in the constitution. On 27 August, Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Our Home is Russia faction, told reporters that it is "necessary to start the process of making amendments to the Russian Constitution by convening a constitutional conference." JAC


The administration's initial reaction to the Duma's version of the political agreement was extremely negative. According to ITAR-TASS on 27 August, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said that diluting the president's powers in favor of the Duma and Federation Council is "clearly asking too much." Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov declared that his faction does not like the document either, but for a very different reason. In his opinion, the agreement should not preclude impeachment. It also should include some kind of law on the media, requiring "councils of observers" at all major publications that would encourage the dissemination of honest and correct information. Similarly, Nikolai Ryzhkov, leader of the Power to the People faction, thinks the agreement is flawed since it has no guarantee that the Duma would confirm eight ministers and heads of central departments, according to Russian Public Television. JAC


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 August reported that a group of unidentified regional governors intend to block Chernomyrdin's confirmation as premier. They will propose the candidacy of Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev instead, the newspaper claimed. In an interview in "Izvestiya" the previous day, Stroev had said he takes "a negative view" of rumors that he will be proposed as a candidate for premier if Chernomyrdin is not confirmed in that post. Stroev said that the Federation Council is prepared "to support any government...but we hope that the government too will support the measures proposed by the regions." He noted that none of the four initiatives advanced in recent years by the Federation Council met with support from the executive branch. LF


The Central Bank on 27 August announced that the Moscow Inter-bank Currency Exchange will not resume trading on 28 August. The bank cited the tremendous imbalance between the demand for foreign currency and its supply. According to "Izvestiya" on 28 August, excess demand for dollars totaled $290 million. Fearing that the exchange may never reopen, some Moscow bankers told Interfax that it "depends on who comes to power." JAC


According to Russia's benchmark index, stocks sank 17.1 percent to their lowest level since the benchmark was first calculated on September 1995. Traders said that uncertainty about Yeltsin's health and an atmosphere of reduced investor confidence following the announcement of the government's plan for its GKO contributed to the stocks' fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998). JAC


On 27 August, the Duma commission drafting the political agreement also completed a first version of its economic policy slated for final approval by the tripartite commission. According to ITAR-TASS, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Duma deputy speaker and a member of the Our Home Is Russia faction, described the document as a "fundamentally new approach to regulating economic activity." Under the plan, Russian customs policy would become more rigorous "regarding protection of the domestic market." In addition, banks that failed to meet their obligations to depositors would become state property. Interfax reported that other troubled enterprises deemed to be of national importance would be subject to temporary nationalization in order "to reform them and make them more efficient." The plan also specifies that the federal budget should be balanced and tax revenues should account for no less than 70 percent of budget revenues. JAC


National Reserve Bank, Inkombank, Avtobank, Mezhkombank, and Alfa-Bank announced plans to merge on 27 August, Russian agencies reported. According to earlier press reports, only Inkombank and NRB were joining forces; however, the current constellation of five banks may grow even larger. According to Interfax, executives from Avtobank and Mezhkombank are engaged in talks with other large commercial banks to join the new banking group. Aleksandr Lebedev, chairman of the board of directors of the National Reserve Bank, will oversee the holding. JAC


The Central Bank is considering minting gold coins as an alternative currency to the ruble, whose convertibility has been called into question since trading has been halted for the last few days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998). The Association of Russian Banks proposed the idea, which quickly won support from the government and the Duma, according to Dmitrii Ignatev, chief of the assocation's precious metals department. The coins could be in circulation within two weeks if the Central Bank decides to give the plan the go-ahead. Also under consideration at the Central Bank is a plan to transfer gold reserves from the Central Bank to selected commercial banks in order to guarantee the safety of private deposits, according to Interfax. JAC


Petar Stoyanov is making his first official visit to Russia in his capacity as Bulgarian president. On 28 August, he met with President Yeltsin, who later told journalists that he wants Russian- Bulgarian relations to return to their "past levels." He said a joint working group has been set up for that purpose. ITAR-TASS quoted Stoyanov as saying there is now "political will" on both sides to improve relations and to put aside "past misunderstandings." Stoyanov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he hopes Russia will invest in the construction of pipelines and the privatization of oil refineries in Bulgaria. Several bilateral agreements between Russia and Bulgaria are expected to be signed before Stoyanov returns to Sofia. JAC/MS


Akhmed hadji Abdulaev, former rector of the Islamic University in Kizilyurt, has been elected Dagestan's mufti, replacing Said-Mukhamed Abubakarov, who was killed by a car bomb on 21 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 August. The Dagestani State Council convened on 27 August to discuss implementation of the Russian government program adopted a year ago to stabilize the region's economy. It is unclear whether the 26 August protest march to demand the resignation of State Council chairman Magomedali Magomadov was also on the agenda. State Duma Committee for Nationality Affairs Chairman Vladimir Zorin told the newspaper that the rising tensions in Dagestan underscore the need to create a state commission for the North Caucasus. He added that Chernomyrdin's confirmation as prime minister would have a positive effect, given the latter's deep familiarity with the situation in the region. LF


The Tajik government claims former army Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev ordered the murder of six people in Tursunzade on 27 August, including the mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998), Interfax reported. Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov said one of the attackers killed in the shooting has been linked to Khudaberdiyev's group. Khudaberdiyev was commander of the presidential guard's rapid reaction force but, dissatisfied with the terms of the Tajik peace accord, he came into armed conflict with the government in the second half of 1997. Khudaberdiyev, speaking with RFE/RL's Tajik service on 27 August, denied having any part in the attack on the Tursunzade mayor's office. BP


The Tajik government claims the group that attacked the mayor's office in Tursunzade fled toward the Uzbek border and is now in the village of Toshteppe in the Uzbekistan's eastern Uzun Region, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. It has also asked the Uzbek government for help in apprehending the group. The Uzbek Interior Ministry refuted the claim that the group is on Uzbek territory and called the events in Tursunzade "an internal affair of Tajikistan." The ministry also said attempts to connect Uzbekistan with those events "plant the seeds of discontent between the Uzbek and Tajik peoples." BP


The World Bank will lend Tajikistan $5 million to help repair damage caused by recent flooding, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. The Asian Development Bank has also promised Tajikistan a $20 million loan for technical assistance. BP


Richard Lugar arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 26 August to discuss financing of special projects, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Those projects include converting military installations to civilian use, the disposal of weapons of mass destruction, and the non-proliferation of nuclear arms. RFE/RL correspondents report that 600 kilograms of enriched uranium is due to be shipped to the U.S. for disposal this year. Lugar held discussions with Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev on further uranium shipments to the U.S. BP


During a tour of a steel plant in Karaganda, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that he favors exporting manufactured goods instead of mostly raw materials, Interfax reported on 27 August. Such a move was outlined in the so-called Snow Leopard program for economic transformation by 2030. Nazarbayev said that while emphasizing domestic production of such goods, he will not bar imports as "we [do not want to] encourage the production of poor quality goods by our plants." The Kazakh president added, "We should develop small and medium-sized businesses, which should number tens of thousands." Nazarbayev also took the opportunity to comment on unemployment, saying everyone should be able to find a job. "If there is no work here, then take land, breed livestock, engage in private business, and feed your family, " he said. BP


Union of Self-Determination chairman and presidential adviser Paruyr Hayrikian told journalists in Yerevan on 26 August that his party will appeal to the Constitutional Court to rule on the optimum correlation in the new election law between the majority and proportional systems, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. The Yerkrapah union of war veterans, which forms the majority within the present parliament, wants most seats in the next legislature to be allocated in single-mandate constituencies. Other parties advocate allocating all but 30-40 seats on the basis of party lists. LF


Robert Kocharian on 26 August met with Azerbaijani and Georgian journalists visiting Armenia to participate in a seminar organized by the Yerevan Press Club, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Outlining Armenia's foreign policy priorities, Kocharian again rejected as unacceptable the OSCE guidelines for resolving the Karabakh conflict. He proposed the Dayton agreement on Bosnia as a possible alternative that would preclude the subordination of Karabakh to Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Kocharian also warned against any attempt by Azerbaijan to "privatize" the TRACECA transport corridor project, adding that Armenia intends to participate in that project. LF


Meeting on 26 August in Baku with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, a visiting Finnish parliament delegation pledged that when Finland assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 1999, that country will support Azerbaijan's acceptance into full membership of that body. At present, the three Transcaucasus states have special guest status with the Council of Europe. LF


Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov has ordered the dismissal of a police officer who assaulted an opposition journalist on 22 August, Turan reported on 27 August. Hajji Zamin, a correspondent for the Azerbaijan Popular Front newspaper "Azadlyg," was assaulted and subjected to verbal abuse at a Baku metro station. The independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil lodged a protest at the incident. LF


Eduard Shevardnadze has condemned the failure of the Georgian National Security Ministry to improve its anti-terrorist activities in the wake of two attempts on his life, according to Interfax. Shevardnadze pledged to apprehend the perpetrators of the 25 August bombing in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi, which killed two fugitives from Abkhazia and wounded several dozen more. The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry has expressed condolences to the families of the victims, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August. Abkhaz parliament-in-exile chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili has blamed the bombing on ethnic Georgian fugitives recruited by Gali Raion administrator Ruslan Kishmaria into a special military formation that is to patrol the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, according to Interfax. LF


A Georgian official told Caucasus Press on 27 August that the Abkhaz authorities are detaining ethnic Georgian fugitives from Gali Raion who attempt to return to their homes to harvest their hazelnut crop. The agency had earlier reported that members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in Gali are assisting the local Abkhaz authorities in harvesting hazelnuts. The Georgian fugitives are otherwise totally dependent on humanitarian aid. The Georgian authorities can provide them with only a half loaf per person per day. LF


Valerii Gelbakhiani, who advises Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze on legal affairs, told Caucasus Press on 27 August that the Adjar parliament has drafted a law on local elections that provides for local mayors and other authorized representatives to be elected, rather than appointed, as is the case under Georgian legislation. Gelbakhiani said that the Adjar Constitution gives that republic the right to adopt its own legislation on elections. He added that he hopes the Georgian legislation will be amended to allow for the election of local officials before the 15 November local elections. LF


Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko told journalists on 27 August in Kyiv that he does not believe the country is facing a financial crisis of the same dimensions as Russia, dpa reported. "We will bolster the hryvnya and take further steps toward reform," the agency quoted him as saying. Ukrainian National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko added that he does not see any reasons for a "deep devaluation" of the hryvnya. But he admitted that changing the 1998 exchange corridor of 1.8- 2.25 hryvni to $1 remains an option, Interfax reported. JM


Pustovoytenko said the IMF has not postponed issuing a $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. He said that IMF Managing-Director Michel Camdessus promised at a 26 August meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Russian acting Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin that Ukraine will obtain its loan as planned. JM


Pustovoytenko also said the Ukrainian government wants Ukraine's debt to Gazprom and Russia's debts to Ukrainian plants to be canceled, Interfax reported on 27 August. He added that this problem was a major item on the agenda of his talks with Chernomyrdin on 26 August. "We will insist on this arrangement," the agency quoted Pustovoytenko as saying. In early July, Ukraine owed Russia $610 million for gas supplies. JM


When David Phillips, World Bank representative in Minsk, leaves Belarus in two weeks, nobody will be sent to replace him, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. Philips told journalists that the main reason for his departure is the lack of progress in implementing economic reforms that the World Bank and Belarus agreed to in a June 1997 memorandum. Philips noted some positive aspects in the Belarusian economy, including a significant increase in GDP and industrial production. But he said the growth results mainly from resuming operations at formerly idle enterprises and from regaining access to the Russian market. He added that the growth cannot be sustained without structural transformations and large foreign investments. JM


The Central Election Committee on 26 August announced that the referendum on amendments to the citizenship law will be held at the same time as the general elections scheduled for 3-4 October. BNS reported that if the parliament adopts necessary changes to the law on referenda, the vote on the citizenship amendments will take place on one day only; otherwise, voting on those amendments will take place on two consecutive days. The committee's decision was backed by five members, with three voting against and chairman Andris Cimdars abstaining. The committee also announced the final result of the campaign to collect signatures supporting the referendum: 226,530 citizens added their signature to the petition, of whom 1,506 live abroad. JC


Legislators on 26 August voted down a no-confidence motion in Laimonis Strujevics by 33 to 14 with 13 abstentions, BNS reported. The motion was moved by deputies from the opposition For Latvia and People's Harmony factions as well as several independent deputies over proposed changes in privatization regulations whereby the state oil enterprise Ventspils nafta would have been sold for some 8 million lats ($16 million) below its market value. Those change were supported by Strujevics but opposed by his aide, Andis Bumbieris, who allegedly committed suicide shortly after. The proposed changes in the privatization regulations have since been scrapped. JC


Gediminas Vagnorius told journalists on 26 August that he does not believe the financial crisis in Russia will spread to Lithuania, BNS reported. Vagnorius said that the government began to prepare for possible upheavals on Russia's financial market in the spring, when "the first symptoms of the crisis" appeared. To that end, the premier said, "we started accumulating financial resources." He noted that Lithuanian foreign-currency reserves increased by $600 million this year to $1.699 billion as of 1 August, while Lithuania's foreign debt now totals $1.047 billion. "So, our gold and foreign-currency reserves exceed the total foreign indebtedness of Lithuania, and this is already a guarantee of stability on the Lithuanian financial market," he commented. JC


Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has appealed for a "sensible silence" regarding Russia's financial crisis, PAP reported on 27 August. He said Poland should analyze the Russian crisis in order to minimize its effects on the Polish economy. Referring to an analysis made by his economic adviser Marek Belka, Kwasniewski said the Russian crisis is not "crushing" for Poland. He added that the Polish and Russian economies have become different owing to consistent reforms implemented in Poland since 1990. Similarly, Leon Gomulka, adviser to Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, told the 28 August "Gazeta Wyborcza" that Russia's financial crisis does not increase the risk of foreign investments in Poland. But he added that if the Russian crisis persists, Poland may lose up to $1 billion dollar next year owing to lower exports to Russia. JM


Polish Catholic bishops on 26 August appealed to their congregation to take part in the local government elections scheduled for 11 October, PAP reported. "It is important to extend the democratic transformations, which have brought about deep changes in Poland over the recent years, on to the basic structures of local government," the agency quoted one archbishop as saying. JM


The Czech government on 27 August announced that RFE/RL will be able to begin broadcasting to Iran from 1 September on a trial basis. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said the cabinet also decided that the U.S. must officially request the consent of the Czech government for the broadcasts. The spokesman said the cabinet decided not to revoke the previous government's position on broadcasting to Iran, but the government will review the "risks" connected with the broadcasts and make a "definitive decision" by the end of 1998. Roucek said that the U.S. has not yet requested permission for broadcasts to Iraq and that if it does so, the Czech government will consider the request "within a reasonable amount of time." The Iranian Embassy in Prague on 27 August issued a protest about the plans to start Farsi broadcasts. MS


Doctors treating ailing President Vaclav Havel on 27 August announced that he will be discharged from the hospital the next day and allowed to return home, CTK reported. The doctors said they are optimistic that Havel will be able to travel to the U.S. in mid-September as planned. In other news, former Premier Vaclav Klaus on 27 August protested against government plans to replace managers of state-owned companies, AP reported. He said it is "unacceptable" to replace these managers with "faithful friends" of the Social Democrats. MS


Slovakia's controversial Mochovce nuclear plant is to be fully operational by 28 August, a spokesman for the plant told Reuters on the previous day. The plant will have to run at full production output without any interruption for six days before it is allowed to start the so-called "trial period," the spokesman said. The Mochovce plant has been supplying electricity to the national grid since it first started up in July, triggering strong protests in neighboring Austria, which considers the Soviet- designed plant to be potentially unsafe. A second reactor at the plant is expected to begin operating some time before September 1999. ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August that acting Minister for Atomic Energy Evgenii Adamov will attend a ceremony at the plant and will conduct talks with Slovak leaders on nuclear energy cooperation. MS


The ongoing financial crisis in Russia took a heavy toll on the Budapest Stock Exchange on 27 August, causing a halt in the trading of most issues, Hungarian media reported. The BUX index experienced the second-largest fall in its history, plunging 14.3 percent. The national currency has also weakened to 227.07 forints to $1 from 226 the previous day. Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai said the country's economy is growing and has reserves totaling $9 billion. There is no need to devalue the forint, but the National Bank may intervene again to protect the national currency, he concluded. MSZ


Postabank may have ordered the private company Pinpoint to collect information on the business interests of Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party leaders, "Nepszava" reported on 28 August, quoting administration officials. Postabank officials refused to comment on the allegation. Former Prime Minister Gyula Horn told Hungarian media that neither the previous government nor his Socialist Party ordered the illegal collection of data. "Vilaggazdasag" reported it is possible that individuals who had high-level contacts with the previous administration, rather than the administration itself, ordered the surveillance. MSZ


Serbian forces southwest of Prishtina killed eight children and three women with a mortar shell that Serbs fired at the tractor- trailer on which the ethnic Albanian family was riding. Three other family members were badly wounded in the attack on 27 August. The Kosova Information Center, which is close to the government of the shadow-state, reported from Prishtina that Serbian artillery continued to pound 14 ethnic Albanian villages near Suhareka. A spokesman for the center appealed to the international community to send monitors to that region. And near Prishtina airport, Serbian forces refused to allow a UN humanitarian aid convoy to leave the capital. AP reported that a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles may have been leaving the airport on trucks at that time. PM


The Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" on 27 August published a statement by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in which the guerrillas promised to "continue the liberation struggle" and appealed to the people for support. The UCK called on unidentified moderate politicians to "abandon empty rhetoric and verbal messages [and instead] make more concrete contributions to its nation and homeland." AP reported that this appeal may be directed at some politicians based outside Kosova, whom the UCK suspects are wavering in their support for the guerrillas. PM


Assistant Secretary of State Julia Taft visited Kosovar refugees near Peja on 27 August and said that she is "trying to find a way to catalyze all the [international relief] actions in some kind of [joint] strategy." Taft warned that the advent of cold weather in about six weeks could lead to a "catastrophe" unless refugees receive adequate food, clothing, and shelter. She said that the Serbian authorities have agreed to set up 11 aid distribution centers in various parts of Kosova. Taft added that she will ask President Bill Clinton to authorize additional "millions of dollars" in relief for Kosova in addition to the $11 million in aid that Washington has already approved. PM


An unidentified State Department official said in Washington on 27 August that John Shattuck, who is assistant secretary of state for democracy, labor and human rights, will go to Kosova shortly. The official added that the Yugoslav embassy is continuing to delay issuing a visa for David Scheffer, who is Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's special representative for war crimes issues, Reuters reported. Commenting on the reason for the new missions, the official said that Washington wants to "get the facts and make sure people understand our interest and our desire to do the right thing there." He regretted, however, that "repeated promises from Belgrade to do more, to do better, to allow humanitarian access, really have not been met." PM


The Albanian army held military exercises at Helshan, near the border with Kosova's Gjakova region, on 27 August. Taking part in the "Drini '98" maneuvers were 650 soldiers, who fired live ammunition. The exercises also involved 10 tanks and numerous anti-aircraft guns, mortars, and heavy artillery. Defense Minister Luan Hajdaraga told the soldiers that "with the bloody Kosova conflict becoming more dangerous every day, such exercises have a special value in strengthening our country's stability and security." A NATO official told Reuters that the soldiers practiced "defensive tactics." Albanian General Kudusi Lama said the exercises demonstrated the readiness of his troops to repel any attack. But he added that "we stay calm in the face of the increasing number of [border] incidents in order to avoid being provoked." FS


On 27 August in Vienna, the EU Presidency, which is currently held by Austria, issued a statement objecting to "the pattern of denial of access" to foreign journalists in Kosova. "We are also especially concerned about the recent expulsion of journalists," the text continued. The statement reminded Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that freedom of expression is a basic human right, adding that the government should help create favorable working conditions for journalists, Reuters wrote. PM


Elsewhere in the Austrian capital, Freimut Duve, who is the OSCE's spokesman on media affairs, said on 27 August that his office has "received several reports of harassment of journalists by Serbian police, specifically an attack on Kurt Schork of Reuters and Anthony Lloyd of 'The Times' of London." He added that in June, a Danish TV crew's vehicle was fired on by Serbian forces and that other foreign journalists have been denied visas or expelled. Duve suggested that the Belgrade authorities have particularly negative feelings toward German journalists. In response, Yugoslav Ambassador to Austria Dobrosav Veizovic said that the OSCE should concern itself with promoting what he called "free, responsible reporting." He charged that those to whom the authorities denied visas had written "sensationalist lies" about Kosova. Veizovic added that the UCK "has ill-treated Serbian journalists and made it difficult for them to report." PM


The independent daily "Nasa Borba" stopped publication for two weeks on 27 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The move comes in the wake of months of financial problems and disputes between the staff and the newspaper's owner. Many journalists left "Nasa Borba" earlier this year to help found the independent daily "Danas." In unrelated news, the Serbian government announced that all Serbian motorists must register their cars in Serbia. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs have registered their cars in Montenegro, where fees are hundreds or thousands of dollars lower than in Serbia. PM


Croatian President Franjo Tudjman did not attend a meeting in Zagreb on 27 August to which he had invited Croatian political leaders from Bosnia-Herzegovina to discuss the upcoming elections there. His top aides Franjo Greguric and Ivic Pasalic represented him in talks with the leaders of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights instead. Leaders of the other Bosnian Croat parties turned down Tudjman's invitation on the grounds that he and his state-run media allegedly favor the HDZ. Observers noted that the refusal of most Bosnian Croat leaders to attend his meeting was a major embarrassment to Tudjman. PM


Protesters injured a policeman when they tried to break through police cordons outside the residence of Prime Minister Fatos Nano on 27 August. Some demonstrators threw stones at the police when marching toward the residence from central Skanderbeg Square. Police arrested several protesters. The authorities had earlier banned the demonstration and warned residents of the capital to stay indoors in order to avoid "terrorist attacks" should the rally take place. Police nonetheless did not intervene when the estimated 3,000 protesters gathered at the square prior to the clashes. The opposition supporters were protesting the arrest of six former Democratic Party government officials, accused of committing crimes against humanity during the unrest in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998). At an earlier demonstration, Democratic leader Sali Berisha had called on his supporters "to use all means" to overthrow the Socialist-led coalition government. FS


Ion Sturdza, on a two-day visit to Romania, met with Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu on 27 August and discussed bilateral cooperation, particularly in the economic sphere, and the situation in the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Sturdza said Moldova may be interested in setting up a "joint energy pool" with Romania, but he added that his country would have difficulty finding funds to participate in the financing of a second nuclear reactor at Cernavoda. MS


An Interior Ministry spokesman on 27 August denied that Bulgaria has recently detained and extradited to Egypt a member of the Jihad group who had been condemned in absentia to life imprisonment, BTA reported. Citing the London-based "Al-Hayat" Arabic daily, AP earlier reported that Issam Abdel-Tawab Abdel-Aleem had been handed over to Egyptian authorities. The report said he entered Bulgaria from Albania last November with his Albanian wife and asked for political asylum. It also said his wife had been handed over to the Albanian authorities. MS


by Paul Goble

The leaders of Russia's immediate neighbors--the 11 former Soviet republics and the three Baltic States-- appear confident that the ongoing political turmoil in Moscow will not have a negative impact on either their internal development or their bilateral relations with the Russian Federation.

Some even have suggested that the return of Viktor Chernomyrdin might bring Russia some stability, allow it to recover from its current crisis, and thus make it possible for relations between Moscow and their countries to improve.

But a few have indicated that they are concerned that Moscow's problems could become theirs either directly, if Russian politicians try to exploit nationalist themes, or indirectly, if Western governments and investors decide that the entire post-Soviet region is now at risk.

Such a range of judgments would not surprise anyone if it came from the neighbors of any other major country going through difficulties. But it undoubtedly will surprise many who still think of the post-Soviet region as a single unit and who believe that the leaders of all the countries there still focus first and foremost on Moscow.

Across the region once occupied by the USSR, presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers reacted calmly to Boris Yeltsin's decision to bring back Chernomyrdin as prime minister and the latter's willingness to cooperate with Communists in the Russian parliament.

The statement of the Kyrgyz presidential press secretary earlier this week was typical. Kanybek Imanaliyev said the change is "Russia's internal affair," a statement echoed in Tajikistan and other Central Asian capitals.

Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis reflected the views of most when he said the change in government in Moscow will have no impact on Russia's relationship with his country. The return of Chernomyrdin, the Latvian leader said, is "in no way linked to relations with Latvia." And he pointed out that at the present time, whatever some citizens of his country may think, "Moscow is least of all thinking about Latvia."

Most leaders were inclined to put an even more positive interpretation on developments in the Russian capital. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he hopes Chernomyrdin's return will enhance stability in Russia, which, he said, is now "crucial for everybody" but "especially for Georgia."

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said he believes that Chernomyrdin's "experience and influence will help overcome the severe financial crisis" in Russia. He expressed confidence in the future of Russian-Moldovan relations on the basis of their development during Chernomyrdin's earlier tenure as Russian prime minister.

And Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said he is confident Chernomyrdin has the skill to "stabilize the situation" in Russia, which, he added, would promote the continued expansion of bilateral ties "in the right direction for the benefit of our peoples."

But in the midst of this generally upbeat set of assessments, there were some who indicated that the problems in Russia might spread to their own countries. In contrast to his president, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs was one such person. He suggested that the deepening of the economic crisis in Russia could lead to problems for Latvia.

That conclusion, Birkavs said, reflects the fact that "Russia unfortunately uses Latvia in its domestic political games." But even he said that Moscow now faces so many domestic problems that it is unlikely to focus its attention on any of its neighbors anytime soon.

Others expressed concern that Russian political and economic problems could have a serious impact on Western assessments of their countries. Estonian President Lennart Meri, for example, said he does not believe that Chernomyrdin's appointment will have a negative impact on Estonian-Russian relations. But he indicated that the devaluation of the ruble and the declines in the Russian stock markets could lead some in the West to draw more sweeping conclusions about the region.

In every case, at least some of the confidence reflects the requirements of diplomacy. But equally, if not more, important, this confidence also reflects the extent to which these are 14 independent and very different countries, significantly less dependent on Russia now than they were only a few years ago.