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Newsline - September 18, 1998


The Bank of Russia canceled ruble/dollar trading on 18 September after the ruble dropped for a fourth consecutive day. Bloomberg cited fears among traders that the Central Bank has already printed as much as 3 billion rubles ($240 million) to pay back wages and pensions to the military and that it will print even more to cover some Russian banks' losses on defaulted government debt. On 17 September, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin told reporters that a controlled additional printing of money would not necessarily be harmful to the economy; however, excessive discussion of such an emission "may trigger inflation." Meanwhile, some residents of the Udor district in Komi Republic are using potatoes rather than rubles to make payment on rent and utilities, according to ITAR- TASS. The current rate is 1 kilogram of potatoes for 2 rubles. JAC


President Boris Yeltsin announced on 17 September that he and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov have failed to complete the cabinet lineup, in part because of continuing uncertainty over the right candidate for finance minister. The next day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax that the slow formation of the cabinet is "definitely abnormal." Analysts are divided over whether acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov will retain his post. Other candidates for the job are former Minister for Foreign Economic Relations Sergei Glaziev and former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, whose past service in government was scandal-ridden. However, Deputy Prime Minister Shokhin told reporters on 17 September that Vavilov is a " most unlikely candidate." According to "Russkii telegraf," Alfa Group President Petr Aven and Menatep chairman Konstantin Kagalovskii are also seeking the job. JAC


Reports of State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov's appointment as deputy prime minister proved premature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1998). According to "Izvestiya" the next day, Ryzhkov, who had been in Strasbourg, France, on business, had not yet decided to take the job when his appointment was announced. After returning to Moscow and meeting with Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Ryzhkov turned down the offer to work in the government. On 18 September, ITAR-TASS reported that Leningrad Governor Vadim Gustov will assume the post of deputy prime minister in charge of federal, ethnic, regional, and youth policies. JAC


The fate of Boris Fedorov, "acting" deputy prime minister and "acting" head of the Federal Tax Service, is still unknown. On 18 September, the "Moscow Times" quoted Fedorov's press secretary as saying Fedorov is still ensconced in his fourth-floor office at government headquarters, busily ordering companies bankrupted for tax arrears. Fedorov had declared earlier that he would not leave the government on his accord (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). JAC


President Yeltsin on 17 September signed a decree calling for the reduction of interior forces troops by 54,000--more than one-fifth of their current size--by 1 January. According to Interfax, Yeltsin proposed that spending related to the withdrawal of interior troops be included in the 1999 federal budget's fund for assisting military reform. According to "Segodnya," Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin plans "to create smaller and less financially burdensome units out of the ministry's 19 divisions, bringing them up to strength exclusively with officers." "Segodnya" predicts a more integrated military policy in the future and more thorough military reforms because of the close relationship between Stepashin, Primakov, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and the fact that the National Security Council has no strong leader since the dismissal of Andrei Kokoshin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 1998). JAC


President Yeltsin on 17 September ordered increased security measures in preparation for the national labor protest scheduled for 7 October. According to AP, Yeltsin ordered Interior Minister Stepashin to set up additional mobile police squads. Stepashin told reporters that mass rioting will not take place. He said that "we will meet leaders of movements and parties to talk to them before the event." On 15 September, Prime Minister Primakov held talks with union representatives to address their concerns in the hope of forestalling the planned labor action. However, Russia's most radical labor leaders were excluded from the meeting, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. JAC


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 18 September traveled to Moscow for two days of informal talks with Russian President Yeltsin. According to Interfax, Kuchma is expected to raise the issue of the economic crises plaguing both countries and propose the creation of a free trade zone in the CIS rather than a customs union, an idea supported by Russia and other CIS members. Yeltsin is likely to raise the issue of Ukraine's unpaid debts for Russian natural gas and Russian naval bases in the Black Sea. Sergei Prikhodko, deputy chief of the presidential staff, told reporters on 17 September that Primakov will also meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko and Russian Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko to discuss financial cooperation. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" cited the fact that Yeltsin's Ukraine visit as well as others to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan had to be postponed or rearranged as evidence that Russia's foreign policy problems are being neglected because of the economic crisis. JAC


The head of the American Chamber of Commerce, Scott Blacklin, told reporters on 17 September that fifty major U.S. companies have lost almost $500 million in Russia since the crisis began and witnessed a significant decline in demand for their goods and services. Many are reducing staff and delaying payments to creditors, while some have even stopped production temporarily. Blacklin said that businesses are now in the process of allocating resources for the next year and will probably cut local staff and planned new investments, adding that most are not ready to pull out yet. However, the business community needs the new government to act quickly with concrete measures, Blacklin warned. Most desirable to the Chamber of Commerce, according to "Kommersant-Daily," would be passage of a new tax code, restoration of a convertible ruble, and adequate compensation for the losses of Western investors from the collapse of the short-term treasury bond market. JAC


State Duma deputy Vladimir Semago announced he is leaving the Communist Party on 17 September because of its leaders "conciliatory" position in its relations with the country's government. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 September, Communist Party officials said that Semago was already expelled from the faction because of violations of party discipline. The reason for the dispute was Semago's circulation of a "dear colleague" letter to fellow Communist Party members calling for the party to hold an emergency congress and to seek to replace opposition leadership for its "spineless behavior." The newspaper quoted Yurii Lebedev, former presidential representative to Nizhnii Novgorod, as saying that Semago's protests against party leaders are part of a pre-election strategy designed to appeal to an increasingly radical electorate. Semago is running for mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod in elections scheduled for 27 September. JAC


"Vremya MN" reported on 15 September that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is discussing the installation of special equipment enabling FSB computers to "control" communications via the Internet. According to the newspaper, counter-intelligence officials are currently focusing on the technical problems such "control" would entail. FSB officials figure that Internet providers themselves would absorb the cost of installing monitoring devices. JAC


The State Council on 15 September voted to hold a referendum on whether to introduce the post of elected president. The referendum will be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections on 3 March 1999. The State Council also appointed Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiev, former head of the regional organized crime directorate, as Security Council secretary. Meanwhile the investigation is continuing into the case of Kaspiisk City Mayor Ruslan Gadzhibekov, arrested on 14 September on suspicion of embezzlement, organizing a contract killing, and participating in the storming of the government building in Makhachkala in May. On 16 September, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office asked the State Duma to lift the immunity of Nadirshakh Khachilaev, chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia, whose supporters were in the vanguard of that attack. LF


Thousands of demonstrators gathered on the central square in Cherkessk on 17 September to demand the adoption of a law on electing the republic's head and a date for that vote to take place, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The present republican head, 65-year-old Vladimir Khubiev, has occupied that post since 1992 but has never been directly elected to it. He was reappointed to that post in 1995 by President Yeltsin pending the adoption of a constitution for the Republic of Karachaevo- Cherkassia. The republic's parliament adopted a new constitution in 1996 but failed to set a date for elections for the republican head. LF


Georgian special police detachments on 17 September detained some 40 Meskhetian men, loaded them into buses, and deported them to the Russian Federation, Black Sea Press and Caucasus Press reported. The men were part of a delegation of some 80 Meskhetians who had arrived in Georgia from Russia and Azerbaijan the previous day in the hope of meeting with representatives of the Georgian leadership and securing permission to return to Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September). The other members of the delegation, all of whom are women, are still in Tbilisi. Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told journalists on 17 September that he personally gave the order to deport the Meskhetians as they are aligned with opposition supporters of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The entire Meskhetian population was deported by Stalin from their homes in southwestern Georgia in November 1944. LF


Opposition Musavat Party deputy chairman Ibragim Ibragimli told Turan on 17 September that the whereabouts of 27 people arrested when demonstrators clashed with police in Baku on 12 September remain unclear. Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar said that those persons who threw stones and bottles during the clashes were "agents-provocateurs," adding that their identity is known. On 15 September, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov accused Gambar and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey of planning the throwing of missiles. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Council of the Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform issued a statement on 17 September announcing mass protest actions in Sumgait unless the chairman of the Sumgait branch of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, who was one of those detained on 12 September, is released immediately. LF


Naira Melkumian, foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, said that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group presented new peace proposals during their 17 September talks in Stepanakert with the enclave's leadership, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Melkumian said that the co-chairs "seemed to receive with greater understanding" Karabakh's insistence on a settlement based on a single framework accord settling all contentious issues. The Karabakh leadership last year rejected a "phased" OSCE plan for resolving the conflict. Also on 17 September, Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission issued a statement condemning as "illegal" the municipal elections in Nagorno-Karabakh scheduled for 27 September, Turan reported. LF


President Robert Kocharian has appointed Aghvan Hovsepian as prosecutor-general to succeed Henrik Khachatrian, who was murdered last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 1998). Hovsepian, who was born in 1953, graduated from the law faculty of Yerevan State University, after which he worked as an investigator in the Karelian ASSR and as a department head in the Nagorno- Karabakh Prosecutor-General's office. He has worked for the Armenian Procuracy since 1989. LF


Visiting Baku this week, LUKoil chairman Vagit Alekperov held talks with President Heidar Aliyev and Natik Aliev, president of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR. But he failed to sign the anticipated protocol on exploiting the on-shore Govsany and Zykh fields near Baku, Caucasus Press reported. Alekperov told journalists that LUKoil and SOCAR will conduct their own feasibility study on those fields, which have estimated residue reserves of 10-15 million tons and will require investment of up to $800 million. Meeting in Tbilisi on 17 September with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Alekperov said that LUKoil is interested in exporting oil via the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa. Alekperov also attended the formal opening of LUKoil's Tbilisi office. LF


President Saparmurat Niyazov dismissed Defense Minister Danatar Kopekov and Chief of General Staff Akmurad Mulkamanov on 17 September, Russian agencies reported. Niyazov also fired two prominent security officials. The dismissals followed an investigation into the 12 September incident in which five soldiers stole arms and ammunition and took seven villagers hostage, four of whom were killed in the ensuing rescue operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). Niyazov appointed Interior Minister Kurbanmukhamed Kasymov as defense minister and promoted one of his deputies, Poran Berdiev, to interior minister. LF


The Ukrainian police have arrested Mykola Syvulskyy, a senior official in the opposition party Hromada's shadow cabinet, on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion, Ukrainian Television and AP reported on 17 September. Syvulskyy, former deputy head of the National Bank and former deputy finance minister, is suspected of transferring more than $5 million from the Ukrhazprom state gas company to Unified Energy System, a private gas company. According to AP, Syvulskyy's arrest is the "latest chapter in an investigation" launched by state prosecutors against former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, leader of the influential Hromada party. Lazarenko's opponents accuse him of abusing his authority and reaping huge profits when he was premier in 1996- 1997. JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 17 September that he will "never sign a populist budget," Ukrainian Television reported. In his opinion, the budget must be realistic with regards to both revenues and expenditures. Kuchma added that he is "not quite satisfied" with the government's performance during the current crisis. According to him, the government lacks highly qualified professionals, particularly in economics. JM


Vice Admiral Vladimir Komoedov, commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, has sent an open letter to the Sevastopol city administration accusing it of "abusive actions" against Russian sailors, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 September. Komoedov said that those sailors are discriminated against by the city authorities, which have deprived them of the right to use the city transportation free of charge. He also points to increased pressure on the fleet to pay taxes and threats to confiscate property and cut off water and electricity supplies unless the fleet pay its debts. JM


Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich on 17 September said Belarus has "programs" that may be needed by Russia during its current crisis, Belapan reported. "We have experience, we can share it," he was quoted as saying. He added that Belarus is taking measures to intensify integration processes and political consultations with Russia, adding that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry sees the "current integration wave" to be of "utmost and priority" importance. In his opinion, the West is disseminating "powerful, destructive propaganda" against Russia and attempting to isolate that country, as it has done with Belarus. And he commented that the Russian crisis has culminated in a "collapse of Russia's development based on Western models that were implemented by Chicago boys." He declined, however, to offer any names. JM


Also on 17 September, Antanovich told journalists that Germany and France have sent their "technical teams" to examine Belarus's proposed new housing for diplomats following their eviction from the Drazdy residential compound in June, Belapan reported. Antanovich stressed that there will be "no return to the past" since the Drazdy compound is now the official residence of the Belarusian president. He said Belarus demands that foreign ambassadors respect this decision. He also commented foreign diplomat's property left at Drazdy remains untouched. Some ambassadors have requested that "they be allowed to spend at least one night in Drazdy in order to save face," Interfax quoted Antanovich as saying.


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 17 September that Russia should have warned its CIS partners about its serious financial situation before the crisis erupted, Interfax reported. "This did not happen. That is why the collapse in Russia cost us dearly," he commented. Lukashenka added that Russia is still facing "very bad things" and that they may become a "regular occurrence." Referring to current economic policies in Russia, Lukashenka said that "Russia is now adopting the principles that Belarus has been working on for a long time." He added that there is a need for him to meet with the Russian president or prime minister to discuss Russia's economic course. JM


Vladimirs Makarovs submitted his resignation on 17 September over recently adopted amendments to the law on state pensions, which he described as "unfeasible," RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported. Under those amendments, retired people who apply for higher pensions because they have continued to work after retiring will no longer be required to pay back their pensions for the previous three years. This non-payment, however, will depend on the availability of funds in the social insurance budget. In an interview with BNS, Makarovs pointed out that in August, the budget's revenues were 6 million lats ($12 million) down on the projected level. With the revenues for this month also shrinking, he commented that there are grounds for concern that it will not be possible to index pensions. JC


The U.S has called on the Lithuanian government to bring suspected war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis, a former U.S. citizen, to trial, Reuters reported on 17 September. In a statement released by the U.S. embassy in Vilnius, Department of State spokesman James Rubin said "the United States calls on Lithuania to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that justice is rendered in this and other important war crime cases from Nazi occupation." Lileikis's trial was indefinitely postponed last week when the defendant, pleading ill health, failed to show up (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 1998). JC


Lithuania is preparing to deliver medical aid worth 1 million litas ($250,000) to Kaliningrad, BNS reported. Protocols on the transfer of urgently needed medicines were signed at the Lithuanian consulate in the Russian exclave on 17 September. The medicines are intended for urban and regional children's hospitals, intensive care hospitals, and psychoneurological clinics. Lithuanian Ambassador Viktoras Baublys said Vilnius is providing the support to Kaliningrad "out of [a sense of] good-neighborliness," which, he added, is a priority of Lithuanian foreign policy. JC


According to Jerzy Kropiwnicki, head of the Government Center for Strategic Studies, the Russian crisis has significantly reduced unregulated trade at Polish bazaars, "Zycie Warszawy" reported on 18 September. He said trade turnover fell "particularly dramatically" at bazaars in Bialystok and Warsaw. Annual turnover in Poland's unregulated trade sector in Poland is estimated at $5-7 billion. Kropiwnicki believes that the bazaar trade slump will not affect official trade with Russia. Some 85 percent of Polish gas and oil imports are from Russia. In his opinion, Poland should expect an increase in such imports since Russia urgently needs hard-currency revenues. The Russian crisis, he continued, will affect only some market sectors, such as trade in vegetables, and primarily eastern regions of the country, which depend to a large extent on cross- border trade with Poland's eastern neighbors. JM


The Slovak Radio and Television Council on 17 September fined the private television company Markiza TV 3.5 million crowns ($120,000) for alleged violation of the country's electoral law, Reuters reported. Markiza TV has given live coverage to the protests against the dismissal by the station's new management of its director-general, Pavol Rusko, and other staff. The council ruled that this violated the law because opposition leaders who addressed the protesters "conducted election campaigning." Also on 17 September, the council ruled in favor of Markiza's new owners, Gamatex, saying that Gamatex owns 51 percent of Markiza TV shares and has the right to make staff changes, AP reported. MS


Rudolf Schuster, mayor of Kosice and leader of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) on 17 September told Reuters that the SOP is "the most important party in this election" and that only he can bring about the demise of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Schuster's SOP was set up eight months ago and is estimated to have the support of some 15 percent of the electorate. He told the agency that "with us, [the opposition can garner] 60 percent, without us, 50 percent." Schuster said it is "crucial" for the opposition to remain united and avoid "disintegration in squabbling over who holds what post." He also said that with the 25-26 September election date approaching, Meciar "is becoming desperate" and that "it remains to be seen whether it is possible to punish him or not" for his "many bad and big mistakes." MS


The West "sees only itself and is still failing to understand what is going on in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview with the German weekly "Die Woche," cited by "Nepszabadsag" on 18 September. Orban said Western Europe's ignorance prompted it to commit "all possible faults" in its policies toward the wars in former Yugoslavia and the integration of Central European countries into the EU and NATO. Commenting on policies toward ethnic Hungarians abroad, Orban said "our national borders are clear, but it is a fact that Hungarians living in the Carpathian Basin are bound together by a cultural identity. Hungarian minorities do not represent a problem," Orban concluded, since "they have never taken any action in favor of secession, but instead they have formed [cultural and political] associations." MSZ


Hungary will launch urgent proceedings against Slovakia at the World Trade Organization, Hungary's ambassador to the WTO, Istvan Major, told "Vilaggazdasag" on 18 September. Last week Slovakia increased customs tariffs on Hungarian wheat imports by 70 percent. Hungarian trade experts believe that the Slovak decision may have been triggered by political, rather than economic, considerations. MSZ


Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani has called on his countrymen to disregard opposition leader Sali Berisha's appeal for a nationwide protest on 18 September, Reuters reported. Mejdani made the public plea after a meeting with special EU envoy Herbert Grubmayr, OSCE ambassador to Albania Daan Everts, and Austrian ambassador to Tirana Arnold Riedel. Everts said the officials agreed that it would be good for "people to stay at home, so that they are not misused for political ends." The European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a resolution on 17 September calling on all political forces in the country to seek a peaceful settlement to the crisis. PB


After another march involving a few thousand people in downtown Tirana on 17 September, former President Sali Berisha continued his attack on Prime Minister Fatos Nano and reiterated a call for a nationwide protest to take place the following day, dpa reported. Berisha called Nano the "champion of corruption in Europe" and accused him of leading the country toward civil conflict. Also on 17 September, a parliamentary commission voted to recommend that the parliament lift Berisha's immunity as a deputy. Berisha could face a sentence of life imprisonment if convicted of "incitement to armed rebellion." The commission voted to recommend that six other Democratic Party deputies not be stripped of their immunity. PB


A U.S.-backed plan to end the violence in Kosova has been declared unacceptable by Kosova "shadow state" President Ibrahim Rugova, BETA reported on 17 September. The proposed three-year accord, which was published in the daily "Koha Ditore," refers to Kosova as a territory with a sovereign parliament, executive, local police force, and judicial system. Kosova would be represented in the Serbian government and the Yugoslav parliament, although federal officials would not be allowed to interfere in Kosova politics. After a meeting between U.S. envoy Christopher Hill and Rugova in Prishtina, chief Kosova Albanian negotiator Fehmi Agani said his side has "serious complaints about the proposal and it will have to be changed." The Kosova Liberation Army has described the signing of any agreement with Belgrade short of complete independence for Kosova as "national treason." PB


A Russian delegate voiced Moscow's opposition to a French- British resolution that calls for a global flight ban on Yugoslavia national airlines and other unspecified sanctions if Serbian forces continue their attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosova, Reuters reported on 18 September. The disapproval came during a meeting of delegates from the Contact Group countries held in New York. The resolution would demand that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic call an immediate cease-fire in Kosova and allow humanitarian organizations unfettered access to displaced persons or face the ban on flights and other possible sanctions. PB


Backed by tanks, Serbian forces continued their assault on ethnic Albanian villages in northeastern Kosova on 17 September, AFP and Reuters reported. A spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Prishtina said some 10,000 refugees have fled their homes in the past three days to escape the shelling. The Serbian offensive is concentrated on the three towns of Kosovska Mitrovica, Vucitrn, and Podujevo, Serbian sources said. According to Kosova Albanian sources, six UCK fighters and one Serbian policeman died in the fighting, but those figures could not be confirmed. In Washington, the Defense Department said it is making plans to provide emergency food supplies, including air drops, in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster from occuring. Some 300,000 ethnic Albanians are reported to be displaced in Kosova without food or shelter. PB


Vojislav Seselj, the ultranationalist deputy prime minister of Serbia, slammed German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe for supporting ethnic Albanian "terrorists" and warned Germany of defeat if it participated in armed intervention in Kosova, AP reported on 17 September. The German Foreign Ministry in Bonn on 18 September rejected a formal protest by Belgrade the previous day. Ruehe said on 15 September that NATO military action against Kosova would be possible in a matter of weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1998). Seselj said "Germany and their allies must be defeated if they strike against our territory." Ivica Dacic, the spokesman for Serbia's ruling Socialist Party, said that apparently "two [German] genocides against the Serbian people were not enough, so they want to finish off the job." PB


Nikola Poplasen, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party and a candidate for the presidency of the Republika Srpska, claimed on 17 September that he has an insurmountable lead over incumbent President Biljana Plavsic, AP reported. Many Poplasen supporters filled the streets in towns throughhout Republika Srpska, waving flags in celebration. Hanns Schumacher, a deputy to high representative Carlos Westendorp, admitted that Plavsic is trailing but that there are many absentee ballots that still need to be counted. Poplasen claimed he has a 7 percent lead over Plavsic and that there are too few uncounted ballots for his lead to be overcome. Poplasen is an ally of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The OSCE has said final results will be issued next week. PB


The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 17 September announced it is "breaking all links" with President Emil Constantinescu, whom it accuses of "partisanship" and failure to fulfill his duty of "mediator" among social and political forces, Mediafax reported. The PDSR said that at a meeting with leaders of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 15 September, Constantinescu advised the PNTCD to "attack the opposition, and above all the PDSR." In reaction, presidential counselor Zoe Petre said the PDSR is displaying "excessive political zeal" over alleged statements at a meeting where it was not present. She also said that the opposition has "clearly shown from the beginning" that it is not interested in taking part in consultations initiated by Constantinescu with parliamentary parties. Those consultations continued on 17 September, when Constantinescu met with leaders of the National Liberal Party. MS


Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of 10 new Supreme Court judges, President Constantinescu said that the Romanian public regards the country's judicial system "with a lack of trust." He added that he himself is "shocked" by judges who have condoned "clear acts of breaking the law" and let criminals go unpunished. Meanwhile, the government has scheduled elections for the mayoralty of Bucharest for 25 October. The election campaign will begin on 1 October. MS


The Constitutional Court on 17 September postponed until the next day its ruling on an appeal by a group of deputies from the Democratic Convention of Moldova against the parliament's decision to allow the transit to Russia of spent nuclear fuel from the Bulgarian reactor at Kozloduy, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. According to ITAR-TASS on 17 September, by the time the court rules on the appeal, the train transporting the fuel from Kozloduy may have already entered Moldovan territory. Also on 17 September, the parliament passed laws on electricity and gas, which provide for setting up a National Agency for Regulating Energy. The two laws are part of a package of legislation stipulated by international lending institutions as a condition for resuming loans to Moldova. MS


Valentin Ciobanu, a prominent leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front (now part of the Democratic Convention of Moldova, a member of the ruling coalition), died on 17 September of wounds sustained six days earlier when he was attacked by unidentified persons in front of his home. The police did not release news of the attack until after Ciobanu's death. Parliamentary deputy chairman Iurie Rosca told RFE/RL that there can be no doubt that Ciobanu died as a result of a "premeditated political murder." He ruled out robbery, explaining that "Ciobanu was so poor that only his soul could be stolen from him." Rosca commented that Moldova has started "emulating the Russian fashion of killing on orders" and that "other attempts may be under way right now in Chisinau." He also said that he is "bewildered" that the media did not report the attack until after Ciobanu's death. MS


by Jan de Weydenthal

Earlier this week, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek called on Ukraine to impose full control over its eastern borders as an important step toward preserving visa-free travel to Poland and providing for easier contacts with the West.

Speaking at the Kyiv Institute of International Relations on 16 September, Geremek said Poland intends to resist Western pressure to introduce visas for Ukrainians. But, he said, Ukraine must take firmer steps to counter the smuggling of weapons and drugs from the East across Polish territory.

Poland has been under pressure from the EU to tighten control over its eastern border. German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther told Polish officials during a visit to Warsaw last month that the government should bring its visa policies into line with those of the EU. He added that this is a condition of Poland's EU membership.

Warsaw has signed agreements on visa-free travel and on the re-admission of illegal migrants with Kyiv. But it has restricted entry for Russians and Belarusians, whose governments failed to reach similar accords.

Ukraine has been concerned that any restriction on travel to Poland would adversely affect its economy. Poland is an important source of trade and employment to thousands of Ukrainians. During a meeting with Geremek, Ukraine's Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said that Kyiv might set up several free economic zones along the border with Poland to further promote economic contacts.

Polish-Ukrainian bilateral trade turnover reached almost $1.7 billion in 1997 and has grown rapidly so far this year.

Trade with Poland has become even more important for Ukraine since the onset of Russia's economic crisis. Russia is Ukraine's main trading partner, accounting for 40 percent of trade turnover, and Russia's financial crisis has disrupted those ties with Ukraine

Geremek emphasized in his speech that the Russian crisis provides a reminder of the need for speeding up reforms and expanding contacts with the West. He said that Poland would like to see Ukraine in all European institutions and is ready "to support Ukraine at this difficult moment."

The economic decline in Russia is certain to affect Ukraine's economy. In addition, the continuing political uncertainty in Moscow does not augur well for many unsolved problems in Ukrainian-Russian relations.

The Russian State Duma has failed to ratify a Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty recognizing Ukraine's independence. And there is still no agreement on delimiting borders between the two states, seven years after Ukraine's declaration of independence. Influential Russian politicians still talk about what they call the "inherent" unity of the two countries within Russian- dominated Slavic nationhood.

This state of affairs has not been lost on Ukrainian leaders. During Geremek's visit to Ukraine, there were frequent mentions of a strategic partnership between Kyiv and Warsaw. Stricter control over Ukraine's borders with Russia and Belarus appears to be an important element in the future development of such a partnership.

Following talks with Geremek, Volodymyr Horbulin, head of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, said that "we have to stop the smuggling of drugs, stop organized crime and illegal immigration through our eastern border."

Such a program would have important political implications in reinforcing Ukraine's national and territorial separateness from Russia.

Poland is to enter NATO next year and is currently in accession talks with the EU. Geremek said that Poland's membership in these institutions could benefit Ukraine. Currently, the main problem is the one of visas. And resolving that problem depends on how Ukraine seeks to tighten its eastern borders, he said.

Meanwhile, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, in Crimea next week. They are to discuss bilateral relations and the regional repercussions of the Russian crisis. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent.