Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - December 9, 1998


The severed heads of three Britons and a New Zealander who had been abducted in Grozny on 3 October were found on 8 December in a Chechen village close to the border with Ingushetia. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov expressed his indignation and regret at the killings, which he attributed to a struggle between the "great powers" for influence in the Caucasus. Chechen Prosecutor-General Mansur Tagirov told ITAR-TASS on 9 December that the kidnappers may have killed their hostages in panic following the 5 December arrest of one of their associates, whom they feared might betray them to the Chechen authorities. But a spokesman for the British firm that employed the dead men said he believes they were killed during a botched attempt by Chechen security forces to release them. President Boris Yeltsin, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook have all condemned the killings. LF


State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 8 December that the Duma is likely to reject the 1999 budget in its first reading, which is currently scheduled for 11 December. He added that a tripartite commission would likely be formed to consider the draft and submit it to the legislature later. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters the same day that the draft budget might not be approved by the Cabinet until 11 December and would be submitted to the Duma on either 12 or 13 December. "Vremya MN" on 7 December described the version of the budget it reviewed as extremely difficult to implement. It noted that budget revenues are set at 12 percent of GDP, which no government has recently been able to collect. On 9 December, Interfax reported that the government has raised its estimate of GDP from 3.8 trillion ruble ($187 billion) to 4 trillion rubles. JAC


The government of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov also agreed to increase the amount of money allotted to the military by raising defense expenditures from 2.5 percent of GDP to 3.1 percent. Part of the new spending will be covered by reducing the planned cut in value-added tax from the current 20 percent to 15 percent instead of 14 percent. "Kommersant-Daily" suggested on 9 December that the government is in fact going to pursue its economic policy in two stages: emissions, followed by a period of "superausterity." The newspaper based its conclusion on the Central Bank's monetary and credit policy that was released the previous day. JAC


The government has prepared 19 tax bills for submission to the Duma, Russian agencies reported on 8 December. Among these is a draft law establishing a tax of 12 percent for incomes between 60,000-120,000 rubles ($2,900-$5,900), 17 percent for 120,000-180,000 rubles, 22 percent for 180,000-240,000 rubles, and 32 percent tax for those above 240,000 rubles. Income from second jobs would be taxed at a higher rate. Federal Tax Service head Georgii Boos told reporters on 9 December that the nation's new tax system will be in place by 1 March. JAC


Russian President Boris Yeltsin again checked out of the hospital on 9 December and headed this time to his country residence to recuperate. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated on 8 December that Prime Minister Primakov was behind the recent firing of top Kremlin officials. The daily noted that "Primakov was the last one to see Yeltsin" at the hospital before the dismissals began. It concluded that Yeltsin trusts Primakov completely and therefore undermined those entities that were able to operate independently of him, such as the presidential staff and the Security Council. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives funding from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. The same day, Berezovskii himself told Reuters that the government reshuffle should have extended to the entire government lineup, with the exception of Primakov. JAC


Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak told reporters on 8 December that 13 oil companies are more than the country can afford under present conditions but to comply with the country's anti-monopoly legislation, no fewer than three or four should exist. A government commission chaired by Bulgak will choose within two weeks between three proposals for merging Russia's oil companies. Four Russian oil companies--Rosneft, Slavneft, Onako, and Zarubezhneft--signed a memorandum declaring their intent to form a single company, Interfax reported on 8 December. LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov proposed merging his company with Slavneft and Onako, while Yukos President Mikhail Khodorkovskii suggested teaming his company with Rosneft and Onako. JAC


In the meantime, the government submitted a new bill listing fields that could be developed on the basis of production-sharing agreements (PSA), Interfax reported on 8 December. State Duma Subcomittee for Fuel Resources Chairman Valerii Yazev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 December that Western oil companies have alienated the Duma's left wing with their overly aggressive lobbying for PSA legislation. He added that a new compromise will have to be forged between the right, the left, and the oil companies. JAC


The Finance Ministry released a list of regions that it accuses of misusing federal monies allocated for wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. At the top of the list are Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Kemerovo Oblast, Magadan Oblast, and Arkhangelsk. All had accumulated wage arrears of more than four months. The next day, First Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Khristenko told Prime-TASS that the government is proposing earmarking 33 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) from the budget to provide financial support for the regions. "Vremya MN" reported on 7 December that "in exchange for their political support of the cabinet, the governors are demanding that Primakov produce a schedule for debt repayment and grant money on a large scale." JAC


The Topol-M missile successfully completed its sixth flight and design test, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 December. According to the newspaper, the single- warhead missile has only failed one of six tests carried out since 20 December 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1998). JAC


Vyacheslav Koloskov, head of the Russian Soccer Union, managed to hold onto his job for another five years, after a bruising struggle against other contenders such as Nikolai Tolstykh, head of the Russian Professional Soccer League, and President of Kalmykia Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Koloskov faced criticism after Russia failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years. He also faced charges of corruption from his main rival Tolstykh. Koloskov, in turn, accused Tolstykh of threatening his life. "Vremya MN" argued on 9 December that Koloskov won because he promised to give regional soccer clubs more power as well as a share of profits. After his victory, Koloskov announced that he is planning to work full time at the Russian Olympic Committee, the "Moscow Times" reported. He also said he will hire a chief operating officer to run the union. JAC


Over the past five years, the incidence of neurosis rose 10 percent, depression 35 percent, alcoholism 30 percent, and drug addiction 600 percent, according to Valerii Krasnov, director of the Institute of Psychiatric Research, "Kontinent" reported in its December issue. Krasnov also claimed that every third draftee in the army has a psychiatric disorder. JAC


Andrei Brezhnev, grandson of the former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and leader of the recently formed All Russia Communist Socio-Political Movement, told reporters on 8 December that a monument to former KGB chief Yurii Andropov would be more appropriate than one for Dzerzhinskii because it "will not cause emotions to run so high." He added that "without a monument, Lubyanka Square lacks architectural completeness." JAC


The reindeer population in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug faces extinction, according to the Emergencies Ministry, Interfax reported on 8 December. A sudden thaw followed by a sharp drop in temperature caused ice to form on the ground, making fodder inaccessible. Some 40,000 reindeer have been moved to southern areas where food is more available. JAC


"RFE/RL Newsline" on 8 December in correctly identified Vladimir Ryzhkov, deputy speaker of the State Duma, as a member of the Yabloko faction. He belongs to the Our Home is Russia faction.


Meeting on 7 December, Valeriy Pustovoytenko and Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze signed a 10-year agreement on economic cooperation as well as accords on trade, banking, culture, and transportation, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The two leaders discussed coordinating efforts to prevent a further devaluation of their countries' currencies. Pustovoytenko also held talks with President Eduard Shevardnadze, parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili. The Ukrainian leader told Menagharishvili that Ukraine is willing to host talks between Georgian and Abkhaz representatives on confidence-building measures in order to expedite a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. LF


The next day, Pustovoytenko inspected the oil terminal under construction at Georgia's Black Sea port of Supsa and again affirmed Ukraine's interest in exporting via its territory Caspian oil shipped by tanker from Supsa to Odessa, Interfax reported. Pustovoytenko also visited Batumi, where he discussed the prospects for bilateral cooperation with Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. A rail ferry service between Batumi, Poti, and Ilichevsk is to begin operating on 19 December after several postponements. LF


Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on 7 December that he hopes Azerbaijan will reconsider its approach to resuming talks on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict even though it has rejected what he termed the "compromise variant" of a "common state" proposed in the latest OSCE Minsk Group draft plan. Oskanian was speaking in Brussels, where he is heading the Armenian delegation to a regular meeting of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. At a press briefing in Yerevan on 8 December, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian said, "We think the most recent proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group co- chairmen on resolving the Karabakh conflict is the only version on the basis of which progress, and later the full settlement of the conflict, will be possible," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF


Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev told journalists in Baku on 8 December that Prime Minister Artur Rasi-zade recently wrote to his Russian counterpart Yevgenii Primakov, to protest alleged continuing shipments of Russian arms to Armenia and to demand that those weapons supplied in 1993-1996 be returned, Turan reported. Rasi-zade has not yet received a response to that demand. The trilateral Russian-Azerbaijani-Armenian commission established last year to investigate the charges of illicit Russian arms supplies to Armenia has not met since April 1998. LF


RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe on 7 December confirmed that the United Tajik Opposition re-nominated Mirzo Ziyoyev as defense minister sometime between 4 and 6 December. The government, however, once again rejected his nomination, proposing instead that Ziyoyev receive a lower-ranking position in the Defense Ministry. Under the terms of the Tajik Peace Accord, signed in June 1997, the UTO are to receive 30 percent of the seats in the government. That process is nearly completed. Ziyoyev proved a capable military commander during the Tajik civil war and has strong ties to UTO leadership. BP


Using language reminiscent of Soviet press attacks on "bourgeois falsifiers" during the 1980s, Tajik Prime Minister Yakhye Azimov has harshly criticized "newly-baked politologists" who he claims seek to undermine Tajikistan's sovereign status by overstating and fanning inter-regional tensions. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December, Azimov concedes that "separatist aspirations" and "regional self-identification" still exist and constitute the main obstacle to the emergence of a sense of Tajik nationhood. But he rejects charges by unnamed international organizations that officials from southern Tajikistan are carrying out "genocide" against persons from other parts of the country. Azimov also denies that only individuals who come from the southern region of Kulyab (as does President Imomali Rakhmonov) are appointed to leading positions, naming a dozen senior officials, including himself, who are from Leninabad, in the north. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev and his putative accomplice in last month's abortive uprising, former premier Abdumalik Abdullojonov, both come from Leninabad. LF


The decision by the Turkmen government to print more money has sent the unofficial dollar exchange rate soaring to nearly three times the official rate, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported on 8 December. Central Bank chief Khudaiberdi Orazov announced that decision on 4 December. According to Reuters, there had been a near riot in late November at an Ashgabat Daikhanbank exchange office following the announcement that some banks would be nationalized. The official exchange rate is 5,200 manats to $1, but the unofficial rate is reportedly more than 13,000 to $1. BP


Kasymjomart Tokayev, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on 8 December, said that his country will hold presidential elections, as planned, next month and that they will be fair, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Tokayev also said that while those elections will be democratic, it will be "democracy suited to Kazakh culture." It is unfair to compare democratic structures in the U.S. with those in Kazakhstan, he argued, noting that his country welcomes constructive criticism but asks for fairness. The decision to move presidential elections forward by nearly two years has drawn criticism from the U.S. and the OSCE, as have subsequent incidents in the registration process. BP


Serikbolsyn Abdildin, the presidential candidate of the Kazakh Communist Party, said at an 8 December press conference that he believes he will win the January elections, Interfax reported. Abdildin said he expects to take 70 percent of the vote, pointing to strong support from Kazakhstan's "impoverished masses," who he said make up 90 percent of the country's population. He added that is counting on "most of the 4 million unemployed and 3 million pensioners" to vote for him, but he noted that he believes the election will be rigged unless members of the Communist Party are allowed to monitor the vote. According to Reuters the same day, Abdildin said the international community is correct in labeling the January elections "unfair." But he said does not believe incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev will postpone the elections, despite the OSCE's 3 December call to do so. BP


The chair of the Central Election Commission, Zagipa Baliyeva, said on 8 December that the January presidential elections will be held in any weather and regardless of the will of individual figures, Interfax reported. Baliyeva noted that candidates have been nominated and registered in accordance with the law and in a way that she described as "democratic enough." She also criticized the OSCE's call to postpone the election, saying that the organization "cannot recommend" that a government delay such a vote. Baliyeva said her commission is doing everything possible to ensure the ballot will be "open, honest, and transparent." The state will make time available for all four candidates on television and radio and has reserved advertising space in newspapers. All the candidates have received 2.44 million tenge ($30,000) which is equivalent to the sum the candidates paid as a registration fee. Baliyeva dismissed rumors that two of the candidates, which she did not name, will withdraw on the eve of the election. BP


More than 5,000 workers at the Shymkent Lead and Zinc plant have sent an open letter to the government announcing their intention to boycott the January election if they are not paid back wages, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 9 December. Those workers did not receive wages from 1994-1996, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, Interfax reports that workers at the Severnii coal mine, recently acquired by Russia's United Energy Systems (UES), received 39 million rubles (some $2 million) in back wages promised by UES chairman Anatolii Chubais during his late November visit to northern Kazakhstan. Chubais had promised 49 million rubles but said the remaining 10 million will arrive by 15 December. BP


Former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko on 8 December asked to be released on a bail of $3 million, AP reported. He is currently being held in a Geneva jail. Lazarenko's attorney, Paul Gully-Hart, said Lazarenko will prove his bank deposits in Switzerland are legitimate and that the money was not embezzled from Ukrainian state coffers. The Ukrainian government said the same day that it will not comment on the situation until all details of the case are known. Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Maidannik said the affair is complicated by Lazarenko's refusal to meet with officials from the Ukrainian Embassy in Switzerland and the fact that he was carrying a Panamanian passport when he was detained. PB


Leonid Kuchma signed a draft law on a $200 million World Bank loan to upgrade Kyiv's heating system, AP reported on 9 December. The deal must be ratified by the parliament and is still subject to the IMF's approving the government's reform program. The money would be used to modernize the city's power plants. Kuchma also issued a decree setting up a special economic zone in Transcarpathia, the western part of the country that was hit badly by floods last month. The decree grants tax breaks and provides incentives for investment in the region. PB


The Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Paval Sheremet a press freedom award in Minsk on 8 December, Reuters reported. Sheremet was prevented by Belarusian officials from accepting the award at a ceremony in New York last month. He said after receiving the award that the support of the CPJ and other journalists had helped secure his release from prison. Sheremet added that the award could have been given "to many journalists in this country who are forced to work in conditions of dictatorship." Sheremet, Minsk bureau chief for Russian Public Television and editor in chief of "Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta," was arrested and imprisoned several times during the past year. The best-publicized of those incidents was his arrest on the Lithuanian border while filming a report on Belarusian border controls. PB


Belarusian Premier Syarhey Linh met with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov in Minsk on 8 December, Belapan reported. Linh expressed Minsk's desire to increase cooperation with Moscow "in all spheres." Gustov, who also met with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and attended a session of the Belarusian-Russian Union's Executive Committee, said he is concerned about a decline in bilateral trade. PB


Lawmakers on 8 December voted 55 to 20 to pass amendments to the citizenship law that will facilitate granting citizenship to stateless children. Votes against the amendments came from the right-leaning Fatherland Union, the People's Party, as well as some deputies from the Reform and Country People's Parties. According to the amendments, stateless children under 15 who were born after 26 February 1992 (when the country's 1938 citizenship law was reinstated) are eligible to gain citizenship. The children's parents must apply on their behalf, must be stateless themselves, and must have lived in Estonia for at least five years. Those opposed to the bill had argued in favor of applicants' having to pass a language proficiency test. The amendments will not go into effect until 12 July 1999, allowing the Migration Office to first draft regulations for their implementation. JC


Vilis Kristopans has said that any decisions on enlarging the minority government coalition will not be taken until next year, BNS reported on 8 December. "I do not expect significant changes in the coalition soon, as we have yet to see what kind of relationship will be established between factions in the parliament," Kristopans told journalists. While stressing that the reform of public administration must continue, he did not rule out establishing new ministries, including a Forest Ministry. Also on 8 December, BNS reported that the Russian State Duma has approved sending a statement to the Latvian parliament praising the country for adopting more liberal citizenship legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1998). JC


Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis has submitted a draft law "On Assessing Communism and Defining High Posts for Former High- Ranking Officials of Occupational Regimes," BNS reported on 8 December. The bill proposes that "former members and employees of the Communist Party...should be [prevented] from occupying state positions in the parliament, the President's Office, the government, courts, diplomatic services, army and educational institutions in the Republic of Lithuania for five years." It would not apply to persons who assumed high state positions after 21 December 1989, when the Lithuanian Communist Party separated from its Soviet counterpart. In June, the parliament approved a bill, also proposed by Landsbergis, barring former KGB agents from holding government and various private-sector positions for 10 years. President Valdas Adamkus refused to sign that bill, and the parliament subsequently agreed to his proposal that it not be enacted until 1 January 1999. JC


The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland told journalists in Brussels on 8 December that they expect their countries to join NATO "within weeks," an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Jan Kavan, Janos Martonyi, and Bronislaw Geremek spoke after attending the annual two-day meeting of the North Atlantic Council--NATO's governing body. It was the first time that representatives of the three countries were present at such a gathering. They told journalists that they are grateful to the parliaments of the current 16 NATO states for having ratified their accession. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told journalists that he wants to welcome the three countries into the alliance before NATO's 50th anniversary summit in April. MS


Janusz Onyszkiewicz said in Warsaw on 8 December that the Polish military will meet NATO's minimum military standards by early next year, PAP reported. Onyszkiewicz was responding to a statement by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, who said at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels that formal invitations for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance will be issued only after basic standards of interoperability are met. In other news, Polish Prime Minister canceled a deal with Israel to arm Polish helicopters with Israeli-made missiles. Buzek said Israel did not test the missiles in Poland, as it had said it would. The decision was sharply criticized by the office of President Aleksander Kwasniewski. The previous Polish government had cut the deal with Israel. PB


A trial has began at which an African student is suing the monthly magazine "Dobry humor" for allegedly printing racist jokes, PAP reported on 8 December. Samuel Fasso, a student in the southwestern town of Legnica, said the magazine's use of such words as "ape," "cannibal," and "blackie" to describe Africans leads to intolerant behavior among Poles toward non-whites. PB


Vaclav Klaus, Chamber of Deputies chairman and leader of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), on 9 December criticized the verdict of the Supreme Court one day earlier invalidating the election of ODS Senator Dagmar Lastovecka. The court upheld the Social Democratic Party's view that "Lidove noviny" and the Czech state television unlawfully covered Lastovecka's campaign during the 48-hour "silence period" stipulated by the election law. In a statement to CTK, Supreme Court Chief Justice Eliska Wagnerova dismissed Klaus's comment that her ruling was "an unacceptable attempt to discredit the elections as a fundamental pillar of democracy." Wagnerova said Klaus fails to understand that in a democracy, the result of the election is not determined only by voting but also by the [election] taking place "under predetermined constitutional and legal rules." MS


Helmut Zilk, who has been cleared by Czech officials of allegations that he was a paid informer in the service of Czechoslovakia's communist secret police (StB), met with President Vaclav Havel in Prague on 8 December. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said after the meeting that both men considered the affair as closed following their encounter, AP reported. The president apologized to Zilk for the "share of guilt his office bears in this affair," Spacek said. In late October, Havel withdrew an award that Zilk was scheduled to receive after allegations on his collaboration with the StB were published in the German press. Zilk said before meeting with Havel that he does not want any further apology. MS


Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 8 December revoked the controversial amnesties granted by his predecessor, Vladimir Meciar, to those involved in the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 and to those responsible for the failure of a referendum in 1997. The referendum, which was supposed to be held on both NATO membership and direct presidential elections, was boycotted by the then opposition after the question on a popular presidential ballot was removed. The referendum was declared invalid because turnout was only 10 percent. Dzurinda told journalists that "perpetrators of crimes must never feel that if they commit them with the blessing of official state institutions, they will also be protected later by those state institutions," Reuters reported. MS


The parliament on 8 December approved the main points of the 1999 budget, Hungarian media reported. Total expenditures are estimated at 3.51 trillion forint ($16.1 billion) and total revenues at 3.136 trillion forint, resulting in a deficit of 374 billion forint or less than 4 percent of GDP. Of the 900 draft amendments submitted before the vote, only 108 were passed. MSZ


Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said in Prishtina on 8 December that U.S. envoy Christopher Hill's latest plan for a political settlement in Kosova does not discuss the future of the UCK and is "fully unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). Demaci added that "Mr. Hill either doesn't understand the Albanian problems, or he is leaning toward the Serbs. The State Department should reconsider the results of his work [and] send us more qualified people." Demaci argued that the "UCK has no illusion that the [Serbian] regime will overnight democratize and that it will give up trying to find a solution to the Kosova crisis by force. It would be dangerous if the Albanians don't continue arming themselves and preparing for resistance." Hill received Washington's mandate to negotiate on Kosova earlier this year because Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic reportedly refused to deal with his predecessor, Robert Gelbard. PM


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on Milosevic on 8 December to grant Kosova "substantial autonomy." Speaking at the annual meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, she urged the Atlantic alliance to find "an appropriate way to support the democratic aspirations of the Serb people. They have been silenced and shackled far too long." Albright argued that "this crisis will not end until Belgrade accepts [the province's] need for, and right to, substantial autonomy." Albright also said that the Kosovars and Serb leaders alike "have made public statements that do not help the cause of peace. Serb threats to launch a renewed offensive...are dangerous and we view them with extreme seriousness." She criticized the Kosovars' "insistence on rhetoric of independence and [their] rejection" of the Hill plan. PM


Deputy Prime Minister Ratko Markovic said in Belgrade on 8 December that the Hill plan is unacceptable because it calls for the constitutional "restructuring of all Yugoslavia" by making Kosova the third federal republic. Markovic added that a republic controlled by ethnic Albanians would eventually seek independence. He told a visiting delegation from the Russian State Duma that Serbia is willing to "deepen" Kosova's autonomy in line with "the highest international standards and the defense of the rights of ethnic minorities," RFE/RL South Slavic Service reported. PM


The New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on 8 December claiming that the Serbian authorities are holding up to 1,000 Kosovars. The report notes that Milosevic promised U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in October that he would grant an amnesty to all persons except war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). The study added that many detainees "have been subjected to beatings and torture...and are being tried on charges of 'terrorism.'" PM


Top officials of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said in a statement on 8 December that the Serbian authorities should send former army officers Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin, and Miroslav Radic to The Hague for trial. The statement added that a Serbian court's ongoing investigation of the three is only a ruse "designed to shield the accused from international criminal responsibility." The Hague tribunal indicted the three in 1995 in conjunction with the 1991 killings of 260 non-Serbs who had been undergoing treatment in the Vukovar hospital when in November 1991 that town fell to Serbian forces. PM


Representatives of two Serbian environmentalist organizations said in Belgrade that they oppose plans by the domestic "nuclear lobby" to convert the former Gabrovnica uranium mine in the Stara Planina region, near Knjazevac, into a storage site for "nuclear waste from all over Europe." The environmentalists added that they have letters of support from "more than 100 non-governmental organizations from around the world," the independent daily "Danas" reported on 9 December. The spokesmen called on the authorities to turn the region instead into a national park. The environmentalists added that the park could then become part of an "international nature park" and that Belgrade and Sofia signed an agreement to that effect in 1996. PM


Justice Minister Dragan Soc said in Podgorica on 8 December that the Montenegrin authorities expect an attempt soon by Milosevic and his Montenegrin allies to bring down that republic's independent-minded government, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. Soc added that the "state bodies are preparing a new strategy against possible attempts to destabilize the republic." He did not elaborate. PM


Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Hans van den Broek in Brussels on 8 December that Macedonia wants associate membership instead of its current partnership and cooperation accord, Reuters reported. Georgievski told reporters that he presented "all our arguments why we think our relations should be upgraded and our complete readiness to correct what [the EU thinks] has to be corrected in the first 100 days" of his government's term in office. Georgievski recently won the legislative election by promising to improve the economy and end corruption. PM


About 3,000 opposition supporters held a rally in central Tirana on 8 December to commemorate the 1990 student protests that led to the collapse of communism. The rally took place without incident, although two persons were arrested for possession of explosives. The authorities had earlier expressed concern about possible armed attacks on government offices and public buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1998). Addressing the rally, former President Sali Berisha repeated his call for new elections. Also on 8 December, opposition supporters joined Democrats at a ceremony inaugurating a memorial for the former student leader and opposition politician Azem Hajdari, who was killed on 12 September. FS


Unidentified persons blew up a high-voltage electricity line near Tirana on 7 December, cutting off power supplies to the university campus and some government buildings. Police spokesmen suggested that those responsible were seeking to increase student discontent with the government. In recent months, explosive devices have been set off at 15 electricity pylons throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). FS


Residents of the Durres district of Porto Romano have sent a letter to city officials threatening to use armed force to shut down a leather- processing plant that they claim pollutes the environment, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 9 December. The residents warned that "if you do not shut down the factory that is poisoning us, we will pick up our guns and solve this problem in our way." The factory was built in 1990, but the health authorities closed it down after several months because it caused environmental damage. It was reopened in 1993. Officials from the Regional Environmental Agency say that the Public Health Institute's most recent tests show that pollution levels do not exceed the legal norm. FS


In a speech to the parliament marking Constitution Day, Emil Constantinescu on 8 December sharply criticized extremist parties and their leaders, saying it is "inadmissible" to allow their "undermining of democracy" and the threat of a "renewal of dictatorship and of [racial] discrimination." Alluding to recent statements by the Greater Romania Party, Constantinescu denounced threats of "24- hour justice performed in stadiums" and "liquidation of political parties." In other news, Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 8 December met with representatives of major trade unions to discuss his recent proposal for a six-month moratorium on labor action as well as the implementation of the government program envisaging the closure of loss-making enterprises by 20 December. The government envisages reducing the budget deficit by 15 percent after those closures. Vasile said the moratorium may also be soon discussed with the opposition parties. MS


Deputies from the ruling coalition parties have submitted to the parliament separate bills on amending the law on the government's structures. A group of 10 deputies from the Party of Revival and Accord, headed by former President Mircea Snegur, proposes reducing the number of ministries from 16 to 10 and government departments from five to two. It also envisages the setting up of a governmental information service. The draft submitted by For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc also envisages 10 ministries and an information service but provides for only one government department, Infotag reported on 8 December.


Georgi Ananiev told journalists on 8 December that Bulgaria "honors and will be honoring all the international agreements it has signed," adding that "we do not sell weapons to embargoed countries," BTA reported. He refused to comment on a report in the 6 December "New York Times" saying that Bulgaria has sold tanks to Ethiopia and Uganda. That report cited an article that appeared in "Trud" ten days earlier. Colonel Hristo Stanimirov, chief of staff of the Economic Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, told journalists on 26 November that Bulgaria "recently" sold 140 tanks to African countries that were not on an embargo list. MS


by Christopher Walker

Despite internal weaknesses and a range of external challenges, Ukraine has registered a number of impressive foreign-policy achievements since gaining independence in 1991. In order to do so, it has had to juggle demands, as a result of an unstable and unpredictable Russian Federation to the east, unsteady neighbors to the north and south (Belarus, Romania, and Moldova), and the expanding NATO and EU blocs to the West. Whether Ukraine will be able to maintain this level of performance in its foreign policy over the longer term remains to be seen. While the external demands posed by its neighbors are substantial, Ukraine is equally threatened--in terms of its democratic development and stability--by its inability to settle its own domestic affairs.

In an effort to normalize regional relations, Ukraine has concluded several important agreements with neighboring countries. Those pacts include a Joint Statement on Mutual Reconciliation with Poland, a Treaty on Good Neighborly Relations and Cooperation with Romania, and, following a nearly four-year delay, a Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership with Russia. At the same time, Ukraine has slowly cultivated closer relations with the West.

The NATO-Ukraine Charter, signed at the Madrid Summit in July 1997, established a new framework for NATO-Ukraine relations. Recognizing Ukraine's unique position in the region, the charter establishes a "distinctive partnership" between NATO and Ukraine. The expansion of the alliance has been a difficult question for Ukraine, as Russia has made clear its opposition to further NATO expansion. While Russia continues to view NATO as a threat, Kyiv's position has shifted over the last several years. In July 1998, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said that Ukraine sees NATO enlargement as a "process of expanding the area of stability and democracy."

It is not yet clear whether the majority of Ukrainians believe the potential benefits of greater cooperation with NATO-- or possible future admission to the alliance--outweigh the costs. Russia's own instability and deviation from the path of democratization may provide Ukrainian leaders with further arguments for exploring still deeper relations with Western security alliances.

Ukraine is thus faced with the challenge of developing relations with the West without overly antagonizing Russia. Such antagonism would entail several risks, not least since Ukraine is still heavily reliant on Russian trade and energy resources.

Early last year, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma blamed Moscow for the poor state of Russian-Ukrainian relations, claiming that Russia's "biased, prejudiced attitude toward Ukraine has intensified." He added that Russia views Ukraine as a constituent part of the federation or at least as existing within the Russian sphere of influence.

With Ukraine moving more perceptibly toward closer relations with the West, it is not unreasonable to expect Russia's insecurities to intensify. Much of Russia's political elite has not accepted Ukraine's post-Soviet status as an independent, sovereign state. The loss of Ukraine, of all the former republics, has arguably been the most difficult for Russians to swallow.

The issue of ethnic Russians in Ukraine is of potential concern. Post-Soviet Russia is a nation-state that has 25 million ethnic Russians outside its borders, 11 million of whom live in Ukraine. The treatment of ethnic Russians in the former republics has been a controversial issue for Russian nationalists. Ukraine's leadership has wisely refrained from pushing too hard on issues that could prompt a reaction from ethnic Russians in Ukraine or be used as a pretext by Russian nationalists looking to stir the ethnic pot. In Crimea, where ethnic Russians are in the majority, the threat of unrest is greatest.

In general, Ukrainian-Russian discussions of such thorny issues as the payment of outstanding debts, the negotiation of energy agreements, and questions of European security, have been quite tough and often heated but have never slid out of control. However, Russia's internal situation is fluid and volatile, as is Ukraine's. And neighboring Belarus, which has distinguished itself by demonstrating belligerence in international relations, might complicate Ukraine's relationship with Russia, not to mention the entire regional security order.

Unlike Belarus, whose main foreign-policy objective has been to pursue a rather flimsy union arrangement with Russia, Ukraine has seized opportunities to settle territorial claims and to otherwise ameliorate differences with its neighbors. Its pre-1991 role as the western-most tenant of the former Soviet Union has been transformed into that of eastern-most flank of the still evolving new Europe. As a result, Ukraine is faced with a wide range of responsibilities. Considering the relative immaturity and fragility of the Ukrainian state, Kyiv has so far handled this challenge with considerable dexterity. The author is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network.