MINI IMF MISSION WINGING ITS WAY TO MOSCOW?
Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said on 15 February that one or two experts from the IMF may visit Moscow this week to help work on the government's economic program. He added that he hopes a full mission will return to Moscow by the end of the month. These "one or two" specialists are likely to be tax experts, who may assist in negotiations between the fund and the State Tax Service, "Vremya MN" reported. While tax service head Georgii Boos has claimed "considerable convergence" over the government's tax plan, differences remain between the two sides. The newspaper reported that in its "extremely diplomatic" remarks on the government's economic memorandum, the fund continues to insist that the primary budget surplus be increased from 1.65 percent to 2.3 percent of GDP. JAC
CHERNOMYRDIN FOLLOWS IN CHUBAIS'S FOOTSTEPS...
Also on 15 February, Vyugin told Interfax that the appointment of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to the post of presidential envoy to international financial institutions would not surprise him. The agency also cited sources among Chernomyrdin's circle as saying that "in all probability, Chernomyrdin will initially hold talks with IMF officials in a private capacity and then, if they are successful, he will be appointed special envoy." "Komsomolskaya Pravda" reported on 13 February that Chernomyrdin is already acting as envoy but his appointment is "being kept a secret in order not to annoy the Communists." According to the newspaper, Chernomyrdin will also attend a meeting of the Gore- Primakov Commission in Washington in March because Chernomyrdin's direct style of speech is more intelligible to U.S. Vice President Al Gore than Yevgenii Primakov's "diplomatic devices." JAC
...RETURNS TO GAZPROM
Chernomyrdin, who is also the former head of Gazprom, announced on 15 February that the government has another job lined up for him as a member of Gazprom's board of directors. "Vremya MN" reported that Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev vigorously opposes Chernomyrdin's appointment, but his opinion has apparently been disregarded. JAC
COMMUNIST PARTY PROTESTS JUSTICE MINISTRY INVESTIGATION
Communist Party members reacted angrily to the Justice Ministry's announcement that it is launching an investigation into the party's activities to determine whether they are in accordance with Russian law. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 16 February that the Justice Ministry apparently wishes to derail the talks between the Communist-dominated Duma and government over the political peace treaty proposed by Prime Minister Primakov. Duma Security Committee Chairman and member of the Communist Party Viktor Ilyukhin described the Justice Ministry's statement as a declaration of a "witch-hunt." JAC
WORST MAY NOT YET BE OVER FOR RUSSIAN BANKS
Moody's Investors Service released its assessment of the Russian banking system on 15 February, which concluded that the development of the Russia's banking sector was set back several years by the breakdown of Russian financial markets in 1998. Mergers and consolidations among the surviving banks may eventually resuscitate the entire banking system, but there may be more breakdowns before the system has fully revived. Moody's commented that the government's bank restructuring program "lacks specifics, and it will take time, know-how, and large financial resources to implement it." JAC
NEW THEORY PROFFERED FOR SAMARA FIRE
Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin has suggested that the recent fatal blaze in Samara may have been set, as was a recent fire in Togliatti, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 February. According to the newspaper, a Federal Security Service building in Togliatti caught fire destroying all documents; as a result more than 500 investigations had to be dropped, including a number of criminal proceedings against the company AvtoVAZ. However, local police investigators are trying to pour water on the theory that the fire was set by a "criminal group," according to "Kommersant- Daily" on 13 February. They suggest that the fire was more likely the work of "ordinary weirdoes who did not realize where their actions would lead." The newspaper also reported that many witnesses, according to law enforcement agency sources, agree that the fire started in several places simultaneously. JAC
YELTSINS DISMISSES THREE MORE OFFICIALS
President Boris Yeltsin on 15 February dismissed Federal Migration Service head Tatyana Regent, presidential envoy to the republics of Adygei, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, and Stavropol Krai Petr Marchenko and State Committee for the Film Industry chairman Armen Medvedev, ITAR-TASS reported. Medvedev is retiring, and Marchenko reportedly asked to be removed from his post. JAC
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT
Petr Stoyanov concluded his two-day unofficial visit to Moscow on 15 February by meeting with Prime Minister Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Luzhkov noted that the two countries have a common destiny and that political transformations cannot alter the bonds of Slavic brotherhood, according to ITAR-TASS. After meeting with Primakov, Stoyanov said their discussions confirmed that the two countries have managed to eliminate the "deficit of friendliness and trust" that existed a year ago. After arriving in Sofia, Stoyanov stressed that Russia has agreed to pay its $50 million debt by supplying spare parts for Soviet-made Bulgarian aircraft, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Details of the arrangement will be elaborated at an upcoming session of the intergovernmental commission for trade, economic, scientific, and technical cooperation in Moscow, chaired by Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov and Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev. JAC
NEW ELECTION DATE SET FOR VLADIVOSTOK
The election commission in Primorskii Krai announced that elections to the Vladivostok city assembly will be held on 16 May, Interfax reported. The current assembly in Vladivostok does not have a quorum and has no legal right to make decisions, according to the commission. JAC
ICE BLOCKING FUEL DELIVERIES TO FAR EAST
A stretch of more than 100 kilometers of thick ice is preventing tankers with refined products from making deliveries to the Magadan Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. A navigation safety expert told the agency that a heavy ice-breaker is urgently needed. Meanwhile, a tanker in Khabarovsk Krai cannot leave the port of Vanino because of ice. JAC
NEXT MISSION OF 'MIR' MAY BE ITS LAST
Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev told Ekho Moskvy on 15 February that negotiations with the anonymous foreign investor interested in funding the space station "Mir" for the next three years have stalled and no sources for additional financing have been found. Koptev concluded that his agency could ensure the space station's operation only until July or August 1999, provided federal budget allocations are forthcoming. Viktor Afanasev, commander of the crew that is scheduled to leave on 20 February, has said his mission is likely to be the last one, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. JAC
BREZHNEV CONSULTS WITH CASTRO
Andrei Brezhnev, grandson of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and head of the All-Russian Communist Socio-Political Movement, met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, according to the February issue of "Vek." Brezhnev told the publication that the situation in Cuba is far better than that in Russia and that Cuba may have some recipes for economic survival that would be helpful for Russia. JAC
CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov told journalists in Moscow on 15 February that the meeting of CIS heads of state scheduled for 26-27 February has been postponed, probably until sometime in March, Interfax reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had said he could not attend because of a previously scheduled state visit to Turkey. Gustov said the summit participants will discuss CIS reform, including cutting the staff of CIS administrative bodies from 2,340 to 600-700. According to a plan drafted by CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, all CIS administrative structures except for that which provides logistical support for the CIS Heads of State Council, will be merged into one body. Gustov declined to say whether Berezovskii will be its head. LF
KURDS BREAK INTO GREEK EMBASSY IN MOSCOW
Some 30 Kurdish activists who broke into the Greek embassy in Moscow on 16 February agreed to leave after negotiations with Russian security officials, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Russian capital reported. The Kurds remained in the vicinity of the embassy chanting slogans in support of Kurdistan Workers' Party chairman Abdullah Ocalan, Interfax reported. Ocalan was arrested in Kenya late the previous day. LF
ARMENIAN KURDS TAKE UN OFFICIALS HOSTAGE
Several Armenian Kurds briefly occupied the UN mission in Yerevan on 16 February and took its personnel hostage, threatening to immolate themselves and their hostages unless Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Ocalan was released and granted political asylum, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The hostage-takers left the building after releasing their prisoners. It is not known whether charges will be brought against them. A group of some 100 Kurds who had gathered outside the building marched to the Interior Ministry after receiving reports that police had arrested several ethnic Kurds during a demonstration outside the Greek embassy earlier the same day. They were dispersed by police. LF
ARMENIAN PREMIER PROPOSES NEW TAX SYSTEM FOR BUSINESSES
Meeting on 13 February with leading businessmen, Armen Darpininan proposed a system whereby taxes for companies would be set on the basis of anticipated turnover and the companies freed from systematic checks by tax officials, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 February, citing the government's press service. "The most superficial estimates show that 50 percent of the economy is not being taxed," Darpinian was quoted as saying. "The government's task is to prevent an increase in the tax burden on those taxpayers who work [honestly] and pay taxes." The government intends to boost its tax revenues by 47 billion drams ($87 million), in line with 1999 budget targets. On 15 February, the opposition Hanrapetutiun parliamentary faction harshly criticized Darpinian's proposal. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN REJECTS IMF EVALUATION
Zurab Zhvania has criticized as "unsubstantiated" a statement by Hunter Munroe, the IMF representative in Tbilisi, that the volume of the 1999 draft budget is $100 million larger that the total agreed on with the IMF. Zhvania said the discrepancy between the two figures is only $40 million. In a statement issued by the IMF on 12 February, Hunter called on the Georgian government to implement a strong economic program and to raise tax revenues, an RFE/RL financial correspondent in Washington reported. Hunter said government expenditure increased in December and tax revenues dipped the following month. He praised the Georgian government's decision not to intervene to prevent a fall in the value of the lari in December, but he said that falling tax revenues are pushing the value of the lari down and fuelling inflation. On 16 February, the lari was trading at 2.285 to the U.S. dollar, Caucasus Press reported. LF
MORE FATALITIES IN ABKHAZIA
Six Abkhaz policemen were shot dead in two separate incidents in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion on 13-14 February, Caucasus Press reported. Those deaths bring the number of police killed since late May 1998 to at least 24. An Abkhaz Interior Ministry official blamed the shootings on Georgian guerrillas. LF
AZERBAIJANI EX-PREMIER'S LAWYERS SLAM 'POLITICAL' VERDICT
Vladislav Tsimbal, a defense lawyer for former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, told Reuters on 15 February that the sentence of life imprisonment handed down earlier that day by the Azerbaijan Supreme Court was politically motivated. Tsimbal said he will appeal that sentence at the European Court of Human Rights. Huseinov was found guilty on charges of attempting a coup d'etat, treason, and drug smuggling. LF
FIVE BOMBS EXPLODE IN TASHKENT...
Five bombs went off in the Uzbek capital on 16 February. Four explosions occurred at 11:15 a.m. local time, two inside the Interior Ministry building, one near the Uzbek National Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs, and one on Independence Square, where the government's headquarters are located. Another went off 45 minutes later in the vicinity of the airport. Uzbek Television reported that terrorists had tried to kill President Islam Karimov, who had just been arriving at government headquarters for a scheduled meeting of the Council of Ministers when the bombs began exploding. Prior to his arrival, a car smashed through barricades around the square and a shoot-out ensued between the occupants of the car and Uzbek police. Casualties have been reported, but no figures are available to date. BP
...WHILE KARIMOV VOWS TO PUNISH THOSE RESPONSIBLE
Shortly after the explosions, Karimov appeared on national television appealing for calm among the citizens of the capital, ITAR-TASS reported. The president said the bombings were "aimed against our system, our independent policy, the independence of our state," adding that they constituted an "attempt on my life." He stressed that "no one will intimidate us" and promised to "eliminate the scoundrels" who organized the bombings. BP
EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS TO BE HELD IN KAZAKHSTAN?
The chairman of the lower house of the parliament, Marat Ospanov, told journalists in Astana on 13 February that a dispute between the government and parliament over amendments to the budget could lead to a crisis of confidence and early elections to the parliament, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The leader of Kazakhstan's Communist Party, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, told RFE/RL correspondents that Ospanov was expressing the opinion of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. BP
OSCE DELEGATION MEETS WITH KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT
A delegation from the OSCE headed by Haly Dine met with Nazarbayev on 13-14 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Dine told Nazarbayev that last month's presidential elections fell "far short" of international standards and that the OSCE hopes this year's parliamentary elections will come closer to conforming with international norms. BP
JAILED FOREIGNERS AMNESTIED IN TURKMENISTAN
More than 250 foreign citizens currently imprisoned in Turkmenistan will be set free under Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's latest amnesty, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 15 February. Among those to be freed are citizens of Afghanistan (129), Russia (85), and Iran (40). BP
TAJIK, RUSSIAN MUFTIATS SIGN AGREEMENT
A delegation from Tajikistan's Muftiat met with representatives of Russia's Muftiat in Moscow on 15 February and signed an agreement on cooperation in several areas, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement provides for regular conferences on spiritual matters, the opening of new medressahs and mosques, and regular meetings between delegations from the two countries. The Russian Muftiat has already concluded similar agreements with the Muslim spiritual boards in Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine, and Crimea. BP
KUCHMA VETOS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BILL...
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has returned the law on presidential elections to the Supreme Council for revision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 1999), Ukrainian Television reported on 15 February. According to the president, many provisions of the bill do not conform with the constitution and other laws. He has proposed several amendments to the bill, including granting the right to nominate presidential candidates not only to political parties and groups of voters but also to public organizations. He also proposes shortening the presidential election campaign from the 180 days stipulated by the bill to 120 days. And he has suggested including a provision stipulating that voters can back only one presidential candidate with his/her signature. JM
...DENIES PERSECUTING LAZARENKO
Kuchma has rejected former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko's statement in "The New York Times" on 15 February that he is being politically persecuted in Ukraine, Ukrainian Television reported. Kuchma said that Lazarenko--who is charged with misappropriating state funds--can freely express his ideas, travel across Ukraine, and leave the country. According to Ukrainian Television, Lazarenko departed for Greece on 15 February. Later this week, the Supreme Council is scheduled to discuss lifting Lazarenko's parliamentary immunity in order to allow criminal proceedings against him. Lazarenko has announced his intention to run in the 1999 presidential elections. JM
BELARUSIAN YOUNG OPPOSITIONISTS PUNISHED FOR ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MARCH
Yauhen Skochka, deputy chairman of the opposition Youth Front, has been detained for 10 days for organizing an unsanctioned march in Minsk on St. Valentine Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 1999), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. A Minsk court also fined two members of the front and gave a warning to 10 others for taking part in the march. JM
BELARUSIAN KGB SEEKING TO THWART OPPOSITION ELECTION INITIATIVE?
"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 12 February reported that the Belarusian KGB has drawn up a "plan...to foil the presidential election campaign announced by the opposition." A RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk suggested on 15 February that the KGB's warning to Viktor Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, not to organize such a vote may be part of that plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1999). Barys Hyunter, Hanchar's deputy on the commission, commented to RFE/RL that the Belarusian authorities and the KGB "do not knowwhat to do with the Central Electoral Commission, [which] has practically concluded setting up regional [electoral] commissions. This is very dangerous for the authorities, since they did not expect such a wave [of people] to take part in the work [of organizing the elections]," Hyunter added. JM
CENTER, REFORM PARTIES LEAD IN ESTONIAN POLLS
According to an EMOR poll conducted last month, the opposition Center and Reform parties both have 15 percent support, up 2 percent on their ratings in December, ETA reported on 15 February. In joint second place are the Country People's Party and the Fatherland Union, with 9 percent backing. The only other two parties to clear the 5 percent hurdle to parliamentary representation are the Moderate Party (which is running on a joint list with the People's Party), with 8 percent, and the ruling Coalition Party, with 5 percent. Only 67 percent of respondents were "certain" or "more or less certain" about their choice. General elections are scheduled for 7 March. JC
FOUL PLAY IN EESTI TELEKOM TENDER?
The daily "Eripaev" reported on 15 February that Uhispank has been accused by "several sources" of having leaked information among its clients about the distribution terms of Eesti Telekom shares, according to ETA. The accusations are based on the fact that all clients of Uhispank, which played an advisory role in the privatization of the telecommunications company, made their bids separately, while the clients of other banks and asset management companies placed collective bids. This meant that the former had an advantage over the latter because the Roads and Communications Ministry gave preference to bids not exceeding 1 million kroons (some $77,000). The Securities Inspectorate is investigating the alleged information leak. JC
RIGA COURT RULES AGAINST CITY COUNCIL DEPUTY OVER COMMUNIST PARTY MEMBERSHIP
The Riga district court has ruled that Tatyana Zhdanok, a deputy of the Riga City Council for the Equal Rights movement, be stripped of her mandate, "Diena" reported on 16 February. The Prosecutor-General's Office filed suit against Zhdanok, who had been a member of the Communist Party of Latvia after 13 January 1991. Under last year's amendments to the law on municipal elections, anyone who belonged to the party after that date cannot become a member of a municipal government. Zhdanok has said she will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. JC
ADAMKUS BACKS DOWN OVER OMBUDSMAN NOMINATION
On returning from vacation on 13 February, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told reporters that he will not nominate Kestutis Lapinskas as ombudsman for a third time, ELTA reported. Lapinskas was again rejected by the parliament last week, largely thanks to a concerted effort by the ruling Conservatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). Adamkus commented that "party ambition" had determined the outcome of that vote. JC
POLISH PREMIER HINTS AT CABINET RESHUFFLE
Jerzy Buzek told Polish Radio on 15 February that a cabinet reshuffle is necessary "because of the need for an appraisal of [the cabinet's] work." He added that he will "exercise his constitutional rights" with regard to the cabinet lineup. And he stressed that "as a team, the ministers have really proved their worth." "Rzeczpospolita" the next day speculated that Buzek will introduce "minor changes" in the cabinet, dismissing "several" ministers and merging some ministries. JM
POLISH FARMERS' LEADER DEMANDS CABINET RESIGNATION, THREATENS BLOODSHED
Polish Radio reported on 13 February that the radical Self-Defense Farmers' Trade Union has adopted a resolution demanding that the government resign and the parliament dissolve itself. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper has threatened bloodshed if those demands are not met. If the government does not take specific measures by March to improve the "tragic situation in the countryside," there will be a "total blockade of the country" and marches converging on Warsaw, he warned. Lepper did not sign the protocol with the government on ending the 11- day protest in which farmers blocked roads throughout Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). JM
CONTROVERSY OVER CZECH INTELLIGENCE SERVICE INTENSIFIES
A spokesman for the Czech Counter-Intelligence Service (BIS) on 15 February said the BIS is "assigned tasks only by the government or the president," CTK reported. Jan Subert was responding to a statement the previous day by Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky that the BIS must be "either dissolved or thoroughly reorganized" and that the government may submit to the parliament a bill on the service's status. Rychetsky said the BIS spends 600-700 million crowns ($17.8-20.7 million) annually while doing "virtually nothing for the country." He added that the service "is almost privatized [as] it does not work for the government, no one knows for whom it works, and there is enormous disorder there." Stanislav Devaty, former BIS head, has said he opposes dissolving the service. MS
HZDS SETS UP COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE DUCKY MURDER
Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) spokesman Igor Zvach told CTK on 15 February that the party is setting up a "civic commission" to investigate the murder of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky. He said the commission will be headed by Ivan Lexa, former head of Slovak Intelligence Service, and by former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci, both of whom may lose their parliamentary immunity for breaking the law when the HZDS was in power. Zvach said the decision to set up the commission was taken after the HZDS had received information that incumbent Economics Minister Ludovit Cernak was involved in the assassination. According to Zvach, Ducky possessed information that Cernak had accepted bribes from the Czechs in 1993. Cernak said the allegations are "nonsense and a blatant lie." MS
FORMER SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SOUGHT TO HINDER CZECH ACCESSION TO NATO
"Mlada fronta Dnes" on 16 February reported that while Lexa was head of the Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS), he sought to hinder the accession of the Czech Republic to NATO. Citing a recent report delivered by the new SIS chief, Vladimir Mitro, to the Bratislava legislature behind closed doors, the daily commented that "Operation Neutron" and "Operation Dezo" sought to activate neo-Nazi groups and provoke racially motivated, mostly anti-Roma incidents in order to discredit Prague. MS
HUNGARY EXPELS NEO-NAZIS AFTER CLASH WITH POLICE
Hungarian authorities on 15 February expelled 26 mostly German neo-Nazis who had been involved in a public disturbance two days earlier. The 26 had been among some 500 neo-Nazis and skinheads who took part in a demonstration at Buda Castle marking the fall of Budapest to the Russian Army at the end of World War II. After the demonstration, a fight broke out between police and demonstrators in a Budapest bar. In other news, hundreds of Holocaust survivors are returning the 30,000 forints ($140) compensation they received from the government for relatives killed in concentration camps during World War II, saying that the sum is "humiliating and insulting." MSZ
WESTERNERS PREPARE TO EVACUATE KOSOVA
Foreign aid workers, OSCE monitors, and Western diplomats are preparing to evacuate the province if the Rambouillet talks fail and NATO launches air strikes against Serbia, Reuters reported from Prishtina on 16 February. An unnamed diplomat said that "one of my tasks today is to get packed up and ready for an evacuation. Given the reports from the peace talks, it seems very likely to me that we'll get to the point of an evacuation at least, even if not actual bombing, before there's any deal." Unnamed Western diplomats in Belgrade told the news agency that they have received no orders to evacuate. They added, however, that they "always have contingency plans" to leave at short notice. PM
MILUTINOVIC REJECTS FOREIGN TROOPS IN KOSOVA
Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Paris on 15 February that Serbia rejects any military solution to the crisis in Kosova. He stressed that the West is threatening Serbia with air strikes "only because we defend the sovereignty of our country. We told [Western diplomats] that such threats in fact amount to support for terrorism and for terrorists," by which he meant the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). If Serbia is attacked, Milutinovic continued, "we shall fight. There is no other answer." He did not elaborate. Turning to the question of foreign troop deployment as part of an eventual settlement, he argued that "if the agreement is so good and accepted by the majority of people in [the province], why would we need foreign troops except for chasing terrorists? And we don't need them for that." He stressed that the question of foreign troop deployment is the main obstacle to a settlement. PM
RUSSIA EASING SUPPORT FOR SERBIA?
Unnamed Western diplomatic sources told AP on 16 February that Russian diplomats have agreed not to oppose the stationing of a NATO force in Kosova, even if Moscow continues not to endorse the plan. The previous day, Milutinovic said that he "would not be surprised" if Russia ended its support for Belgrade's position "under Western pressure." PM
ALBRIGHT OUTLINES THREE OPTIONS FOR KOSOVA
During her recent visit to Rambouillet, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told negotiators that there are three possible outcomes of the talks, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 15 February. The first is that the Kosovars refuse to sign a comprehensive agreement. In such a case, the U.S. would cease all diplomatic support for them and seal their borders with Albania and Macedonia. The second scenario is one in which the ethnic Albanians agree to a settlement but the Serbs do not. The result would be air strikes against the Serbs and increased U.S. diplomatic backing for the Kosovars. In the third case, both sides would sign. NATO would then deploy troops in Kosova to enforce the pact. PM
BRITISH MARINES ON WAY TO BALKANS
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said in London on 15 February that a ship carrying 200 marines for possible deployment in Kosova has left the U.K. for Thessaloniki. A second ship is expected to leave for the Greek port on 16 February. An additional 8,000 British troops are on alert for quick transfer to the Balkans. PM
SERBS RETURN THREE UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS TO KOSOVARS
Serbian authorities returned the keys to three buildings of Prishtina University to ethnic Albanian university officials on 15 February. The move was provided for in a March 1998 agreement between representatives of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and shadow-state President Rugova. The pact restores Albanian- language education in government school buildings in stages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). A Kosovar spokesman told "RFE/RL Newsline" after the agreement was signed that its implementation quickly became a low priority for the Kosovar leadership in the wake of the crackdown by Serbian security forces. PM
'TRADE WAR' BETWEEN SERBIA, MONTENEGRO
Montenegrin authorities have charged that Serbia is carrying on a "trade war" against the mountainous republic, the "Financial Times" reported on 16 February. Serbian officials have prevented more than 100 trucks, many of which contain bananas and other perishables, from crossing the border. PM
DEMONSTRATION BY CROATIAN SUPERMARKET WORKERS
Some 2,000 employees of the Diona supermarket chain, which is Croatia's largest, staged a protest in Zagreb on 15 February to call attention to the impending dissolution of the bankrupt firm. Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa promised the workers, who want to take over the company to prevent its closure, that he will seek a quick solution to the problem. Diona's owner is Miroslav Kutle, who has accumulated some $200 million in debts. He has close links to the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). PM
CALL FOR CROATIAN TELEVISION BOYCOTT
Zlatko Tomcic, who heads the small Croatian Peasants' Party, has called on citizens not to pay their television license fees to protest HDZ control over state-run television. He said in Zagreb on 15 February that his suggestion amounts to a call to civil disobedience. At the same time, he stressed that citizens are not obliged to finance political advertising, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
ALBANIA' S LEKA FREED ON BAIL
A Johannesburg court has freed Leka Zogu, who is the claimant to the Albanian throne, on $25,000 bail, AP reported on 15 February. Four of his supporters were also released on bail ranging from $170 to $340. Police arrested the five last week on charges of illegal arms possession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). FS
ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS AGREE TO REWRITE HAJDARI BILL
Democratic Party officials told the "Albanian Daily News" of 16 February that they have agreed to rewrite a bill providing for an "independent investigation" into the 1998 killing of Democratic leader Azem Hajdari. OSCE experts have said the draft contravenes the constitution and have recommended specific changes to the bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1999). Government lawyers also criticized the draft, saying it undermines the independence of the judiciary by creating a body that would duplicate the functions of the Prosecutor-General. FS
ALBANIAN SECRET SERVICE WARNS OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE
Secret service (SHIK) officials told "Koha Jone" of 16 February that they have evidence that two armed gangs are especially dangerous. One of the gangs is allegedly based in Thumana, near Fushe-Kruja, and includes former SHIK employees and dismissed policemen. A SHIK official told "Koha Jone" that the group has political ambitions and may try to stage a coup. Another armed group allegedly has its center in the southern city of Vlora and is led by an unnamed criminal who recently escaped from prison. The group, whose specialties are reportedly blackmail and extortion, seeks to infiltrate local government structures in order to protect its operations, according to the "Albanian Daily News." FS
ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER SENTENCED TO 18 YEARS IN PRISON
The Supreme Court on 15 February sentenced Miron Cozma, leader of the Jiu Valley miners, to 18 years in prison for his role in the riots that brought down the government headed by Petre Roman in September 1991. He did not attend the trial and said later that he will not surrender to the authorities, calling the sentence "illegal" and "absurd," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court's ruling that had handed down an 18-month prison sentence for "disturbing public order." It also changed the charge against Cozma to "undermining state authority, illegal possession of fire arms and jeopardizing rail traffic." In addition, Cozma is forbidden to enter Bucharest or Petrosani for five years after his release. MS
...WHILE MINERS THREATEN TO MARCH ON BUCHAREST AGAIN
Mediafax reported on 16 February that several hundred miners from the Jiu Valley have begun a new march on Bucharest. Earlier, Radio Bucharest reported that on hearing the news of Cozma's sentence, several shifts refused to descend to the pits. In the early hours of 16 February, the miners were reported gathering in Petrosani to prevent Cozma's arrest. According to other reports, busses are bringing protesters to Petrosani from other towns in the valley. The trade union headed by Cozma announced that he will remain its leader. MS
BULGARIA DEMANDS RELEASE OF MEDICS IN LIBYA
The Foreign Ministry on 15 February called on Libya to "immediately release" 19 Bulgarian doctors and nurses detained last week for questioning over the reported increase in AIDS cases in their wards at a Benghazi hospital, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The ministry called Libya's actions "contrary to international norms and practices." The Libyan embassy in Sofia said the investigation of the detained medics is "routine." Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov has summoned Libyan diplomats in Sofia to demand information about the incident. He said there is "no legal justification" for the detentions and criticized Libya for withholding information and the names of the medics detained. MS
LEAVING AFGHANISTAN, TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
by Paul Goble
Ten years ago, the last Soviet army units left Afghanistan, closing a chapter on Moscow's disastrous military intervention there and opening the way to the disintegration of the Soviet system as a whole.
But as dramatic as those changes were, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to affect that country, the post- Soviet states, and the Western world in ways that may ultimately prove to be even more dramatic. That is because the withdrawal called into question many of the assumptions that had governed the international system during the Cold War and thus opened the way not only to a post-Soviet but also to a post-Cold War world.
That process began on 15 February 1989, when General Boris Gromov led approximately 400 Soviet soldiers across the Afghan border into the USSR, just five minutes before the deadline set for their withdrawal by the U.N.-sponsored Geneva accords of April 1988. In addition to the impact of the event itself--the first Soviet withdrawal from any territory since the Austrian State Treaty more than 30 years earlier--its larger implications for the Soviet Union were suggested by two articles that appeared in the Moscow press on the same day.
In a front-page commentary, the Communist Party newspaper "Pravda" argued that any future commitment of Soviet troops must "not be decided in secrecy," as had been the case when Moscow decided to intervene in Afghanistan in December 1979, but only "with the approval of the country's parliament."
The Moscow weekly "Literaturnaya gazeta," for its part, published one of the first detailed accounts of Soviet atrocities in the Afghan war, which many Soviet citizens had known about but which the Soviet authorities until then had consistently refused to acknowledge. All three of these events--the withdrawal itself, the acknowledgement that the Soviet intervention lacked popular support, and the description of the atrocities--had the effect of further delegitimizing the Soviet system. Thus, they played a key role in its ultimate destruction.
But precisely because this withdrawal proved to be so pivotal in the history of the region, it has generated a set of images that continue to mold opinions not only in Afghanistan but also in the post-Soviet states and the Western world. These opinions appear likely to reshape the future even as the withdrawal itself already has reshaped the past.
In Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal had much the same effect as Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War more than 80 years earlier. It encouraged Afghans, other Muslims, and indeed many non-Europeans to think that they could take on a major power and win, something few had assumed until then. That shift in assumptions helped power the Taliban in Afghanistan itself, and many other challenges to European and U.S. dominance of international affairs.
Indeed, much of the current terrorist challenge to the West has its roots in the Soviet withdrawal not only because the Mujaheddin demonstrated that a European power could be defeated on the field of battle but also because it showed that a great power would be willing to withdraw rather than continue to fight.
In the post-Soviet states--and particularly in Central Asia and the Caucasus--Moscow's withdrawal from Afghanistan has led many to conclude that political power is fragile and that popular groups inspired by Islam can successfully challenge it. Some groups in Tajikistan and elsewhere have challenged the authorities, while many of those in power have sought to justify repressive policies in the name of preventing the kind of societal and political chaos that Afghanistan suffered in the wake of the Soviet occupation.
And on a global scale, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to serve as a reminder that however strong a state may appear to outsiders, it can be defeated and even destroyed if it loses all popular legitimacy.
Before the Soviet withdrawal, many in both the Soviet Union and the West assumed that the Soviet Union would continue forever. After that event, many in both places recognized that the days of the Soviet power were numbered.
Such prophecies not only proved to be self-fulfilling, but they also have led people in other countries, far different and far removed from the USSR, to think about changing structures that many had assumed could never be dislodged.
In 1975, four years before Moscow invaded Afghanistan and 14 years before it withdrew, the yearbook of the "Kabul Times" claimed that Afghanistan was "the beginning of the end of everything." To a larger extent than the editors of that newspaper knew, their claim has proved true, first by the Soviet withdrawal and then by the impact of that withdrawal on the world.