Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - March 30, 1999


After several weeks of prolonged negotiations, top IMF and Russian officials announced on 29 March that they have reached an agreement that will include at least $4.8 billion to cover money Russia owes the fund in 1999. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told reporters that the Russian government's pledge to meet a primary budget surplus of 2 percent of GDP is a key element of the new understanding, but such a goal was already assumed in the 1999 budget. An IMF spokesman in Washington told reporters that the fund agreed on a broad framework for Russia's economic program while specific figures still need to be worked out. A new IMF mission will arrive in Moscow later this week to work on the government's economic program, Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin told Interfax. According to Vyugin, the fund is continuing to insist that Russia increase its budget revenues to pay larger wages and pensions, adding that "these differences will be settled." JAC


The Primakov government on 29 March announced it will submit legislation amending the law on currency regulation and control so that individuals can take out of the country only $5,000 in cash presumably on any given occasion, First Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Ignatiev told reporters, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Ignatiev, $10.6 billion in cash was legally exported in 1998, more than a third of which was exported in single increments larger than $10,000. Last month, then acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika reported that about $9 billion was illegally taken out of the country in 1998, noting that this amount far exceeded the sum Russia was trying to extract from international financial institutions. JAC


Prime Minister Primakov, accompanied by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, left for Belgrade on 30 March. After negotiations in Belgrade are concluded, Primakov is expected to head to Bonn for consultations with the EU, Interfax reported. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder currently heads the EU. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that just hours before Primakov's plane was scheduled to depart from Moscow, NATO forces bombed an airport about 10 kilometers from the one at which his plane was to land. JAC


Investigators into the 28 March attack on the U.S. embassy have raised troubling questions, "Trud" reported on 30 March. According to the newspaper, "nobody knows" how the vehicle that was driven by the men who fired shots at the embassy managed to run a red traffic light at an intersection constantly patrolled by police and not be pursued. The daily also reported that its sources in the Federal Security Service (FSB) maintain that the grenade launchers the terrorists tried to use simply malfunctioned. It was not the case that they did not know how to use them, according to the daily. JAC


Foreign Minister Ivanov on 29 March accused NATO of closely coordinating the movements of the Kosova Liberation Army and of planning a ground offensive, "despite Washington's denials," Interfax reported. The same day, the Russian Defense Ministry augmented the minister's charges, saying that NATO is concealing information on its military activities. According to the ministry, NATO strikes have "largely damaged civilian facilities, notably educational institutions, heating and electricity plants, and residential and administration buildings." The next day, unidentified sources at the ministry told ITAR-TASS that the U.S. is testing new secret weapons in Yugoslavia, one of which is designed to destroy radio electronic equipment by generating an electric impulse. Earlier, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 27 March that the U.S. used a new weapons system during its first air strike against Yugoslavia, but the newspaper did not elaborate on its characteristics. JAC


In his annual "state of the federation" address on 30 March, Russian President Boris Yeltsin touched on his pet themes of support for market reforms and the Russian Constitution as well as the need to combat political extremism. Yeltsin blamed the country's current economic difficulties not on market economic reform but on the failure to complete these reforms, meaning that the country is now stuck with an economic system halfway between the old and the new. Yeltsin also stressed that the constitution should not be amended before mid-2000--after Russia has a new government, parliament, and president. On the issue of regional separatism, Yeltsin called for fighting even its slightest manifestations, such as the erection of trade barriers and violations of federal budget laws. He suggested fine-tuning regulations governing the transfer of federal monies to the regions. JAC


On 26 March, the leadership of the Communist Party rejected an appeal by Prime Minister Primakov to delay a scheduled debate in the State Duma on Yeltsin's impeachment in light of the crisis in Kosova. The debate is now scheduled for 15 April. JAC


President Yeltsin signed a decree on 29 March appointing FSB head Vladimir Putin as secretary of the Security Council, a post that has been vacant since the dismissal of chief of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha earlier this month. Putin, according to Interfax, will retain both posts. However, ITAR-TASS reported that a new director will soon be appointed to head the FSB. It cited sources within the FSB as saying that Bordyuzha may replace Putin. "Kommersant-Daily" the next day reported that Bordyuzha was dismissed from military service at the same time that he was sacked from the Kremlin and that therefore he is unlikely to direct the FSB since he is now a civilian. JAC


Foreign Minister Ivanov angrily refuted claims in the latest issue of the "New Yorker" magazine that Prime Minister Primakov accepted a $800,000 bribe from Iraq to help that country obtain strategic materials for its nuclear weapon stockpile. Ivanov said on 29 March that the story, by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, was a ruse designed to divert attention from NATO's "barbaric" bombing of Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists told the "Washington Post" that "given Primakov's familiarity with [intelligence] trade craft, I'd have some difficulty believing that he would accept a personal gratuity of such a trivial amount of money--that's chump change!--and that he would do so in a way that would be so easily detected." Primakov himself has not yet commented publicly on the report. JAC


Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabian foreign minister, arrived in Moscow on 29 March for a two-day official visit. Prime Minister Primakov met with al- Faisal that day, and the two officials discussed bilateral relations and a number of foreign policy issues. Later, Primakov called for an end to air strikes on Iraq. The two officials also discussed ways of strengthening the UN Security Council, ITAR- TASS reported. After his meeting with al-Faisal, Foreign Minister Ivanov noted that Russia is interested in strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia. The two officials signed a protocol on political consultations between their two Foreign Ministries. Al- Faisal also met with Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev and is to hold talks with Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin. JAC


The U.S. rock band KISS has postponed two shows in Moscow this week so that it does "not become a target for aggression and anti-American provocations," according to a statement from the band's local promoter, Vladimir Kiselov, the "Moscow Times" reported on 30 March. Kiselov appealed to local KISS fans not to become "blind weapons in the hands of terrorists" and allow the postponement of the concert to lead to hooliganism. Meanwhile, the woman whose face has graced the placards of some anti-NATO protesters outside the U.S. embassy, former White House intern- cum-memoirist Monica Lewinsky, has canceled the Russian leg of her European tour to promote her book, "Monica's Story," for similar reasons. JAC


Said Isaev, who has worked as ITAR-TASS's Grozny correspondent for the past five years, was abducted from his home by unidentified armed men on the night of 28 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 March, quoting Chechen Minister of State Security Turpal Atgeriev. ITAR- TASS Director-General Vitalii Ignatenko has appealed to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to assist in locating and releasing Isaev. LF


Presidential press secretary Mairbek Vachagaev told Interfax on 29 March that Maskhadov has issued instructions to shoot down all aircraft overflying Chechnya, following the intrusion of Russian helicopter gunships into Chechen airspace the previous day. Maskhadov left Grozny on 25 March for Saudi Arabia. LF


Meeting on 29 March with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who arrived that day in Baku for an official visit, President Heidar Aliyev again expressed his dissatisfaction at Russia's policy of providing armaments to Armenia while simultaneously seeking to mediate a solution of the Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. But in what he termed a "gesture of respect" for Luzhkov, Aliyev announced that the criminal investigation into the intercepted Russian freight plane detained at Baku airport on 18 March with a cargo of MiG-21s has been halted and that he will hand the freight plane over to Luzhkov so that it can be returned to its Russian owner, Interfax and CTK reported. The fate of the six MiGs remains unclear. LF


Minister for National Security Namik Abbasov has accused Russia and Iran not only of implementing joint economic and political sanctions against Azerbaijan but also of conducting coordinated intelligence activities in that country, Turan reported on 29 March. Abbasov said that over the past five years, his ministry has identified and neutralized 13 Iranian intelligence operatives, one of whom was an employee at the Iranian embassy in Baku. He accused Russian intelligence of involvement in alleged coup attempts in Azerbaijan in 1993, 1995, and 1996. Abbasov was addressing participants in a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of Azerbaijan's security bodies. It is unclear whether President Aliev, who made his early career in the Azerbaijan SSR KGB and headed that body from 1967-1969, attended the ceremony. LF


In his weekly radio address on 29 March, Eduard Shevardnadze blamed the UN for the Kosova crisis, arguing that it would not have occurred if the UN Security Council had earlier resorted to peace enforcement measures, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Such measures are permitted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Shevardnadze said that UN Security Council resolutions on Abkhazia have also proved ineffective. Several Georgian politicians have argued that the UN should mount a peace enforcement operation in Abkhazia. LF


The Kazakh opposition movement Azamat, which was founded in January 1997, has reconstituted itself as a political party. Addressing the constituent congress in Almaty on 27 March, deputy chairman Petr Svojk said the party's objective is to contribute to the country's democratization, Interfax reported. The congress adopted a resolution criticizing the present government, whose policies Svojk termed "criminal" and conducive to "the devastation of the country." Speaking to Interfax two days later, Svojk was particularly negative in his assessment of the Kazakh- Chinese border treaty concluded last year and signed into law by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 24 March. The treaty has been repeatedly criticized in the Kazakh press, as has Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev, who played a key role in its adoption, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 18 March. Svojk said the treaty cedes to China land that contains lead and gold deposits. LF


OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel met with Kyrgyz officials-- including President Askar Akaev, Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev, Education Minister Sovetbek Toktomyshev, and Chairman of the Government Commission on Religious Affairs Emil Kaptagaev- -in Bishkek on 25-29 March to discuss the situation of ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Van der Stoel subsequently told journalists that the OSCE will implement several programs on interethnic relations in Kyrgyzstan, according to Interfax. Speaking on 26 March at a meeting to mark the fifth anniversary of the first session of the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, Akaev noted that 83 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population believes that interethnic relations within the country are stable and peaceful. LF


Parliamentary deputy Jypar Jeksheev, who is chairman of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, said in Bishkek on 26 March that some 80 people have died as a direct consequence of the spill of sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River in May 1998(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 1998), RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Jeksheev added that neither the Kyrgyzaltyn state gold company nor the Canadian Kumtor Operating Company (KOC), one of whose lorries caused the accident, has kept its promises to pay compensation for all damage resulting from the spill. LF


Tapio Saavalainen, who heads the IMF mission to Tajikistan, addressed a meeting in Dushanbe on 27 March to assess the fulfillment of programs and projects financed by the IMF, the World Bank, and other organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Saavalainen said the IMF will continue to support Tajikistan, but he expressed concern at the country's $984.7 million foreign debt, the largest of any CIS state. Saavalainen also discussed with President Imomali Rakhmonov the need to improve tax collection and to accelerate the privatization of state enterprises, according to AP-Blitz. World Bank regional director Ishrat Husein, who met with Rakhmonov on 26 March, said the World Bank plans to lend Tajikistan some $95 million in 1999. One-third of than sum is earmarked for restructuring the economy, while the remainder will finance housing construction and improvements to the civil service and education system, according to AP. LF


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 29 March sharply criticized the government for failing to revive the country's economy and blamed the parliament for blocking economic reforms, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma said incomes dropped an average of 14.4 percent from the previous year and retail trade was nearly 12 percent lower. He said that financial policy is "inefficient" and sometimes wrong and that leftist forces in parliament are ready to block IMF and World Bank credits. Kuchma also noted that the government must support domestic production and improve the financial system in order to allay wage arrears. He vowed that Ukraine will "never go along the path of inflation" caused by printing money. PB


President Kuchma and Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko were among an estimated 15,000 people attending the Kyiv funeral of Vyacheslav Chornovil, head of the Popular Rukh of Ukraine and a key leader in the country's fight for independence, the "Eastern Economist" reported. Chornovil, who died in a car accident last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1999), spent 15 years in Soviet prisons as a dissident. He was first arrested in 1967 after two of his books appeared in the West. PB


Former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir said on 29 March that despite "difficult conditions," he has collected the necessary signatures to register as a candidate in the opposition presidential election, Belapan reported. Chyhir said he has some 132,000 signatures; 100,000 are needed to register as a candidate for the scheduled May election, which has been called illegal by the government. He said many people who signed his application have lost their jobs and others have been expelled from universities. He added that the KGB and police seized lists of signatures and searched cars near his headquarters. In other news, Vladymyr Pleshchenka, chairman of the Vybar organization of the Belarusian Popular Front, was released from jail on his own recognizance after being detained for six months on charges of malicious hooliganism. PB


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka telephoned with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 29 March to offer his support, AFP reported. Lukashenka, who had earlier promised to send aid to Belgrade if Yugoslavia were attacked by NATO, told Milosevic that the air campaign against Yugoslavia is a "direct threat to European security." Milosevic responded that Serbs "cannot be enslaved." PB


More than 1,000 ethnic Russian residents of Estonia's northeastern city of Narva have signed a petition urging NATO to cease its air strikes against Yugoslavia, ETA reported on 29 March. A local ethnic Russian leader is quoted as saying that a poll of residents of the city, which is predominantly ethnic Russian, shows that a majority is opposed to Estonia's joining NATO. JC


Some 100 ethnic Russians took part in an unsanctioned rally in a Riga park on 29 March to protest NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. The demonstrators were mainly elderly people. Police in the Latvian capital have pointed out that the regular demonstrations by some 20-30 people outside the U.S. embassy are illegal, since the demonstrators have not applied to the city council for permission to hold such meetings. In Liepaja on 29 March, police detained about 15 people who took part in an unsanctioned rally to protest NATO policy in Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, in the Russian city of Pskov, several dozen Russian youths gathered outside the Estonian and Latvian consulates to condemn the air strikes, Baltic news agencies and "Diena" reported. There are no diplomatic representations of NATO member states in Pskov, while Estonia and Latvia are both aspiring to join the alliance. JC


Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis commented to journalists on 29 March that "for the first time ever, we have a prosecutor-general who is taking action and never covers up huge frauds," ELTA reported. Landsbergis stressed that there is no reason to distrust the current prosecutor-general, Kazys Pednycia, or to consider how to replace him. Those remarks come on the heels of press reports that President Valdas Adamkus proposes to submit amendments to the parliament aimed at "reinforcing the independence of the Prosecutor-General's Office and granting more rights to the institution." According to BNS, Adamkus will propose that the prosecutor-general be nominated by the parliament with the president's approval. Under the current law, the holder of that office is nominated by a parliamentary committee and approved by the legislature. JC


Polish Foreign Minster Bronislaw Geremek said on 29 March in Warsaw that he does not want a new "Iron Curtain" to emerge after Poland joins the EU, PAP reported. Geremek made his comments after meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Borys Tarasyuk, in the inaugural meeting of the Polish-Ukrainian Conference, designed to promote European affairs in Ukraine. Geremek said Poland, under pressure from EU members to tighten its eastern borders, will try to convince Brussels that it is better to create a "controlled border" than a new wall. PB


An Interior Ministry official on 29 March said the Czech Republic is "prepared to accept immediately several hundred refugees from Kosova." The same day, the government approved the country's military strategy. Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy told journalists that the cabinet has not discussed sending ground forces to Yugoslavia and will do so only if it receives such a request from NATO. Also, a Kosova Albanian was shot dead at a rally in Prague's city center. His killer, a Yugoslav national, has been arrested by the police, which later said the reason for the murder was a family quarrel, CTK reported. MS


Jaroslav Ivor, who is heading the investigation into former Slovak Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa, said on 29 March that police have asked the parliament for permission to arrest Lexa, who is suspected of involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son as well as of other abuses of power, Reuters reported. The parliament has been asked to lift Lexa's immunity, but under existing regulations, a deputy is still immune from arrest until found guilty in court. Ivor said police are concerned that "if let free during the prosecution period, [Lexa] might disrupt the investigation, for example by influencing witnesses." MS


Ladislav Pittner on 29 March said the "likely murderer" of former Interior Minister Jan Ducky, who was shot dead in early January, has been "taken into custody," CTK reported. The suspect, whose cover name is "Alex," is a member of the "Ukrainian mafia." The child of Alex's driver was kidnapped because it was feared the driver "knew too much." When they received the ransom, the kidnappers attempted to kill the father, but police saved the child and arrested "Alex." With regard to another incident, Pittner said that three contract killers were involved in the shooting of 10 people in a bar in Dunajska Streda on 25 March and that they had been hired for a total of $1 million. The victims were members of a "Ukrainian mafia" gang headed by Tibor Papaya. Investigators are looking into a possible link with Lexa, because Papaya had claimed he enjoys Lexa's protection. MS


Serbian forces accompanied by tanks and armored personnel carriers shelled the Pagarusha area of the Semetiska valley from Malisheva, Suhareka, and Rahovec on 30 March, Reuters reported. An unnamed diplomat told the news agency that "the Serbian goal is two-fold: to destroy units of the [guerrillas] and to drive into Albania" some 50,000 displaced persons who have taken refuge in the valley. PM


State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 29 March that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke with Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci the previous day by telephone, AP reported. "Thaci told her that Yugoslav army and police units as well as paramilitary groups were killing civilians and burning houses, that the [UCK] was trying to defend civilians but the fighting has spread to the cities and that there had been a sense that they were being overwhelmed," Rubin added. Elsewhere, refugees arriving in Montenegro said that Serbian forces have "ethnically cleansed" Peja of its ethnic Albanian population. PM


A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Brussels on 29 March that "Serbian forces executed" Fehmi Agani the previous day. The moderate, 66-year-old Agani was chief negotiator for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and a professor of sociology. He wanted independence for Kosova but supported the Rambouillet peace accords that provide for broad autonomy but not independence. The NATO spokesman added that Serbian forces also killed Baton Haxhiu, who was editor-in- chief of the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" as well as four other intellectuals. It is unclear where the killings took place. Unidentified Serbs recently killed a prominent human rights lawyer and his two sons. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said in Tirana on 29 March that Agani's "execution and those of other well-known intellectuals in Kosova are a clear indication of what Milosevic is about." Rugova, negotiator Veton Surroi, and many other prominent Kosovars are reportedly in hiding. PM


French President Jacques Chirac said in Paris on 29 March that Europe "cannot accept on its soil a man and a regime that, for nearly 10 years, has conducted...operations of ethnic cleansing, murders, and massacres, of destabilization in the entire region, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths and millions left homeless." In Chicago, Vice President Al Gore stressed that "we abhor the ethnic cleansing that is now occurring.... Ethnic Albanians are being driven from their homes, forced to flee their country in large numbers and in many cases are being murdered in cold blood." In Washington, Rubin noted that "it is clear that Slobodan Milosevic bears responsibility for the events that led to war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia, and now [Kosova, where events] obviously are being directed from Belgrade." Defense Secretary William Cohen warned that Milosevic runs the risk of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicting him. PM


Several active and retired top U.S. military commanders told the "New York Times" of 30 March that NATO could assemble a force of up to 40,000 troops and send them to Kosova "within days" to protect civilians from further attacks and atrocities. One general warned against overestimating Serbian military strength. Another suggested that the main problem preventing sending in ground forces is the lack of political will on the part of many key Western leaders. Some generals noted that NATO could set up "safe havens" for refugees. General George Joulwan, who is NATO's former top commander, argued that "if the killings continue, how can you have 12,000 NATO troops [in Macedonia] 10 miles from where the atrocities are being committed and do nothing?" PM


Elite units from the U.S., the U.K., and France have been "going about their business throughout [Milosevic's] Yugoslavia for weeks," retired Croatian General Ante Roso told "Vecernji list" of 30 March. He added that they are conducting unspecified secret operations "that will not be reported in CNN or Sky News." The Zagreb daily added that most of Yugoslavia's MiGs are intact but are physically unable to leave their underground hangars due to damage from bombing on the surface. Retired General Antun Tus told "Vjesnik" that NATO seeks to destroy all Serbian heavy weapons between Kragujevac and Kosova in order to "isolate" Serbian forces in the province. PM


NATO aircraft bombed targets in Serbia, Kosova, and Montenegro on 29 March. Speaking in Podgorica, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic warned that the "spiral of violence is spinning out of control" and appealed to Western leaders to stop the attacks. He stressed: "It is no longer important whose violence was the cause and whose violence was the consequence. In this hell, innocent people are being hurt." Djukanovic noted that Milosevic's "insane policy" has hurt the "Serbian people" more than anyone else. The Montenegrin leader stressed: "It is necessary to end NATO air strikes and open talks. Not even the staunchest [domestic] opponents of Milosevic can understand the international community's stance toward him." Djukanovic also criticized the international community for treating Milosevic as their main negotiating partner in the region for many years, "RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Information Minister Musa Ulqini told a private Tirana radio station on 29 March that "many refugees report that Serbs have ordered residents of Prizren to leave the town by tomorrow or else their houses will be shelled and they will be killed." Ulqini said that if the residents obey that order, the number of Kosovar refugees in Albania will increase to 100,000 in a couple of hours. According to Ulqini, an estimated 80,000 Kosovar refugees have crossed into Albania since the weekend. Prime Minister Majko told the parliament that the government is expecting another 100,000 refugees, who are still on their way. The legislators adopted a resolution calling on NATO to send ground troops to Kosova. FS


Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, told AP on 30 March that the British government has supplied a transport plane that will shuttle supplies from Copenhagen to Tirana. The previous day, an Italian military ship loaded with buses, trucks, and tents for refugee relief work left Bari for Durres. In Kukes, UNHCR personnel told AP that the authorities simply cannot cope with the influx and stressed that "we need everything." Some refugees are sleeping on sidewalks. Elsewhere, the Rome-based World Food Program sent a convoy carrying food from Tirana to Kukes. FS


Buses, trucks, and cars brought about 21,000 refugees from the remote north to other locations in Albania on 29 and 30 March, dpa reported. Information Minister Ulqini stressed that "there has been a great show of solidarity and traditional Albanian hospitality by people all over Albania." About 5,000 refugees arrived in Tirana on 29 March. The first arrivals had been expected to stay in an indoor stadium on the outskirts of the capital, but around 1,000 local residents competed with one another to put up the refugees in their homes. FS


The Defense Ministry on 29 March denied media reports that Russian aircraft transporting weapons to Yugoslavia overflew Romania on 26 March, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ministry said that no authorization has been given for Russian overflights to Yugoslavia and that no Russian plane overflying Romanian territory had a Yugoslav airport as its registered destination. The ministry also commented that no "violation or attempted violation" of Romanian air space has been recorded since 26 March. The Ministry of Transportation announced it has re-opened the Arad and Caransebes airports, but the Timisoara airport remains closed. It added that it has authorized the "temporary stationing" at Bucharest's Baneasa airport of six JAT planes, following a request by the Yugoslav national carrier. MS


Several hundred ethnic Serbs demonstrated in Bucharest on 29 March against NATO air strikes. The demonstrators, who were joined by some Romanian nationalists and leftists, threw eggs at the U.S. and French embassies. They carried Yugoslav flags and banners that read "NATO-Nazis" and "Yugoslavia is not Lewinsky." They also shouted "Today Yugoslavia, tomorrow Transylvania," in a reference to the province where most of Romania's large Hungarian minority lives, Reuters and AP reported. MS


At an extraordinary congress on 27- 28 March, the Romanian Alternative Party changed its name to the Union of Rightist Forces (UFD) and elected Varujan Vosganian and Adrian Iorgulescu as UFD co-chairmen, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Romanian National Party (PNR), holding its first congress on 28 March, elected Viorel Catarama as PNR chairman and Mihai Berca as his deputy. Catarama was also nominated as PNR candidate for the premiership in the 2000 general elections. Virgil Magureanu was replaced as PNR secretary-general by Mircea Cranta but was elected a member of the PNR Political Bureau. Magureanu was elected PNR deputy chairman on 29 March. MS


Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said on 29 March that President Petru Lucinschi believes there is a danger the Russian army arsenal in the Transdniester will be transferred to Kosova and used in the conflict there, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi said he is "worried" about declarations made by some Russian leaders backing Tiraspol, such as Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who is trying to organize volunteers for the Serbian side. He also expressed concern about Tiraspol's declared readiness to allow Russia to use its military airfield. In a 28 March statement, Lucinschi said he feared an escalation of the Kosova conflict. Moldova's own "tragic experience" shows that each day fighting continues, a peaceful settlement becomes more difficult, he said. MS


Several opinion polls published on 29 March show that most Bulgarians oppose NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. All the polls show that at least 50 percent of the population sides with its Serbian neighbors. Support for NATO ranges from 20-24 percent. In a poll conducted by the Fact institute, 71 percent said they fear the conflict will spread to Bulgarian territory. An Interior Ministry official on 29 March said nearly 100 Kosova Albanians have asked for refugee status so far. He said security has been increased at the borders with Yugoslavia and Macedonia in anticipation of a refugee wave, AP reported. MS


By Michael Shafir

An unexpected side effect of the Kosova crisis is that NATO aspirants in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE now have raised expectations that their admission to NATO will be expedited.

Slovakia is a case in point. When U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Hungarian television earlier this month that Bratislava was "sadly" not yet prepared for NATO membership (which the U.S. embassy in Bratislava later clarified as referring to the country's development under Vladimir Meciar's leadership), Foreign Minster Eduard Kukan interpreted that statement as "an appeal to Slovakia to proceed more resolutely ahead."

That Bratislava intended to do just that was demonstrated by, among other things, the decision to cancel orders for the Russian S-300 anti-missile system, which Moscow was to have supplied in part repayment for its debt to Bratislava under a deal reached by Meciar. Current Premier Mikulas Dzurinda explained that the deal "would not reflect Slovakia's orientation toward the UN and NATO." While that move was significant in itself, the decision to allow NATO aircraft to over-fly Slovak territory, including to carry out mid-air fueling, was undoubtedly the most significant aimed at proving that Bratislava was indeed "proceeding resolutely ahead."

The latter decision appears to have been taken in the hope that in the midst of the Kosova crisis Bratislava is drawing NATO's attention to the country's importance for the alliance. As the daily "Sme" wrote shortly after NATO air strikes began, Slovakia has been generally perceived as of little strategic importance, mainly because of its small size. "Sme," which is thought to reflect to some extent government thinking, believes the conflict may have changed that perception. Two neutral countries in central Europe, Austria and Switzerland, cannot allow over flights and mid-air fueling without contravening their constitutions. This, "Sme" says, suddenly revealed Slovakia's strategic importance as the only possible corridor in central Europe between NATO and the CIS as well as between western or northwestern Europe and the southeastern parts of the continent. And, according to "Sme," NATO is unlikely to want to make such requests each time a crisis requiring its intervention develops in those regions.

Whether this argument will have any impact at the NATO Washington summit next month is unclear. Most alliance officials do not envisage further enlargement in the immediate future, though some steps may be taken to demonstrate that the "open doors" policy is not merely a declaration of intent.

But Slovakia is by no means alone in entertaining such a hope. Closer to the conflict area, both Romania and Bulgaria want to use the conflict to bolster their long-standing argument that NATO currently has a strategic "loophole" in a volatile area where they can serve as "islands of stability." On the other hand, they fear that the proximity of the conflict might find them militarily involved without the benefit of membership. Thus, while denying in the parliament that NATO planes have already over-flown Bulgarian territory or that Sofia has offered soldiers to fight on NATO's side, Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov urged NATO to express readiness at the Washington summit to admit Bulgaria as a full member. A resolution adopted by Bulgarian legislators after the air strikes began echoes that call.

Like Bulgaria, Romania is "hoping against hope" that the crisis will help it overcome the obstacles to membership, despite its financial crisis, which makes it highly unlikely that it could meet the high costs of membership. Romanian Deputy Foreign Minister Elena Zamfirescu has even speculated that the Kosova crisis might open doors in Washington that had seemed closed, and the same thoughts were expressed by Ion Diaconescu, leader of the main coalition National Peasant Party Christian Democratic.

Meanwhile, however, Slovakia and Bulgaria are facing the problem of volunteers who want to enroll to fight on the "other side" in the name of "Slavic brotherhood." Reportedly, 430 such volunteers have registered in Bulgaria, and some are already in Serbia. In a bid to prevent a similar development among would-be Slovak volunteers, the Slovak Defense Ministry has announced that fighting for another country without official permission is a punishable offense.

In Romania, "orthodox brotherhood" triggered a procession organized by the Orthodox Church (which, however, has not openly taken any side in the conflict). A prominent role in that procession was played by the Students' League, which is allegedly pro-Western and rightist in political outlook but rather fundamentalist when it comes to facing alleged dangers posed by the influence of Western Churches.

Paradoxically, these young Romanians find themselves on the same side as the groups of Slovak and Bulgarian "volunteers," which are supposedly being organized by pro-communist and pro- Russian forces. They also find themselves on the same side as the Cossacks in Moldova's separatist Transdniester region--a state of affairs that they themselves would have considered impossible, had it been proposed to them before the Kosova crisis.

In short, while some perceive the Kosova crisis as an opportunity to achieve NATO membership quicker than they had believed possible before the crisis and while others would rather promote historical attachments, there are also those who believe they can eat the cake of NATO membership and preserve the traditional slice of Slavic and Orthodox brotherhood.