FEDERATION COUNCIL AGAIN DEFIES YELTSIN OVER SKURATOV...
Members of the Federation Council have rejected the resignation of Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov for a second time. On 21 April, only 61 votes of the necessary 90 were cast in favor of approving Skuratov's resignation; 79 votes were cast against. "Izvestiya" the next day wrote that the decision is evidence that "Russia is becoming a parliamentary republic" and that "political decisions are no longer made behind the Kremlin's walls." "Segodnya" interpreted the action as not only bad news for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who had actively been seeking the chamber's support in his effort to dismiss Skuratov, but also a blow for Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who made a last minute appeal to the senators to bounce Skuratov. Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed had said earlier that the vote is not a question of a feud between Skuratov and Yeltsin; rather, if Skuratov remains, it will mean the end of presidential power in the country, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. JAC
...AS SKURATOV'S ROLE REMAINS UNCERTAIN
During the eight- hour discussion of his fate, Skuratov did not offer any new revelations, insisting that such disclosures would be "fatal for the country," Russian Television and Interfax reported. Despite the vote, Skuratov remains suspended pending the outcome of a criminal investigation against him, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Vladimir Putin announced. Skuratov himself told reporters that he needs guarantees that he will be able to do his job and "that the FSB and Interior Ministry will follow up on what we tell them." After the vote, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev suggested the creation of a bilateral commission composed of presidential administration and parliamentary representatives to resolve the issue. JAC
IMF AGREEMENT IMMINENT?
IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus said on 21 April that there has been progress in negotiations with Moscow and that "there is a possibility to agree," even within the "next few days," RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Camdessus added that the fund wants to see more rapid progress in restructuring the banking sector and clarification of the propriety of the behavior of the Russian Central Bank. The next day, Petr Rodionov, deputy chairman of Gazprom's board of governors, told "Izvestiya" that the IMF wants Gazprom to cut supplies to customers who do not pay their bills and to set up several competing gas companies. According to Rodionov, Gazprom opposes both recommendations and usually succeeds in satisfactorily explaining its reasons why to IMF experts during negotiations. However, when the negotiating team is replaced, then the "discussion practically starts over from the beginning," he said. JAC
MORE ELECTORAL BLOCS EMERGE...
An unidentified source in the State Duma told Interfax on 21 April that the formation of a new electoral bloc called Russia's Patriots, which will most likely be headed by Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev of the Communist Party, will be officially announced on 15 May. The bloc will be composed of members of the Spiritual Heritage movement, headed by Aleksei Podberezkin, and the Democratic Party, led by Georgii Khatsynkov. Other likely members are Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev and Popular Rule faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov. "Vremya MN" reported the same day that the new bloc composed of the neo-fascist Russian National Unity, Savior, and Renaissance will be called the National Bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1999). According to the daily, the National Bloc believes that the majority of votes for its deputies in upcoming elections will be from those opposed to NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. JAC
...INCLUDING NEW REGIONAL BLOC
A new electoral bloc called Vsya Rossiya (All Russia) held an organizational committee meeting on 22 April. The bloc was founded by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, along with Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, Astrakhan Oblast Governor Anatolii Guzhvin, and Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 April (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 April 1999). In a separate interview with the daily, the informal leader of another regional movement, Golos Rossii, Konstantin Titov, said that Golos Rossii will try to merge with any new regional blocs. At the meeting, Shaimiev proposed an alliance with Otechestvo, headed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who attended the Vsya Rossiya meeting as a "guest," ITAR-TASS reported. According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, the leaders of Chelyabinsk and Penza Oblasts as well as the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug are also expected to join. JAC
CHERNOMYRDIN IN BELGRADE
Russian President Boris Yeltsin's special envoy to Yugoslavia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, arrived in Belgrade on 22 April for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax reported that Chernomyrdin planned to discuss ways to solve the Kosova crisis but gave no details. The previous day, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II briefed Chernomyrdin, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on his recent visit to Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). Chernomyrdin also met with Yugoslav Ambassador to Moscow Borislav Milosevic, the brother of the president. He did not disclose details of his meetings. FS
IVANOV DESCRIBES RUSSIAN PEACE PLAN
Foreign Minister Ivanov held telephone conversations with his British, Spanish, Italian, and Vatican counterparts on 21 April to discuss efforts to find a political solution in Kosova, ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview published in "Le Monde" the previous day, he explained that Russia's peace plan envisages an immediate end to NATO air strikes, the withdrawal from Kosova of Serbian soldiers and police, the withdrawal from Yugoslavia's borders of NATO forces, the safe return of all refugees, free access to Kosova for humanitarian organizations, the resumption of peace talks aimed at giving Kosova substantial autonomy while respecting Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, and the deployment of a UN peace- keeping force with Belgrade's consent. FS
RUSSIA TO BOYCOTT NATO ANNIVERSARY
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia will boycott NATO's 50th anniversary celebrations and the summit focusing on the Kosova crisis in Washington, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. He said that the Russian boycott aims to put pressure on NATO to end its air strikes. Belarus is also boycotting the meeting, but all other 13 former Soviet republics have confirmed their participation. Chernomyrdin has just returned from a tour of the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, where he tried to rally support for Russia's position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). Meanwhile, State Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin has proposed setting up a special commission to compile data on alleged NATO war crimes so that alliance commanders can be put on trial, AP reported. FS
GOVERNMENT ANGERS METAL PRODUCERS BY IMPOSING NEW CUSTOMS DUTY
The Russian government on 21 April approved the introduction of a 5 percent export duty on some kinds of ferrous metals and aluminum, ITAR-TASS reported. The duties will remain in effect for six months. Russian metal producers have responded to the new government action with anger and frustration, condemning their chief lobbyist, the International Union of Metallurgists, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 21 April. They claim that the new duty could prove fatal to their industry, given that global metal prices are already declining and approaching the cost of their production in Russia. According to the resolution, the duty was adopted to increase budget revenues and improve the regulation of foreign economic activities. JAC
CHUKOTKA LEADERS FLOAT IDEA OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ON WATER
Local authorities in the polar city of Pevek in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug have agreed to the construction of the world's first 70 megawatt floating nuclear power plant in a local harbor, according to "EWI Russian Regional Report" on 22 April. However, for construction to go ahead, approval of the federal authorities is still needed. Residents are hoping that the plant, which would be constructed in 2004-2006, would help alleviate chronic fuel shortages during the region's long harsh Arctic winter. JAC
TATAR NATIONALISTS ALARMED THAT YUGOSLAVIA MAY JOIN RUSSIA- BELARUS UNION
The All-Tatar Public Center, which has an estimated 50,000 members, has expressed concern that Yugoslavia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union will create a "monstrous" formation that would embark on "genocide, state terror, and other forms of violence" against the non-Slav peoples of Russia, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 April. The center calls on the leaders and people of the national republics of the Russian Federation to declare their independence from the impending "Union of Three" and join an independent Eastern Union that would be composed of all national republics and okrugs "from Siberia to the Caucasus." Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the spiritual head of Russia's Muslims, has also expressed his opposition to Yugoslavia's joining the Russia-Belarus Union, the newspaper noted. LF
CHECHNYA MARKS THIRD ANNIVERSARY OF DUDAEV'S DEATH
"Scores of thousands" of people from Chechnya and neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetia gathered on 21 April near the village of Gekhi-chu, where Chechnya's first president Djokhar Dudaev was killed by a remote-controlled missile three years ago, Interfax reported. Addressing the mourners, current President Aslan Maskhadov reaffirmed his commitment to Dudaev's aspiration to create an independent Islamic state in Chechnya. Maskhadov also expressed the hope that his planned meeting with President Yeltsin will break the deadlocked relations between Moscow and Grozny and serve as a guarantee of future stability throughout the North Caucasus. He added that Chechnya 'wants Russia to be a good reliable neighbor and partner, not an eternal enemy." LF
TWO ARRESTED FOR ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT IN KARACHAEVO- CHERKESSIA
Two men have been arrested by regional officials of the FSB on suspicion of participating in the 13 April grenade attack on Islam Burlakov, chairman of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Caucasus Press reported on 22 April. Burlakov was hospitalized with serious injuries after that attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). LF
KARABAKH CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO RESUME PEACE PROCESS
In a statement issued on 20 April, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic accused the Azerbaijani leadership of ignoring the March appeal by the OSCE Chairman-in- Office and the Minsk Group co-chairmen to exercise restraint in their official statements so as not to jeopardize efforts to resolve the conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. The statement accuses Baku of rewriting Azerbaijani history and propagating a hostile image of Armenians, which, it noted, could have irreversible negative repercussions. The statement calls on the Azerbaijani leadership to "stop the propaganda of nationalism and xenophobia," embark on confidence-building measures, and resume peace negotiations on the basis of the most recent draft Minsk Group proposal. LF
EMIR OF QATAR VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Sheykh Hamad bin-Khalifa ath-Thani met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev on his arrival in Astana late on 21 April to discuss expanding bilateral economic relations, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. The presidential press service also quoted Nazarbaev as saying that Kazakhstan wants to upgrade its cooperation within the framework of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. While the two sides affirmed that their views on most urgent international and regional issues are similar, the visit, which was originally scheduled for two days, was curtailed, reportedly because of inclement weather conditions. As a result, only two bilateral agreements were signed, instead of the expected nine. LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW PREMIER
After a lengthy and heated debate on 21 April, parliament deputies voted to approve the candidacy of Amangeldi MurAliyev as prime minister, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Of the 61 deputies who attended the session, 37 voted in favor, two against, and the remainder abstained. Deputies expressed concern at the country's deteriorating economic situation and tensions in relations with neighboring countries. They also criticized Akaev's personnel policy. In response, Akaev conceded that numerous unspecified mistakes have been made but added that Kyrgyzstan "is not bringing up the rear" in terms of its commitment to reform, according to Interfax. Akaev said that a 10-year strategic development program will soon be drafted with the help of international financial organizations. LF
CZECH PREMIER VISITS UZBEKISTAN
Milos Zeman headed a Czech government delegation that visited Uzbekistan on 20-21 April to discuss expanding bilateral economic cooperation and trade, ITAR-TASS reported. Trade turnover between the two countries totaled $800 million last year. Zeman held talks with President Islam Karimov and his Uzbek counterpart, Utkir Sultanov, and signed a declaration on developing mutually beneficial cooperation. He also opened a trade exhibition. LF
TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE TRY TO RESOLVE GAS NON-PAYMENT PROBLEMS
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov said on 21 April that Ukraine has not paid for supplies of Turkmen gas since the beginning of 1999, Interfax reported. As a result, Ukraine's gas debt to Turkmenistan has risen to $223 million, half of which is due in hard currency and half in barter goods. Niyazov said the Ukrainian government has undertaken to ensure the shipment of barter goods owed. On 15 April, Ukraine's First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kuratchenko announced that the Ukrainian government will halt the import of Turkmen natural gas by the state company Neftegaz Ukrainy, which is unable to pay for those imports. Instead, it will hand over the right to engage in such trade to commercial companies, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
KUCHMA SAYS UKRAINE, RUSSIA UNANIMOUS ON KOSOVA...
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told regional journalists in Kyiv on 21 April that Ukraine backs Russia's peace plan for Kosova. Earlier the same day, Kuchma met with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is now Russia's special envoy for Yugoslavia. "Our positions [on Kosova] fully coincide. This problem can be resolved only through preserving Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, granting Kosova broad autonomy, halting military actions, and withdrawing the Serbian army from Kosova," he said. JM
...EXPLAINS GOAL OF VISIT TO WASHINGTON...
Kuchma also said he is going to attend the NATO summit in Washington "not to celebrate NATO's anniversary but to resolve Ukraine's problems," Ukrainian Television reported. Kuchma is planning to talk with U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.S. senators and businessmen, and representatives of the IMF and the World Bank during the summit. Kuchma said Ukraine condemns the military action in Kosova, but he added that he "as a politician cannot ignore today's realities, including the fact of NATO's existence." JM
...SLAMS LEGISLATURE FOR BLOCKING REFORM
Also on 21 April, Kuchma accused the Supreme Council of blocking reform and turning itself into a leftist rostrum for the presidential election campaign, Reuters reported. "Our system of power is absolutely paralyzed. The parliament no longer fulfills its main, law-making function and is preoccupied with political bickering," he commented. Communist lawmakers have threatened to boycott the session and paralyze the legislature unless it overrides presidential vetoes on a law providing one-time subsidies to war veterans and another on increasing the minimum pension from the current 16.6 hryvni ($4.2) to 55 hryvni. Meanwhile, leftist deputies on 21 April failed once again to pass an anti-NATO bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). JM
BELARUSIAN COURT EXAMINES TERRORIST ACT AGAINST LUKASHENKA
At the Belarusian Supreme Court, the trial of three residents of Mahileu began on 21 April. One of the defendants is charged with killing Yauhen Mikalutski, head of the Mahileu branch of the State Control Committee, in a bomb attack on 6 October 1997. The other two are accused of plotting a terrorist act against Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The trial is taking place behind closed doors. Lukashenka said last October that the assassination of Mikalutski was connected to an attempt on the president's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1998). Lukashenka also suggested at the time that a plan to assassinate the Belarusian president was prepared in the Drazdy residential compound, near Minsk, where several Western ambassadors had their residences. JM
IMPRISONED OPPOSITIONIST'S WIFE CONDUCTS HIS ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Yuliya Chyhir, the wife of former Belarusian Premier Mikhail Chyhir, who is now in jail on charges of grand larceny (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 9 April 1999), is campaigning for her husband in the opposition presidential elections scheduled for 16 May, Belapan reported on 21 April. According to Mrs. Chyhir, the voters she has met are ready to participate in the opposition elections. Lukashenka's popularity rating is falling "not by days, but by hours," she commented. Mrs. Chyhir also said that people are skeptical about the charges against her husband and tend to view them as politically motivated. Mrs. Chyhir is scheduled to speak on RFE/RL on 25 April, together with the other presidential candidate, Zyanon Paznyak, to answer Belarusian voters' questions on behalf of her husband. JM
BELARUS'S POLISH MINORITY LEADER FINED OVER SCHOOL PROTEST
Tadeusz Gawin, head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, was fined 115 million Belarusian rubles ($477) by a Belarusian court on 21 April for organizing an unsanctioned picket and for defaming three officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999), Polish Radio reported. "That is as much as an average Belarusian earns over a year. I feel that this is an unjust verdict, since all our actions and protests concerned the fundamental issue of the development of Polish schools in Belarus," Gawin told Polish Radio. JM
RUSSIAN-LATVIAN COMISSION TO RESUME WORK SOON?
On returning from Moscow, Latvian Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs told journalists in Riga on 21 April that his meeting with Russian Minister for National Minorities Ramazan Abdulatipov was "very successful" and "very constructive," LETA reported. Gorbunovs also commented that in order to maintain "normal economic relations" with Russia, Latvia should be "more yielding and guarantee equal rights for Russian businessmen, as Lithuania and Estonia do." The previous day, "Diena" had quoted Abdulatipov as saying there are no "political barriers" to resuming the work of the Russian-Latvian intergovernmental commission. According to Abdulatipov, all working groups of the commission will begin work soon. Abdulatipov and Gorbunovs are co-chairmen of the commission. JC
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS PREMIER...
By a vote of 77 to 46 with five abstentions, the parliament has given its backing to Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, following President Valdas Adamkus's expression of no confidence in the premier earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1999). The vote on the non-binding motion, proposed by the ruling Conservatives, was secret, as requested by Vagnorius, ELTA reported. Earlier, the premier had told lawmakers that if he resigned now, the new government would be "subservient" to the president. According to parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, the vote was "logical and responsible" and gives the premier the green light to continue in office. JC
...BUT PRESIDENT STILL WANTS HIM TO RESIGN
Responding to the outcome of the vote in the parliament, Adamkus expressed regret that the Conservatives did not seize the opportunity to "take a step favorable for Lithuania." He added that "all I can do now is wait for the prime minister to make a decision." His spokeswoman, Violeta Gaizauskaite, indicated that Adamkus had already made clear in his 19 April television address that he expects Vagnorius to resign, ELTA and BNS reported. The premier, for his part, has said he will respond to the president's charges within the next week. In the meantime, Adamkus will attend the NATO summit in Washington, before returning to Vilnius on 26 April. JC
LUSTRATION PROSECUTOR INVESTIGATES ALLEGATIONS AGAINST POLISH PREMIER
Lustration prosecutor Boguslaw Nizienski on 21 April questioned parliamentary deputy Tomasz Karwowski, who has filed an application to lustrate Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). "I never said that Buzek was a collaborator of the [communist-era] special services, I said that I have doubts about this matter," Karwowski told Polish Radio later. Nizienski has decided to call other witnesses before making any decision on Buzek. Meanwhile, Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski has said he is convinced that Buzek was not a collaborator. Krzaklewski added that he "absolutely precludes" the possibility that Buzek's denial that he collaborated can be called into question and submitted to the lustration court for further scrutiny. JM
CZECH, SLOVAK PARLIAMENTS GIVE GREEN LIGHT TO NATO
Both houses of the Czech parliament voted overwhelmingly on 21 April to allow the Atlantic alliance to use Czech airfields, roads, and rail facilities in conjunction with its efforts in the Balkans. In Bratislava, the Slovak government signed an agreement that will enable NATO to use Slovakia's rail system. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said that the alliance now has Bratislava's permission to use "any Slovak means of transportation," AP reported. In Prague, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 22 April that Czech media pay too much attention to the suffering of the Serbs and not enough to that of the Kosovars. Kavan suggested that this might help explain why Czech public opinion is less than fully supportive of NATO's policy in the Balkans, CTK reported. PM
HUNGARY WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN GROUND ATTACKS AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA
Leaders of all six parliamentary parties in Hungary agreed on 21 April that Budapest will not participate in the possible launching of NATO ground attacks on Yugoslavia, Hungarian media reported. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said it is unlikely that any decision taken at the forthcoming NATO summit would make Hungary change its stand. Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists that so far Hungary has received no request to allow NATO trains carrying ammunition and technical equipment to transit the country. MSZ
SOLANA: NATO TO STICK TO AIR CAMPAIGN...
NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Brussels on 22 April that the Atlantic alliance's "strategy [in the Balkans] is not going to change" at the 50th anniversary summit in Washington on 23 April. "The question of [introducing] ground troops [in Kosova] will not be debated at all. No decision will be taken at the summit. The strategy is clear. It is the air campaign. It will continue to be so," AP quoted him as saying. Asked about reports that NATO is updating contingency plans for possible ground troop deployment, Solana said that "all the options have been contemplated several months ago and all the options are kept updated." PM
...BUT WILL IT?
Solana told the "Washington Post" of 21 April that it is necessary to show Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that "all options are on the table." In London, "The Guardian" wrote that British Prime Minister Tony Blair will seek to convince President Bill Clinton at the summit that land forces should go to Kosova "soon." In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen said that NATO can update contingency plans to introduce ground troops "very quickly." An unnamed White House official told AP that NATO may soon reconsider its earlier decision not to introduce ground troops. Other unnamed U.S. officials added that Solana has asked NATO commander General Wesley Clark to prepare plans for sending in land forces. The BBC noted that "momentum is building" in Washington and among the U.S. public at large to introduce ground troops. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Parliament that "if some day we're confronted with the necessity to send some ground troops, we'll do so." PM
FISCHER TO PUSH PEACE PLAN IN WASHINGTON
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently discussed in Paris developing a joint approach to Kosova with his British, French, and Italian counterparts, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 22 April. Fischer and his European counterparts are determined to make Fischer's peace plan "the basis" of joint NATO policy at the upcoming summit, the Berlin daily continued. U.S. officials are skeptical of certain aspects of the plan, including a halt in air strikes as soon as Milosevic begins to withdraw his forces from the province. Washington prefers to continue the strikes until the withdrawal is complete or nearly so. PM
MILOSEVIC TO DISRUPT NATO SUMMIT?
Unnamed "senior NATO sources" are concerned that Milosevic may seek to disrupt the summit by accelerating the ethnic cleansing of Kosova or by provoking a new crisis with Albania or Montenegro, "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 22 April. NATO officials also fear Milosevic might provoke fighting in Bosnia or on the Montenegrin frontier with Croatia. Elsewhere, Milosevic told a Texas radio station by telephone that NATO is waging both "a military war and a media war" against him. He denied that the Kosovars are fleeing Serbian forces, arguing that they are running from NATO air strikes. PM
NATO DESTROYS MILOSEVIC'S RESIDENCE
Milosevic's Tanjug news agency reported on 22 April that a NATO air strike destroyed the Serbian leader's home in Belgrade's fashionable Dedinje district. Neither Milosevic nor his family were in the residence at the time. This is the latest in a series of attacks directed against property or interests of the Serbian leader and people close to him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). PM
SHEA: MOST KOSOVARS AWAY FROM HOME
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels on 21 April that some 1,052,000 Kosovar remain in the province and that 850,000 of them are internally displaced persons. He added that Serbian forces are shelling positions of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) west of Peja, where some 15,000 displaced persons have taken shelter. Shea noted that several non-NATO countries have sent medical or engineering units to help NATO relief operations in Albania. They include Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, and Romania. PM
AIRLIFT OF SICK REFUGEES BEGINS
Ten NATO helicopters evacuated about 90 refugees from the northern town of Kukes to Burrel in central Albania on 21 April, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. The sick refugees are in a critical condition. Evacuations also continued by road, but there are still about 130,000 refugees in Kukes living in poor hygienic conditions and often camping in the open. An OSCE spokesman in Tirana said that only 150 refugees arrived in Kukes from Kosova that day. At the Hani i Hotit border crossing near Shkodra, however, 2,700 refugees entered Albania via Montenegro, Reuters reported. It was the largest number of refugees arriving from Montenegro on a single day so far. Most came from Peja and Gjakova. Local authorities in Shkodra said they are running out of supplies and cannot accommodate more refugees in the area. FS
NATO DEPLOYS FORCES IN KUKES
NATO military equipment arrived in Kukes on 21 April, mostly artillery pieces and armored vehicles, to prepare for the arrival of Apache helicopters from Tirana, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the capital. Albanian authorities have expressed concern that following the deployment of the Apaches, the northern mountains may become the scene of more serious clashes with Yugoslav forces in coming weeks and that the combat may pose a threat to the remaining refugees there. Fighting in the region continued on 21 April but at a lower intensity than the previous day, when 200 Serbian soldiers entered Albania and exchanged fire with Albanian forces, according to NATO spokesman Giuseppe Marani. An OSCE spokesman, however, told Reuters that four UCK fighters were killed and 18 wounded in fighting along the border near Tropoja on 21 April. FS
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT URGES 'MARSHALL PLAN'
Rexhep Meidani told "Le Figaro" of 22 April that only extensive financial aid can guarantee lasting peace in the Balkans and contain nationalism, AP reported. He stressed that "we absolutely need an international initiative, a Marshall Plan for the Balkans." Meidani also accused Yugoslav forces of trying to drag Albania into a war by violating its borders. He added that "we don't want to get into this game. But in the event of a major foray on our territory, Albania will react vigorously." FS
UN: MACEDONIA LEAVES REFUGEES CUT OFF
Officials of the UN's World Food Program said in Skopje on 22 April that Macedonian authorities have denied aid workers access for three days to some 6,000 Kosovars in the remote mountain hamlet of Malina. A spokesman told Reuters that "we are extremely worried about the plight of thousands of refugees now stranded. We fear we could have a major catastrophe on our hands. We can't wait any longer. We have to get food in. We are looking at saving lives." Another UN official added that "it's the same old story as Bosnia. The higher authorities give us the nod but police at the [local] checkpoint say 'no.'" Elsewhere, the government admitted several thousand refugees who had been stranded at the border. PM
GEORGIEVSKI: GLIGOROV EXAGGERATES DANGER
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 21 April that President Kiro Gligorov has "spread an atmosphere of uncertainty" by calling recently for the introduction of a state of emergency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). Georgievski, whose center-right coalition government "cohabits" with the Social Democratic president, charged that Gligorov spread fear by publicly describing what the prime minister called "fictitious situations" involving possible ethnic conflict in Macedonia, AP reported. PM
TENSION CONTINUES AT PREVLAKA
On 21 April, the UN monitoring mission in the demilitarized area between Croatia and Montenegro protested the incursion by Yugoslav forces into that zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 1999). A UN spokesman said that some 20 soldiers remain at the border crossing. In Zagreb, Foreign Minister Mate Granic noted that Croatia is "carefully monitoring the situation" and is "fully capable of defending its interests" if need be. Unnamed military analysts told AP that Milosevic may be attempting to provoke a coup in Montenegro by fomenting tensions along the border. Unnamed Croatian officials added that Croatia may respond to the Yugoslav army move into the Montenegrin portion of the zone by sending its own forces into the Croatian portion. PM
MONTENEGRO VOWS TO REOPEN BORDER
President Milo Djukanovic told the "Financial Times" of 22 April that "what we have here is a permanent attempt by Milosevic to destabilize Montenegro and overthrow the government by force." Djukanovic stressed that Montenegro will control its own frontier. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan told Reuters in Podgorica the previous day that the Yugoslav army roadblock on the Montenegrin-Croatian frontier "will not last long because we will clear it." He charged that the army is "trying step-by-step to become a parallel authority in Montenegro." Elsewhere, army troops arrested a French television team and a journalist for the Croatian weekly "Globus." The troops also expelled journalists from the Split weekly "Feral Tribune," whom the Montenegrin authorities had admitted to Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
STRIKES IN CROATIA
Staff at the Tisak press distribution agency began a strike on 21 April to protest mismanagement and increasing financial problems facing the firm. The strike affects the nationwide distribution of the dailies "Vecernji list," "Vjesnik," "Jutarnji list," and "Sportske Novosti." Elsewhere, union and management representatives failed to reach an agreement in Zagreb aimed at ending the ongoing railway strike, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS NATO AIRSPACE BID
The parliament on 22 April voted by 225 to 21 with 99 abstentions to approve a request by NATO for unlimited use of Romanian airspace in connection with the strikes against Yugoslavia, Mediafax reported. Yugoslav ambassador to Bucharest Desimir Jevtic had warned on the eve of the vote that the decision to offer NATO such access would constitute a flagrant violation of the basic treaty between the two countries. Meanwhile, a public opinion poll staged by the CURS shows that the number of Romanians supporting their country's membership in NATO has dropped from 67 percent in December 1998 to 52 percent since the alliance bombings began. Of the respondents, 84 percent said that the best solution to the Yugoslav conflict would be to immediately stop the war and return to the negotiating table. ZsM
ROMANIA, IMF WRAP UP LOAN TALKS
The Romanian cabinet and the IMF on 21 April reached a preliminary agreement on a $500 million stand-by loan to help the country out of its current economic crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The accord came after weeks of difficult talks. Romania's Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes said that his government agreed to an annual inflation rate of up to 32 percent and a budget deficit not exceeding 2.5 percent of GDP. According to IMF chief negotiator Emanuel Zervoudakis, the IMF board of directors will examine the agreement in June. Also on 21 April, Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile met with trade union representatives and used the IMF accord as an argument to persuade them to abandon plans for a general strike beginning 26 April. The government-unions negotiations lasted 10 hours. ZsM
MOLDOVA, RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENTS
A Russian delegation led by First Deputy Premier Vadim Gustov signed in Chisinau on 21 April more than a dozen bilateral agreements, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Moldovan capital reported. The delegation attended a two-day session of the Joint Inter- Governmental Committee for Economic and Trade Cooperation. Among the signed documents were a Program for Economic Cooperation from 1999-2008 and an agreement allowing Moldova to pay some of its debt for Russian natural gas in food and agricultural products. The two sides also agreed to expedite the withdrawal of Russian military equipment and ammunition from the Transdniester region. According to Moldovan Premier Ion Sturza, the first 12 convoys are expected to leave the region soon. Also on 21 April, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi left for Washington to attend the NATO 50th anniversary celebrations. He is accompanied by Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru and Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat. DI
BULGARIA TO ALLOW NATO LIMITED ACCESS TO AIR SPACE
On returning to Sofia on 21 April after talks in Brussels with senior NATO officials, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said Bulgaria will grant NATO aircraft access to a 70-90 mile (112-144 kilometer) band of airspace along its western frontier with Yugoslavia and Macedonia, BTA reported. That ruling must be endorsed by the Constitutional Court and parliament, whose opposition deputies walked out in protest on after the speaker refused to schedule a debate on Kosova. AP quoted Kostov as saying that NATO will give Bulgaria guarantees of its security comparable to those granted Macedonia and Albania. Kostov added that NATO Secretary- General Solana had assured him NATO has no plans to deploy ground troops in the conflict. LF
DONOR STATES PLEDGE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR BULGARIA
In Brussels, 22 donor states meeting with the World Bank and other international institutions pledged $275 million in balance-of-payments support for Bulgaria, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Prime Minister Kostov on 21 April estimated that as a result of the Kosova conflict, Bulgaria's financial losses to date total DM 25 million ($13.54 million), predicting they could rise to more than $1 billion if the war continues for seven or eight months, Reuters reported. LF
BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE PACT: OBSTACLES REMAIN
by Michael Lelyveld
A protocol signed last week by Azerbaijan and Turkey on building the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is both more and less than meets the eye.
While the agreement was hailed by both countries, the preliminary pact, known as the Istanbul Protocol, is just one of many steps that must be taken before the Caspian Sea oil line to the Mediterranean can proceed beyond the field of dreams.
At its most obvious level, the accord for the U.S.- backed project is little more than an agreement to conclude another agreement, perhaps in three months' time. Officials feared that the 18 April general elections in Turkey could have delayed talks on Baku-Ceyhan by six months without a pact to give negotiations a head-start.
For now, Azerbaijan and Turkey have at least averted the criticism that no progress has been made on the plan for a main export pipeline, which many regard as too costly, too risky, and too political to succeed. The pipeline policy still has many obstacles to overcome.
The Istanbul Protocol must be accompanied by a host country agreement, an inter-government agreement, a government guarantee agreement, and a turnkey agreement before the 1,730-kilometer pipeline to Western markets gets off the drawing boards, industry sources say.
There have already been countless protocols aimed at advancing the oil export plan supported by the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton, as well as the parallel project for a trans-Caspian gas line.
But what may make the latest agreement different is the growing commitment to the idea that Turkey must provide a guarantee against cost overruns on the Baku-Ceyhan project.
Ankara has argued for more than a year that industry estimates are simply wrong and that the line from Azerbaijan through Georgia and Turkey will cost no more than $2.4 billion. Oil companies are concerned that it will cost $4 billion dollars or more.
A government guarantee would put Turkey's assertions to the test and take the burden of being wrong off the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), the only international consortium currently exporting Caspian oil from Azerbaijan. That consortium is reluctant to make a firm commitment. The U.S. administration has been pressing the Turkish government for such a guarantee for the past six months as a way to break the impasse between the governments and the oil companies.
But if the concept of a guarantee is approved, industry officials have at least two major questions. The first is how much it will cover. There is bound to be bargaining over whether Turkey will hold itself accountable for costs only up to $3 billion or $4 billion, or whether it will pay all excess costs, no matter how high they might go.
The question is not trivial in light of AIOC's experience with the early oil line between Baku and the Georgian port of Supsa, which was inaugurated on 17 April. Original project estimates, variously reported as $315 million to $325 million, were grossly exceeded, with actual costs reported at between $560 million and $590 million.
Even using the most conservative comparison, the overrun on Baku-Supsa amounted to more than 72 percent. If the same formula were applied to the Baku-Ceyhan project, final costs would total more than $4.1 billion.
The second question is whether Turkey can legally be held liable for overruns in construction costs that do not take place on its own territory. The parties are likely to take great care in dealing with such questions. AIOC and the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic have argued for months over who should pay for the overruns on the Baku-Supsa line.
But assuming that such problems are eventually settled, the oil companies will have pulled off a remarkable coup. The government cost guarantee would amount to little more than a subsidy to private industry, greatly reducing its risk.
Similarly, the U.S. government's commitment to use financing from the Export-Import Bank and other agencies for Baku-Ceyhan makes the project more attractive, although it undercuts earlier arguments that the line must be commercially viable. While oil companies have stuck to their insistence over the past four years that the pipeline must be a sound investment for them, governments have been gradually drawn in to tip the balance and make the deal work.
When and if a comprehensive deal on cost overruns is signed, the question of commercial viability will largely cease to be a problem for the oil companies. Governments will instead be taking the risk, in exchange for the benefits of being able to direct the flow of oil.
Before such a deal is struck, there may be a renewed debate about the nature and the value of such benefits. The reasons for controlling Caspian export routes may be seen as economic, strategic, or simply political.
The questions about the Caspian are the same ones that have been asked since the start of offshore development. But once governments assume business risk by devoting their resources, the public may inquire more closely about the benefits, and it may demand more precise answers this time. The author is a senior correspondent for the "Journal of Commerce."