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Newsline - April 26, 1999


A bomb exploded outside the building housing both the U.S. and British consulates in Ekaterinburg on 24 April. According to NTV, the building was severely damaged but no one was injured. ITAR-TASS reported that the bomb appeared to be a home-made device. A Federal Security Service spokesman said the consulates may not have been the intended target of the blast since several commercial enterprises are housed in the same building and their windows were closer to where the bomb was planted. Nonetheless, Ekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii called the bombing a "senseless and cruel provocation" and said "if anyone thinks that they are thereby fighting NATO, they are mistaken; they are fighting those residents living in neighboring [apartment] buildings." Soon after NATO began air strikes on Yugoslavia, a demonstration protesting the action was held outside the consulates (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999). JAC


Igor Ivanov said in Cairo on 24 April that Russia will not participate in a possible oil embargo against Yugoslavia, which NATO leaders agreed to during the alliance summit in Washington from 23-25 April. French President Jacques Chirac has expressed fear of a possible confrontation between Russian vessels bringing fuel to Yugoslavia and NATO warships. Energy products make up about 80 percent of Russian exports to Yugoslavia. The following day, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the BBC in Washington that NATO commanders are "looking at options" to avoid such a confrontation. She added that "the Russians have made it clear that they are not going to get involved militarily." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in the U.S. capital that "we are really trying hard to make sure all the doors are open to Russia to reopen dialogue with us." He added that "we want Russia to be part of the solution, not the problem." FS


Senior Kremlin officials held consultations with Russia's special envoy for Yugoslavia, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and senior Russian military commanders on 26 April, AP reported. The meeting took place just hours ahead of scheduled talks in Moscow between Chernomyrdin and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. The decision to dispatch Talbott to Moscow came after Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton's 25 April telephone conversation in which they discussed Russia's mediation efforts. Chernomyrdin is expected to submit to Talbott the Russian peace plan for Kosova. "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April said that Chernomyrdin favors a peace-keeping force composed of Uzbek, Georgian, Azerbaijani, Ukrainian, Czech, and Polish forces. The daily added that Chernomyrdin also wants Serbian forces and police to withdraw to the levels agreed on by Milosevic and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke last October. FS


Budget revenues in the first quarter of 1999 fell 2.1 percent shy of the targeted 89.2 billion rubles ($3.6 billion), according to the Finance Ministry, Interfax reported on 23 April. The Tax Ministry provided 54.4 billion rubles, which was 7.8 percent less than expected, while the State Property Committee fetched 681.6 million rubles, 56.1 percent less than estimated. Reuters reported that Deputy Tax Minister Sergei Shulgin claimed on 21 April that his ministry collected 25.5 billion rubles in March. This would mean the ministry had performed significantly better than the target of 18.1 billion rubles, according to Tax Minister Georgii Boos, Interfax reported. Shulgin added that the Tax Ministry also plans to meet the Finance Ministry target of 24.5 billion rubles for April. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters on 23 April that the duty on oil exports is to double on 20 May, Interfax reported. JAC


Johannes Linn, the World Bank vice president for Europe and Central Asia, said on 25 April that Russia's social crisis is likely to peak next year because of the continuing decline in the Russian economy, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. He added that next winter will likely be the most difficult time for Russia and its neighbors. First Deputy Economics Minister Ivan Materov said on 23 April that Russian GDP in 1999 is unlikely to meet last year's level but that in 2000 the economy will grow 3 percent. JAC


Business tycoon and former CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii appeared at the Office of the Prosecutor-General on 26 April for questioning. According to Interfax, Berezovskii left his hospital bed against doctors' orders. Berezovskii repeated his claims of innocence, saying that he is going to the prosecutor's office "as a law-abiding citizen." Earlier, it was reported that Berezovskii is suspected of money- laundering and "illegal entrepreneurship." JAC


In an interview with Moscow's TV-6 on 25 April, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov repeated that he would not participate in upcoming presidential elections. "I am sick and tired of repeating that I don't want to participate in elections now. I don't have any ambitions or desire to participate in the active political struggle for power," he said. He also admitted that he has "regretted many times" his decision to accept the post of prime minister. Primakov contested the view that his government is anti-business and anti-economic reform. "I know very well from history, from U.S. and German history, that without state regulation it is impossible to build a normal market economy. It is moreover impossible to get out of a crisis," he explained. JAC


"Vremya MN" reported on 23 April that Thomas Kolesnichenko, a prominent journalist specializing in foreign policy, has been appointed Primakov's adviser on public relations. According to the daily, Kolesnichenko will help Primakov "develop a taste for talking with journalists" and prevent him from quarreling with them, as he has done in the past. JAC


At Otechestvo's second congress in Yaroslavl on 24 April, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov confirmed that his movement and Vsya Rossiya will act as a single bloc in Duma elections. He suggested that an alliance with Yabloko is also possible and that he will hold consultations with Golos Rossii "if this movement becomes viable." Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, a member of Vsya Rossiya, announced on 23 April that his bloc will not nominate a candidate for presidential elections, nor will it have an official leader (see also "End Note"). JAC


Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that some deputies from the Communist faction are preparing an inquiry to send to Russia's Supreme Court over the "illegality of the registration of Otechestvo," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 April. According to Seleznev, the movement was registered "behind the scenes on a Saturday night" and the Justice Ministry did not have enough time to verify all its documentation. According to the daily, the battle will be difficult to win in court since the relevant laws do not stipulate how much time the "verifying body needs to check documentation." JAC


Igor Malyarov, first secretary of the Russian Communist Youth Union, told "Novye Izvestiya" on 23 April that the leadership of his organization as well as that of the National Patriotic Union's Youth Movement would rather see Seleznev or Duma Defense Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin as candidates for president of Russia than the current leader of the Communist Party Gennadii Zyuganov. JAC


Vladimir Trofimov, chief of staff for the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, has been arrested by Federal Security Service officials on suspicion of taking a $5,000 bribe, "Segodnya" reported on 24 April. According to the daily, Trofimov received the money in exchange for lobbying for an international agreement that would benefit several Russian scientific institutes. Andrei Kozyrev, the committee's deputy chairman and a former foreign minister, told the newspaper that the arrest was a blow to the whole committee but particularly to its chairman Vladimir Lukin. The newspaper reported that Trofimov enjoyed Lukin's confidence and frequently acted on his behalf. JAC


President Yeltsin issued a decree 20 April dismissing Ruslan Orekhov from the office of deputy director of the presidential administration and director of the state legal department of the administration, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 April. According to the daily, Orekhov had submitted a request to resign some two months earlier. JAC


Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Kazan on 22 April at the head of a 60- person delegation, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The following day, Sharif met with Tatarstan's Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov to discuss the prospects for trade and economic cooperation, in particular the purchase by Pakistan of KamAZ trucks or their assembly in Pakistan. The two sides agreed on the creation of a bilateral working commission. The Pakistani delegation also visited the Kazan helicopter plant and optical works. LF


The national independence party Ittifak has begun collecting signatures in support of the abolition of the post of president of the Tatarstan Republic, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 April. The party's chairwoman, Faustiya Bayramova, told the newspaper that "the institution of the presidency has not justified the hopes of the people. It has deteriorated into an authoritarian regime." She characterized incumbent President Mintimer Shaimiev as "the shame of the nation," accusing him of silencing the opposition and amending the republic's constitution to strengthen his own position. LF


A session of the North Caucasus Association Council was held in Vladikavkaz on 24 April, one week later than originally planned, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1999). Addressing the session, which discussed the development of trade and economic cooperation between the republics and regions of the North Caucasus and the states of the South Caucasus, Prime Minister Primakov described the North Caucasus as "the bulwark of Russian statehood," noting its "great political and economic significance for the whole country," ITAR-TASS reported. North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov expressed concern that Moscow has not yet drafted a badly needed program of measures for the social and economic development of the North Caucasus for the period 2000-2005. LF


Primakov also met with Lom-Ali Alsultanov, personal representative of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, in Vladikavkaz on 24 April, Interfax reported. Maskhadov had declined to attend the Vladikavkaz meeting, saying the issues to be discussed there do not concern Chechnya as an independent state. Alsultanov handed Primakov a personal message from Maskhadov. He later told Interfax that no date has yet been set for the planned meeting between Maskhadov and President Yeltsin. On 25 April, Maskhadov issued a decree creating a state commission on relations with Russia, one of whose tasks is to prepare for the meeting with Yeltsin, according to Interfax. LF


The incumbent president of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Vladimir Khubiev, has failed in his bid to be re-elected, dpa reported on 25 April. As none of his 12 rival candidates polled the requisite 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held in three weeks between Cherkessk city mayor Stanislav Derev and former commander of the Russian army ground forces General Vladimir Semenov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 1, 5 January 1999). Derev and Semenov polled 40.1 and 17.9 percent, respectively. Turnout was 77 percent. In North Ossetia, 46.7 percent of the electorate cast their vote for a new 75-strong parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian Central Electoral Commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who traveled to North Ossetia for the poll, said voting proceeded quietly and without violations. LF


Hundreds of thousands of Armenians, together with foreign diplomats and leading members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, walked to the 1915 genocide memorial in Yerevan on 24 April to commemorate the killings under the Ottoman Empire of more than 1 million Armenians, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a separate ceremony the previous day, a handful of soil from the grave of Henry Morgenthau, who was U.S. ambassador in Istanbul during the tragic events, was laid in the Tsitsernakaberd memorial. Morgenthau was among first Western officials to condemn the tragedy as the deliberate "extermination" of the Ottoman Empire's ethnic Armenian subjects. At a news conference in Yerevan on 24 April, a group of Turks from Germany urged the Turkish government to acknowledge the 1915 killings and deportations as genocide. The leader of the group, Ali Ertem, said more than 10,000 Turks have signed a petition, addressed to the Turkish parliament, in support of that demand. LF


The Democratic Bloc, which is composed of 17 opposition deputies, has declared its intention to boycott parliamentary sessions until its request is met for a debate on the work of the legislature and its speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Turan reported on 22 April, citing "Yeni Musavat." The following day, the newspaper quoted Ali Kerimov, who is first deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AzPFP), as saying he is conducting negotiations with an undisclosed number of independent deputies and deputies from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party who wish to join the AzPFP. LF


Robert Kocharian, Heidar Aliev, and Eduard Shevardnadze met in Washington on 25 April with the foreign ministers of the U.S., France, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, and Turkey to discuss ways to resolve deadlocked conflicts in the region without bloodshed, Reuters reported. U.S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stressed that such solutions must be based on respect for the territorial integrity of all three countries, willingness to grant the maximum autonomy to ethnic minorities, international security guarantees, and the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes. She reaffirmed the desire of the international community to help the conflict parties to reach such solutions but warned that "there are limits to what we can do" without a firm commitment from the countries involved. LF


At a ceremony in Uzbekistan's Washington embassy on the sidelines of the NATO summit, Uzbekistan formally became the fifth member of the Georgia- Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova alignment, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 24 April. The grouping will now be known as GUUAM. The presidents of the five countries issued a joint statement affirming their support for one another's territorial integrity. They also backed both regional cooperation, including the creation of regional transport corridors, and cooperation within the framework of international organizations such as the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. The statement stressed that their cooperation is not aimed against third countries or groups of countries. ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified diplomat from one of the five member states as saying that GUUAM does not intend to supplant the CIS, nor do any of its five members intend to leave the commonwealth. LF


Not only the perpetrators but all the organizers of the 16 February bomb attacks in Tashkent have been arrested, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 April, quoting Uzbek First Deputy Prosecutor- General Azimzhon Ergashev. Speaking at a news conference in Tashkent four days earlier, President Islam Karimov had said that while the perpetrators of the attacks have been apprehended, the organizers remain on the run outside Uzbekistan, according to Interfax. LF


At the NATO summit in Washington, the heads of state and government taking part in that meeting issued a communique on 24 April that discussed, among other things, the aspirations of nine Eastern European countries interested in joining the alliance. NATO welcomed the "continuing efforts and progress" in Romania and Slovenia as well as in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It also hailed the "positive developments" in Bulgaria and "recent positive developments" in Slovakia. With regard to Macedonia, the alliance said it is "grateful" for its cooperation during the Kosova crisis and welcomes its progress on reforms. And it welcomed cooperation with Albania during the current crisis and "encouraged" that country's reform efforts. JC


As had been widely expected, NATO refrained from setting a timetable for a second wave of expansion but pledged to continue to welcome new members, saying that it "expects to extend further invitations in coming years." It also outlined its Membership Action Plan, which is intended to provide "advice, assistance and practical support" to those countries seeking to become members. The plans foresees, among other things, that aspiring members submit "annual national programs" on their membership preparations. It also provides for a "focused and candid feedback mechanism" on those countries' progress in carrying out their programs. According to the communique, the alliance will review the "enlargement process" at its next summit, which is to be held no later than 2002. JC


Following several failures, the Ukrainian Supreme Council on 23 April finally passed a resolution seeking to limit the country's cooperation with NATO, AP reported. The document condemned NATO's bombing in Yugoslavia as "unjustified and inhumane" and called on President Leonid Kuchma to submit Ukraine's cooperation programs with NATO to the parliament for approval. It added that Ukraine should immediately stop dismantling strategic bombers and nuclear missile silos. Heorhiy Kryuchkov, head of the parliamentary Defense Committee, told Reuters that the adopted bill should "free our foreign policy from its one-sided pro-NATO orientation." JM


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana has given a "polite brush-off" to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's plan to settle the Kosova crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 1999), Reuters reported on 24 April. At a news conference in Washington, Solana hailed Ukraine's "tireless diplomatic efforts" to resolve the crisis but made it clear that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will have to agree to NATO's five-point plan for ending the conflict. Solana said Russian and Ukrainian troops will be welcome to join a future peacekeeping "robust force" in Kosova, but he stressed that NATO troops should be at that force's core. Kuchma told the news conference that Ukraine's peace efforts are not a "solo performance" and expressed his satisfaction that they are "understood and appreciated by NATO leaders." JM


Some 7,000 opposition demonstrators rallied in Minsk on 25 April to mark the 13th anniversary of the Chornobyl accident and to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies, AP reported. The demonstrators criticized the proposed union between Belarus, Russia, and Yugoslavia and demanded the release of Mikhail Chyhir, a candidate in the opposition presidential elections, who has been arrested on embezzlement charges. JM


At a 23 April news conference concluding his three-day visit to Belarus, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said Moscow and Minsk have agreed on creating a joint military grouping, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. He did not elaborate. Sergeev and Lukashenka also made a decision on the assembly of Russian SU-27 military aircraft at Belarusian plants. The previous day, Sergeev visited a missile early warning station under construction at Hantsavichy. He noted that the station is 90-96 percent ready and will begin full operations in 2000. JM


Aleh Manayeu, director of the Independent Institute for Social, Political, and Economic Studies, has said the number of Lukashenka's opponents exceed that of his supporters for the first time since he was elected president in 1994, Belapan reported on 24 April. A March poll showed 21.8 percent of the respondents consider themselves "convinced supporters" of Lukashenka and 26.1 percent "convinced opponents." Meanwhile, a poll taken in Minsk on 17-22 April showed that 54 percent of respondents want presidential elections to be held in 1999, rather than in 2001. The former date is in accordance with the 1994 constitution, which was abolished after the controversial referendum two years later. JM


The three Baltic presidents were unanimous in welcoming the results of the Washington summit. In a statement issued in Washington, Estonia's Lennart Meri expressed the conviction that Estonia will be ready to join NATO in the near future. He also stressed the importance of the Membership Action Plan, ETA reported on 26 April. Latvia's Guntis Ulmanis said that "Latvia commends the summit decision to uphold the "open- door" policy and the Membership Action Plan. In particular, we welcome the fact that this plan will help Latvia become an alliance member," according to LETA. And Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus expressed the view that the results of the summit were "very positive" and constitute "powerful moves forward," ELTA noted. JC


The heads of the Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius stock exchanges signed a protocol of intent on 23 April aimed at expanding cooperation, Baltic news agencies reported. That document foresees simplifying cross-border trading in the three stock exchanges and examining the possibility of creating a joint-trading system or merging the current systems electronically. It also aims to create a Baltic joint list of the most attractive securities in the region and to launch cooperation to present the Baltic capital markets as a single investment area. To achieve this last goal, the bourses foresee joint publications, the exchange of bourse materials, and joint projects on the bourses' Internet homepages. JC


Nikolaus van der Pas, the EU's chief negotiator on enlargement, said in Warsaw on 23 April that Poland needs to accelerate its reforms in order to be able to join the EU at the 1 January 2003 target date, Reuters and AP reported. According to Van der Pas, Poland must first streamline and privatize its heavy industries, reform the overmanned agricultural sector, and speed up the implementation of EU- compatible laws. He noted that Poles and other East European nationals will likely be denied the right to freely seek jobs in the EU for some time. He ruled out allowing Poland to introduce a permanent ban on land sales to foreigners. And he added that Poland will likely be allowed a transition period of four to five years during which it could restrict such sales. JM


Polish right-wing politicians have established the Polish Accord movement, PAP reported on 24 April. The Polish Accord declaration was signed by politicians from small rightist groups and parties such as the Our Circle and Polish Family parliamentary groups, the National Party, and the All-Poland Youth movement. The signatories want to create an alternative to the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action and intend to transform Polish Accord into a political party. "We are united by our opposition to Poland's accession to the EU," the founding declaration states. Polish Accord pledges to support Polish farmers and producers "threatened" by the process of adapting to EU standards and to defend "Polish ownership against surrender into alien hands." JM


Czech President Vaclav Havel said at the NATO summit on 24 April that Czechs realize that belonging to NATO is a "major commitment," CTK reported. Havel said that "just as our allies safeguard our security, we safeguard the security of others and assume the same co-responsibility for peace in the world that the alliance accepts as a whole." Havel was heading the Czech delegation that attended the summit. Czech Premier Milos Zeman said Havel was the right man for that role because "he had greatly contributed to NATO enlargement." In the latest poll, only one-third of Czech respondents said they approved of the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Some 48 percent were against them. PB


Zeman said on 24 April that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) should be disarmed and NATO should get approval from the UN Security Council for the alliance's military operation against Yugoslavia, CTK reported. Zeman said in Kladno that the conflict in Yugoslavia "isn't a war of good guys against bad guys. There is a serious suspicion that the UCK is linked with narcomafia [sic], too, commits terrorist acts." He added that the Czech government, while respecting NATO obligations, wants to keep a "differentiated attitude" toward the conflict. Zeman concluded that "I am not among those who soothe their adolescent complex by applauding bombs falling on Belgrade." PB


Mikulas Dzurinda said in Washington on 25 April that the results of the NATO summit show the alliance is willing to accept new members, TASR reported. Dzurinda said he believes Bratislava has as good a chance as the rest of the prospective members of joining NATO. He added that Slovakia acts as a "de facto ally" for NATO. Defense Minister Eduard Kukan held talks on 24 April with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who told Kukan that Slovakia is presenting itself as a "reliable partner" for NATO during the crisis. Kukan said the following day that Slovakia will include criteria for NATO admission in its national program, including all the measures mentioned in NATO's Membership Action Plan. Kukan spoke later with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. PB


In a debate on Radio Twist on 25 April, Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster and former President Michal Kovac outlined the agendas they would follow if elected president, TASR reported. Schuster said he would work hard to overcome the years of isolation that Slovakia experienced under former Premier Vladimir Meciar, who is also a candidate. Schuster noted that he would also strive to resolve the differences between the ruling coalition and the opposition because the bickering has "divided" the population. For his part, Kovac said he would focus on regional development, decentralization, the stabilizing of a legal state, and the investigation of crime- -including white-collar crime. Both candidates said it is necessary to ratify a language law for ethnic minorities. The MVK agency said on 24 April that if the election were held now, Schuster would get 31 percent of the vote and Meciar 24 percent. Kovac polled only 6.7 percent (fifth place). PB


Viktor Orban said on 25 April that Hungary's delegation successfully presented its interests at the NATO Washington summit, Hungarian Television reported. Orban said the most important objective was to raise the awareness level of Vojvodina, saying "the Vojvodina Hungarians cannot be forgotten. [They] are the last ethnic minority in Yugoslavia that has not been reached by [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's ethnic cleansing." He said this issue is not a "Hungarian issue, but a NATO issue." There are some 300,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Yugoslavia's northern province. Orban said he was also pleased by the fact that the closing NATO statement mentioned Slovakia as a serious candidate for the next round of NATO expansion. PB


Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic told Belgrade's non-government Studio B Television on 25 April that "the men running this country" must stop "lying to the people" about the current conflict with NATO and its likely outcome. He took issue with the optimistic line espoused by top Belgrade officials, saying that "the people should be told that NATO is not facing a breakdown, that Russia will not help Yugoslavia militarily and that the world public opinion is against us." Draskovic added that "if some forces and individuals in Serbia say we...must defeat the whole world, not only NATO, the Serbian people should tell them 'no.' The people who lead this country must say clearly where we stand. They must make clear what will be left of Serbia in 20 days if the bombing continues," AP quoted him as saying. PM


The BBC on 26 April quoted Draskovic as saying his remarks were not directed against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Observers noted that Draskovic has sometimes publicly taken issue with the views of hard-line Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj. But Draskovic's statement is the clearest indication to date of differences within the Serbian leadership. On 24 April, the BBC reported that persistent but unconfirmed reports suggest that several top Yugoslav army generals are under house arrest in Belgrade. Recently, NATO officials have mentioned there is unspecified evidence of growing splits within the Serbian leadership. PM


Leaders of NATO's 19 member states devoted much of their time at the Washington summit to the crisis in Kosova and its ramifications for the region as a whole (see also above). On 25 April, NATO leaders told their counterparts from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovenia that the alliance is committed to a long-term program for regional stability. Earlier, NATO leaders discussed among themselves the possibility of cutting off oil supplies to Serbia at sea as well as how to engage Russia in the peace process. Observers noted that the regional stability plan, if fleshed out and put into effect, would be the first such international undertaking for Southeastern Europe as a region. PM


U.S. President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 25 April that "the nations of the region have risked and even faced armed confrontation with Serbia by facilitating and supporting our campaign to end the bloodshed... If Belgrade challenges its neighbors as a result of the presence of NATO, we will respond." NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana added that "the NATO allies are grateful for the support which countries in the region have provided. Such solidarity and support of the international community's a sure sign of our eventual success." Observers pointed out that NATO officials did not indicate whether they had discussed the possibility of sending ground troops into Kosova. PM


Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said in Washington on 25 April that he is confident that his country will be the "first candidate" for NATO membership when the alliance decides to admit the next group of applicants, AP reported. He argued that his country has "behaved more like a NATO ally" than as merely a member of the Partnership for Peace Program throughout the current crisis. Drnovsek added that Slovenia will support any NATO oil embargo against Belgrade. He called for sending a UN force "to stabilize the region" but did not elaborate. Drnovsek argued that Milosevic "miscalculated badly" by not accepting the Rambouillet plan in March. The Slovenian leader added that Milosevic probably assumed that NATO countries would not be able to maintain a united front against him for very long. The Zagreb daily "Vecernji list" reported on 26 April that Drnovsek called for Croatia to be admitted to the Partnership for Peace program but that Solana said Croatia is not yet ready. PM


Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Washington on 25 April that he is disappointed that NATO officials have not invited his country to join the alliance and instead "put it in last place." He charged that NATO has not shown appreciation for the efforts Macedonia has made to meet the demands that the alliance has placed upon it in the course of the current crisis, AP reported. Gligorov said that Western countries should contribute more money for refugee relief and take more refugees out of the region. He stressed that "NATO cannot expect Southeastern Europe to change [from] an economic, political and social point of view unless a helping hand is extended to this region. I believe this is the best response to the super nationalism which has reigned in this area," Gligorov concluded. PM


A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told Reuters in Blace, Macedonia, on 25 April that Serbian paramilitaries killed some 56 Kosovars north of Ferizaj in mid-April. He added that persistent but unconfirmed reports by refugees indicate that the Serbian forces regularly engage in rape and robbery as part of their policy of ethnic cleansing. A prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal told AP in Brazda that Serbian forces have set up rape camps at Gjakova, Peja, and an unspecified arms factory. She stressed that Serbian forces use systematic rape to accelerate the process of ethnic cleansing. A refugee woman added that the Serbs use rape in order to destroy the foundations of ethnic Albanian society. The previous day, the BBC reported that Serbian forces used Yugoslav army trucks to remove televisions and stereos from abandoned homes in southern Kosova. PM


General Wesley Clark, who is NATO's supreme commander in Europe, said in Tirana on 25 April that the bombing campaign against Serbian forces is advancing "right on schedule" and that Milosevic knows he is losing the war, Reuters reported. Clark visited support troops preparing the deployment of 24 Apache helicopters, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. The general said that NATO does not plan a ground invasion of Kosova. A spokesman for Albanian President Rexhep Meidani told RFE/RL the same day in Tirana that U.S. officials in Washington assured him of support in the event of a military confrontation with Yugoslavia. The previous day, Pentagon officials in Washington told dpa they will increase the number of U.S. forces in Albania by 2,000 to 5,300. The additional troops will be responsible for ground security for helicopters and missile batteries. FS


A spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) said at a press conference in Kukes on 25 April that the guerrillas are willing to lead a NATO ground offensive against Serbian forces in Kosova. The BBC quoted the spokesman as saying that the UCK holds areas in northern Kosova and has established a corridor linking those areas with Albania. According to Reuters, however, he stressed that "we are short of weapons, food and other supplies...and we are fighting an army of 40,000 Serbian police and paramilitaries." The spokesman also reported that the Serbian authorities have turned Kosova into "one big concentration camp...with killings, massacres and rapes." He added that the UCK has unspecified new evidence of mass killings of 61 people in the village of Poklek, 51 in Koliq, and more than 160 in the Izbica district of Skenderaj. He gave no further details. FS


Miodrag Perovic, who heads the independent weekly "Monitor" and Antenna M Radio, said in Podgorica on 25 April that he is going into hiding to avoid capture and possible torture by the Yugoslav army. He added that his magazine and radio will stop work rather than submit to military censorship. Radio Free Montenegro's editor Nebojsa Redzic is also in hiding, Reuters reported. The army has issued arrest warrants against both men. The army is holding one Croatian and two French journalists on espionage charges. PM


Bosnian and international officials attended a ceremony in Sarajevo on 23 April to mark the issuing of the first privatization vouchers to some of Bosnia's 1.9 million citizens, Reuters reported. The vouchers represent compensation for frozen pre-war bank accounts as well as unpaid wages and pensions. The total value of assets to be privatized in the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation is $26 billion. Representatives of the international community stressed that the project is essential to revive the Bosnian economy and encourage the war-torn country to stand on its own feet and avoid becoming dependent on foreign aid. PM


Government officials brokered a deal in Zagreb on 23 April according to which five banks will bail out Tisak, the company that has a near monopoly on the distribution of newspapers. The banks will have a controlling stake in Tisak as part of the $16.5 million deal. Elsewhere, "Vecernji list" reported on 26 April that the Croatian Company for Pension Insurance faces major financial difficulties. PM


Andrei Plesu said on 24 April in Washington that although Bucharest supports the NATO proposal to impose an oil embargo against Yugoslavia, Romania should be reimbursed for the resulting losses it would suffer, Rompres reported. Plesu said Romania could join NATO in the "strategic efforts" of setting up the embargo. Since Hungary and Bulgaria have also said they would abide by such an embargo, only shipments to Montenegro would be left as a route for Russian deliveries of oil, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Premier Radu Vasile said the previous day that the first month of the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia has cost Romania some $730 million. A report outlining these costs has been sent to the World Bank and the IMF. Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, who was also in Washington for the NATO summit, called for a broad reconstruction of southeastern Europe and "not just the war zone." PB


Petar Stoyanov said on 24 April that Bulgaria fully supports the possible oil embargo against Yugoslavia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Stoyanov said "not a single drop of oil will go through Bulgaria on its way to Yugoslavia." He said Bulgaria anticipated the call for the embargo and has already closed oil pipelines to Yugoslavia. Stoyanov repeated that Bulgaria suffered immense financial losses each day that the conflict continued and appealed to the EU and the U.S. for government-backed investment in Bulgaria. He also said Sofia hoped for fast and early accession to NATO in return for its support of the alliance. On 23 April, a Bulgarian customs patrol intercepted a Ukrainian ship attempting to smuggle in fuel near the town of Ruse. PB


Two NATO fighter planes reportedly violated Bulgarian air space on 24 April, BTA reported. The planes flew over the town of Tran, some 30 kilometers inside Bulgaria before heading toward Macedonia. The Bulgarian government has said it will allow NATO planes to fly within a corridor along the country's western border, but the decision is not valid until the parliament approves it. A parliamentary debate and vote on the issue is expected early this week. Meanwhile, both pro- and anti-NATO protests took place in Sofia on 25 April. PB


By Floriana Fossato

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov seems to have strengthened his political position in Russia as a result of two significant developments last week.

On 21 April, the Federation Council rebuffed for the second time the Kremlin's request to replace Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov. Luzhkov, a presidential hopeful whose intervention reportedly influenced the house's decision, thereby dealt a new blow to President Boris Yeltsin.

Shortly after, Luzhkov announced that the leadership of the party he founded last year, Otechestvo (Fatherland), had approved his proposal to join a new political bloc called Vsya Rossiya (All Russia), which includes16 influential regional leaders, such as Presidents Mintimer Shaimiev of Tatarstan, Murtaza Rakhimov of Bashkortostan and Ruslan Aushev of Ingushetia as well as the governors of Khabarovsk, Astrakhan, Perm, and Khanty-Mansiisk. Another politician aiming at playing a key role in the bloc is Oleg Morozov, the leader of the Russian Regions faction in the State Duma.

Luzhkov, who unexpectedly showed up at the first meeting of the Vsya Rossiya organizing committee on 22 April, added that the political council of his party had taken the decision to join the new bloc the previous evening. Officials close to Luzhkov told Russian media that the fact that the decision came on the heels of the vote in the Federation Council was a "pure coincidence," but few believed that assertion. NTV commercial television, for its part, commented that "the outcome of the vote on the prosecutor-general has clearly changed Luzhkov's tactics."

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, the leader of another regional bloc, Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), has said he may also join Vsya Rossiya.

Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Studies, says regional leaders of centrist political orientation aim at funding broad coalitions that would allow them to increase their influence in State Duma, so far dominated by the Communists and their allies. "They would like to create a 'party of power' from below, based on parties of power concretely existing, that they have already built up in their regions," he argues. In this way they would consolidate what they already have and get more."

For the regional leaders, an alliance with Luzhkov's Otechestvo, which has said it wants to become Russia's future 'party of power,' could help them build a strong faction in the next Duma. For Luzhkov, the possible benefits of such an alliance are even more evident. Luzhkov enjoys broad popularity in Moscow. However, his ability to attract votes in the regions, where many people resent Moscow's higher standard of living, has remained untested.

Many observers have warned that resentment toward Moscow could hamper Luzhkov's effort to obtain enough support either for Otechestvo in the parliamentary elections or for himself in the presidential ballot. Pooling efforts with powerful regional leaders would clearly help Luzhkov expand his appeal in the provinces. Luzhkov and Shaimiev, who is seen as Vsya Rossiya's most influential leader, so far have pledged to coordinate efforts ahead of parliamentary election scheduled for December.

But some political analysts are raising doubts about whether the alliance can achieve more. Markov argues that if the different blocs "manage to join forces all together, this will be the political force that could win both parliamentary and presidential elections. But for them to get together will be difficult, because there are serious obstacles. One is the problem of leadership. It is not that they will fight for leadership. The leader can clearly be only one: Yurii Luzhkov."

Markov adds that another problem is that Luzhkov's style is such that he does not tolerate partners, but only subordinates. And it is not a given that other governors will want to join forces with him on such a basis. And he also points out that the presidents of national republics have very different ideas as to what Russia's federal structure should be. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.