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Newsline - May 12, 1999


After weeks of speculation that Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov would soon be dismissed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced on 12 May that he has accepted Primakov's resignation. Yeltsin explained the need for Primakov's departure by citing the fact that "the economy of Russia has not improved.... The question of economic strategy is today, nine months later, an open one." While it is true that, since his health has improved, Yeltsin has taken a renewed interest in economic policy, the president also has a pattern of dismissing strong prime ministers. Primakov's resignation came just one day after the Kremlin dismissed reports by Ekho Moskvy that Primakov would be fired and Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko would replace him. During a meeting with State Duma faction leaders on 11 May, Primakov repeated an earlier stance that he would resign if the Kremlin fired First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov or Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik, Interfax reported (see also "End Note" below). JAC


Also on 12 May, Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin acting prime minister. Stepashin had recently been promoted to first deputy prime minister while maintaining his position as minister of the interior. Discussing the appointment, Yeltsin suggested that Stepashin would add the "necessary dynamics and energy to the work of the cabinet." In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 11 May, Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said that anyone other than Primakov "would meet with very great resistance" in the Duma, which must approve Stepashin's candidacy. JAC


In a prescient article in "Trud" on 8 May, political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov predicted that "the dissolution of the [Primakov] government will inevitably be followed by the dissolution of the Duma, a ban on the Communist Party, and so forth...." According to Nikonov, Stepashin's previous promotion to first deputy premier was the first step in the implementation of this scenario. Nikonov continued that "in such a situation no one will be working on economic and social problems, everyone will be engrossed in political squabbles." And he added that "it is also clear that none of the international financial institutions will give money to a premier who has not been accepted by the Duma, especially if the lower house itself is dissolved, in which case nobody would be able to pass the legislation required by the IMF." Article 111 of the Russian Constitution grants the president the right to disband the Duma if the lower house rejects his nominee for prime minister three times. But Article 109 states that the Duma may not be dissolved once it has begun the process of seeking to remove the president from office. JAC


Duma Chairman and member of the Communist Party Gennadii Seleznev predicted on 12 May that Yeltsin's decision to remove Primakov will add 100 votes to the 300 needed in the chamber for impeachment. NDR leader Ryzhkov had predicted before the dismissal that one of the five charges against Yeltsin--initiating the war in Chechnya--would garner the necessary 300 votes. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that the leftist opposition in the Duma will appeal directly to the Federation Council to hold an extraordinary session because Yeltsin "has deliberately staged a new government crisis," ITAR-TASS reported. JAC


Although Primakov's dismissal had been subject of speculation for many weeks, Duma deputies appeared to react to the news with shock, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin told RFE/RL that while Yabloko did not endorse the Primakov government's economic program, Primakov himself increased stability in the country and his departure from government is "counterproductive." Deputy speaker of the Duma and member of People's Power Sergei Baburin called the departure of Primakov's cabinet "cataclysmic" and predicted that the chances that Yeltsin will be impeached have increased greatly. People's Power leader Nikolai Ryzhkov called the dismissal a "tragic occurrence" for the country. Deputy Chairman of Democratic Choice Sergei Yushenkov concluded that Stepashin has "hardly any" chance of being confirmed by the Duma. JAC


Also on 12 May, Yeltsin appointed Railways Minister Aksenenko First Deputy Prime Minister. Aksenenko is considered a competent cabinet official, having overseen the ministry when it recorded a profit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 1999). Earlier in the year, Yeltsin bestowed a special honor on Aksenenko for his government service. Aksenenko, 50, has spent his entire career in the railways industry, rising from an engineer and managing rail lines to a variety of posts in the ministry. JAC


A day after refuting rumors that Aksenenko would be promoted within the cabinet, First deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev tendered his resignation on 12 May, Interfax reported. Sysuev had recently added fuel to speculation that Primakov would be dismissed by telling "Kommersant-Vlast" that "no prime ministers are irreplaceable." But more recently, he had said that "there is no reason to talk about Primakov's dismissal" while the government is working on law aimed at stabilizing the economy. According to media speculation, Sysuev had been poised to assume a key post in the administration overseeing Kremlin policy vis-a-vis the regions. JAC


First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov told Interfax on 12 May that he will not remain in the government if offered a post. He added that work with international financial institutions will have to start over from the beginning, but "now this is a matter for the new government." JAC


Russian President Boris Yeltsin's envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin, returning to Moscow from Beijing on 11 May, said "the NATO strikes against Yugoslavia must end. This is the chief condition for peace talks," AP reported. He suggested that China may take part in a UN peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said Chernomyrdin and President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji, and Vice Premier Qian Qichen reached "extensive consensus." He noted that both sides believe that "the bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia must immediately stop. This is the precondition for the fundamental political solution." And he stressed that without a halt to the bombing, "there is nothing to discuss." The following day, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Beijing to seek to persuade China to approve a UN Security Council resolution on Kosova proposed last week by the G-8. FS


Chernomyrdin on 12 May briefed Yeltsin before a scheduled meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Talbott, meanwhile, began talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss the composition of a possible Kosova peace-keeping force. Before the meeting, Ivanov told Interfax that the NATO air campaign does "not benefit the negotiating process. If [NATO] pursues this course, all efforts aimed at seeking a political settlement might become futile." French President Jacques Chirac was also due to arrive in Moscow for talks with Russian leaders, including Yeltsin. FS


Ivanov told Interfax after meeting with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on 11 May that "any kind of provisional administration that would be tantamount to an international protectorate [with regard to Kosova] is impracticable and short-sighted." He added that Russia will not accept plans for such an administration. Referring to the alleged Serbian troop withdrawal from Kosova, he said that "if NATO fails to respond to that step of goodwill by Belgrade, it will thus demonstrate a refusal to have a political settlement." Elsewhere, NATO military spokesman Walter Jertz said in Brussels that NATO has not found any evidence of a troop withdrawal (see Part II). Meanwhile, Defense Ministry officials said they will send the "Kildin" reconnaissance ship to the Adriatic later this month to replace the "Liman," which has been there since early April. FS


Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov announced that Iran has proposed that Russia consider building a second reactor at the Bushehr nuclear facility and Russia is preparing proposals for the project, "Segodnya" reported on 11 May. According to the daily, Adamov believes that Iran might give the project to another country--possibly within the EU, some of whose members have offered to resume cooperation with Iran if its leadership consents to direct inspections of its nuclear facilities. JAC


Unidentified experts at Russian oil companies are predicting that domestic gasoline prices could skyrocket in the near future, Interfax reported on 11 May. Indirect taxes imposed in accordance with the government's agreement with the IMF could lead to a 40 percent rise in gasoline prices, according to these sources. The same day, the Primakov government submitted a draft tax bill to the Duma under which gasoline stations would pay a monthly charge of 1,500-12,000 rubles ($63-500) for each gasoline pump. Meanwhile, the northwestern region of the country, including such oblasts as Leningrad, Karelia, Murmansk, Novgorod, and Pskov, have already been experiencing a sharp increase in fuel prices, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 8 May. And since transportation costs account for at least 30 percent of the cost of foodstuffs, prices for staples have also been increasing. JAC


The saga of former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov's attempt to regain elected office in Vladivostok took a new turn on 11 May as the city election commission overruled the decision of a district election commission that Cherepkov could not run in upcoming elections for the city's legislative assembly (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 April 1999). The district election commission said on 27 April that Cherepkov could not run because he had not properly registered for the election. The same day, a court in Leninskii Raion revoked a decision by the city's administration to create "parallel" district election commissions, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC


Former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian has again been summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 11 May. On his return to Armenia on 3 May, Siradeghian was detained for questioning in connection with a series of killings he is suspected of having ordered during his tenure as minister between 1992- 1996. As a candidate in the 30 May parliamentary elections, he was released on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 May 1999). Siradeghian, who is chairman of the board of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), attended a parliamentary session on 11 May but refused to answer journalists' questions. LF


The Azerbaijani Supreme Court sentenced Rza Guliev, nephew of former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, to eight years' imprisonment on 11 May on charges of acquiring by deceit state property valued at 361 million manats ($72,000), Turan reported. Rza Guliev pleaded not guilty to those charges. His uncle, who has been living in the U.S. since leaving Azerbaijan in September 1996, has also been accused of large- scale theft of state property. LF


In an apparent contradiction of earlier statements by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze that the pact signed in Washington last month by members of the newly-enlarged Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova alignment "does not include any military aspects," Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Giorgi Katamadze told Interfax on 11 May that military cooperation between that grouping's five members does exist. But he stressed that cooperation is based on the coinciding strategic interests of the five GUUAM members, in particular the joint defense of the Eurasian transport corridor. He also noted that it is not directed against other parties. LF


The Georgian parliament has issued a statement condemning as illegal the 12 May elections to a new parliament in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian central government lost control over that former autonomous oblast in 1992, after several years of sporadic fighting in which most of the region's estimated 35,000 Georgian population fled. The Georgian parliamentary statement noted that no provision has been made for those Georgian displaced persons to cast their votes in the elections. It expressed the hope that the international community will not recognize the validity of the poll. LF


Gerard Stoudman, who is chairman of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told journalists in Astana on 11 May that the new election law does not differ greatly from the presidential decree that it supersedes, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. In particular, he criticized the $1,000 fee for registering as a parliamentary candidate, which, he said, "violates the requirement of equal opportunities for all candidates" and the ban on any potential candidate who has been brought to trial for administrative offenses. Stoudman also said that political parties should be involved in determining the composition of local electoral commissions. The new legislation empowers local governors to nominate the members of those commissions. LF


Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a press conference in Almaty on 11 May that the first round of Sino-Kazakh talks on shared use of the waters of the Irtysh and Ili Rivers ended that day in Beijing, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported. Toqaev said the talks, which opened on 5 May, were held in a friendly atmosphere. The next round will take place in Astana later this year. Toqaev stressed that the issue of sharing river waters is totally separate from the 1998 agreement on demarcating the border between the two countries. He dismissed recent criticism of that border agreement by Murat Auezov, a former Kazakh ambassador to China and one of the leaders of the opposition Azamat party, as intended to win popular support in the runup to the parliamentary elections due this fall. LF


The OTAN party, which backs President Nursultan Nazarbaev and was formed in January 1999, held its first congress in Almaty on 11 May, RFE/RL correspondents reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1999). Acting party chairman Sergei Tereshchenko predicted that the party will have some 300,000 members by this fall. Employees of state institutions are being pressured to apply for membership in OTAN. Interfax quoted Tereshchenko as predicting that OTAN will poll at least 50 percent of the seats in the lower chamber of the new parliament. LF


Askar Akaev told Interfax on 11 May that the Russian State Duma's efforts to impeach President Yeltsin are undermining the stability of the CIS. Akaev said the CIS was largely Yeltsin's creation and that integration processes within the commonwealth depend on Russia's position and on "solid presidential power." Meanwhile CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov told journalists in Astana on 11 May that CIS heads of state will meet in Minsk on 4 June, according to Interfax. Yarov flew to Bishkek on 11 May for talks with Akaev. LF


A senior NATO official is currently in Ashgabat discussing with the Turkmen leadership expanding the country's program for participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Interfax reported on 11 May. The terms of an agreement whereby Turkmen military officers will be trained by NATO at NATO's expense were also discussed. LF


The Justice Ministry has issued a warning threatening to ban 13 opposition parties and non-governmental organizations in connection with their participation in the opposition presidential elections under way in Belarus. The ministry said that the decisions of the Supreme Soviet to hold elections on 16 May and of the Central Electoral Commission to conduct early voting from 6-15 May are illegitimate. It added that its warning may provide legal grounds for rejecting the re-registration bids of those parties. Under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree of 26 January 1999, all public organizations in Belarus must re-register by 1 June. The list of parties that have been warned about being outlawed includes the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization, and the Belarusian Popular Front Party. "There is a smell of terror in the country," Alyaksandr Patupa, a Belarusian human rights activist, commented to RFE/RL on 11 May. JM


Some 1.8 million voters (23 percent of the total electorate) cast their ballots during the first five days of voting in the opposition presidential elections, the opposition Central Electoral Commission reported on 11 May. JM


Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov told the Supreme Council on 11 May that 24 resolutions on tax privileges and exemptions passed by the parliament between December 1998 and March 1999 have caused losses totaling 4.7 billion hryvni ($1.2 billion) to the budget, UNIAN reported. Mityukov added that the absence of a number of badly needed tax laws costs the state budget another 1.5-2 billion hryvni annually. He reminded deputies that in 1996, the cabinet drafted a package of tax bills, of which only two have so far been passed by the parliament. The legislature responded by passing a resolution saying that the cabinet's activities with regard to taxation are detrimental to the country's further economic development. JM


President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree on settling individual citizens' debts for utilities, UNIAN reported on 11 May. According to the decree, unpaid utilities charges as well as gas and electricity bills can be paid for by drawing on unpaid wages, pensions, and social benefits. JM


The opposition People's Party of Andris Skele has submitted to the parliament's Presidium a draft resolution on a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans, Baltic news agencies reported on 11 May. According to procedural rules, a parliamentary spokeswoman said, the vote will not take place until 20 May. The move came several hours after Kristopans signed an order dismissing Economy Minister Ainars Slesers, saying that Slesers's "critical comments about the government are groundless and offensive to coalition partners" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999), LETA reported. In this way, Kristopans broke the coalition agreement, under which the premier is obliged not to fire a minister until 48 hours after requesting the minister to resign. JC


Also on 11 May, the Latvian Justice Ministry concluded that Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs has the right to receive a wage for performing the duties of "state proxy" at the joint-stock company Ventspils nafta. Minister of Justice Ingrida Labucka delivered this verdict to former Economy Minister Slesers, who last week had requested that the Justice Ministry examine whether Lembergs's activities comply with the anti-corruption law. The ruling is in agreement with the conclusion reached earlier by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The same day, Slesers had ordered the Privatization Agency to dismiss Lembergs from his post at Ventspils nafta. JC


Vilnius Mayor Rolandas Paksas is due to make a statement on 12 May on whether he will accept the post of premier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999), Baltic news agencies reported. Originally, he had been slated to make such a statement the previous day but reportedly asked for an additional day to decide whether to take the job. Presidential spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite gave no reason for the delay. JC


ELTA, citing the Lithuanian press, reported on 12 May that a rift within the Conservative Party's parliamentary group seems to be emerging. In a statement released late on 10 May, former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius and 18 of his supporters stressed they intend to oppose the new position of the majority of Conservative Party faction members, whereby the latter will refrain from opposing Paksas's possible appointment as premier. Later, Vagnorius's group issued a statement stating it "would like to maintain constructive cooperation with the president," BNS reported. JC


Adam Slomka, leader of the right-wing Confederation for an Independent Poland-Homeland (KPN-O), has disclosed excerpts from a classified document detailing the decision of the lustration prosecutor not to start lustration procedures against Premier Jerzy Buzek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 1999), Polish media reported. Slomka said the decision is "scandalous" and proves that the lustration prosecutor was acting under political pressure. Slomka criticized that prosecutor for refusing to interrogate 11 witnesses provided by the KPN-O, including former communist secret service officers who allegedly employed Buzek as a collaborator for years. "It's time to stop this buffoonery," Piotr Zak from the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) commented, suggesting that the AWS may take legal action against Slomka for revealing classified documents. If indicted, Slomka would face up to five years in prison. JM


The District Court in Slupsk, northern Poland, ruled on 11 May that Farmers' Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper did not commit "gross violations" of the law by organizing road blockades earlier this year to protest the government's agricultural policies, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported. The court concluded that Lepper defended the "good of the farmers" during the February protest actions. It also refrained from enforcing a suspended prison sentence of 18 months handed down to Lepper in 1997 for beating and insulting an official. "[Justice Minister Hanna] Suchocka must have fallen in love with me," he commented, adding that "the government has given the go- ahead for our actions.... On 25 May we will be on the roads again," "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported. JM


Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 11 May announced that the Czech Republic and Greece are preparing a joint political initiative on reaching a settlement of the Kosova conflict, Czech media reported. Kavan said the initiative is a supplement to the G-8 plan for the region. He emphasized the role of the UN in any solution to the conflict and said that countries not directly involved in the bombing will play a key role in any future peacekeeping forces stationed in Kosova. President Vaclav Havel said he believes that the end of the conflict is only "days, rather than weeks," away, "Lidove noviny" reported on 11 May. The same day, Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr supported a communist initiative in the parliament asking the cabinet to strive for an end to the NATO bombing, Czech media reported. VG


Czech police on 11 May carried out a raid of various far-right extremist and racist groups, CTK reported. Some 100 people were interrogated during the raid and one suspect was arrested on several charges, including the promotion of a group that seeks to suppress human rights and freedoms. In other news, Czech police arrested three Ukrainians and froze a local bank account containing $2.2 million in connection with an international money-laundering investigation, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 11 May. The case, involving the FBI, German investigators, and Interpol, is considered to be a watershed in the fight against international money-laundering. Also, on 11 May the lower house of the Czech parliament passed a law on access to information, Czech media reported. VG


Former Slovak President Michal Kovac told Slovak Television on 11 May that he is dropping out of the elections for a new president, TASR reported. Kovac said he is withdrawing his candidacy in favor of a "pro-coalition candidate," but he refused to name anyone. In a thinly veiled reference to former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, Kovac said the country cannot risk the return of the forces that pushed Slovakia into "international isolation." Kovac received 6 percent backing in the last opinion poll conducted by MVK, TASR reported on 11 May. Both the leading candidate, Rudolf Schuster, and Magda Vasaryova thanked Kovac for his gesture. The latest poll shows Schuster with almost 40 percent support, Meciar with 26 percent, and Vasaryova with 17 percent. VG


NATO is planning to launch air strikes on Yugoslavia from Hungary and Turkey (see also below), an official of the military alliance told "Vilaggazdasag" on 11 May. In other news, Hungary has joined the EU's sanctions against Yugoslavia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said on 11 May. Under the sanctions, some 300 people close to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will not be allowed to travel to Hungary and their assets in the country will be frozen. MSZ


The government has rejected Independent Smallholders Party (FKGP) deputy chairman Zsolt Lanyi's suggestion that Vojvodina could become an independent state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999), cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai said on 11 May. He said that FKGP chairman Jozsef Torgyan. whose party is a member of the governing coalition, was also surprised by Lanyi's comment. Lanyi is not a member of the cabinet, Borokai added, and his message does not represent the government's stance. Borokai said it will be up to the ethnic Hungarian minority in Vojvodina to establish its own status in Yugoslavia. Lanyi said he made his remarks as a parliamentary member, and not as chairman of the legislature's Defense Committee. MSZ


NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels on 11 May that there is no sign of a Serbian troop withdrawal from Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 11 May 1999). Shea said that such a withdrawal must be verifiable and that NATO demands a complete withdrawal of all forces, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. He added that as Milosevic talks about troop withdrawal, his forces are finishing off their "ethnic- cleansing" campaign. NATO military spokesman Walter Jertz said that Serbian forces have launched heavy attacks on remaining Kosova Liberation Army units inside Kosova. Elsewhere, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London that the withdrawal of some one hundred Serbian troops out of about 40,000 is just a cosmetic change. FS


A NATO statement issued in Brussels on 12 May says that over the last 24 hours allied planes flew more than 600 sorties, "including the highest number of strike sorties to date." NATO planes destroyed five MiG-21 planes on the ground and continued to attack airfields, bridges, and weapons sites as well as tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, command posts, barracks, and ground troops inside Kosova. NATO also attacked petroleum storage sites near Sombor and Nis. Meanwhile, the Turkish Defense Ministry has ordered its military to provide air bases for NATO to use in operations against Yugoslavia, following a request by the alliance, Reuters reported. FS


British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted on 12 May that NATO will not weaken its demands over Kosova. He said in London that "we have apologized to the Chinese, we've worked very closely with the Russians. But there can't be any compromise about our basic aims," Reuters reported. He stressed the conditions that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must meet before NATO stops the bombing have not changed: "His troops go out, our troops go in, and the refugees return. That is what this whole thing is about." FS


United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said in Nairobi on 12 May that he is setting up a working group to look into the possible damage to the environment in Yugoslavia caused by NATO air strikes. The working group will also be charged with compiling reliable data on the damage to the infrastructure and residential areas. The experts will focus on possible water and air contamination as well as on the release of poisonous substances. FS


German television reporter Pit Schnitzler, speaking to his network, SAT-1, by telephone from Belgrade on 12 May, said the Serbian authorities have dropped espionage charges against him. He said Yugoslav authorities handed him over to the Japanese embassy following an order by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, dpa reported. FS


Albanian border police, assisted by armed Albanian civilians, exchanged fire with Serbian forces at the border in the Has mountains late on 11 May, Reuters reported. Two elderly Albanian civilians were killed in the shoot-out. An OSCE spokeswoman in Tirana said the Serbian forces have taken up positions inside Albania and later withdrew. Near Padesh, 30 Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters were wounded in a skirmish with Serbian troops. The spokeswoman added that OSCE observers are checking unconfirmed reports that the UCK rebels were attacked by a Serbian military aircraft that was later shot down and crashed on the Albanian side of the border. Meanwhile, another 3,600 Kosovar refugees entered Albania, according to officials from the UN High Commissioner of Refugees. FS


The Albanian, Macedonian, and Greek premiers, attending a conference in Salonika on 11 May, called upon one another to sideline their differences and forge strong ties, AP reported. Also attending the meeting were the ministers of foreign affairs and finance of those three countries, along with 600 business representatives. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou stressed that "religious and ethnic hatred must be eliminated." He added that "the Balkan peninsula must no longer be a region of conflict and underdevelopment," expressing the hope that other countries will take advantage of the region's "new dynamic for peace and cooperation." Greek Economy Minister Yannos Papantoniou said Athens will participate in political and economic action groups to be set up together with the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, and larger donor countries. Those groups will draw up plans for regional reconstruction. Albania and Macedonia have been worst affected by the Kosova crisis, with their economies nearing collapse because of the inflow of refugees. FS


Bosnia's Interior Ministry officials told Reuters in Sarajevo on 12 May that two days earlier Interpol had issued a warrant for former warlord Fikret Abdic. Abdic, who has lived in the Croatian port of Rijeka since 1996, is charged with having committed crimes against humanity during the Bosnian war of 1992- 1995. He was a member of the Bosnian collective presidency when the war broke out. He and his followers declared an autonomous province in the besieged Bihac pocket after they broke ranks with the central government. He developed good relations with neighboring Croatia and with the Bosnian Serbs. FS


Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 11 May said his government will ask the IMF for $250 million in addition to the $475 million it is now seeking, Reuters reported. The IMF is currently reviewing Romania's request for the $475 million standby credit. That money would resume the flow of World Bank and IMF funds to Romania, which were suspended after the international institutions criticized the country for implementing reforms too slowly. The Vasile administration on 12 May introduced to the parliament a package of reforms aimed at speeding up privatization and changing the country's corporate, bankruptcy, and leasing laws. That legislation will be linked to a confidence vote in the government. VG


Moldovan OSCE representatives have called on the OSCE to draw up within six months a schedule for the withdrawal of all weaponry from the breakaway region of Transdniester, Infotag reported on 11 May. The Moldovan officials added that the Tiraspol administration has not been constructive in negotiations on a special status for the region. In other news, the Moldovan Constitutional Court rejected the former government's proposed amendments to Article 127 of the constitution on public ownership of natural resources and "communications." The amendment would have dropped the public ownership requirement for so-called "artificial communications," including water, oil, and gas pipelines, Infotag reported. VG


Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Ventsislav Varbanov on 11 May said the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia could create a wheat shortage in the Balkans, Reuters reported. He said that Yugoslavia might not be able to harvest its wheat crop and that Macedonia and Albania, who are mainly supplied by Bulgaria, will need more wheat to deal with the influx of refugees. Local wheat prices rose by 15 percent during the first month of the NATO campaign and now stand at about $88-$90 per metric ton. Bulgaria's wheat output for 1999 is forecast at about 2.7 million to 2.8 million metric tons, down from 3.3 million metric tons last year. VG


By Paul Goble

Boris Yeltsin's decision earlier today to fire Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov appears intended to solve some of the immediate problems facing the Russian president. But regardless of whether this latest move on the Moscow political chessboard works in that way, it seems certain to have some longer-term consequences, a few of which Yeltsin himself may not intend.

Yeltsin's office released a statement on the morning of 12 May saying that the president has "relieved" Primakov of his responsibilities as premier and appointed Sergei Stepashin, one of Primakov's deputies, as acting head of the government. Because Primakov had said as recently as this week that he had no plans to resign, it seems certain that Yeltsin fired him rather than simply agreed to his resignation.

Initial speculation about why Yeltsin took this step now has focused on the State Duma's plan to begin impeachment hearings against Yeltsin on 13 May. Yeltsin may have calculated that by dismissing Primakov, he might reduce the willingness of Duma deputies to vote for his own removal from office.

On the one hand, many deputies are likely to be frightened by the prospect of impeaching the president when there is only an acting, rather than a confirmed, premier. On the other, many of them may see Yeltsin's decision as simultaneously eliminating a major contender in the succession and weakening the presidency vis-a-vis the parliament.

But if these are indeed Yeltsin's short-term calculations, they could easily backfire. Many other deputies may see Yeltsin's latest move as further evidence of the president's increasingly erratic behavior and thus conclude that the country would be better off with almost anyone else. And they are likely to try to extract enormous concessions from the executive before they are willing to approve anyone, including Stepashin.

Such feelings are likely to be especially strong not only in the Russian political class but also among the Russian people. Many in both groups were especially cheered by Russia's recent diplomatic gains as a result of the mediation efforts of former premier and current presidential special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin in the Kosova crisis. At the very least, this latest political upheaval in Moscow will mean that Russian leaders will have less time to focus on future diplomatic efforts.

There are clearly many unknowns in this short-term algebra, but Yeltsin's latest action fits a pattern that he has followed before. Consequently, it may be possible to say more about the longer-term implications of what he has done than to identify how the dismissal of Primakov will affect Russian politics tomorrow and next week.

First, Yeltsin has frequently sought to govern by crisis. Not only does he seem to be at his best precisely when things appear to be the worst, but he has at various points used crises precipitated by others or by himself to help transform the Russian political system. And he is likely to try to use this crisis in the same way.

The Russian president may use it to break out of the current economic impasse and push for reform, or he may move in an entirely different direction. But if Yeltsin has the strength to operate as he has in the past, his sacking of Primakov almost certainly will mean that he and no one else will define any change of direction.

Second, Yeltsin has often used his own weakness, perceived or real, against his opponents. Just when people are writing off the president, he has again and again shown that he can change the political chessboard in ways that allow him to corner those who thought they would be able to push him away.

Yeltsin's understanding that weakness properly exploited can be a source of strength for himself and his allies has prevented the institutionalization of the Russian executive branch. And the departure of Kremlin deputy administrator Oleg Sysuev, along with Primakov, reflects the way in which Yeltsin has typically chosen to maintain his own position by keeping others off-balance.

Third, Yeltsin has manipulated the Russian political system for his own purposes by constantly turning to those who have been at or near the center of power before. The selection of Stepashin as acting prime minister is a reflection of this pattern, one that may in some ways even reassure the political elite that Yeltsin has no intention of really changing the top political cadres, regardless of his radicalism in many areas.

Despite his firing, Primakov may very well resurface somewhere else, just as Chernomyrdin has done in international negotiations about Yugoslavia. Consequently, Yeltsin may again be able to count on a certain cohesiveness of his government even as he takes a step that would appear certain to destroy that very quality.

But precisely because Yeltsin has governed in this way so often in the past, he may now be at risk of having gone this particular route once too often. And if other Russian officials and the Russian people more generally decide that his governing by crisis is no longer acceptable, Yeltsin could discover that the sacking of Primakov will precipitate the largest political crisis he has faced since becoming president of the Russian Federation.