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Newsline - July 19, 1999


Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin on 19 July declared that Russian television channels "do nothing but attack one another" and therefore neglect covering important events, as if there were no other problems in the country. Three days earlier, Oleg Dobrodeev, the director-general of NTV, told "Kommersant-Daily that "it is clear that an information war has been launched against Media-Most [which owns NTV] by television channels and printed publications of [business magnate] Boris Berezovskii." The attacks and counterattacks are part of new war over NTV launched by so-called oligarchs Berezovskii and Media-Most Group head Vladimir Gusinskii, "Vremya MN" concluded on 16 July. Berezovskii has reportedly managed to enlist the Kremlin's support in this effort, since its officials are irritated at the station's continuing positive coverage of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and increasingly negative coverage of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. NTV authorities claim that they are just reporting objective reality. JAC


Meanwhile, according to "Vremya MN," Gazprom, which is a leading creditor of Media-Most, is reportedly ready to purchase 25 percent of the company, but a group of Gazprom's shareholders have asked for clarification about the company's expenditures, particularly with regard to Media-Most. The newspaper implies that recent government pressure on Gazprom may be related to its support for Media-Most (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999) and concludes that if Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev "resigns himself to the necessity of increasing the number of state representatives on Gazprom's board of directors, Gazprom will have to stop being Gusinskii's ally and Media-Most will have to surrender to Berezovskii." JAC


On 16 July, Russia broke the record for the number of forest fires occurring on a single day, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 July. On that day, 763 new fires were registered --typically about 100-130 occur within 24 hours. According to the daily, from the beginning of the so-called fire season to the middle of July 20,000 fires were recorded, causing an estimated 2 billion rubles ($82 million) worth of damage. During the same period last year, which was considered a particularly bad year for forest fires, 14,500 fires had occurred. The regions hardest hit are in the Far East and Northwest. So far, the fires have barely affected residential dwellings, but some neighborhoods in cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow have been wrapped in a thick smog caused by smoke from nearby fires. On 13 July, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed declared a state of emergency because of the rapid spread of fires in his region. JAC


Economic policymakers will face difficulties managing the budget in the third quarter, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 July. Three factors will be the continued absence of a final agreement with the IMF, the seasonal decline in business activity, and a traditional slump in tax collections. Also troubling for budget revenues is the drop in customs collections, which usually provide as much as a third of state revenues but more recently have accounted for only 20 percent. According to the daily, collections of the State Customs Service depend on the volume of imports, which has shrunk since the devaluation of the ruble last August. Foreign trade turnover slid 25.4 percent in the first quarter of 1999, compared with the same period the previous year, Interfax reported on 16 July. "Vremya MN" concluded that the main problem for the government during the period from August and September will be paying the vacation wages of state sector workers, particularly in the poorer, "troubled" regions. JAC


Moscow Mayor and Otechestvo [Fatherland] leader Luzhkov has denounced the criminal investigation launched by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Vladimir against his wife's firm, Inteko, as a "political provocation," Interfax reported on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999). Luzhkov also accused the Kremlin of initiating the investigation, saying that "I am sure of it even if they deny it at the presidential administration. Moscow is one big village where all secrets come out." In an interview with NTV two days later, Luzhkov also mentioned Berezovskii as an author of the plot to smear him and his wife. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told NTV on 17 July that the investigation into the unlawful transfer of $146 million from Moscow and Vladimir to foreign banks was not politically motivated. According to Zdanovich, the money was transferred using fake contracts with non-existent companies around the CIS. JAC


In his interview with NTV, Luzhkov also said he is considering granting former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov the top spot on Otechestvo's list. On 16 July, "Novye Izvestiya," which receives financial backing from Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, reported that frictions are developing within Otechestvo between the mayor's old and newer supporters, such as former presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and former Tax Minister Georgii Boos. The account, which cites anonymous sources within the movement, claims that the recent establishment of an additional press service for Otechestvo is part of a continuing effort by the new arrivals to establish parallel structures and gain more and more control over Luzhkov. JAC


Only 1 percent of Russia's population pay their taxes in full, while the remainder either pay too little or nothing at all, Federal Tax Police head Vyacheslav Soltaganov said on 16 July, ITAR- TASS reported. According to Soltaganov, the tax police uncovered 6,000 tax crimes during the first six months of 1999 but needs to become five to six times more efficient. One problem is the ineffective recovery of tax monies after a violation has been discovered, according to "Vremya MN" on 19 July. For example, in Tatarstan tax violations worth about 17 million rubles ($70,000) were uncovered, but only 2.5 million rubles made their way back to the budget. The situation is even worse in other regions, according to the daily: in Ulyanovsk, only 63,700 rubles were recovered, 35,700 in Volgograd, and 3,800 rubles in the Chuvash Republic. JAC


KFOR Commander General Sir Mike Jackson told ITAR- TASS in Prishtina on 17 July that relations between Russian and NATO soldiers within KFOR are "good." He stressed that the Russian troops "want to achieve successes.... They know what they should do." Jackson added that the deployment of Russian soldiers in Rahovec is under discussion. Ethnic Albanians in that town have recently protested the planned deployment of Russian peacekeepers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 1999). Meanwhile, an unnamed Defense Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 16 July in Moscow that Russian and NATO peacekeepers will soon conduct joint patrols. He added that all "peacekeepers...are on the same side of the barricade." A total of 1,670 Russian peacekeepers are currently in Kosova. Their number is scheduled to reach 3,616 by early August. FS


During his visit to Sevastopol on 17 July, Russian Prime Minister Stepashin ordered Admiral Vladimir Komoedov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, to hold naval exercises in the near future, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin said the "navy should practice all measures to counteract...aggressive actions [similar to those] undertaken by NATO forces" against Yugoslavia. Stepashin said that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had the "idea" of holding the exercises. ITAR-TASS quoted Komoedov as saying that "especially [on the southwestern flank], Russia and its allies can be drawn into conflicts." FS


An unmanned cargo vessel filled with supplies docked with the "Mir" space station on 18 July. The supply run had been delayed for two days owing to the Kazakh authorities' ban on Russian launches from the Baikonur space complex (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1999). The vessel delivered food, oxygen, scientific equipment, and other supplies to the station, whose current mission will end on 28 August, Interfax reported on 17 July. According to the agency, the crew will start operations to mothball the station's systems in August and prepare it for unmanned functioning. JAC


Turpal-Ali Atgeriev was released from a Moscow prison on 18 July, after being arrested at Moscow's Vnukovo airport two days earlier, together with Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Adam Torkhashev and two officials from the Moscow office of the Chechen Interior Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. Atgeriev, whom "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 July termed that last remaining member of the Chechen leadership who is unequivocally loyal to President Aslan Maskhadov," is accused of participating in an attack and hostage-taking in the Dagestan town of Kizlyar in January 1996. An unidentified source at Russia's Interior Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 18 July that Atgeriev has been released not only because of "the good will of Prime Minister Stepashin, who is now preparing for the meeting between [President Boris] Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov," but also because of "the information that [Algeriev] gave, which can be used in future police investigations." LF/JAC


AP quoted a Chechen representative in Moscow as saying that Atgeriev had been in the Russian capital for a week holding talks with Russian officials on preparations for Maskhadov's planned meeting with Russian President Yeltsin. But Russian envoy to Chechnya Georgii Kurin told ITAR-TASS that neither he nor any other Russian government officials responsible for relations with Chechnya had been informed of Atgeriev's presence there. Former Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told ITAR-TASS on 17 July he considers Atgeriev's arrest "an irresponsible step." LF


Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev held talks on 16 July in Geneva on the Karabakh conflict. AP quoted Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian as telling Armenian National Television after the meeting that the two presidents had "attempted to remove the obstacles" impeding work on a document that would lay the basis for talks. Azerbaijan rejected the most recent draft peace plan by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen because it objected to the proposed concept of a "common state" composed of both Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Oskanian said it is too early to speak of a breakthrough, and he expressed the hope that talks will continue "at the highest level." LF


Georgian parliamentary speaker held talks in Tbilisi on 16 July with representatives of parliamentary factions on the proposed amendment to the existing election law raising the threshold for parliamentary representation under the proportional system from 5 percent to 7 percent, Caucasus Press reported. The parliament is to debate that amendment at an extraordinary session on 20 July. Under another proposed amendment, five of the 19 members of the Central Electoral Commission are to be appointed by the president, five by the parliament, seven by the parties that polled the largest number of votes in last November's local elections, and one each by Abkhazia and Adjaria. LF


Senior Turkish and Georgian military officials are to sign an agreement on Ankara's allocation of a further $3,700,000 for the Georgian Defense Ministry and border guards, Caucasus Press reported on 16 July. Turkey allocated $5.5 million to Georgia in 1998 and another $1.7 million last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999). LF


Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed arrived in Batumi on 17 July for a two-day visit, Caucasus Press reported. "Dilis gazeti" on 11 May had quoted Adjar State Council chairman Aslan Abashidze as saying that "Lebed adores Adjaria." Lebed's deputy, Shalva Breus, visited Adjaria in May to discuss prospects for joint ventures, including a joint airline, for which Krasnoyarsk intended to invest 25 percent of the necessary funding. LF


Rem Vyakhirev met in Astana on 16 July with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev to discuss a natural gas swap, Interfax reported. Under the proposed deal, Russia would receive natural gas from the Karachaganak field in western Kazakhstan in exchange for Russian gas delivered to Kustanai and Aktyubinsk Oblasts in the north of the country. LF


Meeting in Tashkent on 16 July, Igor Ivanov, Talbak Nazarov, and Abdulaziz Kamilov assessed implementation of the Cooperation Declaration signed by the three countries' presidents in Tashkent on 12 October 1998, Interfax reported. The declaration pledged cooperation in combating religious extremism in Central Asia. In a joint communique, the three foreign ministers called for further efforts to stabilize the political situation in Tajikistan and stressed the need for concerted actions to end the conflict in Afghanistan through constructive dialogue under the aegis of the UN. They pledged to continue regular trilateral meetings. LF


Ivanov told journalists in Tashkent after the meeting that Tajikistan's experience of national reconciliation and repatriating refugees since the signing of the General Peace Agreement two years ago deserves greater publicity and wider application, Interfax reported. LF


Ivanov also told journalists that he and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov had a "very frank" discussion on 15 July about all outstanding problems in bilateral relations, including the failure to implement previously signed agreements, Interfax reported. Karimov, for his part, told Interfax that the two countries should define their priorities more clearly in order to achieve an improvement in bilateral relations. Uzbekistan in April joined the GUAM alignment, which Moscow perceives as pro-Western and intended to undermine the CIS from within. LF


In an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS following the trilateral talks in Tashkent on 16 July, Talbak Nazarov said he sees "no problems for now" in relations with Uzbekistan, adding that the two countries have in recent years built "very good relations both politically and economically." Relations between the two countries cooled late last year after Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov accused Uzbekistan of abetting an insurgency by rebel Tajik Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. LF


Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Interfax on 16 July in Ashgabat that he agreed with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to create an intergovernmental commission aimed at increasing bilateral political, trade, economic, and military cooperation. He added that the current level of cooperation "can hardly satisfy either side..., our potential is much greater." Niyazov stressed that "our doors are open, and we are willing to cooperate with great Russia. It is Russia that has so far not been coming here." He argued that Russia has isolated itself from other CIS countries and is "acting as if it were hurt" by the break-up of the Soviet Union. Niyazov also urged Russia to help Turkmenistan mediate in the Afghanistan conflict. He noted that representatives of both warring sides were in Ashgabat on 16 July for consultations with Turkmen officials. Ivanov said Russia will send a delegation to a conference on Afghanistan that is to take place next week in Tashkent. FS


Following meetings with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and opposition parties, the OSCE special mission headed by Adrian Severin announced on 18 July that Lukashenka has agreed to hold free parliamentary elections in 2000 and enter a dialogue with the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999). "The Belarusian president stated his commitment to the holding of free, fair, and recognizable parliamentary elections next year as well as his support for a national dialogue on elections between the government and the opposition," the OSCE mission said in a statement. Talks are expected to begin in early September. JM


National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich said on 16 July that the president has instructed him to double the state reserves of gold and other precious metals within two years, Belapan reported. Prakapovich said there is no crisis in the Belarusian banking system, noting that the country's 27 banks increased their capital from 79.8 million euro ($81.4 million) to 190.7 million euro from January-June 1999. Lukashenka said the same day that it is "still not clear" whether Belarus will adopt the Russian ruble as its national currency. "One thing needs to be known: we will not give up the sovereignty and independence of our country [while forging a single currency with Russia]; we will accept [such a currency] only on a par," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM


During Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin's 15-18 July visit to Ukraine, the two sides agreed that Ukraine will pay its gas debt to Russia through commodity supplies, including food, and Russian defense orders worth $300 million will be written off as debt repayment. Russia says Ukraine owes $1.8 billion for Russian gas, while Ukraine insists that the state gas debt totals $1 billion, with the rest owed by commercial traders. The sides failed to agree on the prices of goods to be supplied in repayment. Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko is to visit Moscow next month to sign an accord on the repayment deal. In Sevastopol, Stepashin pledged to resolve the financial difficulties of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, adding that they should be addressed through the "mutual cancellation of debts and direct supplies." JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, Transdniester self-styled leader Igor Smirnov, and Russian Premier Stepashin failed to find a resolution to the conflict in Moldova's Transdniester breakaway region but said they hope to make progress soon. The sides signed a joint declaration calling on the conflicting sides to work toward reuniting in a single state. "There are differences of principle between us on the approach to the [Transdniester] status," Reuters quoted Smirnov as saying. Moldova is ready to grant wide autonomy to the Transdniester, while the region seeks a "confederation" agreement with Chisinau. JM


The parliament on 16 July approved Kuchma's bill on sending 800 troops to Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999). The same day, it endorsed a presidential bill on amnesty, under which more than 40,000 convicts are to be released from overcrowded prisons. JM


The U.S.-Baltic Partnership Committee, set up under the U.S.-Baltic Charter, met for the second time in Washington on 16 July. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott hosted Foreign Ministers Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia and Algirdas Saudargas of Lithuania as well as Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins for the annual meeting. Commenting on the Baltic States' integration into NATO, Talbott said, "I would stop just short of saying it's inevitable," BNS reported citing AFP, adding that "it is desirable and I think there is considerable reason for optimism that it will occur because of the extraordinary progress these three countries have made." The three visiting officials reconfirmed their countries' determination to raise defense spending to 2 percent of GDP within a few years, a move praised by Talbott. MH


U.S. company Williams International has denied rumors that the company plans to pull out of the deal to acquire a controlling stake in Lithuania's oil industry. Head of the Center Union and deputy parliamentary chairman Romualdas Ozolas accused Williams of "packing their bags" by withdrawing specialists and leaving a skeletal representation only, BNS reported on 18 July. The signing of the agreement to sell two-thirds of the Mazeikiai Oil conglomerate to Williams has been repeatedly delayed. MH


Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical farmers' trade union Self-Defense, said on 17 July that the government is forcing farmers to launch a "peasant rebellion," PAP reported. According to him, farmers fears that the state grain procurement system will lead to chaos during the harvest are being confirmed. Lepper added that out of 600 companies that want to be involved in grain procurement, two- thirds lack liquidity. The next day, Lepper said farmers' organizations must form an electoral bloc for parliamentary elections and propose a single candidate for president. Meanwhile, farmers in Kruszwica, central Poland, have set up a nationwide protest committee and are threatening to erect road blockades if the government fails to meet their demands on prices for grain and rape-seed. JM


Kofi Annan, meeting with President Vaclav Havel in Hradecek, northeast Bohemia, on 17 July, praised Havel's controversial visit to Kosova last month, saying it "encouraged those who are victims of the conflict" and gave them hope. Annan also met with UN special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, who later said they agreed that finding a solution to the problems in Kosova is "complex" and requires "political, economic, and humanitarian" efforts by the international community. Also on 17 July, Annan met with Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy. Both men expressed the opinion that "Kosova must gain broad autonomy, but not independence," CTK reported. MS


Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek on 17 July said Havel believes the agreement between the ruling minority Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the main opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is one of the main reasons for the growing popularity of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). Havel was responding to the findings of a STEM public opinion poll published one day earlier, which showed the KSCM as having overtaken the CSSD (the two parties received 17.8 percent and 16.8 percent support, respectively). The KSCM is now the second most popular party after the ODS (23.4 percent). MS


Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 16 July offered former President Michal Kovac the post of government commissioner for Slovakia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, CTK reported. Dzurinda later declined to say whether his offer was accepted, saying only that the former president's reputation abroad is "good" and that "it would be unwise not to take advantage of this." Kovac said that he is "ready to help the government and serve the nation." CTK said that he has two to three weeks to make up his mind whether to accept the offer. MS


General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is army chief of staff, said in Nova Varos on 17 July that "the main task of all of us is to preserve the stability of the state. [In Yugoslavia] there are lots of people who have sold out [their country] and vassals of the West, who want to remove the [legally elected] authorities by force and push the state into a new catastrophe.... [Those who seek to do so] will not have popular support." Ojdanic is a political appointee who has held his current post since only 24 November 1998. Opposition journalist Milos Vasic told the BBC on 19 July that it is unclear whether Ojdanic speaks for anyone except himself and the leadership of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal recently indicted Ojdanic, Milosevic, and three other top-ranking Belgrade officials for war crimes in conjunction with Operation Horseshoe in the spring of 1999 in Kosova. PM


Vuk Draskovic, who heads the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, told the "International Herald Tribune" of 19 July that the easiest way to get Milosevic out of power is to let him remain "as a figurehead...[of a] transitional government" that would prepare the way for new elections at all levels. In order to persuade Milosevic to go peacefully and to attract the support of some of his backers, Draskovic argued that the new authorities should give Milosevic immunity from prosecution and from deportation to The Hague, where he is wanted for war crimes. On 17 July, Draskovic told a crowd of 15,000 in Kragujevac that the transition government should hold office for between three and six months. Besides preparing for elections, its tasks would be to get international sanctions lifted and ensure the return of Serbian refugees to Kosova. Observers note that the international community is unlikely to lift sanctions as long as Milosevic remains in office. PM


In Nis on 18 July, some 100 army reservists ended three days of protests for back pay for recent service in Kosova. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Third Army, promised in a local television broadcast to meet their demands. He noted that the government owes reservists a total of $82 million, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. A spokesman for the Kragujevac reservists said, however, that they will take unspecified "more radical action" if the authorities do not keep their promises. In Prokuplje on 17 July, an unspecified number of reservists blocked off the main streets leading in and out of the town to demand back pay. They ended their protest when army officials agreed to meet their demands. PM


Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bogoljub Karic told the Podgorica daily "Vjesti" of 17 July that "he has nothing against...a democratic and civilized" dissolution of Yugoslavia into two "independent and sovereign states" if that is what the Serbian and Montenegrin peoples want. If they prefer to remain united in one state, he continued, Serbia and Montenegro could each have its own currency. Karic added that, in any event, the strongest Montenegrin party should have the prime minister's post in the federal government. Observers note that the leading Montenegrin party is currently the Democratic Party of Socialists of President Milo Djukanovic, who is an outspoken critic of Milosevic. PM


Jacques Klein, who is the UN's new special representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 18 July that Bosnia's future will be "problematic" unless both Croatia and Serbia become democratic. He stressed that those two neighboring countries currently "exercise a negative influence" on the democratization and stability of Bosnia. Klein stressed the importance of Milosevic's departure from office for the peace and stability of the region. Klein noted, however, that Milosevic retains strong control over the Serbian media and that opposition to him remains weak and divided. PM


Several Albanian, Serbian, Turkish, and ethnic Slavic Muslim delegates agreed at the first meeting of the UN's new transitional council (see below) for Kosova on a series of confidence-building measures, UN spokesman Kevin Kennedy told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. Kennedy said that the delegates agreed in Prishtina on 16 July on a procedure for recruiting people from all ethnic groups for the planned UN police force. They also agreed to create joint commissions that will visit various parts of Kosova, together with UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR officials, to assess the needs of the local populations. Furthermore, they agreed to quickly resolve disputes surrounding the staffing and work of Radio and Television Prishtina so that the station can go on the air as soon as possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). FS


Kennedy told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the transitional council is not a decision-making body. He stressed that the members of the council will consult with and advise UNMIK. He added that it will function on the basis of consensus when possible. UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner will, however, make binding decisions if the delegates do not agree among themselves. Participants included the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) Hashim Thaci, Rexhep Qosja from the United Democratic Movement of Kosova, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije Radosavljevic, and publishers Veton Surroi and Blerim Shala. The moderate Democratic League of Kosova sent no delegates to the meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999). The council is scheduled to meet again on 19 July. FS


Thaci and 300 UCK fighters in uniform made a "triumphant entry" into Rahovec on 17 July "in a show of political and military force," AP reported. Thaci had received special permission from KFOR to hold the parade, which commemorated the deaths of UCK soldiers in the area during the 1998-1999 conflict with Serbian forces. Thaci said: "Our job is not done yet. We have to be united more than ever for the independence of Kosova, and the world must recognize our right to hold a referendum on independence." He stressed: "We don't want an ethnically pure city here. We must create conditions for all the ethnic groups to live here." FS


London's "The Observer" of 18 July quoted General Sir Charles Guthrie, who heads the U.K.'s Defense Staff, and his deputy, Air Marshal Sir John Day, as saying that commanders from the U.K. and U.S. finalized plans in early June to launch a massive ground invasion of Kosova. The project was called "Operation B-Minus" and would have involved 170,000 troops, including 50,000 from the U.K. The invasion was slated to begin the first week of September if Milosevic had not pulled his troops out of the province by then. It is unclear which other NATO countries were prepared to participate in the project. PM


The Albanian government issued a statement on 16 July saying that the Macedonian government's recent decision to grant "permission to open a university in the Albanian language shows a willingness [by the Macedonian government] to overcome problems and help our relations grow," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999). FS


Delegates at an extraordinary congress of the Democratic Party (PD) in Tirana on 17 July voted unanimously to end the party's 10- month boycott of the parliament, Reuters reported. Party leader Sali Berisha told the delegates: "Fulfilling the request of the U.S. government to return to parliament is the least we could do after all that they did for Albanians," by which he meant the U.S.'s involvement in Kosova. Berisha pledged to propose making U.S. President Bill Clinton an honorary citizen of Albania. He added that "the Democratic Party commits itself to creating a new political climate where nobody will be excluded anymore." The Democrats launched a parliamentary boycott after the killing of PD legislator Azem Hajdari in September 1998. They charged the Socialist-led government with being behind the murder. FS


Tirana Police Chief Mithat Havari told Reuters on 17 July that police the previous day expelled two Syrian brothers--identified as Abdyl and Osama Naem--and Iraqi citizen Muhamed Jasim. Havari said that the three did not have "proper" documents. He did not provide other details. "Koha Jone" reported that the three were arrested early on 16 July and immediately expelled by plane to Athens. The daily suggested that the three were suspected agents of indicted Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden. They worked for an Islamic charity organization in Albania. Police had arrested two of them in February, but a Tirana court released them in early July for lack of evidence. In related news, Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Campbell told Reuters in Washington on 17 July that security reasons were only "a secondary reason" for U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen to cancel his scheduled visit to Tirana on 13 July. FS


The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 16 July said it is "concerned" that the sentencing of generals Victor Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999) reflects a "dangerous precedent" and was the outcome of pressure exercised on the judiciary by the ruling coalition parties. PDSR deputy chairman Adrian Nastase on 18 July said the generals are "just the first two victims" of a "political war" launched under "a scenario" whose ultimate targets are former President Ion Iliescu and Petre Roman, who served as premier after the 1989 revolution, Mediafax reported. The Defense Ministry on 16 July said it will appeal the decision of the court ordering the ministry to pay damages to those wounded in Timisoara and to the relatives of those killed in December 1989. MS


Mircea Cosea, deputy chairman of the Alliance for Romania Party (APR), has been elected deputy chairman of the Rightist Union Forces (UFD) at an UFD extraordinary congress, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 17 June. Cosea said his decision to join the UFD stemmed from ideological reasons and that the APR is gradually abandoning its "liberal" persuasion in favor of a Social Democratic orientation. Also, the UFD congress elected to the UFD Standing Committee former Privatization Minister Valentin Ionescu and Emil Tocaci, both of whom last month resigned from their parties--the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic and National Liberal Party, respectively--to join the UFD. MS


Petru Lucinschi, returning from the Kyiv summit on 17 July (see above), said the meeting "marked an important step toward a final settlement of the Transdniester conflict," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi said that "for the first time" the two conflicting sides had agreed on the "principles" that must guide the resolution of the conflict-- namely the formation of single "economic, judicial, and social space within Moldova's existing borders, recognized by the international community." He said it is now up to experts from the two sides to work out how to implement these principles. Lucinschi praised the "constructive position" of the Russian, Ukrainian, and OSCE mediators, saying that Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin has "confirmed the proceed with the withdrawal of armament and troops" from Moldovan territory. MS


Romanian Trade and Industry Minister Radu Berceanu on 16 July said a consortium formed by the Petrom company and other Romanian companies will take over 51 percent of the shares of the Moldovan Tirex-Petrol company in exchange for Chisinau's more than $5 million debt to Romania for electricity supplies, Romanian Radio reported. The parliament in Chisinau on 15 July approved legislation writing off Tirex-Petrol's debt to the state budget and transferring a majority stake to the Romanian side in exchange for the debt cancellation. MS


Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 17 July told the private Darik Radio that "in the next few days" Bulgaria will offer land transit rights to Russian KFOR troops, similar to those offered to other states contributing to the peacekeeping force in Kosova, BTA reported. In the same interview, Mihailova said Bulgaria is already a "successful Balkan model of political stability and multi-ethnic relations" and "we hope that very soon we shall also be a successful economic model as well." She added that what Sofia expects from the EU "is not praise and kind words, but an invitation to start accession talks." MS


by Jan Maksymiuk

Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin announced on 5 July that Russia will sign a treaty with Belarus this fall, allowing the two countries "to enter the 21st century as a union-state." For those who may have lost count of Russian- Belarusian integration initiatives, this will be the third major agreement on a single Russian-Belarusian state. The first was signed in April 1996, the second one year later, in April 1997. There are many signs that this year's proposed document--heralded by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a joint declaration on 25 December 1998--will not be the ultimate unification pact either.

Stepashin's pledge of quicker unification was preceded by attempted blackmail on the part of the Belarusian president. Addressing the 2 July session of the Belarusian- Russian Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk, Lukashenka threatened to seek rapprochement with the West if Russia continued to drag its feet on a closer union with his country. Following consultations with Yeltsin, Stepashin hastened to assure Lukashenka that the treaty will be ready within a month and will not be of simply a "declarative character."

As for Lukashenka's threat to repair relations with the West, Stepashin commented: "We would welcome that [move], and a union between Russia and Belarus should not in any case stand as an obstacle to creating a unified Europe." Both Yeltsin and Stepashin are perfectly aware that, as one Russian newspaper put it, "there is no way to the West" for Lukashenka.

Lukashenka's attempt at blackmailing Russia is rather a sign of his weakness and frustration as his presidency nears the completion of its fifth year on 20 July 1999. European democracies have not recognized Belarus's 1996 controversial referendum, by means of which Lukashenka extended his presidential term until 2001. So far, he has not appeared to pay much attention to what the West thinks about his legitimacy after 20 July. Rather, he seems to have scented another danger: What if Moscow strongmen--embroiled in their intricate wars for power--begin openly questioning his legitimacy and, consequently, his right to sign any interstate documents? Such a turn of events cannot be ruled out as Russia nears parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next year.

There has been much speculation in the Russian media that Yeltsin is willing to repeat the "Milosevic scenario" in order to stay in power beyond 2000. The creation of the Russian-Belarusian union could serve Yeltsin's political longevity in the Kremlin in the same way as the 1994 creation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia helped Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic remain at the helm in Belgrade as the head of the unified state of Serbia and Montenegro.

Lukashenka is ready to accept Yeltsin as the union president provided that he himself is given the post of vice president. However, Kremlin planners have not envisaged any union presidency or common government. And what is more important, even such staunch proponents of Russian-Belarusian integration as Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov have not insisted on the introduction of a union presidency. This should be taken by Lukashenka as a disappointing, if not alarming, state of affairs: Russian political elites have so far not devised any major role for him in the struggle for power in Russia. Moreover, it is unclear whether they ever intended to.

Yeltsin recently announced that he is ready to step down when his terms expires next year. Whether or not that is true, he may at least be willing to wait to take a final decision until after Russia's parliamentary elections in December. If the elections suggest that his preferred candidate will win the presidential race next year, he will most likely leave the political scene, placing the future of further integration with Belarus into the hands of his successor. If not, a "union option" that would prolong his rule might be used by him in earnest. In any case, no one should expect a treaty this fall that would allow Lukashenka to obtain the real levers of power in Russia.

Lukashenka recently declared that he will not accept a non-presidential power structure in the union-state. But it seems he will have no choice. If he refuses to sign another watered-down union treaty proposed by Moscow, he will find himself on the sidelines of the integration process, which he has so ardently championed. What is more, he may well find himself on the sidelines of all politics. Neglecting and even rejecting normal relations with Western democracies, he has become hostage to his one-sided policy of rapprochement with Russia. On the other hand, if he signs such a treaty, he will hardly get what he wants--namely, more power and more Russian resources to bail out the sinking Belarusian economy.

"From the very beginning [of his term], Lukashenka was nothing more than a puppet.... The real power was in the hands of the puppeteer behind the screen. The only person who could allow himself [to move the puppet] was Boris Yeltsin with his family," the Belarusian independent weekly "Nasha Niva" commented on 28 June. That comment appears all the more bitter in light of the fact that most Belarusians still show no tendency or desire to stop being entertained in such a way.