TENS OF THOUSANDS FLEE AIR RAIDS ON CHECHNYA
A government official in Ingushetia appealed on 28 September for assistance from the UNHCR in coping with the estimated 60,000 fugitives who have fled Russian bomb attacks on Grozny and other Chechen towns over the past week. Those air raids continued on 28 September. An official with Russia's Federal Migration Service cited lower figures, claiming that 25,000 Chechens have entered Ingushetia, 3,000 Stavropol Krai and North Ossetia and 1,000 Daghestan. He said his organization is shipping beds, blankets, and emergency food supplies to Ingushetia. LF
RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SAY THERE'S NO CRISIS...
Visiting the former Ingushetian capital, Nazran, on 28 September, Russia's Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu gave orders to set up camps for the fugitives in Ingushetia but rejected Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev's characterization of the fugitive situation as "a humanitarian crisis," Interfax reported. While owning that the situation is "serious," Shoigu affirmed that Moscow can cope with it. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whom Shoigu subsequently briefed on the situation in Ingushetia, likewise said that he sees no need for Russia to ask the UNHCR for help, according to ITAR- TASS. LF
...WHILE ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIRMAN SAYS DUMA ELECTIONS IN CHECHNYA MAY BE CANCELLED
ITAR-TASS on 28 September quoted Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov as saying that to date no preparations have been made in Chechnya for holding elections to the Russian State Duma on 19 December. He added that the commission may rule that doing so is impossible if the situation does not change within the next two days. In an interview published in "Le Figaro" on 29 September, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said he believes the bombing of Chechnya is intended to destabilize Russia and thus create a pretext for postponing the Duma elections. LF
YELTSIN BRIEFED ON MILITARY SITUATION IN CHECHNYA
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev met with President Boris Yeltsin for more than an hour on 28 September to inform him about operations in Chechnya, the situation within the armed forces, and funding for the military, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Colonel-General Anatolii Sitnov, who heads the armed forces armaments department, told journalists in Moscow the same day that the army has all it needs to continue operations in Chechnya. He explained that combat operations, such as those in Daghestan and Chechnya, currently require only 25 percent of the range of available armaments, adding that Russian troops will be issued with new types of weapons to test in battle conditions in the event of a full-fledged invasion of Chechnya, Reuters reported. Presidential First Deputy Chief Of Staff Igor Shabdurasulov told a press conference at Interfax's head office on 28 September that the military already has "the green light" to undertake whatever actions are necessary to "suppress...gangs in the North Caucasus." LF
RUSSIA ASKS AZERBAIJAN TO CRACK DOWN ON AID TO CHECHNYA
Azerbaijan's Ambassador in Moscow Ramiz Rzaev was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on 28 September where he was notified of instances of financial and other assistance to Chechnya and Daghestan by unnamed organizations in Azerbaijan under the guise of humanitarian aid, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Rzaev agreed that there is a need for cooperation to prevent the spread of terrorism in the Caucasus. LF
MOSCOW EXPRESSES APPRECIATION OF IRANIAN OFFER OF HELP
Interfax on 28 September quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as expressing appreciation of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's offer to assist Moscow in resolving the crisis in Daghestan. In a message conveyed last week at a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Safari last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999), Kharrazi said that as chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Iran condemns terrorism and affirms its recognition of Russia's territorial integrity. The Russian source told Interfax that Iran could provide Russia with invaluable information on terrorist organizations, possibly including the putative links between Chechnya and the Taliban. LF
DAGHESTAN AUTHORITIES LAUNCH QUIET CRACKDOWN
The massive Russian air raids on Chechnya have deflected world attention from events in Daghestan. That republic's leaders have apparently taken advantage of this opportunity to begin rounding up individuals suspected of links with the Chechen militants and, in particular, with the self-styled prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Daghestan, Sirazhudin Ramazanov, according to Turan of 28 September. Russian military and Daghestani Interior Ministry officials have arrested an unknown number of people in Daghestan's Gunib Raion, including several of Ramazanov's relatives. Arrests and searches are also reported in Makhachkala among circles suspected of disloyalty to Daghestan's current leadership. LF
DUMA REJECTS BUDGET...
As widely predicted, State Duma deputies have rejected the 2000 draft federal budget in its first reading. The 28 September vote was 356 opposed, 11 in favor, and one abstention. The government has sent the budget to a conciliatory commission composed of representatives of the government, the Duma, and the Federation Council. Echoing earlier criticism of their colleagues in the upper chamber, some Duma deputies criticized the budget for its unequal split of revenues between the center and regions. They were also critical of the low spending on defense and considered certain indicators, such as a projected annual inflation rate of 18 percent and ruble exchange rate of 32 rubles to $1, too optimistic. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told Ekho Moskvy that if commission members can reach agreement on the budget's basic indicators, then the Duma may reconsider the budget as early as 20 October. JAC
...AS END OF YEAR DEADLINE LOOMS
Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev expressed confidence on 28 September that the budget will be passed before the end of the year. Missing this deadline would mean that "all financial flows will be controlled by the White House, which suits Prime Minister Putin's team," and that "it will be possible to keep regional governors on a short leash," "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported, citing unidentified White House sources. (The daily is controlled by the Interros financial group and LUKoil.) Putin told the Duma on 28 September that it is time to "centralize federal budget allocations for the armed forces" and to transform the military into a professional army, according to Interfax. National security "costs a lot" and this program should not be regarded "as cheap," he added. Under the current draft, 119.3 billion rubles ($4.7 billion) are devoted to national defense and 77.8 billion rubles to law enforcement out of total spending of 803.0 billion rubles. Revenues are set at 745.1 billion rubles. JAC
FUNDING OF ARMED FORCES REMAINS 'COMPLICATED'
According to Colonel General Georgii Oleinik, director of the Defense Ministry's Main Directorate for the Military Budget and Finances, the funding of the armed forces remains "complicated," despite some signs of improvement, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 September. While 60 percent of the military's needs were met over the past three years, that figure stands at 75 percent for this year. The military's debt as of 1 September reached some 52 billion rubles ($2.1 billion). Oleinik noted that wage arrears remain widespread and that food subsidies have virtually ceased. And he also rejected recent media reports that on the orders of Defense Minister Sergeev, the Strategic Rocket Forces are better financed than the other armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1999). JC
DEFENSE OFFICIAL WARNS OF NEED TO REPLACE NUCLEAR HARDWARE
Colonel General Sitnov, who is in charge of defense hardware supplies to the armed forces, told reporters on 28 September that all land and sea delivery systems of Russia's strategic nuclear forces must be replaced by 2007, when their service life ends, Interfax reported. Only under this condition, Sitnov stressed, will Russia be able to "ensure continuity" and fully abide by the planned START-3 treaty. He also noted that Russia's strategic bombers will remain operational until 2015. A program for the period until 2005 foresees new deliveries and the modernization of existing military technology--undertakings that will account annually for 28 percent of the defense budget, Sitnov noted. JC
DUMA REJECTS TAX LAWS
Also on 28 September, Duma deputies rejected a number of tax laws submitted with the 2000 draft budget, including one that would require the substitution of a sales tax for 20 regional taxes and another that would raise excise duties on alcohol and cigarettes, Interfax reported. JAC
ZADORNOV DISMISSED AS IMF MONEY DELAYED
Russian President Yeltsin signed a decree on 29 September dismissing Mikhail Zadornov as presidential envoy to international financial institutions. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin explained that Zadornov "was appointed to carry out a specific amount of work, which he has successfully completed." The previous day, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov echoed earlier statements by Russian officials that disbursement of the next tranche of IMF money might be delayed until late October. That same day, IMF director Michel Camdessus pledged that the fund will not turn its back on Russia. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 29 September that former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is under consideration for Zadornov's job. Zadornov told Interfax on 28 September that he will go into politics after leaving government and will seek a seat in the State Duma with Yabloko. JAC
TOP RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CALL SCANDAL A PLOT...
Shabdurasulov, first deputy head of the presidential administration, on 28 September dismissed allegations in "USA Today" that Russia has withheld information from U.S. investigators on illegal capital exports from Russia, Interfax reported. When asked about the report, he said he has "seriously changed" his attitude toward "several respectable and not very respectable publications." He went on to call such coverage "direct pressure" on Russia, concluding that "there are serious grounds for supposing that a considerable part of all this was inspired by the goal of discrediting Russia, humiliating it and moving it further away from making fundamental decisions." The same day, former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said that the Bank of New York scandal has the appearance of a broader anti-Russian campaign and could harm U.S.-Russian relations in the long run, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
...OFFER LOWER ESTIMATES OF CAPITAL FLIGHT
Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told "Argumenty i Fakty" on 28 September that the bank's specialists estimate that $1 billion of capital flees Russia each month. Zadornov, who has since been dismissed as presidential envoy to international financial institutions, said $700 million to $1 billion in capital leaves Russia each month. However, director of the Institute for International Finance Charles Dallara said last week that institute experts believe that capital flight has averaged $1.5-$2 billion every month since 1992, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. JAC
U.S. FEARS ANOTHER RUSSIAN THREAT
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican) warned on 28 September that Russia could experience problems associated with the so-called millennium computer bug, AFP reported. Lugar said "we do not know what is going to happen to Russian computer systems when we pass into the millennium and neither do they, but initial estimates do not appear promising." Lugar noted that the chances of an accidental missile launch are almost non- existent but that computer problems would affect Moscow's missile early warning system. U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd (Democrat) said that six out of seven direct key national security communication links that are used from Moscow to Washington could experience failures. A U.S. State Department official told AP that the government is "advising U.S. citizens who will be in Russia over the millennial transition to be prepared for possible disruptions, especially in key sectors like electricity, heat and telecommunications." JAC
RUSSIA ASKS U.S. FOR MORE FOOD AID
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told reporters on 28 September that his department has received an official request from the Russian government for food assistance. Interfax reported the next day that the new aid package is likely to exceed 5 million tons. The last package totaled 3.1 million tons. According to the agency, the Russian government wants to set up an insurance fund for foreign investments in Russian agriculture using the proceeds from selling the food aid. Gennadii Kulik, former deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture, predicted on 24 September that Russia will harvest only 52-55 million tons of grain this year, compared with the official forecast of 60 million tons. JAC
MOSCOW'S MAN IN HAVANA
Following talks with a delegation led by Cuban President Fidel Castro, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told journalists in Havana on 28 September that Cuba's debt to Russia, estimated at some $20 billion, has not harmed relations between the two countries. He noted that the talks did not cover the debt issue but were "political" ones aimed at setting the tone for bilateral meetings at ministerial level, AP reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Ivanov as saying that increased cooperation with Cuba is a "strategic foreign policy choice of the new democratic Russia." He also noted that Moscow will help reach a "settlement" of U.S.-Cuban relations and hopes the U.S. administration will show "realism" over this issue. Ivanov was paying his first visit to Cuba since becoming foreign minister. JC
IRAQI OIL POLICY TO FAVOR RUSSIA
Meeting with Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii in Baghdad on 28 September, Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Rashid said his country gives priority to Russia with regard to deliveries of crude oil, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. Rashid noted that Iraq intends to continue to pump and export crude "according to our capacity and independently of any other measures." He explained the priority treatment for Russia by pointing to the "numerous projects" the two countries had before the 1991 Gulf War and the oil and gas agreements they have concluded since then. Kalyuzhnii arrived in Iraq earlier the same day to co-chair, together with Rashid, a meeting of the Russian- Iraqi economic commission. JC
TRANSCAUCASUS INTERIOR MINISTERS IN MOSCOW
Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo held talks in Moscow on 28 September with his Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian counterparts: Suren Abrahamian, Ramil Usubov, and Kakha Targamadze, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Rushailo also held separate meetings with Usubov, who complained about the violation of the rights of Azerbaijani citizens in Russian, and with Targamadze, with whom he discussed how to prevent smuggling of alcohol and petroleum products. The latter again denied that arms are being smuggled via Georgia to Chechnya and Daghestan and condemned any manifestations of terrorism, according to ITAR-TASS. Meeting with the four interior ministers, Russian Premier Putin called for the creation of a joint center to coordinate countermeasures against terrorism throughout the CIS, Interfax reported. LF
TEACHERS STRIKES IN SIBERIA CONTINUE
The teachers strike that began in the Altai Republic on 1 September continues, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 September. Traditionally, 1 September is the start of the school year. More than 100 teachers' collectives are participating in the action to demand payment of back wages. The agency reported on 23 September that the 29 teachers' collectives in Chita Oblast are also continuing the strike they began on 1 September. JAC
ARMENIAN CLERICS PROTEST GOVERNMENT PRESSURE OVER NEW CATHOLICOS
Six Armenian archbishops on 28 September issued a "pastoral appeal" expressing concern that senior members of the government are supporting a specific candidate for the post of Catholicos, Noyan Tapan reported. That post has been vacant since the death of Garegin I in late June. The appeal said such intervention calls into doubt "the moral and legal process" of electing a new catholicos. On 25 September, Archbishop of Artsakh Parkev Martirosian, one of the six signatories to the appeal, told RFE/RL that government officials told two of the other signatories who the Armenian leadership's preferred candidate is, but he declined to divulge that candidate's identity. AP on 28 September quoted Martirosian as saying that Garegin Nersisian, archbishop of the Ararat Diocese, which includes Yerevan, is the government's favorite for the post. Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian has denied any official interference in the election process, AP added. LF
ARMENIA, RUSSIA TO CONTINUE DEFENSE INDUSTRY COOPERATION
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 28 September approved a draft Russian-Armenian agreement on continuing the present production and specialization of firms engaged in the development, production and testing of weapons and materiel, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
U.S. CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO RESUME KARABAKH TALKS...
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has written to Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev urging him to agree on a declaration of principles for the resumption of talks under the OSCE's aegis on resolving the Karabakh conflict, Reuters and AFP reported on 28 September. Albright said she believes it is possible to agree on a date and venue for the resumption of those talks before the November OSCE summit. She added that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should also be represented at those talks. The talks have been deadlocked for almost one year owing to Baku's rejection of the most recent peace plan, proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group. Albright has also written to Armenian President Robert Kocharian welcoming the latter's dialogue with Aliev, Interfax reported on 28 September, quoting presidential spokesman Gabrielian. LF
...TO DISMAY OF OPPOSITION
Opposition party leaders told Turan on 28 September that they consider Albright's proposals detrimental to Azerbaijan's national interests. Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov argued that if the Karabakh Armenians are brought into the negotiating process, then Yerevan should withdraw. He claimed that the Azerbaijani leadership is planning to conduct a referendum on the Karabakh peace settlement simultaneously with the 12 December municipal elections. He did not elaborate. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey termed Albright's proposals "unacceptable," noting that they make no mention of four UN resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar argued that if representatives of the Karabakh Armenian population are brought into the peace talks, then representatives of the region's expelled Azerbaijani population should also be included. LF
GEORGIA PROTESTS DETENTION OF DEFENSE MINISTRY OFICIALS IN ADJARIA
Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 28 September, a Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman condemned the 5 September arrest in Adjaria of two Georgian Defense Ministry officials, Caucasus Press reported. He added that the arrest was intended to discredit the central Georgian authorities in the runup to the 31 October parliamentary elections. The "Batumi alliance" of five political parties, including the Union of Revival of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, is considered the most serious challenger to the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia in that poll. Lawyers for the two men said that legal procedures were violated in the course of charging them with possession of drugs. Adjar authorities claim the two officers infiltrated the Adjar Republic in order to destabilize the situation there. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DENY BASAEV PLANNING TO WINTER IN SVANETI
Senior Georgian frontier guard and intelligence officials told Caucasus Press on 28 September there is no truth to Russian military intelligence reports that Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev plans to move his headquarters to the western Georgian mountain region of Svaneti for the winter. Those reports claim that Basaev has already sent envoys to the region for talks with the separatist "Free Svaneti" organization, which has agreed to the temporary Chechen presence. Iveri Chkheidze, governor of the Kodori valley in Svaneti, told Caucasus Press that no such separatist organization exists. He said the Russian reports were intended to create a pretext to increase the Russian military presence in Abkhazia, which borders on Svaneti. LF
GEORGIA SEEKS TO EXTRADITE SUSPECT IN PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION BID
Georgian security services are negotiating with their counterparts in North Ossetia over the extradition to Georgia of Nugzar Khuchua, who they believe participated in the February 1998 unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, ITAR-TASS reported. Khuchua is also suspected on involvement in the bomb attack on Vladikavkaz central market in March 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999). LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET IN FIRST READING...
A no confidence vote in Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev's government was averted on 28 September when Constitutional Court Chairman Yuri Kim ruled that the 25 September decision by both chambers of the parliament to reject the cabinet's proposed draft budget for 2000 was invalid, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999). Kim explained that the required majority vote was not achieved. The parliament then voted on 28 September to approve the main budget indicators for revenues and spending as well as pegging the deficit at 3 percent of GDP. Balghymbaev told deputies after the vote that Kazakhstan is over the worst of its budget crisis and that there is "a good chance" that the economic situation will improve, according to Interfax. LF
...BUT IMF REPORTEDLY SKEPTICAL
Interfax on 28 September, however, quoted an unnamed senior Kazakh official as saying that the IMF believes that the draft's tax revenue target is unrealistic and should be lowered by $100 million. That target is 23.3 percent higher than the corresponding figure for 1999. LF
LEADING KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY RETHINKS ELECTION TACTICS
Leading members of former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan told journalists in Almaty on 28 September that the party is withdrawing its list of 10 candidates to contest the seats in the lower chamber of the parliament to be allocated on a proportional basis, Interfax and Reuters reported. They said the reason for the move is that the Central Electoral Commission refused to register Kazhegeldin, whose name topped the list, as a candidate. Another 20 candidates from the party who plan to run in the 10 October elections in single-mandate districts may withdraw to protest "strong pressure" from the authorities, they added. But Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Zaghipa Balieva told RFE/RL on 29 September that a letter submitted by the party informing the commission of its decision to withdraw its list is inadequate. She noted that a written request by the party leadership must be submitted no later than 10 days before the poll. LF
NEW FIGHTING IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan's Security Council Secretary-General Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists in Bishkek on 28 September that a group of the militants who are holding 13 hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan attacked a government post during the night of 27-28 September but retreated after government troops counterattacked, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. Also on 28 September, Prime Minister Amangeldy MurAliyev convened a cabinet meeting to assess the readiness of government bodies to provide support for a military operation against the militants, according to ITAR-TASS. Uzbekistan's Defense Minister Khikmatulla Tursunov told journalists in Tashkent on 28 September that Uzbekistan has been informed of the militants' location and movements and is ready to launch operations against the rebels at any time, according to Interfax. Tursunbek Akunov, who has mediated between the militants and the Kyrgyz leadership, arrived in Pakistan on 28 September for talks with Taliban representatives aimed at securing the hostages' release. LF
UZBEKISTAN SEEKS TO TIGHTEN SECURITY
The Uzbek government press service reported on 28 September that the cabinet has adopted a special resolution introducing additional security measures both in Tashkent and the provinces, Interfax reported. Those measures include additional passport checks and barring access to cellars and attics. On 20 September, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan issued a press release reporting the construction of a vast concentration camp for Uzbek Muslims sentenced for their religious belief. LF
BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER TO APPEAR UNDER NEW NAME
Law enforcement officials on 28 September seized from a Minsk printing house paper and other property belonging to the independent newspaper "Naviny," Belapan reported. They explained their action by saying that a Minsk court ordered "Naviny" to pay 15 billion Belarusian rubles ($52,000) in damages to State Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999). "Sheyman does not need that money, he needs to close our newspaper, because we could pay the fine if we continued to publish and sell the newspaper," "Naviny" chief editor Pavel Zhuk commented. Zhuk added that the editorial office intends to print the last issue of "Naviny" on 29 September and resume publishing the newspaper under the name of "Nasha svaboda" (Our Freedom). "Naviny" appeared in fall 1997 as the successor to "Svaboda," which had been banned by the authorities. JM
KUCHMA BACKS REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and the Union of the Regional and Local Authority Leaders signed a declaration on 27 September to initiate a referendum on the introduction of amendments to the constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma is in favor of a bicameral parliament and believes that this issue should be submitted to a referendum. According to Kuchma, the constitution should also be approved in a referendum to put a stop to lawmakers' seeking to "raise the issue of constitutional changes at each parliamentary session." Kuchma also thinks that it is necessary to define more clearly the powers of executive and legislative authorities and give more power to the regions. JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES TARIFFS
The government on 28 September approved a package of customs tariffs, which are to go into effect on 1 January 2000. The imposition of such tariffs is in sharp contrast to the liberal trade policies championed by members of the three-party ruling coalition over the past few years, especially Prime Minister Mart Laar. The duties will apply to countries with which Estonia does not have a free-trade agreement, including Russia and the U.S. "Postimees" reported that food prices could increase in January by 5-15 percent as a result to the tariffs. Prime Minister Laar believes 90 million kroons ($6 million) will be collected from such tariffs, since the affected countries account for one-third of Estonian trade. MH
ESTONIA TO BE PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS AT MILLENNIUM TRANSITION?
As Estonia's power grid remains connected to the system in northwestern Russia, a failure on the Russian side owing to the "millennium bug" could disrupt power supplies in Estonia. According to Eesti Energia, the "worst case scenario" would cause disruption for 30 minutes--as the company says it can restore full power usage within that time, according to "Eesti Paevaleht" and ETA. Eesti Energia itself noted that it has taken precautions against the possible local problems and has worked out a deal to acquire emergency hydroelectricity from Russia's Lenenergo if necessary. However, as the power grid extends across several time zones to the Urals and the large nuclear facilities there, Eesti Energia could face disruption anytime after 6:00 p.m. local time on 31 December. MH
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES IN PRINCIPLE GOVERNMENT'S ENERGY STRATEGY
Lawmakers on 28 September approved a resolution supporting in principle the government's draft energy strategy, which calls for the shutdown of the first unit at the Ignalina nuclear power plant by 2005. The resolution was approved by a vote of 61 to 16, "Lietuvos Rytas" and ELTA reported. However, the resolution firmly states that the shutdown must be conditional on receiving generous foreign aid for that purpose--a condition strongly advocated by former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius. The opposition either voted against the resolution or abstained. MH
COALITION PARTNER DISPLEASED WITH POLISH PREMIER
Jerzy Wierchowicz, head of the parliamentary caucus of the Freedom Union (UW), warned on 28 September that the UW may seek to oust Premier Jerzy Buzek, a member of the Solidarity Electoral Action, unless it get its way over an impending cabinet reshuffle and next year's budget draft, Reuters reported. Jan Litynski, another UW parliamentary deputy, told Polish Radio the same day that Buzek "is giving up ruling in favor of drifting." According to Litynski, "there should be a general change in the method of ruling that is linked with a change of team" but does not imply a "change of coalition." Buzek is expected to make a decision on a cabinet reshuffle this week. JM
FOUR CZECH PARTIES TO WORK TOGETHER
Four opposition parties have announced that they will work together both before and after the next parliamentary elections, Czech media reported on 28 September. The leaders of the Christian Democrats, the Freedom Union, the Civic Democratic Alliance, and the Democratic Union made the announcement at a joint press conference. VG
CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS DEAL WITH SCANDALS
The Social Democratic parliamentary group on 28 September gave an overwhelming vote of confidence to its chairman, Stanislav Gross, Czech media reported. Gross had offered to resign as chairman of the group and as deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies after reports surfaced that he had allowed a private company to pay for his cell phone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September 1999). However, recent reports indicate that Petra Buzkova, the party's most popular politician, also used a cell phone in the same manner. "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 29 September that the Chemapol group gave the party payment cards for purchasing gas during the 1996 election campaign. The party did not declare the gift and did not pay taxes on it. Many observers see the various scandals in the context of a power struggle within the party. VG
EU WELCOMES SLOVAK NUCLEAR PLANT DECISION
The EU on 28 September welcomed Slovakia's decision to shut down two reactors at the V1 block of the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear power plant between 2006 and 2008, Reuters reported. A European Commission spokesman said Slovakia might be entitled to a 20 million euro ($21 million) loan to assist with the closures. However, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima said Bratislava's decision is unacceptable for his country. Klima sent letters to the EU member-states and Slovakia explaining Austria's position and calling for talks on the issue "immediately." He also stressed Austria's stance that "there can be no EU entry with unsafe nuclear reactors." VG
SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER VISITS SLOVAKIA
Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, arrived in Bratislava on 28 September for talks with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and other Slovak leaders, TKE reported. Draskovic noted that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is holding "an umbrella above Albanian terrorism." He also noted tendencies in Hungary to "rekindle the times of the former empires," although he added that such tendencies are not officially supported by the Hungarian government. CTK reported that during Draskovic's previous visit to Prague, he held talks with U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic John Shattuck. The U.S. embassy in Prague refused to give any details about the meeting, saying it took place "in the context of meetings between U.S. officials and various Serbian opposition leaders." VG
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS CIA, FBI LEADERS
Viktor Orban on 28 September held talks in Budapest with CIA head George Tenet and FBI Director Louis Freeh on cooperation between the Hungarian and U.S. secret services, Hungarian media report. The talks focused on organized crime, money laundering by the "Russian mafia," and European security issues. Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and Freeh signed an agreement granting the Hungarian police access to FBI databases on stolen cars, boats, and license plates. MSZ
TWO DEAD IN EXPLOSION AT MARKET IN KOSOVA
Two Serbs were killed and at least 40 people wounded when two rifle- propelled grenades landed in a crowded market outside Kosovo Polje on 28 September, AFP reported. NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosova (KFOR) arrested four people suspected of being involved in the attack. Local Serbs, who make up the majority of the people in the area, blockaded a road between the town and Prishtina's airport to protest what they say is a lack of security. Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN mission in Kosova, said "this outrageous attack against innocent civilians puts in danger all efforts at building democracy in Kosovo." Stanimir Vukicevic, head of a Yugoslav government liaison with KFOR, said "this extremely inhuman act of madness is the consequence of KFOR and [the UN mission's] tolerant and benevolent attitude toward the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army." PB
THACI REASSURES TURKISH MINORITY
Kosovar Albanian leader Hashim Thaci told a group of ethnic Turks on 28 September that they are welcome in Kosova and will help build a "free and democratic Kosova," the Albanian news agency ATA reported. Thaci made his comments in the village of Mamusha, near Prizren, which has an ethnic Turkish majority. Thaci said that Mamusha's "sons will join the protective troops of Kosova." Thaci said during a meeting with officials in the village that his goal is to establish a mission at the UN and allow the Kosova Protection Corps to participate "in NATO mechanisms in the framework of [its] Partnership for Peace" program. PB
DOLE SAYS INDEPENDENCE COULD BE ATTAINED
In Washington, former U.S. Senator Bob Dole told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 28 September that if Kosovar leaders hold free elections, renounce violence, and move toward a market economy, "then I believe independence will be forthcoming and should be," AP reported. Dole criticized the U.S. for not "acting against [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic much earlier." Dole served as an envoy to Kosova for President Bill Clinton earlier this year. At the White House, Clinton said "what we have supported for Kosovo and what we continue to support is autonomy." PB
LARGE RALLY IN NIS AS THOUSANDS PROTEST ACROSS SERBIA
Between 15,000-20,000 people gathered in Serbia's second- largest city, Nis, on 28 September to call on President Milosevic to resign, the Beta news agency reported. Some 20 opposition rallies were held throughout Serbia the same day. Only 10,000 or so turned out in Belgrade, far fewer than the 55,000 who demonstrated on 25 September. Speaking in Nis, Alliance for Change leader Zoran Djindjic said "the Serbian system cannot be altered by talks, only by action." He derided Milosevic for "ruining the country" over the last decade. Organizers said a march on Milosevic's home in the Belgrade district of Dedinje will be held on 29 September. Police, who until now have kept a low profile at Belgrade rallies, are expected to try to prevent the march as they did during protests in 1991 and in 1996-1997. PB
MILOSEVIC MAKES RARE APPEARANCE TO REOPEN REFINERY...
President Milosevic made a rare appearance on 28 September to speak at the reopening of an oil refinery in Pancevo that was destroyed by NATO air strikes, AP reported. Milosevic told company officials and employees that "in a year, two, or three, things will be better." He said "throughout these seven years of sanctions and even during the time of the brutal bombings we have been achieving [constant] progress." Milosevic was accompanied by Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Serbian Premier Mirko Marjanovic, Serbian parliamentary speaker Dragan Tomic, and other officials. PB
...AS SERBIAN PATRIARCH URGES HIM TO GO TO THE HAGUE
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle said on 28 September that President Milosevic should "resign peacefully so that people who enjoy the trust of the world can step in," Pancevo Radio reported. Pavle, speaking in the Kosovar town of Gorazdevac, said "it is clear at the moment that it is as if we are in a prison, behind a wall. There are no political, economic, or social ties with any other country." Pavle said he "would rather die...than [be] a true war criminal and have them say I'm a hero." PB
UN ENVOY TO BALKANS SAYS BOSNIA TOO DEPENDENT ON AID
Carl Bildt said in Washington on 28 September that Bosnia- Herzegovina has been given too much unconditional aid by the West, Reuters reported. Bildt said he fears that the Bosnian economy would collapse if foreign aid were to be withdrawn. Bildt also criticized Bosnian leaders, saying "they have not been willing to undertake economic reforms. We have not been sufficiently tough with them." In other news, Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's presidency, said upon returning from a trip to the Middle East on 28 September that it "was first and foremost a visit to friends of Bosnia- Herzegovina." He said the visit did not violate any rules of the presidency. PB
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES COOPERATION WITH CROATIA
Arpad Goencz, speaking in Zagreb on 28 September, pledged greater cooperation between his country and Croatia and praised the situation of ethnic Hungarians in Croatia, MTI reported on 28 September. Goencz told Croatian Premier Zlatko Matesa in Zagreb that cross-border cooperation between Hungarian and Croatian regions should be developed. He also praised state support for ethnic Hungarian communities in Croatia. Matesa said he is hopeful that a free trade agreement between the two countries will be signed soon. Goencz also met with representatives of six Croatian opposition parties during his two-day visit. PB
ALBANIA RATIFIES COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONVENTION ON MINORITIES
Albania formally ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the protection of ethnic minorities on 28 September, ATA reported. Albania's ambassador to the Council of Europe, Fotaq Andrea, handed the ratification documents to Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer in Tirana. The convention demands that members "ensure an effective equality between minorities and the majority, to ensure the necessary conditions for developing culture and preserving the identity of national minorities." Albania's ethnic Greeks constitute the country's largest minority, accounting for 3 percent of the population. PB
NATO FORCES CONDUCT EXERCISES IN ALBANIA
Troops from NATO's Albanian Force 2 (AFOR 2) began exercises in Albania on 28 September, ATA reported. The exercises are being held in conjunction with the Defense Ministry in Tirana and are code- named Caravan of Friendship 99. They are aimed at promoting communication and infrastructure capacities in rural areas of the country. Also on 28 September, Albania's defense minister, Luan Haidaraga, met with the commander of the German contingent in Kosova, General Freidrich Riechman. They discussed cooperation between AFOR 2 and Albanian forces as well the situation in Kosova. PB
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS FRANCE
French President Jacques Chirac told his visiting Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, that France will push to have Romania invited to accession negotiations with the EU at the December summit in Helsinki, according to a Rompres report cited by the BBC. The two presidents emphasized the warm historical relations between their two countries. Constantinescu called on French companies to invest in Romania, noting that his country's economy is steadily improving in several areas. Chirac added that trade between the two countries has been growing by an average of 30 percent every year. France is Romania's chief trading partner and main source of foreign investments. VG
TWO LEGISLATORS QUIT ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Senator Radu Alexandru and Deputy George Serban on 28 September announced their resignation from the Democratic Party (PD). Alexandru said he has "reached the limits of humiliation and nonsense imposed by the entire PD leadership and especially by PD President Petre Roman," Romanian Radio reported. VG
EU TO GIVE CREDIT, AID TO MOLDOVA
By the end of this year, the EU will provide Moldova with a 15 million euro ($15.7 million) credit line and humanitarian assistance totaling 2.2 million euros, Infotag reported on 28 September. Timo Summa, the head of an EU delegation visiting Moldova, said the previous day that he is satisfied with the Moldovan government's efforts to continue the reform process. In other news, Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza and Romanian Defense Minister Victor Babiuc attended a ceremony to officially open a new border crossing linking the Moldovan village of Costesti to the Romanian village of Stinca. The new crossing is part of a transport corridor that will link Turkey with Europe. VG
BULGARIAN PREMIER COMMENTS ON NUCLEAR PLANT
Ivan Kostov said he does not think the Soviet-made Kozloduy nuclear power plant will become a stumbling block to Bulgaria's entry into the EU, according to a BTA report cited by the BBC. Kostov said the time-frame for the closure of four reactors at the plant will be set within a month. He said the decision will be partly based on whatever financial support the country receives for the closures. Kostov added that he is satisfied with Bulgaria's discussions on the issue with the European Commission. In other news, the cabinet on 28 September held a special meeting to discuss a plan to reform the Bulgarian military. VG
LUKASHENKA PREFERS MONOLOGUE
By Jan Maksymuik
The OSCE-mediated talks between the authorities and the opposition in Belarus seem to be nearing an end even without having really begun. That, at least, is the perception of commentators in Belarus's independent press, based on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 16 September meeting with the leaders of power ministries and law enforcement bodies and subsequent developments.
At that meeting, Lukashenka took advantage of the public anxiety that followed the blasts in Moscow and Volgodonsk, in southern Russia, by ordering his subordinates to take tough security measures to prevent terrorist attacks in Belarus. According to Lukashenka, Belarus faces a threat not from elements in Russia but from domestic "extremists" and "nationalists" who intend "to destabilize" the situation in Belarus.
In particular, Lukashenka ordered the border guards and customs officers to monitor the border so that "a mouse could not creep through it." He demanded that the authorities of Minsk and other cities identify venues where "all kinds of oppositionists and other scum" can hold demonstrations; protests in all other locations were to be banned.
Lukashenka demanded that within the next three days, the state-controlled media inform the public both at home and abroad where "Belarusian nationalists" find money "to destabilize" the situation in Belarus. And he also ordered his administration to close down those newspapers that "assail state officials" without good reason, pointing to an allegedly libelous article about State Security Secretary Viktar Sheyman in the opposition newspaper "Naviny."
The disappearance of opposition politician Viktar Hanchar several hours after the 16 September meeting is seen as an ominous indication of events to come in Belarus as a result of Lukashenka's instructions. As deputy chairman of the opposition Supreme Soviet and organizer of the alternative presidential elections in May, Hanchar fell into the category of domestic "extremists." The opposition regard Hanchar's disappearance as a kidnapping organized by the authorities to intimidate political opponents of the current regime. Hanchar was to have presided over a Supreme Soviet session on 19 September at which the opposition delegation to the talks with the authorities was to have been approved.
Shortly after Hanchar's disappearance, law officers seized property belonging to "Naviny" and the author of the allegedly defamatory article about Sheyman, without waiting for a court order. Sheyman duly filed suit against "Naviny," demanding exorbitant damages (under Belarusian economic conditions) totaling 15 billion Belarusian rubles ($52,000).Two days later, a Minsk court ruled in Sheyman's favor. "Naviny", which turns a monthly profit of some $2,700, now faces closure.
Western ambassadors to Minsk who expressed their concern over Hanchar's disappearance met with Lukashenka's response that they should look for Hanchar in the West before alluding to any sinister goings-on in Belarus. Echoing a high-ranking official in the presidential administration, official media said Hanchar staged his disappearance in order to gain more publicity. But as protests have increased around the globe, Minsk has launched an investigation into both Hanchar's disappearance and that of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka in May.
The latest developments in Belarus highlight some unanswered questions about Lukashenka's regime and the attitude of Western democracies toward it.
First, was Lukashenka's declaration to enter into a dialogue with the opposition really sincere? Or was he perhaps acting on a political calculation--as some Belarusian commentators suggest--to "simulate" negotiations in order to gain legitimacy for himself and his government in the West? "I have few illusions that we will be able to conduct talks with Lukashenka. He prefers to give endless monologues," Stanislau Bahdankevich, head of the opposition United Civic Party, noted in mid-August. Judging from developments since then, Bahdankevich was right.
Second, has the OSCE--the proponent of political dialogue in Belarus--any leverage to make that dialogue happen? The answer again appears to be "no." Lukashenka's regime has not created any conditions for a "favorable political climate," as requested by the Belarusian opposition ahead of the OSCE-mediated talks. Those conditions included access to the state-run media for the opposition and the release of former Premier Mikhail Chyhir and other political prisoners. In fact, the political climate in Belarus has become even more oppressive than was the case before the preparations for the dialogue began.
Third, what should be done by the West to promote democracy in Belarus, which is overtly defying Western political and moral values? Belarus offers embarrassing and puzzling proof of a regime in Europe that suppresses political opponents and tramples on human rights while enjoying a substantial measure of popular support and remaining virtually unpunished in the international arena. Unlike Turkmenistan, which engages in similiar practices with impunity, Belarus has no strategic reserves of natural gas.
In this context, any Western response to Lukashenka's latest challenge will reflect not only the measure of his credibility in the international arena. It will also attest to the West's commitment to promoting democracy where it is so sadly lacking and so desperately needed.