RUSSIANS, CHECHENS INCUR HEAVY LOSSES IN GROZNY FIGHTING...
More than 100 hundred Russian troops and a large, but unspecified number of Chechens, were killed in a three-hour battle in Grozny's Minutka Square late on 15 December, AP, Reuters, and an RFE/RL correspondent in the Chechen capital reported. A Russian armored column had advanced toward the center of Grozny from the eastern outskirts but was halted by some 2,000 Chechen defenders. The Russian armor retreated after the battle. Russian artillery bombardment of Grozny resumed on 16 December. LF
...WHILE MOSCOW DENIES ANY BATTLE TOOK PLACE
Russian Defense Ministry spokesmen in Moscow denied on 16 December that Russian tanks had entered Grozny the previous day, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev similarly denied that an attempt had been made to storm the Chechen capital. On 15 December, Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov had offered a revised estimate of the duration of the "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya, predicting that it will last another two or three months, until the end of February 2000, according to Interfax. LF
SHOIGU, SHEVARDNADZE PROPOSE INCREASED ROLE FOR OSCE IN CHECHEN CONFLICT
Russia's Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu suggested during talks in Makhachkala on 14 December with OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek that the OSCE assume control over the districts of Chechnya currently controlled by federal forces, Interfax reported on 15 December. Shoigu informed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of that proposal on 15 December. Also on 15 December, the Georgian State Chancellery told Caucasus Press that the OSCE has agreed to President Eduard Shevardnadze's request to deploy observers along the Georgian-Chechen border to ensure that only genuine Chechen refugees, but no militants, cross into Georgia from Chechen territory. The OSCE observers will be deployed along the Georgian side of the border. LF
SOLANA SAYS YELTSIN 'NOT ALL THERE'
Speaking to a Catalan TV channel in Barcelona on 14 December, Javier Solana, who is the EU's High Representative for security and foreign policy, said that television coverage has made it very obvious that Russian President [Boris] Yeltsin "is not in possession of all his faculties," AFP reported. Solana said Europeans must make it clear to Moscow, by exerting political and possibly even economic pressure, that they consider Russia's current tactics in Chechnya "intolerable and unacceptable." LF
CITIZEN PUTIN REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR UNITY
Speaking to journalists at the Kremlin, Prime Minister Putin announced on 15 December that he "see no basis for changing his position with regard to [the interregional movement Unity]," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 December. He quickly added that as the head of the government, he will cooperate with all political blocs and movements. Putin declared earlier that "as a citizen" he will vote for Unity in State Duma elections, scheduled to take place on 19 December. At the same time, he noted that as the head of a government he should not express his opinion one way or the other. JAC
ANOTHER POLL SHOWS UNITY, COMMUNISTS NECK AND NECK
A poll of 1,500 people across Russia conducted on 10-11 December by the ROMIR Research Center showed that the Communist Party of Russia has only a 0.1 percent edge over the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity in terms of voter support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 December 1999). According to the polling agency, Unity has 17.4 percent of potential backing, compared with 17.5 percent for the Communists. The results of the poll were published on 15 December, the last day on which such information may be publicized under Russian election law. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 December, Unity has strong support among the rural populations and in the regions, particularly the North and Far East, and almost no support in Moscow. The Communists have strongest backing among voters who are over the age of 50 and did not complete high school. Its support is strongest in northwest and central Russia. JAC
NEW RIGHTIST ALLIANCE CONTEMPLATED FOR NEXT DUMA
Sergei Kirienko, former prime minister and one of the leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), said on 15 December that talks are under way between members of Unity, Yabloko, and the SPS on the creation "of a joint parliamentary majority" in support of Prime Minister Putin, Interfax reported. He added that while some members of the Fatherland-All Russia alliance may join the union, members of the Communist Party will not be invited. The same day, Unity's press secretary Mikhail Margelov also referred to the "quite real possibility" of such an alliance. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 December, without reference to sources, that during a private meeting with Kirienko, Putin gave his consent to the SPS to use the election slogan, "Putin for the Presidency, Kirienko for the Duma." In an interview with "Argumenty i fakty," Unified Energy Systems chairman Anatolii Chubais said Kirienko would make an excellent prime minister under President Putin. JAC
DUMA FIREBRAND, ANTI-SEMITE BARRED FROM ELECTION
An okrug- level election commission has rejected the registration of State Duma Deputy Albert Makashov for a single-mandate district in Samara Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 December. The commission explained that move by noting Makashov paid cash for the preparation of his campaign materials. Under the law, he should have paid from a special bank account. According to the commission, Makashov plans to appeal to an oblast-level court. Makashov, a member of the Duma's Defense Committee and the Movement to Support the Army, is perhaps best know for his anti-Semitic comments on the floor of the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). If Makashov does not manage to get reinstated, he is unlikely to be a member of the next Duma because the Movement in Support of the Army is not expected to overcome the 5 percent barrier to enter the Duma. JAC
PREMIER PROMISES TO PAY WAGES IN TIME FOR NEXT ELECTION
Prime Minister Putin pledged on 16 December to pay off wage arrears to state sector workers by 15 April 2000, Interfax reported. According to Putin, wage debts totaled 7.3 billion rubles ($272 million) as of 1 November. Moreover, wages are being paid regularly only in seven regions in the country. The regions with the highest level of indebtedness are the Republics of Altai, Tuva, and Kalmykia as well as Omsk Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Putin emphasized that the problem of liquidating the wage debt could not be solved by the center alone and that local authorities have already agreed to allocate some 40 percent of their own financial resources to resolving the problem. However, on average, regions are only allocating some 33-35 percent for wages. First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin declared Putin's goal realizable because federal transfer to the regions were increased this year from 33 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) to 44 billion rubles because of unexpected revenues. JAC
ST. PETE DEMONSTATORS DEMAND EARLY GUBERNATORIAL BALLOT
Some 20,000 people took part in a rally in downtown St. Petersburg on 15 December to call for gubernatorial elections to take place in that city on 19 December, Reuters reported. Last weekend, the Supreme Court declared illegal the local Legislative Assembly's controversial vote to bring forward the ballot from spring 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999). Addressing the crowd, Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, whose supporters were instrumental in bringing forward the elections, said that the rights of St. Petersburg citizens have been violated. Yakovlev has appealed to the Presidium of the Supreme Court to overturn that court's ruling. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 December that some 22 million rubles ($821,000) in city funds had been spent on preparing for the early gubernatorial ballot. JC
IVANOV SAYS WEST SEEKING TO ISOLATE RUSSIA
In an interview published in the 16 December "Obshchaya gazeta," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused the West of seeking to isolate Russia through mass pressure in the media and by influencing public opinion. The situation in Chechnya, he asserted, is being used for that purpose. While it was self-evident during the Cold War who was an enemy and who was a friend, today the "frontline is everywhere and you don't know where new problems may be expected," according to Ivanov. "International problems are becoming more complicated," he continued. "As a result our general political relations with the West are improving, but differences over concrete issues are deepening." JC
QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT STATISTICS SHOWING LOW ALCOHOL USE IN RUSSIA
Results of research conducted by the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism in France shows that Russia ranks only 19th in the countries surveyed in terms of their alcohol consumption, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 December. First place was held by Portugal, which consumes 11.3 pure liters of pure alcohol per person, followed by Luxembourg in second place with 11.2 liters. The corresponding figure for Russia is only 7.3 liters. The newspaper concluded that the French researchers have apparently never been in Russia: "Otherwise, they would have shied away from publishing their results." According to the daily, official statistics showed alcohol use more than doubling from 1961 to 1979 with 4.55 liters per person to 10.6 liters. Those statistics likely understated consumption, and experts' current estimates of how much the Russian population consumes in one year range from 13 liters to 25 liters per person. JAC
NORTHWEST HOSTS BRIGHT SPOT FOR FOREIGN INVESTMENT
Renowned for an economic climate that is favorable for foreign investments, Novgorod Oblast has become one of the top five Russian regions in terms of the volume of capital from abroad attracted this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 December, citing the newspaper "Novgorodskie vedomosti." According to data supplied by the Russian Audit Chamber, the oblast attracted some $613.1 million in foreign investments in the first nine months of 1999. Moreover, industrial production in the region grew 11.3 percent from January to September 1999, compared with the same period last year (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). Vladimir Kossov, deputy economics minister at the federal level, credited the region's success with its removal of "administrative barriers" that plague other regions. JC/JAC
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER DETAINED
Aleksan Harutiunian was detained late on 15 December by the military prosecutor investigating the 27 October parliament shootings, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Harutiunian had submitted a letter of resignation to President Robert Kocharian earlier on 15 December in an attempt to end what he termed "immoral" speculation linking him to the organizer of the shootings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Harutiunian had been summoned for questioning on two previous occasions, according to AP. Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told journalists later on 15 December that President Robert Kocharian has instructed the law enforcement agencies to conduct an "objective inquiry" into the rumors implicating Harutiunian. LF
AGREEMENT REACHED ON NEW WORLD BANK LOAN FOR ARMENIA
Meeting in Yerevan on 15 December, Armenian Prime Minister Aram Sargsian and senior World Bank Judy O'Connor reached preliminary agreement on a new Structural Adjustment Credit for Armenia next year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The size of that loan, which will be used to cover part of Armenia's budget deficit, has not been specified. Sargsian's cabinet has not yet presented its draft budget for 2000. LF
ARMENIA RELEASES AZERBAIJANI POW
As "a goodwill gesture," the Armenian authorities on 15 December freed a 19-year-old Azerbaijani army conscript taken prisoner in September 1998 on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, AP and ITAR- TASS reported. Armenia released three and Azerbaijan four prisoners in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 September 1999). LF
AZERBAIJAN'S OPPOSITION REJECTS MUNICIPAL ELECTION RESULTS
Meeting in Baku on 15 December, representatives of the dozen Azerbaijani opposition parties aligned in the Democratic Congress refused to acknowledge the validity of the published results of the 12 December municipal elections, Turan reported. Democratic Congress chairman Shohrat Ismailov said the outcome of the poll had been falsified. "525 gazeti" on 15 December quoted Musavat Party official as saying that 588 of the party's total 2,556 candidates had been elected. Also on 15 December, the Central Electoral Commission declared invalid the poll results in one Baku constituency where only 15,952 of the 38,176 votes cast were deemed valid. LF
GEORGIA DENIES HOSTING CHECHEN-BEN LADEN MEETING
Georgian State Security Ministry spokesman Gela Suladze on 15 December rejected as fabrication an RIA Novosti report earlier that day that Chechen emissary Movladi Udugov had held secret talks in Tbilisi with a representative of Saudi- terrorist Osama bin Laden, Caucasus Press reported. The talks were said to have focused on arrangements for a Chechen government in exile headed by Udugov to fly later this week from Tbilisi to Karachi, from where they would travel to Afghanistan. Suladze said that Udugov has not visited Tbilisi for several months. Also on 15 December, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze denied a Russian media report claiming that OSCE observers who traveled to the Georgian-Chechen border earlier that day had seen Chechen militants on Georgian territory. LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT OUTLINES SECURITY PRIORITIES
In a 15 December address to the nation, Nursultan Nazarbaev warned that the possibility of "spillover" from armed conflicts in neighboring countries will constitute "the main challenge" to Kazakhstan's security in the 21st century, Interfax reported. Further potential dangers are posed by religious and political extremism and drug-trafficking, he added. As pillars of the country's security strategy, Nazarbaev singled out increased security cooperation with Russia and China and between the "Shanghai Five" states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China and Tajikistan). He also identified the strong U.S. political and commercial presence in Kazakhstan as one of those pillars. Also on 15 December, Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Yerlan Idrisov told Interfax that the country's military doctrine, which will be approved early next year, will be "purely defensive." LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION FIGURES SEARCHED ON RETURN FROM FRANCE
Seven members of the Democratic Forum, which unites most Kazakh opposition parties and movements, were searched by National Security Committee officials at Almaty airport on 15 December, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. The opposition politicians, including Workers' Movement leader Madel Ismailov and a leading member of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, were returning from a trip to Paris at the invitation of the French parliament. LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2000 BUDGET
Legislators on 15 December approved the amended budget for 2000 in the final reading, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The revised budget envisages revenues of 9.7 billion soms (about $215 million) and expenditures of 9.5 billion soms, resulting in a modest surplus equivalent to 0.3 percent of GDP. GDP growth is projected at 3-4 percent and annual inflation at 20 percent, according to Interfax. LF
TAJIKISTAN, BELARUS SIGN TRADE, ECONOMIC AGREEMENTS
A session in Dushanbe of the Tajik-Belarusian intergovernmental commission for trade and economic cooperation ended with the signing of three agreements on taxes and on establishing trade representations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 December. The possible creation of joint ventures was also discussed, including one producing tractors, but no concrete agreement was reached. LF
JAPAN TO FINANCE MODERNIZATION OF UZBEK AIRPORTS, TELECOM
The Japanese government has granted a 15.5 billion yen ($149 million) credit to help fund the reconstruction of the airports at Samarkand, Bukhara, and Urgench, Russian agencies reported on 15 December. In addition, Japan's Bank of International Cooperation has earmarked a 12.7 billion yen credit toward the ongoing expansion of Uzbekistan's telecommunications network. LF
BELARUS TO CRACK DOWN ON MIDDLEMEN
Alyaksandr President Lukashenka on 15 December said he will issue an edict regulating the role and number of middlemen in the country's economy, Belarusian Television reported. According to Lukashenka, there are too many middlemen in Belarus and their activities result in unjustified hikes in the prices of domestic products and the "undeserved fortunes of hundreds of thousands of people." Alyaksandr Patupa, head of the Belarusian Union of Entrepreneurs, commented that Lukashenka intends to restore "market socialism" where "trade is fully replaced with distribution, while the state performs the role of a universal middleman and distributor," according to Belapan. JM
BELARUS PUBLISHES PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF 1999 CENSUS
According to the census held in February 1999, Belarus is inhabited by 10.045 million people, down 107,000 from the previous census in 1989, Belapan reported on 15 December, citing the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis. City residents constitute 69 percent of the population. Belarusians make up 81.2 percent of the population, Russians 11.4 percent, Poles 3.9 percent, Ukrainians 2.9 percent, Jews 0.3 percent, and others 0.8 percent. Belarusian is spoken at home by 36.7 percent of the population and Russian by 62.8 percent. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CUTS STATE BUREAUCRACY
Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree reducing the number of ministries and other central executive bodies from 89 to 35, Interfax reported, quoting presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn. The number of ministries has been reduced from 18 to 15 and the number of cabinet members from 24 to 20. Administrative reform was one of the IMF's key demands for resuming its loan program for Ukraine. JM
UKRAINIAN NATIONAL BANK CHIEF FOR PRIME MINISTER?
At a meeting with President Leonid Kuchma on 15 December, 10 right-wing and center parliamentary caucuses and groups proposed that the president submit to the parliament the candidacy of National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko for prime minister, Interfax reported. The proposal followed the parliament's failure the previous day to approve Valeriy Pustovoytenko as head of the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). Deputies from the caucuses of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Peasant Party, and the Hromada party did not attend the meeting. JM
COMMUNISTS WANT TO IMPEACH KUCHMA OVER ABOLITION OF KOLKHOZES
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko on 15 December appealed to the parliament to launch the procedure of impeaching President Leonid Kuchma following his decree on abolishing collective farms (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 December 1999). Symonenko said the decree amounts to "national treason," Interfax reported. Presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn commented that he treats Symonenko's appeal "humorously." JM
ESTONIA PASSES 2000 BUDGET
Lawmakers on 15 December passed the 2000 budget by a vote of 53 to 34, "Postimees" and ETA reported. For the first time, the budget combines the social budgets, resulting in a balanced total of 28.53 billion kroons ($1.84 billion). Estonian law requires a balanced budget. The government gave priority to education, defense, and culture in next year's budget. While lower-than-expected GDP results for the third quarter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999) resulted in lower estimates of tax revenues in 2000, the government increased the predicted amount of revenue from privatization. Also on 15 December, the parliament passed a new income tax law by a 52 to 38 vote. That law provides for the abolition of corporate income tax and states that reinvested profits will be exempt from income tax. However, dividends will be taxed as usual. MH
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER LAMBASTES WEST
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in a speech at the Swedish Institute for International Affairs on 14 December, criticized the West for "prejudice" against Eastern Europe, especially Estonia. Ilves cited a Council of Europe official talking about council regulations for former East-bloc members: "He stated outright, the rules of the Council of Europe 'do not apply to real countries.'" Ilves went on to propose a Nordic "yule-land," a notion fitting for the upcoming festive season. The word "yule," he said, links languages of countries ranging from Estonia to Scandinavia and England and separates them from Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, and others. At the same time, Ilves stressed that he believes "it is time to do away with poorly fitting, externally imposed categories," including that of the Baltic States. MH
POLL SHOWS LATVIANS NOT INFORMED ABOUT EU
A survey conducted by Latvijas Fakti shows that more than two-thirds of Latvians are not well informed about the EU, BNS reported. Only 2.8 percent of respondents said they are very well-informed about the EU, while 24.1 per cent said they are rather well- informed. The study also showed that citizens are much better informed about the union than non-citizens and that ethnic Latvians are more informed about the EU than non-ethnic Latvians. Of the respondents, 61.2 percent believe that Latvia's economic situation is a hindrance to EU membership, while 50.5 percent cited government instability as a possible obstruction. In addition, the same poll showed that about one-third of Latvians consider the EU a bureaucratic and "old and tired" institution as well as a threat to Latvia's economy. MH
POLISH DEFENSE MINISTER PRESENTS DEFENSE STRATEGY
Addressing the parliament on 15 December, Janusz Onyszkiewicz said Poland's main defense goals are to protect the country's independence and democratic system, Polish media reported. He said that operations of foreign special services, concentration of foreign troops close to the Polish border, and terrorism are among the main dangers to Poland's national security. "In the event of some unfortunate developments, major armed forces near Poland's borders could pose a potential threat to Poland's security, not necessarily in the form of state aggression," PAP quoted him as saying. In the next few years, Poland plans to reduce its army from 187,000 troops to 165,000 and use the funds it saves on better equipment and training. JM
FORMER CZECH FINANCE MINISTER REMAINS IN CUSTODY
Ivo Svoboda and his adviser, Barbora Snopkova, are to remain in custody after a court decided on 15 December that their release could hinder the investigation of their case, CTK reported. Central Bohemian Deputy Prosecutor-General Petr Snajdr said new evidence has emerged about their alleged criminal activities. The two are suspected of embezzlement in connection with the bankruptcy of the Liberta baby-carriage maker. "Lidove noviny" on 15 December reported that Svoboda, who was in charge of the party finances of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD), did not hand over the party's financial records to Karel Kobes, who succeeded him in managing the CSSD's financial affairs. The newspaper added that the CSSD will not be in a position to submit an account of its finances to the authorities, and it quoted Kobes as saying that "a number of important documents have disappeared. " MS
CZECH TELEVISION DIRECTOR RESIGNS
Jakub Puchalsky, director- general of state-run Czech Television, told journalists on 15 December that he is resigning, CTK reported. Puchalsky explained that move by pointing to insufficient support from the Czech Television Council and the inability to implement plans he had when he took over the job less than two years ago. Council chairman Jan Jirak told CTK that Puchalsky's decision was a "logical consequence of the latest developments." Last month, the council joined Puchalsky's many critics and demanded his resignation. That decision, however, was not adopted by the necessary two-thirds majority, and he remained at his post. Puchalsky came under fire this year for re-broadcasting a communist-era drama series once used by the totalitarian government as a propaganda tool to discredit opponents of the communist system. MS
HUNGARY'S MINERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT'S ENERGY POLICY
Some 3,000 miners and energy workers demonstrated outside the Finance Ministry in Budapest on 15 December and another 10,000 went on strike to protest government plans to restructure the country's energy sector, "Nepszabadsag" reports. The government announced six months ago that coal mines in northeastern Hungary will be closed down next year, while power stations are scheduled to convert gradually to gas. Antal Schalkhammer, president of Miners' Union, said the plan will lead to 25,000 workers losing their job and will result in an unemployment rate of 70-80 percent in some regions. He said the cabinet must create jobs in the crisis areas before closing the mines. MSZ
MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER WARNS YUGOSLAV ARMY
Filip Vujanovic said in an open letter to General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is the army chief of staff, that there are no Montenegrin police forces "near" the Podgorica airport, Montenegrin Television reported on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). Vujanovic stressed that there is no reason for the military to place their forces at the airport on a heightened state of alert. He said that charges by the air force's General Spasoje Smiljanic that police units are illegally present at the airport constitute "disinformation...[aimed at] increasing tensions." PM
NATO CONCERNED ABOUT MONTENEGRO
In Brussels on 15 December, NATO foreign ministers said in a statement that they are concerned about tensions between Belgrade and the "democratically elected government of Montenegro." U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott added that there will be no peace in the region without democracy in Serbia. The ministers urged Croatia to give fresh attention to implementing the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia. PM
MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION REFUSES TO RECOGNIZE NEW PRESIDENT...
Defeated Social Democratic presidential candidate Tito Petkovski and members of his party boycotted the 15 December presidential inauguration of Boris Trajkovski of the governing coalition. An unidentified Social Democratic party official told AP that his party considers Trajkovski only a "private citizen and not a legitimately elected president." The Social Democrats maintain that Trajkovski won because of numerous irregularities in the mainly ethnic Albanian western regions of Macedonia. They previously admitted defeat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1999). Critics charge that what really bothers the nationalistic Social Democrats is that ethnic Albanians cast the key votes necessary to elect Trajkovski. PM
...AS TRAJKOVSKI TAKES OFFICE
Trajkovski stressed in his presidential inaugural speech on 15 December that he intends to be the leader of all Macedonians regardless of their ethnicity. He added that he will "not allow ethnic hatred and intolerance undermine Macedonia's stability. The country's integrity is an issue on which there will be no compromise," AP reported. PM
ALBANIA HAILS KOSOVA COUNCIL...
Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 15 December that the formation of the new Kosova Interim Administrative Council is an "historic step" toward stability in the province, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). The council "will lead to the establishment of democratic institutions, thus opening the way for the preparation of free, democratic elections in Kosova," Meta added. He added that by signing the agreement that set up the council, the province's ethnic Albanians showed their willingness to live in peace with the Serbian minority. Meta stressed the commitment of the Albanian government "to support all processes for the democratization of life in Kosova and the entire region." PM
...WHILE SERBS SHUN IT
The Serbian National Council, which is the chief organization of Kosova's Serbian minority, said in a statement to the private news agency Beta on 15 December that the agreement setting up the interim council places the Serbs in a "humiliating and unacceptable position." The Serbs will join the new body only if they are given self-governing cantons. In Prishtina, the UN's Bernard Kouchner said that Serbs "are welcome [in his new council] and we have not stopped talking with them." He stressed that the Serbs themselves must decide whether to participate, AP reported. Kouchner previously rejected cantonization on the grounds that it would constitute a partition of the province along ethnic lines. The UN is committed to building a multi-ethnic Kosova. Kouchner recently said that he realizes that this goal is a long way off, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported. PM
YUGOSLAV ARMY SEEKS SCAPEGOATS
The Yugoslav military said in a statement published in the state-run daily "Politika" on 15 December that it will try retired Colonel Sulejman Ajetovic in a military court for allegedly passing confidential information on the movements and strength of Serbian forces to Kosovar guerrillas during the recent conflict. Ajetovic is an ethnic Muslim from Medvedja in southern Serbia near the border with Kosova. Elsewhere, several army officers repeated charges made in the regime media that former General Momcilo Perisic also aided the Kosovar cause in the conflict, "Vesti" reported. Perisic now heads a small opposition party. "Danas" noted on 16 December that Perisic has filed legal charges against some of his accusers. PM
SERBIAN FATHER REJECTS POSTHUMOUS AWARD FOR SON
The father of 20 year-old soldier Aleksandar Vukovic, who was killed in the recent conflict in Kosova, has returned to the Kraljevo military command a medal posthumously awarded Aleksandar. The father said in his letter: "This decoration was posthumously conferred to my son because he gave his life for his homeland. But he did not give his life for the homeland, but rather for Marko Milosevic [Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's playboy son, who did not serve at the front] and his family.... I asked the colonel [in the Kraljevo command] to return to Milosevic this decoration and this letter that Milosevic awarded to me, to give it to his own family, because all members of his family are sitting together during their meals while we have ours at my son's grave," the private news agency Beta reported on 15 December. PM
DRASKOVIC PARTY WALKS OUT OF PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE
Representatives of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) walked out of a meeting of the parliament's Judiciary Committee on the grounds that deputies from the ruling coalition were not willing to discuss seriously the SPO's call for early elections at all levels of government. Party officials said on 15 December that they will now decide on their next move. One official stressed, however, that "we do not want chaos, we do not want civil war," Reuters reported. PM
REPUBLIKA SRPSKA COOPERATES WITH HAGUE TRIBUNAL
A UN spokesman said in Banja Luka on 15 December that experts from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal are questioning seven suspects in the Bosnian Serb capital. A lawyer for two of the suspects told AP that this procedure is being used for the first time in the Republika Srpska. He added that it allows suspects to participate in their cases from an early stage and not become involved "only after they have been arrested." In another first, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and Justice Minister Milan Trbojevic will visit The Hague soon. Meanwhile in Munich, a Bavarian court sentenced Djurdadj Kusljic to life imprisonment for genocide and for the murder of six Muslims in 1992, when he was a Bosnian Serb police chief, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported. PM
ROMANIAN MEDIA SAYS GOVERNMENT TO BE HEADED BY 'TECHNOCRAT'...
Romanian media on 15 December reported that Mugur Isarescu, governor of Romania's National Bank, will be designated as Romania's next premier. Mediafax said that Isarescu was called to the presidential palace, where he participated in the ongoing consultations between President Emil Constantinescu and leaders of the coalition parties. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko, interviewed by Romanian Radio on 16 December, said it is "very probable" that Isarescu will head the next government and that changes in the cabinet's line-up are also likely. Romanian Radio cited AFP as reporting that Isarescu has demanded "full freedom" in the choice of ministers. The radio added that the cabinet will have five deputy premiers. According to a 15 December Mediafax report, one of those deputies will be Democratic Party leader Petre Roman, who is currently Senate chairman. MS
...AS RECOMMENDED BY OPPOSITION LEADER
After talks with Constantinescu on how to solve the cabinet crisis, Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) Chairman Ion Iliescu told journalists that he recommended that the government be headed by an unaffiliated "technocrat" and that its main task be the organization of next elections, as was the case of Theodor Stolojan's government in 1991-1992. Iliescu also said he told Constantinescu that the president "walked into a constitutional trap" by unlawfully dismissing Radu Vasile as premier. Constantinescu "had agreed" with him, he added. Iliescu said the PDSR, which is boycotting parliamentary debates, will not return to the parliament until the constitutional crisis is resolved by either a no-confidence vote in the outgoing cabinet or by Vasile's resignation. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH PARTICIPATES IN REVOLUTION CELEBRATIONS
Former King Michael will give a speech from the steps of the Orthodox Cathedral in Timisoara, where festivities marking the 10th anniversary of the uprising against the communist regime begin on 16 December, Romanian Radio reported the same day. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW PREMIER
Dumitru Barghis, who was first deputy minister of economy and reform in Ion Sturza and Ion Ciubuc's cabinets, has been designated to form the new government, Flux reported on 16 December. President Petru Lucinschi read out in the parliament the decree nominating Barghis. Barghis has 15 days to form a cabinet, but Lucinschi said Barghis will present the list of ministers on 22 December, after consulting all parliamentary parties. Barghis is 42 years old and an engineer by training. MS
COUNCIL OF EUROPE COMMISSION REJECTS LUCINSCHI'S PRESIDENTIAL RULE PROPOSAL
Experts from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe who examined Lucinschi's proposal to change from a semi- to a full-presidential system have negatively evaluated that suggestion, parliamentary deputy Vladimir Slonari told journalists on 15 December. Slonari said the experts concluded that the envisaged change would lead to too high a concentration of power in the president's hands at the expense of the parliament. This, they said, would run "contrary to European democratic principles," Infotag reported. Slonari said that "if Moldova considers itself a civilized state," it should comply with the commission's recommendations. MS
RUSSIA MAY RISK SANCTIONS ON CHECHNYA
By Michael Lelyveld
U.S. analysts say Russia may risk sanctions if it continues the war in Chechnya and thereby inflict further damage on its relations with the West.
International tension has risen in the past week with the Russian campaign to capture Grozny and the growing number of displaced persons. Moscow's rejection of U.S. and European appeals to end the fighting has led to calls for penalties, including cutting off aid.
Last week, "The New York Times" columnist William Safire linked the war to Russia's bid to control pipeline routes from the Caspian region and urged a series of steps including suspension of IMF loans. The conservative newspaper commentator also advocated a halt to financing by the U.S. Export-Import Bank and steps to lower world oil prices, depriving Russia of income to pay for the war.
The recommendations go beyond those of U.S. presidential candidates, including Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush, who has said that Russia should not expect multilateral loans if civilians in Chechnya are bombed.
In interviews with RFE/RL, some U.S. analysts say that the risk of sanctions will increase as Western sentiment intensifies against the war.
Richard Haass, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, commented that each day, there will be more and more pressure on Western governments to do something.
While Haass said he believes that unilateral sanctions are generally ineffective, he noted that the disposition toward penalties appears even stronger in Europe than in the U.S.
At the EU summit in Helsinki on 10-11 December, the leaders of the 15 member states of the EU stopped short of calling for sanctions. But they condemned Russian actions in Chechnya, threatened to review the EU relationship with Russia, and vowed strict enforcement of trade agreements, saying that some terms have not been fulfilled. There were also signs of softening in Moscow's line as officials extended the deadline for the bombardment of Grozny and offered safe passage to its citizens. Although experts see a growing risk of harsh measures if the war continues, some warn that sanctions against Russia would be both ineffective and destructive.
Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center in Washington, remarked that, "We could make matters worse very easily. If we slap sanctions on the Russians and do some of the other things that have been proposed, that is almost a guarantee that they will misbehave in the Caucasus and the Caspian."
But analysts acknowledge that last week's low point in Russian relations was driven by an outburst of nationalism, evident not only in Chechnya but in Kremlin activities ranging from the union treaty with Belarus to the fielding of a new batch of Topol-M missiles. The analysts say the trend appears to be one of greater East-West frictions that could lead to retaliation.
Robert Ebel, director of the energy and security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said nationalism is also at the heart of the dispute over the Tyumen Oil company's takeover of a Sidanko subsidiary, despite protests from BP Amoco and other Western shareholders.
Last week, the U.S. Export-Import Bank faced pressure to cancel $500 million in pending loan guarantees for Tyumen Oil as a result of the takeover. Such a move could lead to a further deterioration of bilateral ties and trade.
If relations continue to worsen, another potential target is the Italian-Russian project known as Blue Stream to pipe gas across the Black Sea to Turkey.
The plan could be particularly vulnerable because Russia is paying for the Chechnya war with increased oil earnings. Blue Stream promises to bring Moscow an estimated $3-4 billion in new revenues from gas. The venture between ENI of Italy and Russia's Gazprom also flies in the face of a U.S.- backed plan to supply Turkey with a trans-Caspian line from Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The government of Italy, which owns 36 percent of ENI, has been vocal in its opposition to Russian actions in the war. Last week, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema called the bombing of Chechnya "horrible" and "unacceptable." In Turkey, the opposition Islamist Virtue Party has gone even further, accusing Russia of genocide. An official of ENI, contacted by RFE/RL, declined to comment on the tensions or potential repercussions for the Blue Stream project.
Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that European countries have often separated their political disagreements from their business dealings. As a result, Ebel said, Blue Stream is unlikely to be affected by European reactions to the war.
But there could still be threats to such investments should the war continue, particularly if columnists like Safire continue to link energy projects to Russia's agenda in the Caucasus. Diplomatic protests and aid delays may convince Moscow to end the war, but if not, critics are bound to look for other ways to bring pressure to bear. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington.