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Newsline - January 3, 2000


Acting President Vladimir Putin was elevated from his post as prime minister on 31 December 1999 in a decree signed by then President Boris Yeltsin. Under the constitution, Putin will serve as both prime minister and president for the three months before new presidential elections, former Constitutional Court Chairman Vladimir Tumanov told Ekho Moskvy on 31 December. Among Putin's first moves as acting president was to sign a decree granting Yeltsin and future Russian presidents immunity from criminal prosecution, arrest, search, or interrogation. Under the decree, Yeltsin will be entitled to 75 percent of his monthly presidential salary, state protection for himself and his family, and access to VIP lounges in Russia's airports, railway stations, ports, and terminals. JAC


Former President Boris Yeltsin announced that he was resigning his post before his official term was due to expire and new presidential elections, which had been scheduled for early June could be held. Addressing television viewers on 31 December, Yeltsin said: "I also wanted presidential elections to be held in June 2000, which would have been very important for Russia...And yet, I am taking a different decision." He then asked: "Is there any use in clinging to power for another six months, when the nation has a strong leader who is prepared to be president and who symbolizes the hope of Russian citizens for the future?" He added that he was not resigning for health reasons and noted that "Russia must enter the next millennium with new politicians." Before resigning, Yeltsin signed a series of laws including the 2000 federal budget and the law on presidential elections. On 30 December, Yeltsin unexpectedly announced that he would not attend a New Year's Eve party at the Kremlin the following day. JAC


Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Ekho Moskvy on 31 December that presidential elections are likely to be held on 26 March. A law signed by Yeltsin before he resigned requires elections to be held on that date. Veshnyakov also noted that the field of possible contenders is likely to be smaller than usual because each candidate must gather 500,000 signatures to secure a nomination. The new law also requires candidates to provide detailed financial information not only about themselves but also about their spouses and children. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said the council will probably meet on 5 January to set a date for the elections. Igor Shabdurasulov, first deputy head of the presidential staff, on 2 January said acting President Putin's defeat in the elections is "impossible." JAC


Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii declared his intention to run for president in the upcoming elections. Communist member and former State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that if he wins the 9 January elections for Moscow Oblast governor, he will hold off on running for the presidency until the year 2004. In light of Seleznev's intentions, Interfax reported on 2 January that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov will likely represent the country's leftist forces in the presidential elections. The agency also cited sources as saying that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov will announce his intentions around 10 January. In a speech to cabinet officials on 31 December, Putin declared that "the government must not become entangled in any political campaigns." JAC


Newly elected State Duma deputy and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told Ekho Moskvy on 31 December that "there are no presidential candidates equal to Vladimir Putin, and I will support him." On the same day, Chernomyrdin's successor as head of Gazprom, Rem Vyakhirev, said Gazprom will support Putin's candidacy for president. Earlier in December, aluminum magnate Lev Chernyi told Interfax that big business will also back Putin's candidacy. JAC


The Russian stock market's benchmark index, RTS, on 31 December rose 18 percent above the previous day's level before trading was suspended, according to AP. The rules of the Federal Securities Commission require a suspension of trading when the index rises by more than 14.5 percent above the previous day's level, according to Interfax. Russia's foreign exchange market was closed. JAC


Less than 24 hours after becoming acting president, Putin and his wife flew to Chechnya, where he presented New Year's gifts of hunting knives to Russian troops in Gudermes, east of Grozny, Reuters reported. Putin told the Russian soldiers that their main task in fighting the Chechens is to put an end to the disintegration of the Russian Federation. He again said Moscow does not rule out talks with the Chechen leadership provided that the latter denounces terrorism, releases all hostages, and extradites those persons responsible for last summer's bomb attacks in Russian cities. But Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov denied that any Chechens were involved in those attacks. He said Putin's remarks demonstrate that the Russian leader has no desire to improve bilateral relations. Arsanov added that "each day of war is widening the gulf between Russia and Chechnya," according to Interfax. LF


In an interview with Interfax on 30 December, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov estimated that up to 1,000 Russians and "many thousands" of Chechen civilians have been killed since the storm of Grozny began the week before. He added that the Russians have also lost up to 150 armored vehicles. Maskhadov said that as a professional soldier he is certain that "the military initiative is in the hands of the defenders of Grozny." He said that the withdrawal of Chechen forces from specific quarters of Grozny was dictated purely by the inexpedience of defending those districts. Maskhadov warned that "even if the fighting goes on for 10 years, Russia will not be able to conquer Chechnya of the Chechen people." For that reason, Maskhadov continued, "the earlier the political settlement begins, the more Chechen and Russian lives will be spared." LF


Russian military officials on 3 January said federal forces took the Cherepakha hill commanding the main highway to Vedeno the previous day. The situation is unclear both at the entrance to the Argun gorge, the scene of fierce fighting for several days, and in Grozny. A Russian spokesman on 31 December said federal forces have taken control of the Staropromyslovskii district, 3 km from the city center, but Chechen commander Khamzat Gilaev told AP that the Russians have not advanced a single meter. Chechen spokesmen on 2 January likewise rejected as untrue the previous day's Russian claims to have killed up to 90 Chechen militants including field commander Arbi Baraev, according to Interfax. LF


The Communications Ministry on 1 January told ITAR-TASS that it had received reports from 59 of Russia's 89 regions, 43 federal ministries, and all industries saying that none of them had experienced any Y2K related computer problems. Strategic Rocket Forces Commander Vladimir Yakovlev on 1 January said that his forces were well prepared for any potential difficulties and that no problems were reported. Nuclear Power Minister Yevgenii Adamov also reported no problems as did the Russian Transportation Ministry, according to Interfax. The former head of Gostelekom, Aleksandr Ivanov, said the Y2K problem "has been exaggerated by computer and software producers with the support of Western intelligence services," "Segodnya" reported on 31 December. He said the Western services were hoping to use the Y2K problem as an excuse to install monitoring programs into the computers of Russian state organizations. JAC


First deputy head of the presidential administration Shabdurasulov on 2 January said there will be no major government or presidential administration staff reshuffles. He said the position of Yeltsin's daughter and adviser Tatyana Dyachenko "obviously" will be reconsidered. The previous day, Putin acknowledged that "any mechanism, any collective is constantly seeking perfection, so a [personnel change] is possible." On 31 December, Putin reappointed Aleksandr Voloshin as head of the presidential administration as well as Igor Sechin and Dmitrii Medvedev as deputy heads, according to Interfax. JAC


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 31 December said Yeltsin's decision to resign was "the right one, albeit belated." Communist Party leader Zyuganov described Yeltsin's resignation as "the people's impeachment of Yeltsin -- who leaves, on his own admission, because of everything he and his team have done." Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais hailed Yeltsin's decision as a "stroke of genius," while business magnate Boris Berezovskii also praised the move, saying "Yeltsin has once again proved to everybody that he is the right choice for Russia." Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said the "timing is perfect for transferring presidential powers in their totality to the prime minister." JAC


U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan all praised Yeltsin for his role in leading Russia during its transition, while pledging to continue work with acting President Putin. Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac, and the Swiss Foreign Ministry also called for an end to the war in Chechnya. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Yeltsin's resignation "opens the door to the continuation of vital reforms." Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said he hopes to work with Putin "to do our utmost to conclude a peace treaty in 2000." Chinese leader Jiang Zemin praised Yeltsin for forging a "strategic partnership" with China, adding that he was willing "to carry out friendly cooperation" with Putin. JAC


On 30 December, while he was still only prime minister, Putin told CNN: "I want the American people to know that Russians are waiting for a visit of the American president." However, on 1 January, during a telephone conversation between the two leaders, U.S. President Clinton did not discuss the prospect of a visit to Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained that Clinton has not yet decided whether to visit Russia in the near future. U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told ABC on 2 January that the Chechen conflict "is now a dilemma for Putin. If he can't bring this to an end, a peaceful end, quickly, if the costs become too high for the Russians, and the resistance is increasing, this could become an albatross around [Putin's] neck in March." JAC


Despite having resigned, former President Yeltsin still plans to go to Bethlehem, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin announced. Putin will remain in Moscow. Yakushkin told TV-6 that Yeltsin will not travel to Israel as Russia's "former" president but as its "first president." Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II is scheduled to leave for Bethlehem on 2 January in order to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Orthodox Christianity. According to ITAR-TASS, Aleksii will lead a delegation of more than 70 church officials. JAC


Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev on 29 December issued a decree on creating a state oil fund in order to provide revenues for funding socio-economic and infrastructure projects, Turan reported. The fund will be formed on the basis of the proceeds from the sale of crude oil and gas, bonuses received from foreign oil companies, and rent paid by those companies for the use of state property. Interfax on 20 December quoted National Bank chief executive Elman Rustamov as saying that $25 million from the sale of the state oil company's share in the first oil extracted from the Chirag field will be paid into the fund as soon as it is opened. Interfax reported that the rationale for creating the fund is to minimize the risk that oil export revenues will be squandered. LF


The Azerbaijani authorities on 30 December released two Armenian prisoners of war captured earlier in December, AP reported. The move comes after Yerevan's mid-December release of an Azerbaijani conscript in what was termed "a good-will gesture," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). LF


Eduard Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio address on 3 January that he has already made up his mind to seek a second presidential term in the 9 April presidential elections, Caucasus Press reported. Neither Shevardnadze nor any other potential candidate has formally announced their intention to contend the poll. LF


Talks in Batumi on 30 December between Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze went some way toward resolving the disagreement between the central government and the Adjar Autonomous Republic over the 30 million lari (approximately $15 million) which Tbilisi claims Adjaria owes to the state budget, Caucasus Press reported. The talks are scheduled to resume after 7 January. On 3 January, President Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio interview that Adjaria should retain an unspecified part of its budget revenues for 2000 but added that it should still pay the entire amount owed for last year. LF


The Supreme Court on 31 December upheld the 24 December decision by a Bishkek district court that the Central Electoral Commission ruling barring the El (Bei-Beshara party) from participating in the 20 February parliamentary elections under the party list system is valid, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The party had brought legal proceedings in a Bishkek district court against the Justice Ministry. The ministry had advised the Central Electoral Commission not to register the party to participate in the poll under the proportional system. Earlier, the Supreme Court had ordered the district court to reconsider its decision, but the lower court declined to overturn its original ruling. The Supreme Court then rejected a second appeal by El (Bei-Beshara), which is estimated to be the second-largest political party in Kyrgyzstan after the Communist Party. LF


At a meeting in Bishkek on 30 December, the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, the Party of Economic Revival, and the Birimdik Party announced they will draw up a joint party list to contest the 15 seats in the 60-mandate lower chamber of the new Kyrgyz parliament that will be allocated under the proportional system, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The leaders of the three parties occupy the first three places on that combined list. LF


Police in Dushanbe located and defused an eight kilogram bomb in central Dushanbe shortly before the start of New Year's celebrations on 31 December, AP reported. Prime Minister Akil Akilov and members of the government were scheduled to attend the celebrations. LF


In his televised New Year's address on 31 December, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called Russian President Yeltsin's resignation "a step of a courageous man. My heart cannot accept this political loss for me," he added. Lukashenka said Yeltsin has made a major personal contribution to "the sacrosanct case of the unification of our nations." JM


Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak expressing surprise that Israeli officials have agreed to meet Belarusian President Lukashenka during his 4-7 January visit to attend the Jubilee Year 2000 celebrations, Belapan reported on 31 December. "The Lukashenka regime has revived the institution of state ideology, which is a mixture of communism, xenophobia, and pan-Slavic chauvinism. The practice of anti-Semitism has been restored in Belarus; the branches of the [neo-Nazi] Russian National Unity, which were exported from Russia, feel themselves at ease under the patronage of the regime," Vyachorka wrote. He urged Barak "not to give even a hint that Israel recognizes Lukashenka's antidemocratic, xenophobic regime." JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 30 December nominated three deputy prime ministers and 11 ministers in Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet, Interfax reported. The three deputy prime ministers -- Yuriy Yekhanurov, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Mykola Zhulynskyy -- are new faces in the government. The other new cabinet members are Education and Science Minister Vasyl Kremin and Culture Minister Bohdan Stupka. Eight politicians have retained their portfolios. They are Fuel and Power Engineering Minister Serhiy Tulub, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk, Labor and Social Policy Minister Ivan Sakhan, Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov, Transportation Minister Leonid Kostyuchenko, and Justice Minister Syuzanna Stanyk. Former Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko has been nominated to the post of economy minister. JM


Ukraine's Constitutional Court on 30 December ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional and should be removed from the country's Criminal Code immediately. The ruling instructed parliament to amend the Criminal Code to remove any references to the death penalty as soon as possible. The court ruled that the constitution recognizes the right to life and "does not contain any provisions for using the death penalty as an exception." It also noted that Ukraine pledged to abolish capital punishment when it joined the Council of Europe in 1995. The court's decision is final and cannot be appealed. JM


Suspected Nazi war criminal Konrads Kalejs told the Scottish tabloid "The Sunday Mail" on 2 January that he will leave Britain to avoid possible arrest, the BBC reported. Kalejs said he will depart for Australia, adding that he thinks it is the only country where he will not be "hounded" any further. Kalejs is a naturalized Australian citizen and has denied involvement in the infamous Kalejs Commando death squad. Ever since the media reported that he has been residing at a Leicestershire nursing home, British parliament members and Jewish groups have called for his arrest or deportation to Latvia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). Meanwhile, Latvian authorities are studying the possibility of having Kalejs extradited to face trial. The Latvian Prosecutor General's Office on 30 December opened a criminal investigation into Kalejs. MH


Baltijos Bangu Radijas (Baltic Wave Radio) on 1 January started broadcasting programs in the Belarusian language. The broadcasts are coming from Vilnius on MW 612 kHz (AM 612) and western Belarus should be within their reception range. The station has planned eight hours of air time in Belarusian in the near future, combining original programming from the Vilnius studio, as well as broadcasts from Radio Liberty in Prague, Radio Polonia in Warsaw, Lithuanian Radio in Vilnius and Radio Racja in Bialystok. Baltic Waves is a private radio service in Lithuania funded by various Western NGOs with the goal of broadcasting uncensored news and programming in Belarusian. MH


Lithuania's GDP for the third quarter of 1999 dropped by 5 percent compared with the same period the previous year, according to preliminary figures from the Lithuanian Statistics Department cited by ELTA on 30 December. GDP fell by 4.9 percent during the first nine months of 1999, compared with the same period the previous year. The 30.7 percent drop in oil refining was a key factor in the sharp drop. On the same day, the Central Bank announced that Lithuania's current account deficit for the third quarter stood at 1 billion litas ($250 million), which is equal to 8.8 percent of GDP. During the first nine months of 1999, the deficit was 3.38 billion litas, or 10.9 percent of GDP. MH


Representatives of Lithuania and the European Commission on 31 December signed a memorandum on funding for the closure of the controversial Ignalina nuclear power plant, BNS reported. The memorandum, which is part of the PHARE assistance program, provides for a grant of 10 million euros ($10.12 million) in the year 2000 to prepare the first unit of Ignalina for a 2005 shutdown. The Lithuanian parliament approved the shutdown plan in early October despite complaints from the opposition and plant workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1999). The signing was delayed by several days due to a "technicality" in the wording of the document related to the shutdown schedule of the second unit. MH


The Polish Senate on 30 December passed a resolution calling on Russia to stop the war in Chechnya immediately. The resolution was passed by a vote of 59 to zero, with 23 senators of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance abstaining. The resolution noted that the parties to the conflict are obliged to respect international human rights standards, adding that the "military actions must not violate international legal obligations adopted by Russia." According to PAP, the resolution was toned down from an earlier draft which claimed that Moscow's undeclared intention is to exterminate the Chechens. Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek reportedly called for the draft to be changed, arguing that the senators should take into account the fact that two Polish scientists have been held captive in Chechnya since August. JM


Never before in history have human beings been "more united and more threatened," Vaclav Havel said in his 1 January New Year's address broadcast on Czech Television. He said globalization is leading to the "reckless destruction of the planet" and to the spread of a "civilization based on pseudo-values, the swelling of organized crime and terrorism, and a short- sighted form of market economy that abuses poorer countries," CTK reported. Havel said it cannot be right "when the total value of assets in the hands of the three richest persons in the world exceeds the GDP of developing countries with a total population of 600 million." MS


Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 1 January solemnly promised all Czechs that his government's "clean hands" campaign will continue and that all officials guilty of corruption will be put behind bars, CTK reported, citing a 1 January TV Nova broadcast. Zeman said 2,200 potential criminal cases are being examined as part of the drive. He added that the pace of the campaign has been slow "because a lot of people oppose it." MS


Rudolf Schuster on 31 December said in his New Year's address that the year 2000 is likely to be a year of economic hardship and called on citizens to "give the government a chance" to fulfill its promise that this will be the country's last difficult year, CTK reported. Schuster said "Slovaks and the ethnic minorities living among us in this country" have managed in the past to overcome "more difficult and more demanding situations." He proposed that the year 2000 be one of "national reconciliation." Schuster said all Slovaks should support the country's EU accession bid, adding that the EU membership preparations should not be viewed as "a matter for just the government and the parliament." Schuster said he will promote "a systemic flow of information about the advantages and the risks implied in EU membership." MS


More than 15,000 people on 1 January lined up for hours to see the 1,000-year- old crown of Hungary's first king, Saint Stephen, following its transfer from the National Museum to the parliament building. Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a festive parliamentary session that "the Holy Crown created the opportunity for Hungary to join Europe 1,000 years ago and as such is better seen as a living symbol of the state and national unity than as a museum relic." The opposition Alliance of Free Democrats, Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, and former Prime Minister Gyula Horn boycotted the session, saying they oppose the decision to transfer the crown. MSZ


Some 6,500 polling stations opened on 3 January across Croatia to enable about 3.85 million eligible voters to elect a new parliament. A total of 55 political parties are contesting approximately 150 seats, with the exact number of seats depending on the size of the turnout among Croatians living abroad. Two opposition coalitions are widely favored to win. The Social Democrats' Ivica Racan is likely to head an opposition-run government. Polls suggest that the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which has been in power since 1990 and has been tainted by corruption and other scandals, will have to go into opposition. Many observers predict that the broadly- based HDZ will eventually split up along ideological lines into at least two new parties. The HDZ is nonetheless expected to win the presidential vote on 24 January, provided that moderate Foreign Minister Mate Granic is the party's candidate. PM


The previous day, up to 350,000 eligible voters abroad began casting their votes at 152 polling places in 47 countries. The largest group is in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where there are 29 polling sites. The voters abroad include emigrants and "guest workers" but most are Herzegovinians, who are also citizens of Bosnia. Turnout in Herzegovina was heavy and ran up to 90 percent in some places. Exit polls suggested that the traditionally nationalistic Herzegovinians voted overwhelmingly for the HDZ, in which many Herzegovinians hold influential positions. PM


It is irksome to many Croats (as well as to the Bosnian Muslim political leadership) that the Herzegovinians hold full Croatian citizenship and have the right to vote. Many observers expect an opposition-led government to curb the rights of the Herzegovinians. It is unlikely, however, that the government would curtail the emigrants' voting rights, since Croatia traditionally has a large and economically important diaspora, especially from Dalmatia. In 1990, emigrants were angry at attempts by the governing communists to deny them the vote. They returned to Croatia en masse to vote for the HDZ and its leader, the late Franjo Tudjman. PM


Racan told Reuters on 30 December that the opposition "has already held talks with the most important [Western countries]...and I believe that an opportunity will soon arise for experts and government people to come to Croatia, immediately after the election." He stressed that the new government must act quickly to cut the bloated budget, reform the subsidized pension and health systems, and shut down loss-making industries. Once the opposition comes to power, Croatia's international standing will improve quickly, he added. Racan said he is anxious to make up for lost time in pursuing EU membership. President Tudjman, who died in December, doggedly refused to institute key political and economic reforms demanded by Brussels and Washington as the prerequisite for Croatia's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM


Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic on 30 December said it is no secret that there were profound differences between himself and Tudjman, whom Izetbegovic regarded as opposed to Bosnian statehood. The Muslim leader, who was speaking in Sarajevo, said he expects relations between Zagreb and Sarajevo to improve after the elections, and that this improvement will be "substantial" if the opposition wins, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said in a New Year's message in Sarajevo that Bosnia can no longer "muddle along as it has so far." He stressed that the country needs "radical change...[if it] does not want to become Europe's abandoned backyard." PM


French Defense Minister Alain Richard said on 1 January at the French military base at Novo Selo that KFOR peacekeepers should play a greater role in ensuring basic security in the troubled province. The UN's Bernard Kouchner has frequently complained that only 1,800 of the promised 6,000 international police officers have arrived. In Prishtina on 2 January, he said a lack of funds has prompted him to postpone planned elections. He told Reuters that "it's all too easy to say that [the crisis in Kosova] is over. It's not over at all: it's ahead of us.... [The lack of money] makes me really angry.... This is important for the people and for the world- -stability in the Balkans." On 30 December, some 2,000 Serbs in Rahovec appealed to Kouchner to ensure their security or provide a convoy "for us to collectively leave this hell," Beta news agency reported. PM


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told the government-run daily "Politika" on 30 December that Montenegro is free to leave the Yugoslav federation if it wishes to do so. He added, however, that the Montenegrins must "stick to the rules" if they choose to remain in a joint state with Serbia. The Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported that Milosevic has promoted General Milorad Obradovic, who commands the Second Army (which is responsible for Montenegro), and General Geza Farkas, who heads the general staff's security department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1999). The daily stressed that the promotions of the two men suggest that Milosevic sees Montenegro as the most important issue facing him at present. He also made General Vladimir Lazarevic head of the staff of the Third Army, which is responsible for Kosova. Replacing him at the head of the Prishtina Corps is General Radojko Stefanovic. PM


Bojan Usenicnik, who heads the Office for Protection and Rescue, resigned his post on 3 January. He had come in for sharp media criticism for recommending the previous week that Slovenians buy emergency reserves of food, water, batteries, candles, and medicines, Reuters reported. He denied charges that he had exaggerated the dangers of the potential Y2K problem. Usenicnik stressed that his recommendations were no different than those made by officials of other countries. No major Y2K difficulties have been reported in the former Yugoslavia. PM


A 500-kilogram bell rang in the Albanian capital on 30 December after making a two-month trip from the Vatican via Italy and Kosova. The bell is made out of 30,000 bullets gathered by children in the region of Lezha in northern Albania. The project was the idea of a Roman Catholic priest in Lezha, Father Don Antonio Scara. The bell bears the inscription: "I was born of bullets, and will ring in the road to peace for Albanian children in the third millennium," AP reported. Lezha witnessed particularly intense violence during the civil unrest that swept Albania following the collapse of pyramid investment schemes in early 1997. PM


Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu on 30 December said the tax reforms announced by the government last week are "just the beginning" of a series of measures aimed at stimulating the Romanian economy, fostering competitiveness, and fighting the "gray economy" and corruption. He said the "innumerable" incentives that were granted to companies in the past have been replaced by only two incentives -- one aimed at encouraging investment and the other at boosting exports. Isarescu said the previous system generated arbitrariness in the granting of incentives and encouraged dishonesty in reporting income. He said he expects a drop in the inflation rate to balance the price hikes that will result from the government's decision to increase VAT, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1999). MS


Foreign Minister Petre Roman and EU mission head in Romania Fokion Fotiadis on 30 December signed in Bucharest an agreement under which the EU will grant Romania 209 million euros ($212.5 million) to encourage reforms and to cover their social costs, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Fotiadis said EU financial assistance to Romania will quadruple in 2000 to help the country make progress in its accession talks with the union. MS


In an interview with RFE/RL on 30 December, former Prime Minister Radu Vasile said he needs a period of "political detoxification" to recover from the "existential nausea" produced by the "abusive and disgraceful manner" in which he was pushed to resign by the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD). He said he is considering withdrawing from politics altogether. However, he said he is also thinking of setting up "a Christian-Democratic Popular Party." But Vasile said he lacks the funds and the energy to set up such a group, adding that the PNTCD "and other presidential circles" are trying to tarnish his image in the media. Vasile denied reports that he is involved in membership negotiations with other political parties but confirmed that several political groups have approached him with offers of membership. MS


Prime Minister Dumitru Barghis on 30 December said the 1999 budget deficit reached some 500 million lei (more than $43 million), inflation was 40 percent, and the GDP fell by 4 percent compared with 1998. Moldova's external debt stands at almost 1.3 billion lei and its internal debt is 2 billion lei. Barghis also criticized the Finance and Interior ministries, saying the existing laws must be enforced more strictly in order to fight tax evasion and corruption, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In other news, the government on 30 December reinstated General Nicolae Alexei as deputy interior minister and head of the ministry's Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption. The cabinet of former Prime Minister Ion Sturza had dismissed Alexei from those posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline,'"30 December 1999). MS


Bulgaria introduced visa requirements for the citizens of 17 of the 24 states that are on the EU's list of "high risk" countries effective on 1 January, BTA and ITAR- TASS reported on 30 December. Seven former Soviet republics are on the list -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Until now, citizens of those countries have been able to enter Bulgaria with an invitation or a tourist voucher. MS


The EU on 30 December granted Bulgaria 125 million euros ($126.5 million) to support its accession efforts, BTA and AP reported. The amount will be doubled in 2001. The acting head of the EU mission to Bulgaria, Edigio Conicani, and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova signed an agreement on the grant in Sofia. In other news, BTA reported on 30 December that prices for household consumption of electricity and natural gas were increased by 10 percent as of 1 January. MS

A Transforming Resignation

By Paul A. Goble

Boris Yeltsin's resignation as Russian president appears likely to fundamentally alter the relationship between Moscow and the West, at a minimum putting cooperation between the two on hold for a certain period of time and more likely reducing the level of cooperation over the longer haul.

There are three reasons for that conclusion. First, as has been true for much of the last generation, the West's relationship with Moscow has been more personal than political. That is, it has been between individual leaders in the West and the man in charge in Moscow. That was true in Leonid Brezhnev's time, in Mikhail Gorbachev's time, and it has been true in Yeltsin's time as well.

Every change at the top in Moscow has required the establishment of new personal ties. That inevitably takes time and hence inevitably becomes the occasion for intense deliberations about what kind of a relationship it should be. That is especially likely now because of acting President Vladimir Putin's past as a security officer and his current actions in Chechnya.

While Western leaders have praised Yeltsin and promise continued close ties with Putin, virtually all of them will be under pressure from politicians and analysts in their own countries who viewed Yeltsin at best as a fallen hero because of his actions at the end of the Soviet Union and who see Putin as an openly authoritarian figure opposed to many of the things that Western countries want.

Second, precisely because of Yeltsin's ties with Western leaders as well as his past services to the dismantling of the Soviet Union and moves toward democratization and free market economics, Western leaders have been restrained in their reaction to a variety of recent Russian moves that otherwise might have drawn far more criticism and might have led to a reduction of assistance.

Moscow's opposition to the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia and its moves to seize Prishtina ahead of allied forces, its increasing ties with Iran and Iraq and other radically anti-Western countries, and its war against Chechnya and open discrimination against people from the Caucasus are all policies that many in the West disagree with and oppose.

But as long as Yeltsin was in office, most political leaders refrained from taking any genuinely tough actions. Now that Yeltsin is gone, the situation will change. Some diplomats and leaders will of course argue that the West must proceed steadily and carefully, and thus they will argue against any break. But others will now be able to raise their voices to argue that this is exactly the right time to send Moscow a message.

And third, both Yeltsin and to an even larger degree his Western supporters have put great store in the idea that he would be the first Russian leader in history to finish his term in office and then be replaced through a democratic election. Now, that is not going to happen, and the fact that it won't will tarnish both his place in history and Moscow's standing in the West.

As his supporters will no doubt point out, Yeltsin's resignation is constitutional. That is, it is provided for in the December 1993 Russian Federation basic law that he helped to craft. But by resigning rather than serving out his term, Yeltsin raises questions about himself, about his successor, and about Russia's standing as a country moving toward democracy.

Some in both Russia and the West are likely to view Yeltsin's action as deeply political, as a way of giving his hand-picked successor Putin the best chance to rule Russia in the future by allowing him to call a snap election before the boost he has received from the initial fighting in Chechnya disappears.

But these same people are also going to ask whether the former president did this so that Putin could keep Yeltsin, as well as members of his family and entourage, from facing embarrassing legal questions in the future.

Others are going to focus on Putin himself. Last month, one Moscow magazine featured the new acting president on its cover as "the spymaster of all Russians." Putin's background in the intelligence agencies may lead some to conclude that he has staged a kind of palace coup, pressuring Yeltsin to go now as the price of guaranteeing the outgoing president that he will not have to face criminal charges for his past actions.

Even if such speculation is baseless, it seems certain to become part of the internal debate as Western countries decide how to deal with the new president of Russia, a man who has defined himself only to the extent of launching a war in the Caucasus and denouncing the West's efforts to end the bloodletting in Kosova.

But perhaps most importantly for the future of east-west ties, many Western governments are certain to view Yeltsin's resignation and, even more so, Putin's elevation as evidence that Russia has not made as much progress toward democracy as they had hoped or even claimed.

These are the questions that are almost certain to be on the minds of Western statesmen as they deliver their already prepared messages of praise for Yeltsin and his past contributions.