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Newsline - January 5, 2000


Federal forces continued their intense artillery bombardment of Grozny on 4 January but encountered fierce resistance as they made another attempt to advance from the outskirts to the city center. On 5 January, the Chechens launched a strong counterattack in the north of the city, retaking part of the suburb of Khankala, according to AP. ITAR-TASS on 5 January said fighting is underway in the Staropromyslovskii district of Grozny, which Russian forces claimed to have taken under their control last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). In Moscow, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said after meeting on 5 January with acting Russian President Vladimir Putin that "the operation in Chechnya is going according to plan," Interfax reported. LF


Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 4 January said the registration of candidates for the upcoming presidential elections should be completed no later than 21 February, Interfax reported. He added that prospective candidate should submit their registration documents no later than 13 February. Veshnyakov also noted that once the Federation Council sets an election date, electoral blocs and citizens' initiative groups can nominate their candidates. A committee that aims to form an initiative group for the nomination of acting President Putin held a meeting on 4 January in Ioshkar-Ola in the Marii El Republic. Marii El President Anatolii Popov is chairman of the committee. JAC


Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed on 4 January said he does not plan to participate in the presidential elections, and will only run if "extreme" circumstances develop. He did not elaborate on what circumstances he would consider "extreme." Lebed added that he has only been governor for 18 months and still needs to implement his regional development program for the Krasnoyarsk region. So far, only Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and acting President Putin have said they will seek the presidency. According to a draft version of the law on presidential elections, two candidates are a sufficient number to hold an election. JAC


Acting President Putin dismissed on 4 January Senior Presidential Aide Andrei Shtorkh, the executive office's Local Self-Government Department head Boris Nimts, and the executive office's Management Department chief Vyacheslav Vasyagin. Putin appointed Aleksandr Strelkov to replace Vasygin. He also appointed Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin as head of the president's protocol directorate, a position that was vacated just the previous day, and named Aleksei Gromov as presidential spokesman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). Gromov also comes from the Foreign Ministry where he was a career diplomat, serving in Prague and Bratislava. Igor Shchogolev was named head of the presidential press service. Shchogolev formerly worked in the government's executive office, and before that spent 10 years at ITAR-TASS. Dmitrii Kozak, a government spokesman, on 4 January said more personnel changes can be expected at the cabinet level as well as within the presidential administration. JAC


The secretary of the Coordinating Council for the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance, Oleg Morozov, on 5 January said OVR head Yevgenii Primakov could be nominated as a presidential candidate by an initiative group but not by the OVR. Morozov explained that "Primakov should make this decision independently and without any bloc." Morozov added that Primakov's plans will be revealed in the coming days. On the same day, Chukotka Governor Aleksandr Nazarov told ITAR-TASS that he believes the candidate for the country's left opposition will be either Primakov or Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev -- not Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Nazarov supported Unity in the State Duma elections. JAC


Two international observers of the 19 December State Duma elections have alleged that crude violations of Russian election law occurred in the Republic of Tatarstan, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 January. The press service of Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov identified the observers as University of Glasgow Professor John Lovenhard and a professor from Holland named Ruben Verkhoel. According to the press service, the professors noted that several people voted more than once, that members of the electoral commission seemed unfamiliar with some elementary election procedures, and that "volunteers" in some villages "helped" voters by entering the voting booth with them without any clear signal that such assistance was necessary. According to final election results, Tatarstan's voters expressed strong support for the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, of which their president is a member. JAC


The central heating systems in several apartment houses, one police building, and a kindergarten in the city of Srednekolymsk in the Sakha Republic have completely frozen over, leaving residents without heat in weather that is ranging from minus 22 to minus 35 degrees Celsius, Russian agencies reported on 4 January. On the same day, the Siberian regional directorate of the Emergencies Ministry reported that 2,500 residents in the Krasnoyarsk Krai city of Lesosibirsk lack electricity, heat, and water. Recent overnight temperatures in that city have fallen to minus 40 degrees Celsius. JAC


Russia's coal industry increased its production by more than 7 percent in 1999 compared with the previous year, according to the Fuel and Energy Ministry. The ministry also revealed that it has increased its support for the coal sector last year to 10 billion rubles ($370 million) compared with 4.75 billion rubles in 1998 -- a 110 percent hike. In late December, the World Bank resumed disbursements of a loan to the Russian government aimed at financing the restructuring of the coal industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). JAC


U.S. Vice President Albert Gore said he believes acting President Putin will "continue leading Russia along the path of reforms," ITAR-TASS reported, citing the 4 January issue of "USA Today." Gore also said the initial successes of Russian troops in Chechnya could soon be replaced by slow and difficult advancement, which could change the attitudes of Russian voters. On the same day, Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain said he "would be talking about Chechnya every day" if he were president. He added that "it's terribly disturbing to see how Mr. Putin has trod this path to power. It was through Chechnya." According to AP, leading Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush, Jr., said he is "troubled by the fact that Mr. Putin has gained popularity as a result of Chechnya." He added that he is "hopeful that [Putin] will lead his country to substantive and real reforms." JAC


Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II told reporters on 3 January that he is praying for Russia and its revival during his visit to Israel on the 2,000th anniversary of Orthodox Christianity. Aleksii II said that "I am sure that the good relations that existed between the [Orthodox] Church and the state [during former President Boris Yeltsin's tenure] will be continued. This has been proven by the past four months of Putin's duty as prime minister," ITAR-TASS reported. JAC


Former President Yeltsin left Moscow for Israel on 5 January to take part in activities related to the anniversary of Christianity. According to Interfax, Yeltsin's trip is intended to demonstrate Russia's support for the peace process in the Middle East. Yeltsin is expected to receive the Order of the Knight of the Holy Sepulchre as well as meet with Israel's President Ezer Weizman and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Yeltsin's daughter and former presidential advisor Tatyana Dyachenko announced on 5 January that her father intends to set up a foundation that will create a library and archives, in addition to pursuing other activities such as travel. JAC


Acting President Putin told Russian Public Television on 4 January that he "almost broke down" when former President Boris Yeltsin bid farewell to the Kremlin. Putin said, "There was nothing extraordinary" about Yeltsin's words but added that "they were said with some pathos while at the same time in a very kind and human way. He said the simple words: 'Take care of Russia.'" Putin also divulged information about his personal life, saying he took his wife with him on his 1 January trip to Chechnya because they had always been together on that holiday. According to Putin, Yeltsin informed him about his intended resignation soon after the 19 December State Duma elections. Reuters reported that Putin's interview seemed "carefully rehearsed." JAC


The Yerevan editorial office of the Russian-language newspaper "Novoe vremya" was badly damaged in a fire on 31 December, Armenian Television and ITAR-TASS reported on 3 and 4 January. The paper's editor, Ruben Satyan, said he had received telephone threats prior to the arson attack. ITAR-TASS linked the incident to the reprinting in "Novoe vremya" of an article from a Moscow publication concerning the 27 October murder of Armenian Premier Vazgen Sargsian. LF


Police in Azerbaijan's northern Belakan Raion, which borders on Georgia, dispersed two demonstrations by several hundred local residents demanding the resignation of local electricity department officials, Turan reported on 29 December and 3 January. Power supplies to Belakan Raion were discontinued around 9 December. LF


Presidential spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze on 5 January said Tbilisi Mayor Ivane Zodelava's proposal that the Georgian Constitution be amended to allow one individual to serve three, rather than two, consecutive presidential terms was a private initiative of Zodelava, Caucasus Press reported. Zodelava, who made the proposal to parliament the previous day, argued that no realistic opponent will emerge to challenge incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze either in the April 2000 presidential poll or in 2005. Opposition "United Georgia" parliament faction leader Giorgi Targamadze told Caucasus Press on 5 January that Zodelava's proposal amounts to a call for the establishment of a monarchy, and is an insult to both Shevardnadze and the Georgian nation. He said the proposal further shows that Shevardnadze "has failed to prepare a successor during his 13-year rule." LF


The Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has issued a statement protesting against Ukraine's incorporation into the semi-formal group of states designated as Friends of the UN Secretary-General, which is charged with mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported on 4 January. The Abkhaz statement said the inclusion of Ukraine in the grouping, which also comprises the U.S., France, the U.K., Germany, and Russia, constitutes a violation of the agreement reached earlier in Geneva on the format for settlement talks. Following Ukraine's accession to the group in December, Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministry officials met in Kyiv to discuss Ukraine's possible participation in the CIS peacekeeping force in Georgia. Ukraine had first volunteered to send peacekeepers to Georgia two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997). LF


Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile which comprises the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz legislature elected in 1991, told Caucasus Press on 5 January that the parliament will send a delegation to Ukraine and Azerbaijan next month to discuss the possible deployment of Ukrainian and Azerbaijani peacekeeping forces along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Nadareishvili called for the inclusion of Azerbaijan as well as Ukraine in the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 4 January, independent opposition politician Nurlan Amrekulov predicted that acting Russian President Putin will pressure Kazakhstan's leadership to allow Russian businessmen to play a more prominent role in the country's economy, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Also on 4 January, Amirzhan Qosanov, a leading member of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL that he is certain Putin will misrepresent the situation of ethnic Russians in the "near abroad," including northern Kazakhstan, in his presidential election campaign. LF


The El (Bei-Bechara) Party on 4 January appealed to both the Justice Ministry and the Central Electoral Commission to allow it to contend the 15 seats in the lower house of the new Kyrgyz parliament to be elected according to proportional representation on 20 February, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The party has lost two court appeals against the CEC's ruling that it may not contest the poll as its founding documents do not list participation in national elections as one of the party's objectives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999 and 3 January 2000). LF


The Democratic Party of Tajikistan and the Socialist Party of Tajikistan held congresses on 4 January at which they each selected 22 candidates to contend the 27 February election to the lower chamber of the new parliament under the proportional system, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The Democratic Party has some 5,000 members and the Socialist Party 30,000. LF


Islam Karimov was named Uzbekistan's "Man of the Century" in a poll conducted by the BBC World Service, Interfax reported on 4 January, quoting Uzbek media. On 17 December, Interfax reported that a nationwide Uzbek poll of 6,000 people had also established that Karimov was the country's most popular political figure. Most respondents expressed their intention to vote for Karimov in the 9 January presidential election. LF


World Association of Belarusian Jewry head Yakov Goodman and Human Rights Center "Vyasna" head Ales Byalatski said in Minsk on 4 January that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is anti-Semitic, AP reported. They also appealed to the Israeli government to avoid official contacts with him during his current trip to Bethlehem. Goodman said the Belarusian government has refused to set up Jewish schools, help maintain Jewish cemeteries and historic monuments, or create memorials to Belarusian Holocaust victims. Goodman expressed "bewilderment" over Lukashenka's planned meetings with Israeli President Ezer Weizman and parliamentary deputies. Goodman recalled that only 28,000 Jews live in Belarus today, compared with 112,000 in 1989. "Jews are voting with their feet against the policy pursued by Alyaksandr Lukashenka," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service quoted him as saying. JM


Viktor Yushchenko on 4 January submitted another list of candidates for ministerial positions and state committee chairmanships to President Leonid Kuchma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000) but declined to reveal their names, Interfax reported. Yushchenko said he is "very satisfied" with the cabinet's composition, adding that "it is a part of the team [of professionals]" that he has referred to in earlier statements. Yushchenko denied rumors that the appointment of parliamentary Budget Committee Chairman Yuliya Tymoshenko to the position of deputy premier is part of a ploy aimed at securing passage of the 2000 budget. He added that, over the next few days, the government will submit a 2000 draft budget to parliament along with 10 other bills that "contain framework conditions to ensure budget activity in 2000." JM


Ukraine's Security Service on 4 January announced that charges have been lodged against Serhiy Ivanchenko in connection with a grenade attack on Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko during her presidential campaign rally in Kryvyy Rih on 2 October, Interfax reported. Ivanchenko was arrested on 25 December in Moscow and transferred to Ukraine on 31 December. The agency described Ivanchenko as a campaign organizer for a rival presidential candidate, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. Moroz denied any involvement in the attack, which injured 29 people, including Vitrenko. JM


The Estonian government on 4 January approved the privatization plan for 2000, which is expected to be the final such plan. Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja told ETA, "This year the privatization of large enterprises will end and starting with next year any transferal of property from state ownership will take place under the civil code." Prime Minister Mart Laar added that the Estonian Privatization Agency will be closed after the fulfillment of this year's program. The largest privatization items this year are Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railways) and Edelaraudtee (Southwestern Railways). Also up for sale is the Tallinn Olympic Sports Center complex, built for the yachting events of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which includes a hotel, a business and shopping complex, and the yacht pier and facilities. MH


U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) arrived in Vilnius on 3 January for meetings with various Lithuanian officials to discuss the country's policies on prosecuting suspected war criminals. While Lantos praised the creation of a commission in Lithuania to assess crimes committed during the Soviet and Nazi occupations and applauded a proposed legal amendment to allow trials in absentia, he also urged Lithuanians to be persistent and vigilant in prosecuting war crimes. He said that if Lithuania does not deal with the issue, he can see "a dark cloud" on the horizon which "Lithuania will have to remove if it wants to find its niche among democracies of this world." After a stormy discussion with Prosecutor-General Kazys Pednycia, Lantos said, "I am very disappointed with the meeting." Pednycia said he complained to Lantos about a lack of assistance from the U.S. Justice Department in gathering admissible evidence against war criminals. In September, Pednycia expressed similar frustrations about the U.S. Justice Department's special investigator Eli Rosenbaum during the trial of war crimes suspect Aleksandras Lileikis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 1999). MH


The government has adopted a national security strategy that contains guidelines for policies related to Poland's NATO membership, Polish media reported on 4 January. Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said the document states that Poland is now more secure than ever. He added that at present there is no threat of a global or pan-European conflict, and that the country must be prepared for local conflicts. "This requires flexible organization and especially mobility of the armed forces. Rapid reaction forces are of special significance in the system of the armed forces," Polish Radio quoted him as saying. JM


The government on 4 January approved a strategy for fighting unemployment, PAP reported. The document provides for creating 3-4 million jobs in 2000-2006. Deputy Labor Minister Piotr Kolodziejczyk said the number of unemployed could increase to 3.2 million over the next seven years owing to an anticipated demographic increase in the workforce, the restructuring of loss-making economic sectors, and integration with the EU. JM


Vlastimil Tlusty, leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, on 4 January said the ODS will demand a "fundamental" reshuffling of the minority Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) cabinet at a meeting between the two parties' leaderships on 7 January, CTK reported. He said he believes the CSSD will accept the demand. CSSD Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach said he expects the ODS to demand a voice in the formation of a "cabinet of experts." However, he said such a demand would be "unacceptable" as it would amount to the "indirect participation" of the ODS in the government. MS


The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes (UVD) has launched criminal proceedings against Lubomir Strougal, former communist premier and interior minister of Czechoslovakia, CTK reported on 4 January, citing "Pravo." The UVD suspects that Strougal ordered the Prosecutor General's Office to halt an investigation into a group of State Security (StB) officers in the 1960s. The officers were suspected of torturing and later shooting three prisoners who were arrested in 1948. The prisoners were cleared of suspicion of murder, but the StB officers shot them out of fear that they would talk about how the StB had tortured them. Meanwhile, the UVD has also accused former Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina of coordinating a plan to force the signatories of Charter 77 to leave the country between 1978 and 1984, "Lidove noviny" reported on 5 January. MS


A new poll has found that 51 percent of Czechs say they fear that a Nazi regime may return to Germany. The poll was conducted in October 1999 by the Czech Academy of Sciences and Sofres-Factum using a sample of 1,000 respondents, CTK reported. This is a drop of 18 percentage points since 1995, when 69 percent said they feared the revival of Nazism in Germany. On the other hand, 70 percent of respondents in the new poll said it is in the Czech Republic's best interests to maintain close relations with Germany. The same proportion said Czechs must "display more pride" in their relations with Germans. The poll was conducted for the Coordination Council of the Czech-German Forum. MS


The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia on 4 January said a bill that is being prepared by Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky will transform Slovakia into a police state if passed by parliament, CTK reported. Earlier, Carnogursky said his ministry is drafting a bill that would cancel the amnesties that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar granted to the suspected kidnappers of former President Michal Kovac's son. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has already issued a cancellation of the amnesties, but the Constitutional Court subsequently produced two contradictory rulings on the issue. One panel of Constitutional Court judges ruled that Dzurinda's cancellation was valid, while another declared it invalid. MS


The Foreign Ministry on 4 January distanced itself from a declaration by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chebo's who called for sanctions to be imposed on the Czech national airline (CSA) for agreeing to fly Roma asylum seekers from Bratislava to Helsinki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999 and 4 January 2000). The ministry said Chebo's controversial statement represents his own "personal view." Chebo told CTK that his statement was "grossly exaggerated," saying he had merely wanted to find out what "legal means exist for coping with the [unwanted] activities of a private business." After CSA Slovak branch director Pavol Helinek said CSA would not discriminate among its customers, Chebo responded that the "real discrimination" was prompted by "73 people who may bring about the re-imposition of visa requirements for 5.5 million Slovaks." MS


Hungary on 4 January dropped the U.S. dollar from its currency basket, "Villaggazdasag" reported. The forint is now exclusively based on the euro. Previously, the dollar had a 30 percent share in the basket. Experts say the move could attract more foreign investment and boost the country's exports. MSZ


The European Commission is asking Hungary, among other candidates for EU membership, to improve conditions for Roma minority in the country, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 5 January. Florian Farkas, the chairman of the National Romany Authority in Hungary, said the situation could prevent Hungary's accession to the EU. He said the cabinet has failed to guarantee the implementation of a package of measures related to the Roma that it approved last year. Doncsev Toso, head of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities, said it will take at least 25 to 30 years for the economic, social, and educational indicators of the Roma to get closer to those of the majority population. MSZ


Marijan Ramuscak, who heads the state electoral commission, said in Zagreb on 4 January that the main opposition coalition has won in nine out of 10 electoral districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). In the new legislature, the Social Democratic- Social Liberal coalition will have 71 seats, while an allied coalition of four smaller centrist parties will hold 24. The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which has governed since 1990, has been reduced to 40 seats. Four seats will go to far-right parties and one to the tiny Christian Democrats. Ramuscak added that he expects that six legislators will represent the diaspora, which cast 85 percent of its votes for the HDZ. The exact number of diaspora seats will depend on the number of votes cast for the diaspora list. Final returns are expected on 7 January. International and Croatian election monitors reported no serious irregularities. The outgoing government met on 4 January and promised a smooth transition to its successor. PM


Leading officials of the EU and OSCE said on 4 January that the opposition victory will likely lead to greater democracy in Croatia (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). In Belgrade, federal Information Minister Goran Matic said the opposition victory came as no surprise, adding that it will lead to a more pro-Western orientation in Croatian policy. State-run electronic media played down the news from Zagreb, which the regime-controlled daily "Politika" placed on page seven. Opposition spokesman Veran Batic, however, stressed that he hopes the Croatian vote is a harbinger of changes to come in Serbia, the independent daily "Danas" reported. In Podgorica, all parties except those allied to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic greeted the news from Zagreb, a correspondent of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


The Sarajevo daily "Avaz," which is close to the Muslim leadership, ran the headline on 5 January: "New Croatian government will respect Bosnia as a [sovereign] state." Moderate Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak said in Sarajevo the previous day that he expects the new government to follow a significantly different policy in Bosnia from that of its predecessor. Former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka that she hopes that the new government will break with what she called the "extremist" policies of the HDZ. Croatian Prime Minister designate Ivica Racan told state-run Bosnian radio that his government will have "no double standards and deals made under the table" between the Bosnian Croats and Zagreb. "Bosnian Croats will have to perceive Bosnia as their home...and we will support them in this," AP quoted him as saying. PM


Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said in Ljubljana that the Croatian election results were not unexpected and signify the start of a new era for that country, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 5 January. He added that Slovenia's experience in democratization and in seeking Euro-Atlantic integration is a good model for Croatia. PM


The HDZ's presidency nominated moderate Foreign Minister Mate Granic as the party's candidate for the presidency in the 24 January elections. Hard-line candidate Vladimir Seks withdrew his name from the vote, which was 13 for Granic with three invalid ballots, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 4 January. The party's steering committee is expected to make the final decision on 5 January. Previous opinion polls suggested that Granic is the only HDZ candidate with a chance of defeating Drazen Budisa, who represents the main opposition coalition. Following the opposition's parliamentary victory, however, Budisa stressed that he is confident that he can defeat Granic. The Zagreb HDZ list that Granic headed in the parliamentary vote was badly defeated by the opposition and took only 21 percent of the vote. PM


Speaking in Osijek on 4 January, far-right HDZ leader Branimir Glavas demanded that the party's 16-member presidency resign following the electoral debacle the previous day. He stressed that a new party congress must be held to select new leaders, primarily from among people active at the local level. Glavas achieved fame as a powerful local warlord in the 1991 conflict with the Serbs in a way that prompted British journalist Misha Glenny to dub him a "serial killer in fatigues." Glavas was subsequently widely known as the only local leader in Croatia who was even feared by late President Franjo Tudjman. PM


The Health Ministry announced in Belgrade on 5 January that influenza has reached "epidemic" proportions in Serbia. The ministry banned visits to flu patients in hospitals, AP reported. More than 10,000 people in Montenegro have also contracted the virus. "Danas" reported an outbreak of hepatitis in the northern Kosova town of Mitrovica. PM


Visiting Romanian President Emil Constantinescu on 4 January told acting Israeli prime minister Itzhak Mordechai that Romania, Israel, and Turkey should set up a "strategic partnership," an RFE/RL correspondent in Jerusalem reported. Mordechai is filling in for Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is in the U.S. for peace talks with Syria. Mordechai said that during his tenure as defense minister in former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, Israel and Romania had intensified military collaboration. Constantinescu also brought up the problems of some 50,000 Romanian workers in Israel, who have often complained about discrimination and poor employment conditions. He proposed a bilateral agreement to allow Romanian and Israeli workers to pay into their pensions while working in the other country. MS


Meeting journalists of the Romanian-language press in Israel, Constantinescu said that certain Romanian political parties, such as the Greater Romania Party, have adopted anti-Semitic postures and that other political groups "openly or covertly collaborate with [such parties] out of electoral considerations or considerations linked with the struggle for power." The comments came one day after Constantinescu described anti-Semitism as a "marginal phenomenon" in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). He also admitted that Romania's civil society structures prefer to ignore the phenomenon of xenophobic publications, "believing that if they do so, the phenomenon does not exist," Mediafax reported. Knesset chairman Avraham Burg raised the issue of confiscated Jewish property in Romania with Constantinescu. Constantinescu said the problem must be solved within Romania's general framework for restitution. MS


Ukraine has informed the Moldovan state electricity company that it may soon have to stop electricity deliveries to Moldova due to its own problems with gas deliveries from Russia, an official of the Moldtranselectro company said on 4 January. Moldova recently increased its electricity imports from Ukraine and Romania. The move came after Gazprom drastically reduced gas deliveries to Moldova because Chisinau was unable to meet debt payments. Romania has also warned Moldova that it may cut off electricity supplies on 6 January because Chisinau is failing to make payments on a $10 million debt, ITAR-TASS reported. MS

Ending 'The Breakup of Russia'

By Paul A. Goble

Vladimir Putin's latest rationale for Moscow's campaign in Chechnya -- to "bring about the end of the breakup of Russia" -- raises some disturbing questions about the kind of policies he may try to pursue as acting president of the Russian Federation.

During a visit to Russian-controlled regions of Chechnya on New Year's Day, Putin told Russian soldiers that their campaign against the Chechens is "not simply about restoring honor and dignity to the country." Rather, he continued, "it is about how to bring about the end of the breakup of Russia."

Most immediately, these remarks call into question the claims Putin and his supporters have made in the past about this conflict. Until last weekend, he had insisted that the conflict was about extirpating "extremists" and "terrorists," goals which many Western leaders have found difficult to oppose even when they are appalled by the way Russian forces have set about achieving that objective.

By shifting his stance so quickly and completely, Putin has unintentionally invited those governments to re-examine both his earlier claims about the conflict and their response to it. And he has equally unintentionally raised questions on only his second day in office as to how reliable a partner he may be in any negotiations with Western governments.

But as significant as these consequences may prove in the future, Putin's words on this occasion clearly have even more serious implications for the Russian Federation, for its relationship with its neighbors, and hence for the world as a whole.

For the Russian Federation, Putin's new position on Chechnya points to a more authoritarian future, one in which the reconstitution of state authority and the defense of a particular territory takes precedence over any move toward greater freedom and democracy.

As all polls show, Putin's popularity in the Russian Federation reflects the longing of many Russians for a stronger and more effective state capable of responding quickly and harshly to any challenge -- be it from often despised ethnic minorities, criminal groups, or Western governments.

But a state reconstituted on the basis of such expectations is unlikely to be the peaceful and liberal democratic regime that many in both Russia and the West have been hoping for.

Under such leadership, the Russian Federation could become an increasingly authoritarian Rechtstaat, a regime in which the state is capable of enforcing the laws it issues rather than responding to the demands of population in whose name it rules.

For many Russians who have lived through the lawlessness of the Yeltsin years as well as for Western business interests there, such a state might appear to be a major improvement on current conditions.

But precisely because such a regime is likely to have to seek support through nationalist appeals, it might rapidly become something much less attractive and ever more nationalistic. Should that happen, the Putin government might move on from its current campaign against "persons of the Caucasus nationality" to open and state-sponsored discrimination against other ethnic and religious groups not judged by Putin's brand of Russian nationalists to be truly Russian.

For the countries surrounding the Russian Federation -- especially the 11 former Soviet republics and three Baltic countries -- Putin's new position is, if anything, even more threatening.

At a minimum, the nationalistic Russia Putin's policies point to almost certainly will be far more difficult to get along with. But many in these countries are likely to be especially concerned that the Russian nationalist resurgence he is sponsoring will not stop at the borders of the Russian Federation.

Even the Yeltsin government showed itself willing to exploit the presence of more than 20 million ethnic Russians in these states to pressure them into a special relationship with Moscow. Putin will certainly do no less and is quite likely to do a great deal more, thus further "ethnicizing" politics in many of these countries and undermining stability in some of them.

But Putin's words on New Year's Day are potentially more ominous for the non-Russian countries. Many Russians are likely to view his words less as a call to firm up the borders of the Russian Federation, an entity many of them do not see as their country, than as a demand for a revision of the results of 1991.

Putin may thus push even harder for a Russian Federation union with Belarus than Yeltsin did and may also put more pressure on the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States to defer to Moscow's interests.

Above all, Putin's new stance may pose a major concern for the international community. One of the bases of Putin's popularity has been his willingness, even eagerness, to dismiss Western criticism of his policies in Chechnya, a dismissal underlined by his assertion last month that Russia should not act as if it now has no enemies.

Such a leader seems an unlikely candidate for serious talks with the West anytime soon, even though Russia's economic problems may lead him to change his tone at least enough to extract more resources from Western governments who do not want to see the situation in Russia get even worse.

But far more than Yeltsin, Putin will find it hard to make any broader deals with the West. And consequently, his words about defending the borders of Russia may have the effect of creating precisely those dividing lines in Europe that leaders in both Moscow and the West have said they hope to avoid.