NEW DUMA OPENS FOR BUSINESS
As is traditional, the Duma's oldest member, 79-year-old Yegor Ligachev, opened its first session on 18 January. Ligachev, a former Politburo member, was elected from a single-mandate district in Tomsk Oblast. According to Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, 441 deputies were elected. More than half of them are under 50 and all but four have some higher education. One-hundred and sixty-six deputies were members of the previous Duma. Only 35 of the 441 are women. Veshnyakov reported that the Communist Party (KPRF) received 67 seats from its party list while 46 deputies in single-mandate districts support the KPRF. The split of the other parties are Unity, 64/31, Fatherland-All Russia 37/9, Union of Rightist Forces 24/5, Yabloko 16/4, Zhirinovskii's Bloc 17, and Our Home is Russia had nine deputies elected from single mandate districts. JAC
PRIMAKOV BECOMES OVR FACTION LEADER...
Former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov was elected leader of Fatherland-All Russia's (OVR) Duma faction on 17 January. His first deputy will be Vyacheslav Volodin, according to ITAR-TASS. On 18 January, former Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev predicted a speaker would be selected by that evening. "Moskovskii komsomolets" predicted that Seleznev's re-election to his old post is almost inevitable because the Kremlin does not want Primakov, who might, "as an experienced apparatchik," find it "very easy to make the Duma anti-Putin." JAC
...AS WRANGLING OVER COMMITTEE POSTS CONTINUES
The leader of the People's Deputies group, Gennadii Raikov, told ITAR-TASS that there will be 26 committees in the Duma, two less than in the previous one. According to Interfax, the Communist Party would like to appoint Sergei Glaziev as head of the economic policy committee, Ivan Melnikov as head of the science and education committee, and Viktor Zorkaltsev as head of the committee for public associations and religious organizations. Yabloko would like to reappoint Vladimir Lukin as head of the international affairs committee. The Union of Rightist Forces wants former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov for the legislation committee and Irina Khakamada for the information policy committee. To chair the banking and finance committee, former Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin (independent) and former Tax Minister Georgii Boos (OVR) are competing. JAC
PUTIN CALLS FOR DEPUTIES TO GET TO WORK...
Addressing the new Duma on 18 January, acting President Vladimir Putin called on deputies to adopt "eight of 15 constitutional bills" without which "implementation of many basic provisions of the constitution is not possible." He added that additionally a "whole series of bills which have direct impact on the rights and freedoms of people must be adopted as soon as possible, such as the law on alternative military service." He also urged deputies to be economical with their time and "to do [their] best to depart from all declarative and decorative bills, ones which lack sufficient means and realistic mechanisms for their execution." JAC
...AND RULES OUT TIGHTER CURRENCY CONTROLS, DICTATORSHIP
Asked during a question and answer period with journalists about proposed restrictions on exporters' hard currency revenues, Putin said that "there is no such question on the government's agenda." He continued such questions should not be discussed with too much haste. Putin also ruled out the possibility of a dictatorship being introduced in Russia. "Those who speak about a possible dictatorship are themselves dreaming of it. [Such a] dream is impossible in modern Russia," he said. JAC
RUSSIANS CLAIM GROZNY 'BREAKTHROUGH'
After subjecting Grozny to intensive air and artillery bombardment throughout the night, Russian forces launched a two-pronged ground attack on 18 January from Staraya Sunzha, Khankala, and Tashala, advancing towards the city center despite heavy fighting. Defense Ministry spokesman Konstantin Kukharenko told AP that "the decisive phase of the liberation of Grozny has started." Russian commanders predicted that federal forces would have complete control of the city within three or four days. On 17 January, Russian planes bombed the villages of Duba Yurt, Chishki, and Dachi-Borzoi, where President Aslan Maskhadov's headquarters are reportedly located, while ground troops have blockaded Vedeno, Tsentoroi, and Oktyabrskoe in the Argun gorge, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. LF
MOSCOW SLAMS TALIBAN RECOGNITION OF CHECHNYA
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 January condemning the formal recognition by the Taliban of Chechnya's independence as "legally invalid" and "interference into Russia's internal affairs," Russian agencies reported. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Russian Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation, told Interfax that the Taliban move will not affect the timing of Russia's ongoing offensive in Chechnya. He accused the Taliban of providing military assistance to the Chechens. Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said his agency and the Russian border guards are taking additional measures to prevent Taliban representatives from entering Chechnya. LF
PUTIN, PACE PRESIDENT DISCUSS CHECHNYA
Lord David Russell- Johnston, who is president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told journalists in Moscow on 17 January after talks with Russian leaders that it is premature to speculate about Russia's expulsion from the Council of Europe in retaliation for its military offensive in Chechnya. Russell-Johnston also said that acting President Putin agreed in principle to a PACE proposal to deploy permanent international observers in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Putin responded to Russell-Johnston's call for a cessation of hostilities by calling for international "understanding" of the situation in the North Caucasus. Former State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax that Russell-Johnston advocated peace talks with President Maskhadov. Both Seleznev and Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak argued that Maskhadov is not a suitable negotiating partner as he "does not represent any political force" in Chechnya. LF
MORE PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANTS EXPECTED
Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov told reporters on 17 January that he is expecting registration documents from initiative groups for the nomination of Spiritual Heritage head Aleksei Podberezkin, Russian National Unity head Aleksandr Barkashov, and suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov. The same day Skuratov said that he will run on an anti-corruption platform. Podberezkin, who was a member of the old Duma, was not re-elected in 19 December elections. JAC
NEW CABINET POSITION CREATED
Konstantin Lubenchenko has been named the government's representative to the State Duma and the position's status has been upgraded to the rank of cabinet minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. Government spokesman Andrei Korotkov said that the position's enhanced status will help improve cooperation between the cabinet and the lower legislative chamber. Lubenchenko previously held a position in the legal department of the Central Bank. JAC
NDR LEADERS JOIN UNITY
Our Home is Russia (NDR) leader Viktor Chernomyrdin and the former head of NDR's Duma faction, Vladimir Ryzhkov, announced on 17 January that they are joining Unity's faction in the State Duma. In addition, four of the ten NDR members who were elected to the Duma have opted to join Unity, according to Ryzhkov. Chernomyrdin announced earlier that a unification congress between the two groups will be held on 29 January. Ryzhkov told NTV that NDR's "views and those of Unity are identical on very many key issues." Before State Duma elections, NDR rejected a proposal to form an alliance with Unity. Chernomyrdin said at the time that Unity "does not have any ideology whatsoever. It has only [business magnate Boris] Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 1999). Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov said on 13 January that by the time the Duma has its first session Unity will have as many as 81 or 82 deputies. JAC
ST. PETERSBURG PAPER MILL DISPUTE RESOLVED
A group of workers at the Vyborgskii paper plant in St. Petersburg announced on 17 January that they are ending their protest after winning concessions from the plant's owner, UK-based ALCEM. The plant's union representative, Pavel Privalov, told Reuters that ALCEM has pledged to preserve all jobs at the plant and pay wages of not less than 2,500 rubles $88 per month. In return, workers will allow the new owners to take over the plant. Last October, Justice Ministry troops stormed the plant and opened fire on workers who had barricaded themselves in the administration building in a bid to prevent the mill's foreign owners from assuming control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 October 1999). JAC
RUSSIA, CHINA BLAST U.S. ON ABM TREATY
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev met with his Chinese counterpart Chi Haotian in Moscow on 17 January. After their meeting, the two officials took the opportunity to repeat their opposition to U.S. plans to launch a national anti-ballistic missile system. Sergeev noted that "if the U.S. withdraws from the 1972 ABM treaty, the international situation will deteriorate." He added that military cooperation between Russia and China is "developing dynamically" and that the two countries are "intensively expanding" their contacts, Interfax reported. JAC.
YELTSIN, KOHL KEEP IN TOUCH
Acting President Putin telephoned German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 17 January while former President Boris Yeltsin called former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. According to the Kremlin press service, Putin and Schroeder stressed that the partnership between their two countries must be maintained "at a high level regardless of the fluctuations in world politics." Yeltsin and Kohl "shared their plans for further activities." They also discussed "the issue of the possible creation of public structures to support positive trends in world affairs." JAC
EMERGENCIES MINISTRY PREDICTS BUSY YEAR
Mikhail Shakhramanyan, head of the department for monitoring and prognoses at the Emergencies Ministry, told "Segodnya" on 17 January that the ministry is expecting between 50 to 60 human catastrophes every month in 2000 and the worst months will likely be February, April, and December. The regions with highest risk are the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk Krai, the republic of Sakha, and Kamchatka, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Moscow, Magadan, Perm, Chita and Sverdlovsk Oblasts. Spring flooding will occur between April and June and will be worst in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Komi Republic, Arkhangelsk and Vologda oblasts and Nenets and Chukotka autonomous okrugs. According to the January issue of "Zeleny Mir," the area of Russia susceptible to floods covers 400,000 square kilometers and threatens 750 towns. JAC
ARMENIAN COMMUNIST PARTY CALLS FOR PRETERM PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Newly-elected Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Vladimir Darpinian told journalists in Yerevan on 17 January that his party advocates holding pre-term presidential elections in order to "help restore political stability" in the wake of the 27 October parliament shootings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But he added that the new poll should be held only after amendments are made to the existing constitution. Darpinian also said that his party will cooperate closely with the majority Miasnutyun coalition to push through constitutional reform and will propose its own amendments. He also spoke in favor of continued military cooperation with Russia. LF
FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IMPLICATED IN MURDER
A former commander of Armenia's Interior Ministry troops told a Yerevan court on 14 January that former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian ordered the murder of two police officers six years ago after they failed to assassinate a Moscow-based Armenian businessman in 1993, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The former commander also said that leading members of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement also commissioned other murders, including those of a local government official and the head of Armenia's rail network. Siradeghian's role in the killings was to "ensure the perpetrators' impunity," he went on. Siradeghian denies the charges, which he claims are politically motivated. LF
AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH IRAN
Vilayet Guliev told Turan on 17 January that he believes Azerbaijan should "revise its attitude towards Iran" and work for warmer bilateral relations. He added that Azerbaijan has always advocated the export of its oil by multiple pipelines, and argued that the implementation of the planned Baku-Ceyhan project does not exclude construction of a fourth pipeline, in addition to those via Russia and Georgia, to export crude via Iran. Guliev also did not exclude the routing of an oil export pipeline via Armenia if Armenian forces are withdrawn from occupied Azerbaijani territory. He did not specify whether the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is included in that category. On 14 January, "Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous ruling political party, noted a "lukewarm spring" in bilateral relations, as evidenced by the long postponed and now reportedly imminent visit to Iran of Azerbaijan's president, Heidar Aliev. LF
UN MILITARY OBSERVERS ATTACKED IN ABKHAZIA
Two members of the UN Observer force deployed in western Georgia were attacked late on 17 January in Abkhazia's Gali Raion by four unidentified masked men who seized their jeep, Caucasus Press reported. One of the two observers claimed that the attackers spoke Mingrelian. LF
GEORGIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS ENERGY, DEBTS
On a one-day visit to Tbilisi on 17 January, Unified Energy Systems (UES) Chairman Anatolii Chubais met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, and Fuel and Energy Minister Davit Mirtskhulava, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais and Mirtskhulava signed a protocol on cooperation whereby Russia will convert $36.25 million of Georgia's total $45.22 million debt for energy supplies into Georgia's foreign debt. The remainder will be paid by the end of this year by Georgian energy companies. UES and Georgia's Fuel and Energy Ministry will also cooperate on construction of a power line linking the Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Turkish energy systems. UES will also participate in the upcoming privatization of Georgian energy facilities. LF
KAZAKH OFFICIAL SAYS JEWELRY COLLECTION CAMPAIGN WAS 'MISTAKE'
Almaty Oblast Governor Zamanbek Nurkadilov told Kazakhstan's state television on 16 January that the campaign launched in June 1999 to collect gold and silver jewelry and cash donations from the population "was his personal mistake," Interfax reported. Launching that initiative, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev had said it was intended to shore up the country's sinking foreign currency reserves following the de facto devaluation of the tenge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 June 1999). Nurkadilov admitted that the campaign "had not worked." On 17 January he told journalists that he has issued a decree ordering that the jewelry and cash donations, valued at 50 million tenges ($350,000) be returned to the donors, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. LF
NEW POLITICAL ALLIANCES TAKE SHAPE IN KYRGYZSTAN
The leadership of the People's Republican Party and the Party To Support the Poor, Agricultural and Industrial Workers announced in Bishkek on 17 January that the two parties have formed a bloc, named Manas, to contend the 20 February parliamentary poll, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Two days earlier, a spokesman for the Agrarian Party similarly announced that that party and the Party of Farmers will form an electoral alliance and field a combined party list of nine candidates to contest the seats in the new parliament to be allocated under the proportional system. That list will be headed by Akazbek Abdrashitov, a member of the presidential administration. A spokesman for the OSCE told an RFE/RL correspondent on 18 January that preparations for the poll indicate that it will meet OSCE basic standards for a democratic election. LF
KYRGYZSTAN'S SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS RULING AGAINST OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
Meeting on 14 January, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court left in force the verdict handed down by a Bishkek district court last April against the opposition newspaper "Res Publica," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 15 January. That court had fined the paper 200,000 som ($6,670) for insulting the honor and dignity of Amanbek Karypkulov, President of Kyrgyzstan's National Television and Radio Corporation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). On 12 January 1999 the paper had published an open letter by 20 employees of the corporation to President Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov, and the speakers of both chambers of parliament protesting that Karypkulov was restricting media freedom. The Bishkek City Court upheld the district court ruling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 1999). "Res Publica" editor Zamira Sydykova said the paper will now appeal to the Constitutional Court. LF
UN ENVOY CONTINUES TALKS ON TAJIK PEACE PROCESS
Ivo Petrov, who is the special representative in Tajikistan of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, traveled to Moscow on 17 January for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on the implementation of the 1997 Tajik peace agreement, of which Russia is one of the guarantors. The final stage of the peace agreement entails parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for 27 February. Petrov discussed the ongoing election campaign in Dushanbe last week with President Imomali Rakhmonov, opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri, and Central Electoral Commission Chairman Mirzoali Boltuev, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Those discussions raised the question of extending the UN involvement in the Tajik peace process after the election of the new parliament. Speaking in Dushanbe on 17 January, Rakhmonov expressed confidence that the new parliament will be "a truly professional supreme legislative body," ITAR-TASS reported. LF
TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN SIGN ECONOMIC AGREEMENTS
A visiting Uzbek government delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Lerik Ahmetov signed two cooperation agreements in Dushanbe on 14 January, Asia Pluz-Blitz reported three days later. Under the first agreement, Uzbekistan will deliver to Tajikistan in 2000 natural gas to the value of some $25 million at a price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters, in payment for transit of Uzbek cargo via Tajikistan's Leninabad region, according to ITAR-TASS. The second agreement is on cooperation in the use of water and energy resources. LF
BELARUSIAN ELECTION CODE DRAFT SAID TO MEET OSCE STANDARDS
Anatol Krasutski, a deputy of the Chamber of Representatives, said on 17 January that the electoral code draft that will be debated on 24 January includes "almost all" proposals made by the OSCE Minsk mission, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Krasutski, the draft now meets international election standards. Another legislator told Belarusian Television the same day that the draft meets "practically all demands of the opposition." The OSCE and the opposition, however, argue that the 2000 parliamentary elections should be held following a political dialogue, which failed to start last year due to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's objections. The opposition also objects to the holding of elections for seats in the Chamber of Representatives, which the opposition considers an illegitimate body because it was formed under the 1996 constitution, which was adopted in a controversial referendum whose results are not recognized by the West. JM
UKRAINIAN POLITICIANS CRITICIZE KUCHMA'S REFERENDUM DECREE
Both leftist and rightist politicians on 17 January criticized President Leonid Kuchma's decree to hold a nationwide constitutional referendum on 16 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000). Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said Kuchma's decree is a "constitutional coup d'etat." Peasant Party leader Serhiy Dovhan said the decree "grossly violates the country's laws." A bloc of three rightist parties, composed of the Popular Rukh, the Reforms and Order Party, and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, said the referendum raised "a danger to constitutional order in Ukraine," according to UNIAN. The Communist Party announced that it intends to appeal the decree to the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, Kuchma commented the same day that if the current parliament creates a "constructive majority," it may survive until the expiration of its constitutional term. JM
UKRAINE'S GAS TRADER DENIES STEALING RUSSIAN GAS
Ihor Bakay, head of the state-owned Naftohaz, denied on 17 January that Ukraine has been illegally siphoning off Russian transit gas that passes over Ukrainian territory, AP reported. Bakay said Naftohaz will open its books to Russian scrutiny by 5 February to dispel the charges. He added that his company was taking Russian gas in accordance with an agreement with Gazprom as payment for transit. Bakay also said Russia is exaggerating Ukraine's debt for gas supplies. According to him, the debt now stands at $763 million. The sum of $2.23 billion mentioned by Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000) includes the debts of commercial structures, for which Naftohaz is not responsible, he added. JM
ESTONIAN GDP GROWTH FINISHES STRONG IN 1999
The Finance Ministry on 17 January announced that provisional results for the fourth quarter of 1999 showed that Estonia's GDP was 3.5- 4.0 percent higher than the same period the previous year. The ministry added that preliminary results show that the GDP drop in 1999 was between 0.5-1.0 percent. Finance Minister Siim Kallas told the press that 1999 was the worst year for Estonia economically since the restoration of independence, "Postimees" reported. Kallas added that GDP growth in 2000 should reach 4 percent, which in turn will prop up tax receipts for the state. MH
LATVIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW AMBASSADOR TO U.S. DESPITE OPPOSITION
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga informed Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins on 17 January that she has appointed Aivis Ronis as the new Latvian ambassador to the United States, BNS reported. This comes as parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Guntars Krasts voiced objections to the appointment, suggesting it will complicate relations between the committee and the Foreign Ministry. Krasts stated that Ronis does not qualify for the job and, at 31, is too young for it. The committee on 12 January voted 4- 4 on the Ronis nomination, though that opinion to the president is only advisory. Ojars Kalnins, the outgoing Latvian ambassador to Washington, has said that Ronis would be an excellent candidate for the post. MH
SUSPECT IN STAROVOITOVA MURDER APPREHENDED IN LATVIA
Latvian authorities said that they have apprehended a possible suspect in the murder of prominent Russian politician Galina Starovoitova. National police chief Juris Riksna told the press that Konstantin Nikulin, a former OMON trooper, may be linked to the murder of the St. Petersburg deputy to the Russian Duma, Reuters reported on 17 January. Riksna said Nikulin was apprehended for an unrelated murder in Latvia, but, "we have operative information on Nikulin's possible connection with St. Petersburg groups carrying out ordered murders." Riksna added that bullets and evidence have been sent to St. Petersburg officials. Riksna hinted that the gun found on Nikulin during his arrest is a very rare make and "Starovoitova's aide was wounded by the same type of gun." The 52-year-old Starovoitova was gunned down in her St. Petersburg apartment block in November 1998. MH
RESIGNATIONS AT LITHUANIAN PUBLIC RADIO AND TV
The management of the financially troubled Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT) resigned on 17 January. LRT acting Director Algirdas Trakimavicius, the head of the radio side, Laima Grumadiene, and the company's council chairman, Algimantas Maciulis, all tendered their resignations, ELTA reported. Maciulis said the inability to guarantee normal operations for the station motivated his decision. The council elected Petras Dirgela as the new council chairman and appointed Vaidotas Zukas as new acting director. LRT has been in experiencing serious financial problems, with debts at the end of 1999 of 13 million litas ($3.25 million). Since 15 January, Radio-2 and Radio-3 have been off the air and national television broadcasts have been trimmed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). MH
POLAND'S THREE RADICAL GROUPS TO FORM 'NATIONAL PEASANT BLOC'
A forum of three radical groups--the Self-Defense Farmers' Trade Union, the National Front, and the "August 80" Free Trade Union--declared in Warsaw on 17 January the creation of the National Peasant Bloc, PAP reported. The signatories wrote in their declaration that they will oppose threats resulting from the social and economic policies of Premier Jerzy Buzek's government. According to Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, the bloc's goal is to win parliamentary representation and create a political alternative to both Solidarity and the post-communists. The forum did not propose a single strategy for the bloc in this year's presidential elections. Lepper and National Front leader Tadeusz Wilecki have formerly announced that they may run in those elections. JM
POLISH, UKRAINE PRESIDENTS MEET IN KRAKOW
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, discussed the founding of a Polish-Ukrainian university and the continuation of visa-free travel between both countries at their meeting in Krakow on 17 January. Kwasniewski and Kuchma intend to ask rectors of several Polish and Ukrainian universities to work out plans for establishing a joint university in Rzeszow, southeastern Poland. According to dpa, Kwasniewski declared that Poland will negotiate with the EU an arrangement enabling Poland to continue visa-free movement between the two states. Kwasniewski and Kuchma also discussed Russia's new defense doctrine, the Chechen war, the Belarus-Russia Union, and the joint Odesa-Gdansk gas pipeline project. JM
MINOR CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY READY TO SUBSTITUTE FOR ODS?
Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) leader Jan Kasal says his party may consider backing the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) minority cabinet if the talks now underway between the CSSD and the Civic Democratic Party collapse. The daily "Slovo" on 18 January cites Kasal as saying that such an arrangement would be "constitutionally cleaner than the current one" and would resemble the conditions under which minority cabinets survive in Scandinavian countries. At the end of last week Kasal said the CSSD has offered to terminate the "opposition agreement" with the ODS if the KDU-CSL would back the Milos Zeman cabinet. Zeman, however, denied he had made the offer to Kasal. MS
CZECH PREMIER SAYS COMPENSATING SUDETEN GERMANS 'ABSURD'
The Czech government will not consider compensating those Sudeten Germans who had to perform forced labor in uranium mines after World War II, Zeman said on 14 January. The premier said such a demand, whether coming from Germany or Austria, is "absurd," CTK and dpa reported. He was reacting to statements issued by organizations representing the expelled Germans in the two countries. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said a planned discussion on the Benes decrees under which the Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1945, can take place only after the new government is formed in Austria. The discussion would include historians and legal experts from Austria and the Czech Republic. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER TO SET UP NEW PARTY...
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 17 January announced that he and other politicians from the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) will set up a new party before the parliamentary elections of 2002. The new party is to be called Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. Dzurinda said he will "soon" quit the Christian-Democratic Movement. The politicians who follow him oppose the disintegration of the SDK back into its component "mother parties." Among the signatories of the initiative to establish the new formation are Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, who intends to remain a member of the Democratic Union until the new party is established. Also backing the initiative are Culture Minister Milan Knazko, a member of the Democratic Union, as well as Christian Democratic Movement members Ladislav Pittner--who is Interior Minister--Juraj Kopcak, and Josef Macejko, SITA reported. MS
...AND POLITICAL RIVALS SAY THIS TERMINATES SDK EXISTENCE...
Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) leader Jan Carnogursky and Democratic Party Chairman Jan Langos said in reaction that Dzurinda's announcement terminates the existence of the SDK, CTK reported. "Dzurinda has taken a very risky step and is now left without party membership," Carnogursky said. He added that this is "no reason for the KDH to join those voices demanding that the grand opposition agreement be revised or to call for Dzurinda's resignation as premier." MS
...WHILE OPPOSITION CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTIONS
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) spokesman Igor Zvach said that Dzurinda's decision amounts to the disintegration of the SDK and that those elected on the SDK ticket have lost their legitimacy. Slovak National Party chairwoman Anna Malikova said that she views the new party as being "the mummy of a dead body." Earlier on 17 January HZDS leader Vladimir Meciar announced that his party has started the drive to collect the 350,000 signatures necessary for the parliament to consider an initiative for early elections, CTK reported. MS
FRANCE SEES HUNGARY AMONG FIRST TO JOIN EU
Visiting French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici on 17 January said in Budapest that he has "no doubt whatsoever that Hungary will be admitted to the EU as the first country, or will be among the first group of those admitted." Both Moscovici and Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi agreed that Budapest's planned date of accession of 1 January 2003 can serve as a goal. Moscovici noted, however, that Hungary still needs to carry out reforms in environmental protection, transport, justice, internal security, and agriculture. MSZ
WHY NO POLICE REPORT ON ARKAN KILLING?
Belgrade police still have not issued a statement on the murder of indicted war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," "Danas" reported on 18 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000). Conflicting reports have emerged in media close to the regime regarding the number of killers, whether Arkan appeared to have known any of them, and whether one was wounded and is now in hospital. Budimir Babovic, who is a former officer of Interpol, told the private Beta news agency that "if we do not soon receive a precise police statement as to who is behind the assassination, one should then ask the question as to whether the police are hiding the facts about the murder or maybe because they are behind it." Vladan Batic, who is a leader of the opposition Alliance for Change, said that Serbia is increasingly coming to resemble Colombia as far as the rule of law is concerned. Observers note that the regime is likely to try to obscure the facts by floating a number of conspiracy theories in the media. PM
SERBIAN OPPOSITION MAYORS DISCUSS OIL PROGRAM
The mayors of Nis and Pirot, Zoran Zivkovic and Tomislav Panajotovic, are slated to hold talks with EU officials in Skopje on 18 January, "Danas" reported. On the agenda is whether Brussels will continue to expand its Energy for Democracy program, through which it has provided some heating oil for the two opposition-run towns. The opposition wants the EU to expand the program to include additional cities, including some controlled by the ruling coalition. Brussels appears reluctant to launch such an ambitious project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). PM
SERBIAN POLICE SUMMON VOJVODINA POLITICIAN
Police have summoned Nenad Canak of the opposition League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina for an "informative discussion" on 18 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The term is usually a euphemism for an interrogation. Canak told reporters that he has no idea why he has been called in. PM
CROATIA, EU UPBEAT ON PROSPECTS FOR BETTER TIES...
EU spokesman Ricardo Levi said in Brussels on 17 January that the visit to Croatia by Commission President Romano Prodi three days earlier demonstrated "on both sides high hopes of a dramatic change in the relationship between the EU and Croatia, with far-reaching consequences." He added that the new Croatian government "is fully committed to Europe," Reuters reported. Levi stressed that he hopes that the changes in Croatia will have a favorable impact on Serbia, which is now becoming surrounded by a "circle of democracy." PM
...AMID CAUTION AGAINST EUPHORIA
Croatian Ambassador to the EU Janko Vranyczany-Dobrinovic told "Jutarnji list" of 18 January that high-level visits and good intentions will not be enough to help Croatia make up for nine years of lost time in developing its ties to Brussels. He said that the new government, like the post-Meciar government in Slovakia, will have to draw up a precise program, which EU officials will then scrutinize carefully. He added that the new government must make very clear what it wants and what it is prepared to do. It will have to speed up the return of Serbian refugees, fully implement the Dayton agreement, and fully cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM
MESIC: SOLVE PREVLAKA ISSUE WITH MONTENEGRO
Stipe Mesic, whom polls suggest is the current front-runner in the 24 January Croatian presidential election, told Montenegro's Montena Television that Zagreb and Podgorica should solve the dispute over the Prevlaka peninsula directly between them, "Danas" reported on 18 January. Mesic stressed that both Croatia and Montenegro are on their way to European integration, and that they should deal with this outstanding issue without recourse to the Belgrade regime. Prevlaka is Croatian territory but controls the entrance to Montenegro's Kotor Bay, which is currently the site of Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2000). The bay provides one of the Mediterranean's great natural harbors and has attracted the interest of regional powers for centuries. PM
BOSNIAN UPPER HOUSE BLASTS LOWER HOUSE
Deputies of the upper house of the joint parliament held a half-hour session in Sarajevo on 17 January in which they approved 18 international agreements signed by the Bosnian authorities. The deputies were unable to deal with any additional measures because the lower house, in which nationalist parties often block legislation, had not acted on them. The upper house deputies passed a resolution dubbing the lower house "the least effective institution of the [joint] government," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meanwhile in Banja Luka, several Bosnian Serb deputies to the lower house held a press conference to protest the decision by the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch to set up a joint border police force (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 January 2000). The deputies called Petritsch's move "undemocratic." PM
VETERAN ROMANIAN POLITICIAN DEAD
National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) Deputy Chairman Ion Ratiu died in London on 17 January of cancer, Romanian media reported. Ratiu was a leader of the Romanian anti-communist emigration. He returned to Romania after the fall of communism and ran for president in 1990. He was also the owner of the daily "Cotidianul," whose editorial line has often been criticized by the PNTCD. Although a deputy leader of the party, Ratiu had been very much relegated by the PNTCD to ceremonial positions in the last years. MS
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY TO ELECT NEW BUREAU
The Standing Bureau of the PNTCD on 17 January decided by a majority of votes that the party's Permanent Delegation is to elect a new Standing Bureau at its meeting later this month, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The bureau thus overruled PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu, who earlier said he opposes the step in order to preserve party unity before the 2000 parliamentary elections. Diaconescu said at the end of the meeting that the new Standing Bureau will have an "interim mandate" and will be replaced by one to be elected by the PNTCD congress after the general elections. PNTCD deputy chairman Gabriel Tepelea announced that he will not seek re- election to the new bureau. MS
ROMANIA REHABILITATES ANTONESCU MINISTER
Netta Gheron, who served as Finance Minister in the government headed by Ion Antonescu, was rehabilitated by the Supreme Court of Justice on 17 January, Mediafax reported. Gheron had been sentenced by the communist regime to ten years hard labor for "crimes against peace." MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT POKERS ON ROMANIAN ELECTRICITY DEBT...
President Petru Lucinschi on 17 January said that at next week's CIS summit in Moscow he will discuss with Russian leaders the possibility of replacing electricity imports from Romania with Russian imports if Moscow offers a lower price, Romanian radio reported. Romania has been threatening to cut supplies due to Moldova's $22 million debt and the failure of Chisinau to finalize an agreement whereby the Romanians would take control of the Tirex-Petrol Moldovan company in exchange for the debt. The issue was also discussed last weekend by the countries' premiers when Dumitru Barghis and Mugur Isarescu both participated in ceremonies marking 150 years since the birth of national (for both countries) poet Mihai Eminescu. MS
...SAYS NO REFUGEE STATUS FOR CHECHENS
Moldova considers the Chechen issue to be a Russian internal affair and will not grant refugee status to those arriving from Chechnya, President Lucinschi, cited by ITAR-TASS, said on 17 January. "It would be strange if we, who suffer ourselves as a result of separatism, would encourage separatism in other countries," he said. Lucinschi added that he has instructed the Foreign Ministry, as well as the Interior Ministry, to clarify what he termed "misunderstandings" linked to the arrival of Chechen refugees. He said the Moldovan legislation on refugees was "imperfect," which led to the representative in Moldova of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees having issued documents that "exceed his powers." "With the help of the Russian authorities," he said, Moldova will find out "who is who" among those who arrived from Chechnya. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VETOES LIBEL LAW
Petar Stoyanov on 17 January announced he has vetoed a law passed by the parliament last week that imposed heavy fines on journalists found guilty of libel or slander, dpa and AP reported. The parliament on 12 January abolished imprisonment for libel or slander, but replaced the penalty with fines of up to 30,000 leva (about $15,500). Stoyanov said the fines were "excessively high compared to the low income of journalists." He spoke before departing for a three-day visit to Israel. MS
Odd Men Out
By Julie A. Corwin
Now that the State Duma elections are over and Russian presidential elections are scheduled for 26 March, national leaders' courtship of their regional counterparts has skidded to an abrupt halt--causing the presidents and governors of Russia's 89 regions to try to establish good relations with the likely winner of presidential elections, acting President Vladimir Putin. So far, leaders in the Bashkortostan and Tatarstan republics, Khabarovosk and Altai krais, as well as Nizhnii Novgorod and Novgorod oblasts have declared their support for Putin. All those leaders are--or were--members of groups that competed against the Putin-backed bloc, Unity, in Duma elections. Those regional leaders in the most awkward position vis-a-vis Moscow may not be the ones who backed the losing parties, but those whose verbal endorsements fell on deaf ears.
Overall, regional leaders who supported Unity had better success winning their populations' votes than Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) or Communist leaders, raising the possibility that the success of Unity in the elections had more to do with Putin's rising popularity than the governors' backing. Certain leaders who supported former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's OVR, such as the presidents of Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and Mordovia, managed to swing a plurality of voters in their region to the party. However, others backing OVR, such as Moscow Oblast Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov and Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha, couldn't even manage to get themselves re-elected let alone muster significant support for OVR. Similarly, in regions such as the republic of Karelia, Nizhnii Novgorod, Murmansk, Kirov, Irkutsk and Perm oblasts, and Khabarovsk Krai, the local governors' endorsements for OVR failed to generate more than 8 percent of support for that group.
The lesson that national officials preparing for presidential elections may draw is to be more discriminating in their pursuit of regional officials' support and concentrate their resources on regional leaders with a proven election track record. Such a strategy may rule out wooing Yaroslavl, where Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov managed to arrange millions of dollars worth of financing from the Moscow city government for the area to construct an international hockey venue. In that oblast Unity, the Communist Party, and Union of Rightist Forces each captured more votes than OVR (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 May 1999). And it may also exclude Udmurtia, where the Moscow government agreed to buy electricity meters, medical equipment, and an experimental shipment of batteries for Moskvich car manufacturers from local factories seven months before elections. There, Unity attracted four times as many votes as OVR.
With the discretion to disburse federal money and enforce tax laws, federal authorities are in a much better position than any opposition figure--such as Luzhkov--to pursue a policy of providing not just "carrots" but also wielding "sticks" against regional leaders. Although federal law establishes certain procedures for distributing revenues, in practice Finance Ministry officials appear to distribute monies to regions at will. For example, in 1996, when tax revenues fell significantly below projections, Russian regions received only about 60 percent of what was allocated to them by the federal budget but these cuts were not made across the board, according to Daniel Triesman, a political scientist at UCLA. Triesman found that some regions received exactly the amount budgeted, while others received hundreds or thousands of rubles per capita less and some even received a little bit more. He also discovered that regions whose leaders opposed or chose not to support the incumbent central politicians during the government crisis in 1993 and in elections in 1995 were rewarded or "appeased" with more budget money.
If this pattern continues to hold, then leaders in Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and Mordovia may find Moscow presenting them with inducements for their loyalty or "carrots" in the form of higher federal transfers. On the other hand, federal officials may find that Putin's impressive lead in public opinion surveys and continuing control over national media outlets, such as Russian Public Television, gives them the leeway to brandish the stick more than the carrot. Shortly after Duma elections results were tallied, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok announced that the two oil companies in the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Tatneft and Bashneft, are in danger of losing their access to crude export pipelines because of their overdue tax debts. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, both founding members of All Russia, were among the most effective in delivering the vote in their regions. In Tatarstan, 3 of 5 seats in single-mandate districts went to OVR candidates. In Bashkortostan, the rate was even better with 4 of the 5 seats going to the OVR. After Pochinok's announcement, Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiev, accused federal officials of engaging in "political pressure" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 January 2000.) Acknowledging another area where his region is vulnerable to even more pressure, Shaimiev noted that revision of the power-sharing agreement between Tatarstan and the center would not be conducive to "stability" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," tk January 1999).
With oil reserves and large, politically docile populations, the leaders of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are likely to find some kind of mutually agreeable arrangement with the center despite their "disloyalty." Perhaps the real odd men out may be those regional leaders who were disloyal to the center but whose voters still backed the Kremlin--such as Karelia and Yaroslavl. Those governors may scramble to support Putin now but will find that they are offering the center much too little much too late.