RUSSIAN FORCES CLOSE IN ON SHATOI
Federal forces on 22 February advanced closer to the village of Shatoi in the Argun gorge, where some 2,700 Chechen fighters are surrounded, together with President Aslan Maskhadov and field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev, dpa reported. The same day, three Russian border guards were killed and two wounded during fighting near the Chechen village of Omi-Chu with a group of Chechen fighters, whom they prevented from crossing into neighboring Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking to NTV on 23 February, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, who is deputy commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, denied Chechen claims to have shot down three Russian helicopters in the Argun gorge in recent days. LF
ACCESS TO CHECHNYA, GROZNY TEMPORARILY RESTRICTED
The Russian military on 22 February banned civilians from entering Chechnya and imposed restrictions on travel within the republic, Russian agencies reported. Those restrictions will remain in force for 48 hours and are intended to prevent terrorist acts on the 23 February anniversary of the mass deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia by Stalin in 1944. On 20 February, the Russian government representative in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, told Interfax that motor and civilian access to Grozny has been suspended until 1 April, as the city is heavily mined and many buildings badly damaged, Interfax reported. LF
U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN AT HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CHECHNYA
U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said on 22 February that Human Rights Watch reports that Russian troops summarily executed civilians in Grozny and elsewhere in Chechnya are "credible," according to dpa. Also on 22 February, a spokesman for UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson said in Geneva that the Russian government has denied her permission to visit Chechnya. But Viktor Kalamanov, newly appointed Russian presidential commissioner for human rights in Chechnya, said in Moscow on 22 February that Alvaro Gil Robles, who is the Council of Europe's Human Rights commissioner, will travel to Moscow later this week, according to Interfax. LF
CHECHEN EMISSARY SAYS HE WILL NOT LEAVE PAKISTAN
Former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev denied on 23 February that the Pakistani authorities have requested him to leave the country and said he has no intention of doing so, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad the previous day, Pakistani Foreign Ministry official Inam ul Haq had confirmed reports that Yandarbiev had been asked to leave the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2000). Haq said the visa issued to Yandarbiev by Pakistan's consulate in Dubai expired "some time ago." LF
FORMER FSB HEAD CALLS BABITSKII AFFAIR 'MORE THAN STRANGE'
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 22 February, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin declared that RFE/RL reporter Andrei Babitskii is "definitely alive" and that there have been intelligence reports that "the Chechens themselves are using him as a shield, since it is clear that Russian troops will not aggressively attack the bandits [for fear of] killing Babitskii." The same day, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee Nikolai Kovalev (Fatherland-All Russia) told reporters that the "situation surrounding Babitskii strikes me as more than strange." Kovalev, who is a former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said that based on his experience, he doubts whether a videotape of Babitskii shown on Russian television was made by the special services since such recordings usually specify time and place. JAC
PUTIN HAS LARGEST CAMPAIGN WAR CHEST
The Central Election Commission released data on 22 February on the campaign funds of each presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for 26 March. Acting President Vladimir Putin has the largest fund, with some 25 million rubles ($870,000), while Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has the second largest, with some 15 million rubles. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev has 13 million rubles, and Spiritual Heritage head Aleksei Podberezkin 2.5 million rubles. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has a relatively small amount, 500,000 rubles. In addition to these amounts, the commission will grant each candidate 400,000-500,000 rubles. JAC
YELTSIN'S IMMUNITY TO BECOME CAMPAIGN ISSUE?
Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Zyuganov called on acting President Putin to revoke two decrees granting benefits and immunity from criminal prosecution to former President Boris Yeltsin. Zyuganov told reporters on 22 February that the documents, which Putin enacted upon assuming office, are unconstitutional and should be annulled. Last month, fellow presidential candidate and suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov also called the decrees unconstitutional. He said "any appeal to the Constitutional Court should lead to declaration of this decree [granting immunity] as unconstitutional." On 18 February, Zyuganov sent a letter to Putin, asking him to dismiss Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais because Chubais "is plunging Russia into darkness." EES's press service responded on 22 February saying that Zyuganov is complaining because EES's "tight fiscal policy" may "hurt the commercial organizations that support the Communists." JAC
NEW OIL LOBBY EMERGES IN DUMA
State Duma deputy and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has founded a new inter- factional group in the lower legislative house called Energy of Russia. Chernomyrdin said on 22 February that the group will meet regularly to consider the more than 50 draft laws related to the fuel and energy sector that the Duma is to debate during its spring session. He added that some 70 deputies have declared their intention to join the group. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 23 February that Chernomyrdin "has found a base for creating a new political movement," noting that "not only oilmen have expressed a desire to join the new group." According to the daily, Vladimir Medvedev (Russian Regions) will be first deputy chairman of the group. Other deputy chairmen will be former Fuel Minister Sergei Generalov (Union of Rightist Forces), Yurii Ten (People's Deputy), Sergei Chikulaev and Yaroslav Shvyryaev (Russian Regions), and Valerii Yazez (Unity). JAC
SOBCHAK'S WIDOW WARNS ST. PETE GOVERNOR TO STAY AWAY FROM FUNERAL
The widow of Anatolii Sobchak has said she does not want to see St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev at her husband's funeral. Sobchak, who died of a heart attack in a hotel room in Kaliningrad Oblast last weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000), narrowly lost the gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg to Yakovlev four years ago. Lyudmila Narusova described Yakovlev's public statements expressing his condolences as a "display of outrageous cynicism" and accused the city administration of "persecuting" her husband, Russian Television and Interfax reported on 22 February. Narusova also commented that she agrees with EES head Chubais's remark that it is "necessary to point out all Sobchak's murderers." "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, ran an article on 22 February raising questions about the circumstances of Sobchak's death. JC
PUTIN DEFENDS THE ARMY'S HONOR
Speaking in Volgograd on 22 February, acting President Putin rejected "all talk of the collapse of the army" as "an open lie" and as "disrespectful...to our soldiers and officers, especially those now fighting in Chechnya," Russian news agencies reported. "We are building a new army, with the man, soldier, and officer and their lives at its center," he added. Putin also noted that special attention must be paid to ensuring the social security of army personnel. Once arrears have been paid, he commented, the government will consider raising allowances in the forces. JC
BORDER GUARD CHIEF BEMOANS INADEQUATE FUNDING
In an interview with "Tribuna" on 23 February, Colonel General Konstantin Totskii noted that the border guards have been significantly underfunded for the past few years, with payments from the center failing to be made. In two or three years, two-thirds of the border guards' vessels will have to written off, he noted, adding that currently every third airplane is in need of repair. Totskii also remarked that one of the most acute problems facing his force is the shortage of housing. A housing construction program was discontinued several years ago, and many officers who fail to get housing opt to resign rather than rent apartments or rooms. JC
MEMBERS OF MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION REVEALED
Acting President Putin has appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as deputy chairman of the federal commission for the military-industrial complex, while three former members of the commission have not been re-appointed, "Vremya MN" reported on 22 February. Former Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich was left out probably because he was not re-elected to the lower legislative house. Also excluded were State Property Minister Farid Gazizullin and Rosvooruzhenie Director-General Aleksei Ogarev, which caused the daily to speculate about the latter's fate following the presidential elections. According to the newspaper, the other members of the commission are Chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, Deputy Finance Minister Lyubov Kudelina, presidential administration's Defense Department head Valerii Mikhailov, Security Council Deputy Director Aleksei Moskovskii, and Deputy State Property Minister Nikolai Gusev. JAC
RUSSIAN 'TRADER' CLAIMS INNOCENCE IN BONY AFFAIR
In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 22 February, alleged crime boss Semen Mogilevich said that "neither Russia's special parliamentary commission nor [Russia's] special services nor the [Russian] tax police who traveled to the U.S. received any confirmation or documents proving my involvement" in the scandal over the Bank of New York. Mogilevich, who described himself as a wheat trader, said that he has been unfairly linked to the scandal because one of his companies happens to have the name Benex. The same day, Moscow Deputy Prosecutor Yurii Andreechev told Interfax that Russian law enforcement agencies have no evidence linking Sobinbank and Flamingo Bank with money-laundering at BONY. However, last week, Yurii Demidov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's economic crimes department, said that the participation of those banks in money laundering is "a proven fact." JAC
TEACHERS' STRIKE CONTINUES, DESPITE FEDERAL TRANSFER
The head of the local teachers' union in Omsk Oblast, Aleksandr Shram, told ITAR-TASS on 22 February that teachers at more than 50 schools in the area will remain on strike until a four-month backlog of unpaid wages is paid. Shram also noted that the region received a 200 million ruble ($7 million) transfer from the federal government that was intended for state sector workers, such as teachers. Acting President Putin recently pledged to provide unions with information about federal transfers to regional governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). The strike in Omsk was launched on 10 February by teachers in some 13 schools. According to Interfax-Eurasia, unpaid wages for educational workers in November and December totaled 83 million rubles. As of 17 February, teachers at three schools in Amur Oblast were also on strike. JAC
MOSCOW NEWSPAPER READS JOHNSON'S RUSSIA LIST?
"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 22 February that Acting President Putin's income declaration filed with the Central Election Commission is raising questions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000.) According to the daily, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Putins' two daughters used to attend a German-language school in Moscow, where tuition costs more than 7,000 DM ($3,600) a year. However, the Putins' combined annual income was only 308,866 rubles in 1998 and 1999, which would have meant that after paying tuition they were living on less than the subsistence wage for a family of four. Four days before the article appeared, a reader identified only as "Peter Ekman" had pointed out the discrepancy between Putin's income and expenses on the English-language "Johnson's Russia List," which is distributed electronically. JAC
LAWYER AGAIN INSISTS ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE NOT INVOLVED IN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS
Ruben Sahakian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 21 February that he will demand that the investigation into Armenian presidential aide Aleksan Harutiunian's possible involvement in the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings be transferred from the Military Prosecutor-General to the Office of the Prosecutor-General. Sahakian said he is convinced Harutiunian is innocent and that the Military Prosecutor-General has no evidence to substantiate its charges against him. He said he will appeal a court decision to extend by two months Harutiunian's pre- trial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2000). France's Ambassador to Armenia Michel Legras on 22 February said he doubts that Harutiunian is guilty. Legras added that he cannot comprehend demands for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, given that the latter "has acted in accordance with the law and not interfered with the work of the parliament and government." LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VENTURES INTO LION'S DEN
Eduard Shevardnadze traveled on 22 February to Adjaria as part of his presidential election campaign tour of Georgia's regions, Caucasus Press reported. Following his talks with Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, known as the Lion of Adjaria, Shevardnadze said that agreement was reached on defining the division of power between the Adjar Republic and the central Georgian government. The lack of a clear ruling has compounded tensions between Tbilisi and Adjaria. Shevardnadze said the draft agreement will be submitted to the Georgian parliament in the next few days. Abashidze termed the talks useful, adding that he and Shevardnadze had discussed neither the threat by the Revival Union, which Abashidze heads, to boycott the presidential poll nor charges that Adjaria has withheld millions of lari it should have transferred to the central budget. LF
RUSSIAN MINISTER DISCUSSES ENERGY COOPERATION IN KAZAKHSTAN
Visiting Astana on 21-22 February, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi discussed bilateral cooperation in the energy sector with Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev and President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Russian agencies reported. Toqaev said after those talks that the Caspian Pipeline Consortium is "a national priority" for his country and the most feasible of all export pipeline options. Kalyuzhnyi told journalists that Russia may raise the current 9.5 million ton ceiling on exports of Kazakh crude via the Atyrau-Samara pipeline, whose throughput capacity will be increased to 15 million tons by the end of this year. Also discussed were the prospects for creating an energy union of which Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Belarus, and possibly Ukraine would be members, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February. Those states would coordinate a schedule for the supply and demand of oil, gas, coal, and electricity. LF
OSCE REGISTERS FLAWS IN KYRGYZ POLL...
In a statement released on 22 February, the OSCE characterized the 20 February Kyrgyz parliamentary elections as "not in full compliance with OSCE commitments," AP reported. The statement noted interference in the election campaign by public prosecutors, the exclusion of major opposition parties, attempts by some candidates to bribe voters, and cases of multiple voting or pressure on voters to cast their ballot for a specific candidate. LF
...AS OPPOSITION FEARS FRAUD
Kyrgyz Central Electoral Commission spokeswoman Vera Orenburgina said in Bishkek on 22 February that the results of voting in single-mandate districts may not be released for up to two weeks because of delays in bringing protocols from remote mountain villages to the capital, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Opposition politicians attribute the anticipated delay to the authorities' intention to falsify the final returns. Also on 22 February, Emil Aliev, who coordinated the election campaign of candidates from the opposition Ar-Namys party, told RFE/RL that according to election observers, the party's chairman, Feliks Kulov, polled 52.2 percent in a single- mandate district in Talas Oblast but the local election commission forged the final protocol to give Kulov less than the 50 percent minimum for a first-round win. Aliyev said Kulov's representatives were barred from observing the vote count. LF
TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF VIOLATING ELECTION AGREEMENT
Islamic Renaissance Party chairman Said Abdullo Nuri has written to President Imomali Rakhmonov, UN special representatives Ivo Petrov, and OSCE representative Marin Bukhoara complaining that the president has violated the protocol the two men signed on 5 November 1999, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 1999). That protocol detailed procedures for the parliamentary election campaign. Nuri claimed that in 25 single-mandate constituencies representatives of his party have been excluded from local election commissions in violation of a Central Electoral Commission ruling. Nuri appealed to the UN and OSCE representatives to help prevent "violations of the law and of the rights of individual citizens and political parties." On 21 February, Asia Plus-Blitz quoted a spokesman for the Central Electoral Commission as saying that body has not received any complaints from candidates or registered any violations of election campaign procedure. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BLASTS WEST...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 February accused the West of trying to "create a strong opposition" in Belarus "using [the president's] own hands," Reuters reported. Lukashenka was responding to calls from Western countries for a dialogue between the president and the opposition in advance of parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year. He said he will only speak to state officials at his own level, such as acting Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russian Central Bank Governor Viktor Gerashchenko. However, he added that he is ready to engage in a "broad discussion" on 1 March with all political forces that respect the current constitution, Belapan reported. Most opposition parties do not recognize the constitution that was adopted in a controversial referendum in 1996. VG
...MEETS WITH GERASHCHENKO
Lukashenka met with Russian Central Bank Governor Gerashchenko in Minsk on 22 February, ITAR-TASS reported. After the meeting, Lukashenka said Russia and Belarus must move ahead with integration efforts in the baking and credit sectors, "otherwise people will get tired of talk about the [Russian-Belarusian] Union." He said he is certain Gerashchenko will contribute to finding a "wise and beautiful" solution to banking problems within the union on the basis of "international legal principles" and the sovereignty of the two countries. Gerashchenko noted that acting Russian President Putin has a great interest in the Russian-Belarusian Union. VG
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES PARLIAMENT TO COOPERATE WITH CABINET
In a 22 February address to the parliament, Leonid Kuchma urged the legislature to cooperate with the executive in pushing the country's reform process ahead, AP reported. Kuchma praised the formation of a center-right majority in the legislature, saying he hopes it will make the legislative process more effective. According to ITAR-TASS, the president also said he is not opposed to signing a cooperation agreement with the parliament and cabinet as long as those institutions pledge to engage in "joint deeds, not slogans." And he urged the government to aim to ensure annual economic growth of 6-7 percent by 2005. VG
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SCRAPS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
The Ukrainian parliament has voted to strike capital punishment from the country's criminal code, dpa reported on 23 February. In so doing, the parliament supported a December Constitutional Court decision. Ukraine has been criticized by the Council of Europe for maintaining the death penalty. VG
UKRAINE TO INVESTIGATE CHECHEN INFO BUREAU
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Hrushko said the "competent bodies" in Ukraine, including the Interior Ministry, will launch an investigation into the Chechen information bureau in Odessa, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February. Hrushko said the activities of the bureau will be suspended if it is found to be breaking Ukrainian law. He said the Foreign Ministry is dealing with the issue because it concerns Ukraine's relations with Russia and has "diplomatic nuances." VG
UKRAINE, RUSSIA MAKE PROGRESS ON DEBT TALKS
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko on 22 February said that during talks in Kyiv, he and visiting First Russian Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov reached a "mutual understanding" over Ukraine's energy debts to Russia. The ministers said they reached an agreement on the size of the Ukrainian debt but refused to provide overall figures, saying only that the gas debt amounts to $1.4 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. Yushchenko said the payment terms for the debt will be worked out in the second round of talks with Russia on the issue. Kasyanov also held a closed-door meeting with Ukrainian President Kuchma to discuss, among other things, the Black Sea Fleet and the division of Soviet-era debts and assets. VG
FINAL PRINTING OF ESTONIAN KROON?
With the entry into circulation of new 500-kroon notes, Estonian Central Bank President Vahur Kraft said on 22 February that this is likely to be the last set to be printed before the adoption of the euro, ETA reported. "Estonia does not have the need to print new bills because we have a sufficient supply in store until the transfer to euros," he noted. MH
SOVIET OCCUPATION CAUSED ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE IN ESTONIA WORTH BILLIONS OF DOLLARS
An investigative committee studying the environmental damage caused by the Soviet occupying military estimated that it will cost some 56 billion kroons ($3.6 billion) to clean up that damage, "Postimees" reported on 23 February. Former Red Army installations accounted for some 2 percent of Estonia's territory, with 1,565 structures in 800 places covering 87,147 hectares. The biggest damage was caused by soil contamination from motor fuels, chemicals, and other toxic substances, which seeped into the water supply in some areas. The Estonian government spent 39.4 million kroons from 1992- 1998 in clean-up efforts. MH
LATVIAN TRADE DECLINES SLIGHTLY IN 1999
Latvia's foreign trade fell slightly in 1999, compared with the previous year, Latvia's Statistics Department announced on 22 February. Imports dropped by 8.4 percent, while exports fell by 5.7 percent in real prices. The trade deficit also dropped from 76 percent in 1998 to 71 percent in 1999, totaling some 716 million lats ($1.2 billion), BNS reported. Most sectors registered a decline in exports, including foodstuffs (down 46.8 percent) and machinery and electrical equipment (down 31.5 percent). However, the export of timber and wood products rose by 4.9 percent, while the export of metal and metal products increased by 10.3 percent. Trade to the EU was also up, with imports at 54.5 percent and exports at 62.5 percent. MH
POLISH AMBASSADOR DISMISSES EU RUMORS
Poland's ambassador to the EU, Jan Truszczynski, has dismissed rumors in French diplomatic circles that Poland could be excluded from the first wave of EU expansion, PAP reported on 22 February. Truszczynski described the rumors as "pure grapevine." Polish Deputy Agriculture Minister Jerzy Plewa said the same day that Poland's position paper on agriculture for the EU talks contains 55 issues for discussion--more than any other EU membership candidate. The same day, Polish government spokesman Krzysztof Luft dismissed rumors that the cabinet has already decided to purchase used U.S. F-16 aircraft instead of British JAS 39 Gripen fighters. Earlier, British Aerospace Systems said it was "disturbed" about rumors that Poland would bypass a regular public tender on the purchases of the aircraft. VG
POLISH PRESIDENT IN PRAGUE
"We are not competitors and have equal chances of becoming [EU] members at the same time," Aleksander Kwasniewski told journalists after talks with his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, in Prague on 22 February, CTK and AP reported. He said the two countries "must exchange experiences," adding that "good cooperation in Central Europe means a great contribution to the continent's stability." Havel said both he and Kwasniewski want their countries to "be ready for EU membership by the end of 2002." He also said that EU and NATO enlargement "must not stop with the admission of our countries" because the expansion of both organizations serves the interests of Europe as a whole. Kwasniewski also met with Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus. MS
CZECH PREMIER IN PARIS
Prime Minister Milos Zeman met in Paris on 22 February with his French counterpart, Lionel Jospin, and President Jacques Chirac, CTK reported. Zeman told journalists that both French politicians support Czech admission to the EU in 2003 and that both believe the process of reforming the EU can proceed without hindering the organization's enlargement. National Assembly Chairman Laurent Fabius told Zeman he does not rule out the possibility that EU institutional reform and enlargement will take place simultaneously. Labor Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla and his French counterpart, Martine Aubry, signed an agreement providing, among other things, for French expertise in the reform of the Czech pension system. MS
SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER WARNS AGAINST MECIAR'S RETURN
Pavol Hamzik told journalists on 22 February that if former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar returns to power, Slovakia "might end up worse than Austria" in terms of isolation from the EU. Hamzik, who is overseeing EU integration, said Meciar's return would mean Slovakia's development would slow down "not for two, but for five or ten years." He said the ruling coalition will not back Meciar's initiative for a referendum on early elections, CTK reported. Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova said the same day that if the petition launched by Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia results in a referendum taking place, the costs could be as high as 150 million crowns (some $ 3.5 million). MS
SLOVAK MAYOR DEFENDS 'HONORING TISO'
"We have decided to honor a great man because he is part of our history, irrespective of whether that history was good or bad," Zilina Mayor and former Slovak National Party leader Jan Slota told journalists on 22 February. He said that it is "ridiculous" that journalists "blow out of any proportion" the "trivial affair" of the town's council decision to unveil a plaque to the memory of Jozef Tiso, wartime leader of the Slovak Nazi puppet state. With regard to protests by Jews and foreign countries, Slota said "They should mind their own business." He commented that if it were not for Tiso, "the number of those [Jews] deported [to extermination camps] would have been at least 19,000 higher." MS
FBI TO OPEN OFFICE IN BUDAPEST
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation will open its first office abroad in Budapest next month, FBI and Hungarian police officials announced on 22 February. The permanent office will be staffed with both FBI and Hungarian police and will focus on combating Russian and other East European mafia groups operating in Budapest. FBI agents will not be empowered to conduct their own investigations, nor will they be allowed to detain or arrest individuals, according to a Hungarian police official. MSZ
MACEDONIA PUTS FORCES ON HIGHER ALERT
A Macedonian army spokesman told AP on 23 February that the "combat readiness of our Kumanovo Corps has been increased by one notch, which means the soldiers and officers of this part of the army have intensified their guard and monitoring." He added that the Macedonian authorities are concerned that ethnic tensions in Kosova could spill over into Macedonia. Approximately 23 percent of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian. One of the two largest ethnic Albanian parties is part of the governing coalition. Macedonia took in tens of thousands of Kosovar refugees during the 1999 conflict, but the violence did not spill over into Macedonia. PM
KFOR CARRIES OUT ARMS SEARCH IN MITROVICA
U.S., British, and French troops launched a previously unannounced search for weapons in mainly Serbian northern Mitrovica on 23 February. KFOR spokesmen said that the purpose of the exercise was not only to collect illegal weapons but also to demonstrate that U.S. and other NATO troops are free to move where and when they please. The soldiers arrested eight people for illegal arms possession and confiscated a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, several rifles, several grenades, and an unspecified quantity of ammunition, AP reported. When some 300 U.S. paratroopers marched past a cafe frequented by Serbian hard-liners, some of the Serbian cafe patrons jeered, but there was no violence. KFOR spokesmen said that the troops were welcomed in the ethnically mixed Little Bosnia neighborhood. The troops returned to the mainly Albanian south of the city later in the morning. PM
RUBIN BLAMES MILOSEVIC FOR MITROVICA VIOLENCE
U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin told a Washington press conference on 22 February that "we continue to call upon all parties to cease violent acts and confrontations and seek a political solution to legitimate grievances." The spokesman stressed that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been "trying to keep things as tense as possible. We have reason to believe that Milosevic is trying to stir up the pot because he benefits from ethnic tensions." Referring to a build-up of Serbian forces on the Serbian side of the frontier with Kosova, Rubin said: "We are monitoring that situation very, very closely. And we certainly would be prepared to respond if Serbian forces made the grave mistake of trying to interfere with KFOR operations." On 23 February in Belgrade, General Vladimir Lazarevic said the only increase in forces in southern Serbia was that of police to patrol the Macedonian frontier, AP reported. PM
THACI SLAMS SERBIAN SECRET SERVICES
Hashim Thaci, who heads the Kosovar Albanian Party for Democratic Progress, said in Prishtina on 23 February that "the authorities in Belgrade are responsible for the latest developments in Kosovska Mitrovica." He specifically blamed "the Serbian secret services" for the unrest, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In the Serbian capital, Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said that "Albanian terrorists" and not Belgrade are to blame. PM
ARTEMIJE URGES WORLD TO HEED MODERATES
Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is one of the main political leaders of the Kosova Serbs, said at the UN in New York on 21 February that it is necessary to break "the spiral of violence" in the province. He added that a "peaceful new beginning" is necessary to build a multiethnic and democratic Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The archbishop blamed "Albanian extremists and the Belgrade autocratic regime" for the current conflict, "Vesti" noted on 23 February. The Kosova problem has existed "for centuries, but it will most likely be solved in our time," Artemije said. He added that "all cities" in Kosova have been "ethnically cleansed" of Serbs and that the 100,000 Serbs remaining in the province face an uncertain future. PM
FRANCE'S RICHARD CALLS FOR CLEAR GOALS...
Speaking in Washington on 22 February, French Defense Minister Alain Richard said that the international community must clearly define its goals for securing peace in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that the international community should make clear "in the course of the year" what the province's future political status will be. This will involve broad autonomy "in relation to Belgrade" but will stop short of independence, he said. In Paris, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine blamed what he called extremists on either side for the recent violence. PM
...WHILE INTERIOR MINISTER REJECTS KOUCHNER'S COMPLAINT
Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement told the National Assembly on 22 February that France is fulfilling its commitments to send police to the province but that only 37 of 137 French volunteers have been approved by the Kosova UN administration, Reuters reported. "An extra 30 or 40 policemen would not make any difference in the current situation," he added. Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration and is a French former cabinet minister, has criticized many countries for promising to send police to Kosova but not doing so. PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT BLASTS MILOSEVIC
Speaking in Tallinn, Boris Trajkovski said on 22 February that "there will be no stability in Montenegro or [Kosova] as long as Milosevic remains in power. When he is replaced, we will see a stabilizing of the situation," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
MONTENEGRIN MINISTER SAYS YUGOSLAV ARMY TAKING POLITICAL ROLE
Economics Minister Vojin Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 22 February that the Yugoslav Army is supporting "propaganda machinery from Serbia in Montenegro" by providing its equipment to broadcast pro-Milosevic television programs to the mountainous republic. PM
BOSNIAN SERB SOCIALIST LEADER WANTS PARTY TO STAY IN GOVERNMENT
Zivko Radisic, who is the ethnic Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and chair of the Socialist Party, said in Banja Luka on 22 February that officials from his party will remain in the government even though the party has left the governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2000). He denied that splits have emerged in his party over the question of remaining in government, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM
NEW ROMANIAN COALITION CRISIS AVERTED?
The leaders of Romania's ruling coalition are meeting with Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu on 23 February to enlist his support for an agreement reached the previous day on how to resolve the "Babiuc crisis." Isarescu on 22 February rejected a demand by the Democratic Party that he should dismiss Defense Minister Victor Babiuc, saying it is a matter for the coalition leadership to deal with. As a result, Democratic Party parliamentary deputies walked out of the debates in the parliament, and party deputy chairman Traian Basescu, who is also transportation minister, said the coalition "cannot last longer than two weeks." Basescu also attacked President Emil Constantinescu and National Liberal Party Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica, saying they are "interfering in the affairs of the Democratic Party" through "Balkan-like manipulations." MS
ROMANIA LAUNCHES PROBE INTO CYANIDE SPILL INCIDENT
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 22 February launched a criminal investigation into the Australian-Romanian Aurul gold-mining company, which is suspected of having caused the cyanide spill that resulted in widespread river pollution, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 22 February, Australian experts arrived in Romania to investigate the cause of the spill. MS
GAZPROM AGAIN THREATENS TO CUT MOLDOVA'S SUPPLIES OFF
Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis on 22 February told national television that Gazprom has warned Moldova it will cut off gas supplies if Chisinau fails to pay its outstanding debt by 25 February, Infotag reported. Gazprom said that during the first 45 days of 2000, Moldova received deliveries worth $17.6 million but paid only $3.4 million. The debt for supplies in 1999 stands at $190 million. Earlier this month, the two sides agreed on the restructuring of the 1999 debt. Braghis also said the 2000 budget cannot accommodate any increase in expenditure but if the parliament passes the privatization laws agreed with the IMF, revenues are expected to total some $200 million. However, deputy parliamentary chairman Vadim Mishin said his Party of Moldovan Communists will continue opposing the privatization of the tobacco and wine industries. MS
LIBYA ACCUSES BULGARIANS OF CONSPIRACY AGAINST NATIONAL SECURITY
Libya is charging five Bulgarian nurses and one doctor with conspiracy against its national security, AP reported on 22 February, citing Bulgarian state radio. The six have been held in custody for one year. A Foreign Ministry official told the radio that the six are accused of having willfully infected 393 Libya children in a Benghazi hospital with the HIV virus. The trial is scheduled for 28 February and the daily "Sega" says the prosecutor is demanding the death penalty. Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 22 February urged her Libyan counterpart, Omar el-Muntasser, to ensure that the six are granted a "fair, impartial and transparent trial." Libya has not issued a visa to a Bulgarian lawyer whom the defendants' relatives have hired. MS
RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS' PRE-ELECTION ASSET GRAB
by Julie A. Corwin
Not content with winning seats in Russia's national legislature last December, two of Russia's best-known "oligarchs," LogoVAZ head Boris Berezovskii and Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, appear to be extending their influence to other sectors of the Russian economy and other Russian regions. This month, LogoVAZ and Sibneft revealed they are in the process of acquiring controlling interests in two of Russia's largest aluminum smelters, Bratsk and Krasnoyarsk. It was also announced that LogoVAZ has acquired a controlling interest in the Novokuznetsk Metallurgical Combine in Kemerovo Oblast. With these acquisitions, the Berezovskii/Abramovich tandem will have control over an estimated 60-70 percent of Russia's aluminum industry or some 10-20 percent of the world aluminum market. Aluminum is one of Russia's most lucrative industries and, like the oil and gas sector, provides a steady flow of hard currency from exports.
The timing of Berezovskii/Abramovich's moves, just before the 26 March presidential elections, has caused some analysts to conclude the duo is engaging in a last-minute asset grab before acting President Vladimir Putin is elected. While the prospect of a hand at Russia's helm stronger than former President Boris Yeltsin's shaky grip could be speeding the oligarchs' efforts, the aluminum acquisitions might be more accurately seen as part of a longer-term, two-track strategy to expand their influence not just economically--but also politically--across Russia
Consider their role in past gubernatorial elections. Berezovskii played a highly publicized part in the April 1998 election of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed. Almost two years later, that investment appears to be paying off for Lebed as well as Berezovskii. On 20 February, the board of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum voted to exclude Chairman Anatolii Bykov, a prominent foe of Lebed, from its ranks. "Segodnya" reported on 19 February that Abramovich is trying to persuade Bykov to sell him his shares in Krasnoyarsk Aluminum.
Within the last six months, governors close to Berezovskii and Abramovich were elected in Omsk and Novosibirsk Oblasts. Just two months before the elections, Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev hailed the positive role played by Sibneft in its home region, telling an audience in Chukotka that the company had helped pay off the region's 500 million ruble ($17.4 million) debt to its pensioners. Polezhaev's re-election for another four years should ensure that Sibneft continues to enjoy a favorable environment in which to operate.
Meanwhile, the 9 January 2000 election of Novosibirsk Mayor Viktor Tolokonskii to the office of governor may lay the groundwork for extending Berezovskii's economic influence into that region. Novosibirsk Oblast is home to Novosibirsk Electrorod factory, Russia's largest producer of electrorods for the aluminum and metallurgical industry. When incumbent Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha lost his post, Mukha's plans to reorganize the company and merge it with a new, partly foreign-owned firm fell by the wayside.
Judging by LogoVAZ's acquisition of an interest in Novokuznetsk, Kemerovo is apparently another region that excites Berezovskii's interest. However, he has not yet won over Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, since that regional head continues to fight for control over the factory. Just recently, Tuleev won a legal battle in the struggle for control over that plant when a local court extended external management of the company for another six months. The two men may be able to accommodate each other in some way. Tuleev, who is nominally a Communist, is perhaps best known for his pragmatism, having supported a number of the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity's candidates in the State Duma elections, despite appearing as number four on the Communists' list. In the meantime, Berezovskii continues applying pressure on Tuleev in the newspapers he controls. For example, "Kommersant- Daily" alleged on 16 February that Tuleev is receiving financial support for his presidential bid from the Kremlin.
After Kemerovo, Berezovskii's next stop might be Samara Oblast, where incumbent Governor Konstantin Titov is up for re-election in December 2000. In that region, Berezovskii reportedly supports Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii. Samara boasts one of Russia's strongest economies. And while Limanskii may have Berezovskii's support, he may no longer have the Kremlin's. In November, Unity head and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu came to Samara and blessed Limanskii's effort to form the regional branch of Unity. However, AvtoVAZ Chairman Vladimir Kadannikov and his supporters three months later held a founding congress for its branch of Unity, electing Kadannikov leader of the Unity branch. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 February, the presidential administration reportedly agreed to Kadannikov's selection.
Exactly how the Kremlin--and specifically acting President Putin--views Berezovskii/Abramovich's political and business activities is unclear. The Kremlin, at least, would have Russian voters believe that its relationship with the duo is very remote: Putin has never publicly acknowledged any link with either oligarch, and in a recent question-and- answer session with readers of "Komsomolskaya pravda," he promised to make sure that Berezovskii and Abramovich answer for the legal consequences of their actions, should any criminal activity be found. As a presidential candidate, no matter how comfortable his lead, Putin would be ill-advised to speak warmly of Berezovskii, a figure universally loathed by Russia's voting public.
The federal Anti-Monopoly Ministry has said it will make a decision on the oligarchs' recent moves in the aluminum market around 7 March. Most likely the ministry will find a good reason to delay an announcement for another two or three weeks. And Putin's real attitude toward Berezovskii/Abramovich may not become clear until after 26 March--and the place to watch may not be Moscow but much farther east, in Siberia and along the Volga.