LATEST REFORM OF FEDERATION IS 'ONLY THE BEGINNING'...
President Vladimir Putin's 13 May decree dividing Russia's 89 regions into seven larger administration districts is "only the beginning of administrative reforms" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000), according to Anton Federov, the head of the department in the presidential administration for coordinating the activities and responsibilities of presidential representatives in Russia's regions. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 May, Federov also said that the reform will "not in principle" affect the current administrative-territorial divisions within Russia. He said that the main task of the reform is "first of all to lighten the administrative load of the federal center and federal budget." He also explained that part of the contemplated reforms might be to transfer certain federal structures, such as those dealing with the environment, to the jurisdiction of the local regional head or governor. JAC
...AS NEED FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES CONTEMPLATED...
According to Federov, defining the parameters of newly created administrative districts will require detailed legislative work and possibly changes to the Russian Constitution, but he added that the latter is a matter only for the "distant future." On 14 May, Sergei Sobyanin, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for Constitutional Legislation, said that he does not think that Putin's decree creating seven administrative districts requires changes in the constitution, since the decree does not change existing territorial boundaries and the position of presidential representatives has already been enshrined in the basic law, Interfax reported. The deputy speaker of the Federation Council, Vladimir Platonov, said that the decree does not violate the constitution or any other existing law since it is a decree and not a law. Both "Izvestiya" and "Vremya MN" suggested that Putin found a way to take over local power structures without changing the constitution (see also "End Note"). JAC
...AND OTHER LEGAL CHANGES REPORTEDLY UNDER CONSIDERATION
"Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, concluded that Putin's decree has altered the "character" of the federation. The daily suggested that together with recent discussion of changing the nature of the Federation Council, the decree indicates that Russia is in the midst of transforming from a federative to a unitary government. "Izvestiya," which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, reported without reference to sourcing that the State Duma is working on draft legislation whereby governors who violate federal laws more than once will be dismissed. The Duma is also reportedly considering legislation that would make membership in the Federation Council no longer an automatic right of governors and heads of regional legislatures. According to the daily, the new presidential representatives will be appointed "within a month," while "individuals with close ties to security ministers are considered the best candidates." JAC
MEDIA-MOST CLAIMS EVIDENCE AGAINST IT FABRICATED
The Media- MOST Group, whose premises in Moscow were raided late last week, issued a statement on 15 May accusing the Federal Security Service of manufacturing incriminating evidence to be used against the group: "The use of open disinformation, falsification, and fraud by the government-controlled media and law-enforcement officials shows that such methods are becoming a state policy." The same day, the Office of Russia's Prosecutor-General said that the search was justified and was aimed at finding evidence of eavesdropping on prominent political and business leaders by Media-MOST's security service. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov charged that "claims that the media are coming under pressure are completely false," Interfax reported. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," "Obshchaya gazeta" on 17 May will release one of the special issues it produces when the Russian media appear under threat. JAC
ACTING PRIME MINISTER SET TO WIN CONFIRMATION
The Unity faction, the second-largest group in the Duma, has pledged to support unanimously the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov when the lower legislative house considers him for the prime minister's post on 17 May. Kasyanov needs 226 votes to be confirmed. The leader of the largest faction, Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov, said that the leftist opposition will make its decision on whether to support Kasyanov on 16 May, following a mid-day meeting with the candidate. Nikolai Kharitonov, a member of the Agro- Industrial Group, said some 300 deputies may "give their consent" to appoint Kasyanov prime minister but "everything will depend on whether Kasyanov distances himself from [Center for Strategic Development head] German Gref's economic program," Interfax reported. Yabloko has decided to allow its members to vote as they wish; however, Yabloko faction leader Sergei Ivanenko said that "most Yabloko members will not support Kasyanov." JAC
REPORTS OF SPLIT IN COMMUNIST RANKS PERSIST
The Rossiya political association held its first constituent congress in Moscow Oblast on 13 May and intends to hold a similar meeting in the city of Moscow on 17 May. Some media, including "Segodnya," are speculating that the emergence of Rossiya is evidence of a split in the ranks of the Communist Party. According to that newspaper on 13 May, a significant number of the KPRF's regional organizations are ready to join a new political association and representatives of more than 50 regions attended Rossiya's founding conference. "Izvestiya" commented that the new organization is "an attempt by some leaders of the Communist Party to withdraw from the latter and form a social-democratic party." "Vremya novestei" reported last month that the new group would be called "Peoples of Russia" and that Duma Chairman Seleznev had agreed to head it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2000). JAC
PUTIN FAVORS 'ECONOMIC PRAGMATISM' IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Accepting foreign ambassadors' credentials on 15 May, President Putin told those top diplomats that "normal economic pragmatism must outweigh ideological approaches in international relations," Interfax reported. He added he would like to see broader cooperation in tackling the global issues of preventing nuclear weapons proliferation and combating international terrorism and organized crime. With regard to Russia's role, he said Moscow will "do everything possible" to ensure that "basic documents formulated long ago, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, are not undermined." In particular, Putin said he is "encouraged" by the "noticeable" improvement in relations with Turkmenistan, saying he is confident his upcoming visit to that country will consolidate "these positive trends." He also commented on the "good positive impetus" that has recently been given to Russian-British relations. JC
ZYUGANOV ASKS PUTIN TO INTERVENE OVER U.S. SANCTIONS
According to Interfax on 15 May, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov has sent a letter to President Putin asking him to seek to put a stop to "unilateral and unjustified" U.S. sanctions against Russian organizations that "allegedly have links with Iran." In particular, Zyuganov referred to the U.S. State Department's announcement last month that Washington will impose sanctions against the rector of Russia's Baltic State Technical University, Yurii Savelev, for helping Tehran develop a missile program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). Such moves, Zyuganov argued, are aimed at "ousting Russia from the market for high technologies and higher education" and constitute an "encroachment on the sovereignty of the Russian Federation." JC
SPRING SOWING LAGS AS CHILLY WEATHER DAMAGES CROPS
As of 1 May this year, Russia's agricultural enterprises had sown spring wheat on 9.002 million hectares, a 27 percent drop compared with the same time last year, Interfax reported on 15 May. Meanwhile, a recent spell of chilly weather in western Russia caused experts to predict crop damage in several areas, including parts of the Volga region, North Caucasus, Central Russia, and the Black Earth region, Reuters reported. Rostov and Belgorod Oblasts experienced temperatures of minus 5-6 degrees Celsius, Interfax reported on 15 May. A less severe cold snap from 30 April to 3 May caused significant damage to crops in Tambov, Volgograd, and Penza Oblasts, according to the Agriculture Ministry. JAC
TOP BRASS RESIGNS TO MAKE PUTIN'S TASK EASIER
Citing unidentified military sources, Interfax reported on 15 May that the entire leadership of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff--64 generals and admirals in all--has resigned "in order to simplify as much as possible" the formation of new military structures. Along with the other cabinet ministers, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev tendered his resignation following Putin's inauguration as president earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). Both "Izvestiya" and "Segodnya" pointed out on 16 May that the generals' resignations are not required by Russian law. Interfax also quoted unnamed Kremlin sources as saying Sergeev is likely to keep his post, along with the other heads of security and law enforcement agencies. JC
UN OBSERVER RELEASED IN SIERRA LEONE
Rebels in Sierra Leone have freed UN observer and Russian Lieutenant Captain Andrei Ufimtsev, Interfax reported on 15 May. Ufimtsev was seized, along with other UN observers, earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2000). JC
MOSCOW ASSESSES CHECHEN AMNESTY OUTCOME
Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 15 May that 150 out of the total 800 detained Chechen fighters have been released under an amnesty that expired at midnight on 15 May, Interfax reported. The amnesty was declared by the State Duma in November 1999 and extended for three months in February. Yastrzhembskii said Moscow "is not in a hurry" to prolong it again. The commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, similarly said on 15 May that the military is against a further extension of the amnesty. But Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko told Interfax the same day that more Chechens who have already surrendered may be released after 15 May if it is proven that they have committed no serious crime. LF
NEW ARMENIAN PREMIER FIRES SEVERAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
Andranik Markarian on 15 May dismissed three senior government officials with ties either to the Yerkrapah Union of Veterans of the Karabakh war or to the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They are Andranik Kocharian (no relation to President Robert Kocharian), who is an aide to sacked Prime Minister Aram Sargsian; chief of government staff Shahen Karamanukian; and the head of the government press and information department, Tigran Hakobian. Government sources told RFE/RL that it is unlikely that either Minister for Industrial Infrastructure Vahan Shirkhanian or Minister for State Revenues Smbat Ayvazian will retain their posts in the new government. Both men are leading members of the Yerkrapah Union. LF
ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS QUIT PARLIAMENT MAJORITY BLOC
Also on 15 May, 10 parliamentary deputies belonging to Yerkrapah informed parliamentary speaker Armen Khachatrian that they are quitting the majority Miasnutiun bloc. The same day, two other Yerkrapah members quit the second-largest parliamentary faction, Kayunutiun, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Their transfer of allegiance leaves Miasnutiun with a total of 50 deputies in the 131-member legislature, while Kayunutiun now has 20 deputies. LF
GUARD INJURED IN ATTACK ON ARMENIAN GENERAL'S RESIDENCE
A guard was seriously injured on the night of 14 May when unidentified persons tried to attack the home of Major General Arkadii Ter-Tadevossian, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. Ter-Tadevossian told journalists in Yerevan on 15 May that he is certain the attack was connected with his creation last week of a parallel organization to Yerkrapah. The new organization, like Yerkrapah, also aims to defend the interests of Karabakh war veterans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). LF
AZERBAIJAN WANTS GREATER ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
Meeting in Baku on 15 May with visiting Russian acting Minister for CIS Affairs Leonid Drachevskii, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev called for increasing bilateral cooperation in the agricultural sector and offered to export early fruits and vegetables to the Russian Federation, ITAR- TASS reported. Other senior Azerbaijani officials have in recent months advocated intensifying economic cooperation with Russia. Drachevskii, for his part, expressed interest in closer cooperation in the energy sector. He reportedly also tried to persuade Aliyev to drop his opposition to the creation of a CIS free-trade zone, according to Turan. That issue is to figure prominently on the agenda of the 21 June CIS summit, at which Aliyev is expected to hold another round of confidential talks with his Armenian counterpart. LF
ANOTHER AIRCRAFT SMUGGLING SCANDAL HITS KAZAKHSTAN
A total of 22 aircraft engines and 40 engines for missiles, all designated as scrap metal being shipped by a company in southern Kazakhstan, were confiscated by Russian customs officials on the Russian-Finnish border last week, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 16 May, quoting National Security Committee spokesman Kenzhebulat Beknazarov. LF
INDEPENDENT KAZAKH NEWSPAPER UNDER PRESSURE
Ramazan Esergepov, editor of the Almaty-based paper "Nachnem s ponedelnkia," told journalists in the former Kazakh capital on 16 May that municipal officials are trying to evict the newspaper from its premises, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. Esergepov said that pressure is politically motivated and a response to articles the newspaper had recently published criticizing Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov. LF
KYRGYZSTAN'S SUPREME COURT REJECTS ELECTION APPEAL
The Supreme Court on 15 May rejected an appeal by arrested opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov to annul the outcome of the run-off election he contested in the southern constituency of Kara-Buura in March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov had polled 40 percent of the vote during the first round on 20 February, but according to official returns, which were subsequently widely disputed, he garnered only 36 percent in the 12 March runoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 22 March 2000). On 11 May, the Supreme Court upheld a 4 April ruling by a local court annulling the second-round election victory of opposition politician Dosbol Nur Uulu. LF
PAKISTANI LEADER VISITS TURKMENISTAN
On his first-ever visit to a former Soviet republic, General Parvez Musharraf met in Ashgabat on 15 May with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov to discuss boosting political and economic cooperation, Interfax reported. Among concrete projects discussed was the construction of rail and road links and the planned natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan. The implementation of that last project is contingent on an end to the civil war in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998 and 7 March 2000). LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT REMAINS LUKEWARM ON CIS
The CIS Executive Secretary briefed Niyazov in Ashgabat on 15 May about the agenda for the upcoming CIS summit, ITAR-TASS reported. But the Turkmen president repeated his earlier preference for bilateral, rather than multilateral, cooperation within the CIS, adding that there is no point in signing CIS documents if there is doubt whether they will be effective. Niyazov noted that the CIS Bank has failed to recover debts by other CIS member states to Turkmenistan for supplies of natural gas. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO ENTER 'SOCIOPOLITICAL DIALOGUE'
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 15 May met with Lidziya Yarmoshyna, chairwoman of the Central Electoral Commission, to discuss this fall's parliamentary elections, Belarusian Television reported. Yarmoshyna said Lukashenka expressed his intention to meet with participants in the so-called "sociopolitical dialogue," most likely by the end of this month. According to Yarmoshyna, the meeting might result in proposing amendments to Belarus's electoral code. The Belarusian opposition is not participating in the "sociopolitical dialogue." The same day Yury Khadyka of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front met with Lukashenka's representative in a bid to open talks between the Consultative Council of opposition parties and the authorities on the upcoming elections. Such talks are being urged by the OSCE, which has threatened not to recognize the elections if the regime fails to reach an understanding with the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). JM
BELARUSIAN SPORT MINISTER PLEDGES MEDALS AT SUMMER OLYMPICS
Also on 15 May, Lukashenka, who is head of the National Olympic Committee, met with that body to discuss the lineup of the Belarusian team at the Sydney Olympic Games. Lukashenka criticized "the irresponsibility of some sportsmen, coaches, and sport officials" who had prevented Belarus's team from performing better at the recent hockey world championship in St. Petersburg, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka warned sport officials against a poor performance in Sydney. Sport Minister Yauhen Vorsin assured Lukashenka that Belarus can count on 15 medals in Sydney, including "two or three" gold ones. JM
UKRAINE, AZERBAIJAN DISCUSS NAGORNO-KARABAKH, PIPELINE PROJECT
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vilayat Guliyev, on 15 May to discuss Kyiv's possible participation in an OSCE peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh. Tarasyuk said Ukraine is ready to contribute to the contingent if the OSCE and Azerbaijan deem it necessary. Guliyev expressed Azerbaijan's interest in building a pipeline to carry oil from its Caspian Sea deposits through Ukraine to Poland. "Azerbaijan has always stood for diversifying oil pipelines. This is in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Ukraine," AP quoted Guliyev as saying. Tarasyuk said the Ukrainian pipeline for the Baku- Supsa-Odesa-Brody-Gdansk oil transportation project is 70 percent completed. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECREES PRIVATIZATION OF POWER SUPPLIES...
Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree on the privatization of more regional power distributors, Interfax reported on 15 May. The state has so far sold more than 75 percent of the shares in seven of Ukraine's 27 regional power suppliers. Kuchma's decree allows the sale of more than 75 percent of shares in another eight companies, more than 60 percent in 10, and more than 50 percent in two. JM
...URGES ADOPTION OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Deputy parliamentary speaker Stepan Havrysh told journalists on 15 May that the president has urged the parliament to adopt constitutional amendments in line with the 16 April referendum and to do so no later than February 2001, Interfax reported. According to Havrysh, Kuchma will not oppose lawmakers if the parliament introduces "some corrections" into the constitutional formulations approved by the referendum. Havrysh suggested that Kuchma might introduce the constitutional amendments by decree if lawmakers failed to pass them. JM
ESTONIAN BIRTHS UP FOR FIRST TIME SINCE LATE 1980S
More babies were born in Estonia last year than in 1998--the first year-on-year increase in that country since the late 1980s, AP reported on 15 May. But deaths still outnumber births by a wide margin. In 1999, 12,545 births were registered, compared with 12,269 in 1998. In 1988, when the last year-on-year increase occurred, there were 24,000 births. The number of deaths in 1999 was 18,000, resulting in a net loss in population. As in other former Soviet bloc countries, the fall in births coincides with the sharp increase in the cost of living. Most families earn less than 10,000 kroons ($600) a month. Estonia's population has dropped from 1.6 million in 1991 to 1.4 million this year, according to the country's Department of Statistics. That decrease partly reflects ethnic Russians moving back to Russia after Estonia restored its independence. AB
VISITING BUNDESTAG CHAIRMAN AVOIDS KAUNAS MAYOR
Germany's top member of parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, avoided meeting radical Kaunas Mayor Vytautas Sustauskas, who is known for his anti-Semitic and anti-European attitudes, during a three- day trip to Lithuania as a guest of the country's parliament, dpa reported on 15 May. According to "Lietuvos Rytas," Sustauskas was furious that Thierse opted not to meet with him while visiting Kaunas, Lithuania's second-largest city. Sustauskas, dubbed by dpa "Lithuania's Haider" (after Austrian right-wing politician Joerg Haider), ordered his staff to cancel a reception for Thierse, saying that he hates spending money on "foreign guests who come to the city without any particular purpose." Thierse said he had no intention of meeting the mayor, thereby adhering to an unofficial EU boycott of Sustauskas. The Bundestag chairman attended the 80th anniversary celebrations of the Lithuanian parliament on 15 May. AB
NATIONAL SOCIALIST PARTY FOUNDED IN LITHUANIA
In Siauliai, 137 delegates representing 700 members founded the National Socialist Party last weekend, BNS and ELTA reported 15 May. The party's program advocates restrictions on immigration and on the import of foreign goods. It also expresses doubts about whether Lithuania should seek EU membership. Mindaugas Murza, the chairman of the new party, previously headed the National Social Union, which Lithuanian authorities refused to register as a legal entity on nine occasions over the last two years on the grounds that it violated regulations on political parties. The country's Justice Ministry has one month to decide on the party's registration. Lithuanian law bans the dissemination of fascist and similar propaganda. AB
FRANCE PLEDGES 'UNRESERVED SUPPORT' FOR POLAND'S EU MEMBERSHIP IN 2003
French President Jacques Chirac on 15 May assured his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, of France's "unreserved support" for Poland's goal to attain EU membership in 2003, news agencies reported. According to Chirac, this is a "perfectly realistic" date for Poland's EU accession. "The determination with which President Chirac spoke about France's tasks in reforming the EU makes me believe that the best time for enlargement would be 2003, when France will be chairing the union," Kwasniewski said after his meeting with the French president in Paris. JM
POLAND SETS UP TASK FORCE TO FIGHT CORRUPTION
Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on 15 May announced the creation of a corruption-combating team subordinated to the cabinet's Economic Committee, Polish media reported. The team will be composed of representatives of the Justice, Interior, Finance, and Economy Ministries. Balcerowicz said he also invited representatives from the Supreme Audit Chamber and the World Bank as well as experts from nongovernmental institutions to cooperate with the anti- corruption team. The team is expected to propose by 20 June legislative amendments that could prevent or block corruption practices. A World Bank audit said loopholes in Polish legislation provide for the manipulation of privatization deals and irregularities in awarding state contracts, operating licenses, and tax exemptions. JM
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS BOOK ON HIS SECRET SERVICE'S FILES 'ILLEGAL'
Jan Kavan said on 15 May that he considers the publication of a book on the files that the Communist-era secret police (StB) collected on him to be "illegal" and "unethical," CTK reported. Kavan said publishing such information violated several laws, but he did not specify which ones and inferred that the issue will go to court. Czech Premier Milos Zeman agreed with Kavan, saying that the book discloses an "official secret." Kavan said he is not worried about the information becoming public and added that a court has proved that the material contains "many lies." The book, called "Kato, The Story of a Real Man," tells the story of Kavan's StB contacts, who said he knowingly informed on fellow students and others in the late 1960s and early 1970s. PB
DID SOCIAL DEMOCRATS PLAN TO DISCREDIT POPULAR MEMBER?
The Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 16 May that top officials of the ruling Social Democratic Party wrote a document that detailed plans on how to discredit fellow member and deputy parliamentary chairwoman Petra Buzkova. The daily says the document analyzes Buzkova's weaknesses and lists ways of publicly discrediting her. Buzkova is a known critic of party leader Milos Zeman and is among the most popular politicians in the Czech Republic. The document, called "Operation Lead," also claims that Buzkova was an "unknowing informer" of the StB. One proposal for harming Buzkova was to create a media story saying that she mistreats her three-year-old daughter. PB
MECIAR ALLIES CHARGED WITH CORRUPTION
Stefan Gavornik, the former head of Slovakia's National Property Fund, and former Privatization Minister Peter Bisak have been charged with accepting bribes and abuse of power, CTK reported on 15 May. Gavornik is accused of accepting a 15 million crown ($326,000) bribe in 1995 for a privatization deal under former Premier Vladimir Meciar. Chief investigator Jaroslav Ivor said Gavornik insisted on a bribe from Magnatech--the proposed purchaser of Slovenske Magnezitove Zavody Hacava--in order for the sale to be concluded. Magnatech paid the bribe but later defaulted on payments for the chemical company and filed for bankruptcy three years later. Bisak is accused of being involved in a similar illegal payment in the privatization of Elektro Systemy Bratislava. PB
SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES CABINET RESHUFFLE
Officials from Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's four-party government and parliamentary deputies are meeting in the western Slovak town of Casta-Paiernicka to debate a cabinet reshuffle, CTK reported. The second-largest coalition partner, the Party of the Democratic Left, has demanded changes in the government. The left-wing daily "Pravda" commented that any changes will be "cosmetic modifications" and will not occur until the late summer or early fall. Unemployment in Slovakia has risen from about 12 percent to nearly 20 percent since Dzurinda's election and the implementation of an austerity program. In other news, a revised version of the country's constitution was approved by the cabinet on 15 May. Among the 90 changes are the establishment of an ombudsman's office, the strengthening of the Constitutional Court, and a reduction in immunity for deputies. The amendments also take into account the possibility of Slovakia's NATO membership. PB
DUTCH PRIME MINISTER IN HUNGARY
Wim Kok told his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, on 15 May that EU member countries must ensure that expansion is not implemented until the distant future and that they must be prepared for the entry of new members. He praised Hungary's preparations, saying that the country will be among the first new members. Orban, for his part, said the cabinet is satisfied with the pace of EU accession talks. In other news, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 15 May told parliament's Environmental Committee that Budapest wants "to make sure that some of the three dozen Romanian mines [some of which recently caused environmental disasters in Hungary's rivers] are closed or equipped with safety technology." MSZ
SERBIAN OPPOSITION REMAINS DEFIANT...
Up to 25,000 people demonstrated in Belgrade on 15 May in support of the Otpor (Resistance) student organization, which the authorities claim is behind the recent murder of Bosko Perosevic, a top official in Vojvodina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). The rally passed without incident, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Serbian Renewal Movement's (SPO) Vuk Draskovic called the authorities "terrorists and murderers" for their crackdown on Otpor. The Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic called upon the army and the police to cease obeying Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and "save the people painlessly and end the crisis in the country quickly." He did not elaborate. Djindjic later told Reuters that he hopes "Milosevic got the message that if the repression against Otpor continues, it will provoke a chain reaction, the end of which no one can predict." PM
...WHILE BELGRADE KEEPS UP INTIMIDATION
Rally organizers had hoped for a larger turnout for the Belgrade protest on 15 May and believe that many people stayed home because they feared regime violence, Reuters reported. The authorities put up "wanted posters" for two Otpor members in conjunction with the Novi Sad killing, but Otpor spokesmen said that the two activists were visiting their relatives in the Republika Srpska at the time of the murder. Meanwhile, Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic stressed that Otpor is an "unregistered, fascist organization" and will be treated accordingly. In response, Milan Protic and several other opposition leaders joined Otpor in a show of solidarity. Leading Serbian nationalist writer Dobrica Cosic joined the student group the previous week. PM
WHO WAS MILIVOJE GUTOVIC?
Controversy centers around the person of Perosevic's assassin and his possible motives, "Vesti" reported on 16 May. Spokesmen of both Otpor and the SPO denied that he was a member of their respective organizations, although the authorities claim he was. Two weeks before the killing, Gutovic had praised Milosevic at a funeral that was attended by 200 people, "Vesti" continued. Several people in his community said that some of Gutovic's recent public remarks about Lenin and Stalin had caused some people to question his mental stability. Elsewhere, an unidentified Democratic Party official told London's "The Guardian" that Gutovic was known locally in Novi Sad as a supporter of Milosevic's Socialist Party, of which Perosevic was a high official. PM
WHY DID MOSCOW HOST INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL?
A spokesman for Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said on 15 May that she is "alarmed" by reports that Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic recently visited Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). The spokesman added: "It's likely the prosecutor will enquire directly of the Russian embassy in The Hague whether the reports are accurate and why the Russian authorities did not take any steps to arrest a person under indictment by the tribunal.... To my knowledge, this is the first time any of the individuals indicted last 26 May...have traveled outside Yugoslavia since the indictment. This is a remarkable occurrence," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic arrived in Moscow on 15 May. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the next day that his talks with Jovanovic about Kosova "will enable us to continue helping to achieve a settlement of the problem and to stabilize the situation in the entire Balkan region." PM
BELGRADE REGIME LAUNCHES APARTMENT-BUILDING CAMPAIGN
The authorities began a campaign across Serbia on 15 May to build 100,000 new apartments for young couples, military personnel, and police. The apartments will be built at the rate of 10,000 annually for the next 10 years, Reuters reported. PM
EU SUPPORT FOR MONTENEGRO
Chris Patten, who is the EU's commissioner for foreign affairs, said in Podgorica on 15 May that Brussels will provide $50 million in aid to bolster President Milo Djukanovic's government against pressure from Milosevic. Patten called the partnership between Brussels and Podgorica "good and effective," AP reported. Patten denied that the aid is intended to help Djukanovic in the 11 June local elections, adding that the money is "support for a government that believes in elections. Where countries opt for democracy we want to place ourselves generously on their side." Patten stressed: "I believe that the EU aid will reaffirm the will of Montenegrins to follow our democratic policies." PM
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES INDEPENDENT MACEDONIA
Visiting Skopje on 15 May, Petar Stoyanov commented, "Long live independent Macedonia. We must not miss this historical opportunity to live as friends and respect each other," Reuters reported. He and Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski signed nine bilateral agreements and issued a joint declaration expressing concern about "extremism in the region," AP reported. PM
RACAN SPELLS OUT CROATIAN 100-DAY PLAN
Prime Minister Ivica Racan told journalists in Zagreb on 15 May that "in the next 100 days, the focus of our work will be the central, dramatic issue of the economy. Our aim is to strengthen the economy, stimulate growth, employment, [and] exports," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). The government is considering cutting value-added tax from 22 percent to 19 percent in the hope of encouraging investment, he added. Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic said that the leading insurance company, Croatia Osiguranje, will be put up for sale later in the year. It failed to find a buyer in 1999. Among other companies slated for privatization are the oil and gasoline enterprise Ina and the power company HEP, he added. PM
U.S. SUSPENDS MILITARY SUPPORT FOR BOSNIAN CROAT MILITARY
In a statement on 15 May, the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo confirmed local press reports that the Defense Department has stopped military support for the Bosnian Croat military. According to that statement: "The United States has suspended selected training and advisory activities conducted by the U.S. firm Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) for the Bosnian Croat component of the [mainly Muslim and Croat] federation army. The suspension is indefinite and will continue until the United States receives confirmation that the Bosnian Croat component has taken the required steps toward integration [with the Muslim military]. In addition, the U.S. government has suspended International Military Education and Training-funded training for Bosnian Croat members of the federation military scheduled to begin on or after 12 May 2000," Reuters reported. PM
SMUGGLING CONTINUES TO MEAN BIG LOSSES FOR BOSNIAN FEDERATION
Bosnian federal officials have concluded that smuggling along some 450 "illegal roads" crossing the federation's frontiers costs Sarajevo some $200 million annually. The officials stress that only solution is to intensify cooperation with neighboring countries, but so far Croatia has not responded to Bosnian requests on this matter, "Dnevni avaz" reported on 16 May. PM
ROMANIAN MONEY-LAUNDERING SCANDAL LINKED TO ILIESCU'S CAMPAIGN...
Romanian customs officials are investigating possible fraud related to the import of campaign materials used by former President Ion Iliescu in the 1996 presidential campaign, Romanian media reported on 14 May. Customs Office Director Nini Sapunaru announced that there is a strong suspicion that 1 million electoral posters printed by one of Romanian-born Adrian Costea's companies in France were imported tax-free. Costea is currently under investigation by a French commission on money-laundering charges. ZsM
...WHILE MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY ATTACKS RULING COALITION
The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) called the money-laundering scandal an "extremely aggressive negative campaign" orchestrated by the current ruling coalition against the PDSR, the daily "Adevarul" reported on 13 May. It also noted that PDSR officials involved in the investigation as witnesses will no longer make any public declarations. However, PDSR President Ion Iliescu on 15 May admitted that Costea supported his 1996 campaign by printing various materials and also assisted in the translation of one of his books. But he denied having made a profit from the activities. The same day, PDSR Senator Radu Timofte accused President Emil Constantinescu of staging the scandal to end Iliescu's candidacy for the presidency and of wanting to reinstate the monarchy. ZsM
ROMANIANS TAKE COLD SHOWERS
The main Romanian thermal energy provider, Termoelectrica, announced on 15 May that it has ceased providing services to local partners with major debts, Romanian media reported. As a result, some 6 million people-- including most of the residents of Bucharest and several major cities--were left without hot water. Termoelectrica, which provides energy to some 40 percent of Romania's households, needs to collect some 3.5 trillion lei ($175 million) from local distributors, which blame the problem on non-paying owner associations. ZsM
In the 12 May issue of "RFE/RL Newsline," the Venice Commission was incorrectly referred to as an expert body of the EU. It is, in fact, a body of the Council of Europe.
AFGHAN VETERANS PROTEST IN MOLDOVA
More than 1,000 Soviet veterans of the war in Afghanistan demonstrated on 15 May in Chisinau against cuts in their benefits, Reuters reported. The veterans called for the dissolution of the parliament, the resignation of President Petru Lucinschi, and early elections. They also demanded that benefits eliminated in April be reinstated. There are some 12,000 veterans of the Afghan war living in Moldova. PB
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SAYS CABINET WILL SURVIVE CONFIDENCE VOTE
Petar Stoyanov said on 15 May in Sofia that the government of Premier Ivan Kostov will pass a no-confidence motion to be held this week, BTA reported. Stoyanov said, however, that each no-confidence vote "should provide ground for reflection to the incumbents." He said Kostov's cabinet ministers should "decide how they will rule until the end of their term." In other news, Bulgarian troops took part in the "Linked Seas 2000" military exercises near Lisbon, Portugal on 14 May. Dimitrov Mikhov, the Bulgarian chief of staff, said the maneuvers provided "an important boost" to the country's bid to join NATO. PB
REGIONS, REPUBLICS, AND REFORM
By Paul Goble
President Vladimir Putin's creation of seven new federal districts headed by presidential appointees is clearly intended to re-establish Moscow's control over the Russian Federation's far-flung regions. But it appears almost certain that it will have just the opposite effect.
Coming on the heels of his efforts to rein in regional governments in Bashkortostan and Ingushetia last week, Putin's 13 May decree sets the stage for a new kind of regional politics, one that could lead to an intensification of the ongoing struggle between the center and the periphery.
And just as was the case at the end of the Soviet period, when Mikhail Gorbachev tried to retake control over the union republics, that struggle could have a powerful impact on Putin's ability to govern and to promote whatever reforms he says he would like to introduce.
There are three reasons for this conclusion: First, Putin's 13 May decree also calls for the elimination of the system of presidential envoys attached to the regional governments. This suggests the decree itself was a compromise between those who wanted to re- establish Moscow's control over the periphery and those who like things the way they are. More important, Putin is removing the very stratum of officials his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had unsuccessfully sought to use to control the regions without creating a system that has any more powers, even on paper, to intervene in the actions of regional and republic governments.
Second, Putin's action was, after all, by decree. To make this system work, the Russian president may well have to seek a constitutional amendment, a process that at the very least will spark a new regional politics and one that Putin and his allies cannot be sure of winning. If these seven new federal districts are not constitutionalized, regional leaders are likely to view them either as an annoyance that they can ignore, the base for the projection of their own power if the district capital is the same as their own, or a new forum in which they can combine to advance their interests.
If regional leaders seek to ignore these new bodies, then Putin will either have to invest them with force or watch them turn into the latest stillborn creation of the post-Soviet period. But if they either try to take control of these bodies or combine to oppose them, he may find himself confronted by larger and more powerful combinations of regions, hardly the outcome he and his aides say they want.
And third, the actual powers these presidential representatives will have, either legally or politically, remains far from clear at the moment. Much depends on whom Putin selects, the powers he gives them, and their ability and willingness to work with the governors and republican presidents under their control.
If Putin names politically significant people to these posts, at least some of them are likely to take advantage of the situation to build their own power bases, especially since in the absence of force or other resources, they will likely have to develop good working relations with the regional elites if they are to accomplish anything. But if he names faceless members of the bureaucracy, the elected regional governors and republic presidents are likely to view these new representatives with little or no more respect than they did Yeltsin's envoys to their own territories, thereby severely limiting the representatives' utility to Moscow.
That, in turn, could prompt Putin either to reach new compromises with regional elites or to rely ever more on the use of force. Either of these strategies will limit Moscow's ability to pursue a country-wide pattern of reform, and both could represent a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
Except for his actions in Chechnya, Yeltsin during his presidency tolerated both diversity and autonomy across the Russian Federation, arrangements that limited Moscow's power but purchased a certain amount of stability, decentralization, and popular control.
Now Putin, whose actions in Chechnya have been far more brutal than Yeltsin's ever were, has decided to rein in the regions. But his 13 May decree seems more likely to set the center and periphery on a new collision course, one that may threaten even the limited moves toward democracy and federalism Yeltsin sponsored.