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Newsline - May 30, 2000


Russian troops have surrounded a band of some 400-800 Chechen fighters in southern Chechnya following a new offensive in Nozhai-Yurt and Vedeno on 29 May, AFP reported. The aim of that offensive is "the total destruction of the last rebel groups," and to kill or capture field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, according to Reuters. On 30 May, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that five Russian and 15 Chechen troops were killed during fighting the previous day. Deputy Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Konstantin Makeev denied on 30 May that the Chechens had mounted another ambush the previous day against a Russian armored column. LF


President Vladimir Putin told journalists in Moscow on 29 May after his talks with the EU delegation that the Russian leadership is implementing, a plan to resolve the Chechen conflict, Interfax reported. He added that Russia is working to normalize life in the region "after suppressing the armed resistance of religious extremists and terrorists." Presidential aide Yastrzhembskii similarly told journalists in Moscow the same day that while the Chechen conflict cannot be resolved solely by military means, "the transition to a political phase requires the end of the special operation," according to Interfax. The political process in Chechnya will evolve more rapidly and effectively after the Chechen resistance is neutralized, he added. Highlighting a further obstacle to that transition to the political phase of conflict resolution, Yastrzhembskii also said that at present there is no single figure within the Chechen diaspora who could unite all Chechen clans and districts." That suggests that the Kremlin is unconvinced by former Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov's claim that more than half of Chechnya's population supports him (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 21, 26 May 2000). LF


Yastrzhembskii also said on 29 May that Russia will not expand the mandate of the OSCE mission to Chechnya, Interfax reported. Speaking the same day in Ashgabat, OSCE chairwoman in office Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that she believes that mandate should be "very broad," adding that she anticipated Russian resistance to extending it, according to ITAR-TASS. She noted that the mission will be located in Znamenskoe, which is northwest of Grozny, close to the border with Ingushetia. On 30 May, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that the return of OSCE personnel to Chechnya, where they will focus primarily on humanitarian relief, is being delayed because of OSCE demands, including ambassadorial extra-territoriality and the right of Chechen staffers to carry weapons, ITAR-TASS reported. "We cannot unilaterally revise the 1995 agreement and extend the activity of Austrian diplomats over the entire North Caucasus," Yakovenko said. LF


Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on 29 May that other possible preventive measures against the Taliban exist as an alternative to military strikes, according to Interfax. Among such options he listed diplomatic and political pressure, economic sanctions, support for "Afghanistan's legitimate government," headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, military assistance to the Northern Alliance of Ahmed Shah Massoud, and assistance to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other "Russian allies." But Ivanov declined to exclude the possibility of air strikes in order to quell the "flood of drugs and terrorists," which he claimed emanates from Taliban- controlled territory. Also on 29 May, a Taliban-controlled newspaper in Kabul claimed that 16 Russian generals have visited opposition-controlled territory in northern Afghanistan to meet with Massoud and Rabbani, whom they promised to supply with weapons and advice on strategic planning, AP reported. LF


Nursultan Nazarbaev said on the state-controlled TV channel Khabar on 29 May that at present he does not think air strikes against Afghanistan are needed, Reuters reported. But Nazarbaev concurred with Russian arguments that instability in those areas of Central Asia bordering on Afghanistan poses a threat to Russian security. LF


"I am convinced we are really starting a new era of cooperation," EU Commission President Romano Prodi told journalists following the EU-Russia summit in Moscow on 29 May. Prodi said that Russia's improved economic situation will help increase trade between Russia and the EU. At the same time, he commented that Moscow needs to overhaul its tax system and improve the climate for foreign investors. Russian President Putin described the 29 May talks as "very constructive, very frank, and very fruitful." He stressed that Russia is committed to forging closer relations with the EU in many areas, including security. According to a joint statement, Putin had expressed interest in EU plans to develop its own military force, which would complement NATO. JC


While stressing the EU's position that Russia must allow a full and transparent investigation into reports of human rights abuses in Chechnya, Prodi said that the EU may reconsider its decision to cut funding to Russia under its TACIS program. Interfax quoted Prodi as saying that the program "should be consolidated to strengthen cooperation between Russia and the EU." The decision to slash funding from 150 million euros ($139.5 million) to 34 million euros was taken at the EU Helsinki summit last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999). JC


Introducing his new presidential representative to the North Caucasus region to the heads of 13 regions on 30 May, President Putin called on those leaders to reconsider legislation that he has submitted to the State Duma reordering Russian Federation into seven districts, ITAR-TASS reported. Some of those regional leaders, including Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, have expressed opposition to parts of that legislation. Putin said that he would use the meeting with regional leaders to discuss the legislation. The same day, the State Duma's Duma Council decided to schedule the first reading of all three of Putin's bills for 31 May. Last week, following a meeting between Putin and regional heads, Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn told reporters that Putin had agreed to postpone consideration of the bill on forming the Federation Council from 31 May to an unspecified later date (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 2000). "Segodnya" reported on 30 May that Duma deputies have a number of amendments to suggest. Among them is one ruling out the possibility of the president's disbanding regional legislatures. JAC


The OECD has raised its forecast for Russian economic growth in 2000, Reuters reported on 30 May. The organization now predicts that real GDP will grow 4.0 percent in 2000 and 3.0 percent in 1999. According to the OECD's biannual outlook, "The general outlook for the Russian economy now appears more favorable than in the recent past. The new momentum in industrial output should contribute to another year of at least moderate GDP growth while incomes, domestic demand, and investment should also continue a gradual recovery." Earlier in the month, the EBRD revised its forecast for Russia from 1 percent to 4 percent GDP growth in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). JAC


NTV anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev announced on 29 May that NTV has reached an agreement with the Kremlin to withdraw the puppet caricature of President Putin from the cast of the popular satirical show "Kukly." An NTV spokeswoman told dpa that the Kremlin had asked the producers of "Kukly" to no longer feature the Putin puppet, which has an extremely large nose and wears the red neckerchief characteristic of the Soviet-era Pioneers. According to Kiselev, the "authorities will now leave [NTV and Media-Most] in peace," referring to the recent raid by police on Media-Most headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 May 2000). In February, professors at Putin's alma mater, the St. Petersburg University, wrote a letter condemning the program for its indecent parodies of the then acting president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2000). JAC


The military collegium of Russia's Supreme Court ruled on 29 May against rehabilitating Lavrenti Beria, one of Soviet leader Josef Stalin's closest associates and head of the NKVD (a predecessor of the KGB). The court said that "Beria was guilty of repression against his own people" and as an "organizer of the purges cannot be considered a victim of repression." It also upheld the death sentence imposed on Beria in 1953, when he was executed by firing squad some nine months after Stalin's death on charges of high treason, anti- Soviet conspiracy, terrorism, and rape, according to Interfax. On 27 May, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II held a memorial service on the outskirts of Moscow at the site of a former NKVD police base where an estimated tens of thousands of people were killed, Reuters reported. JAC


The Russian government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 May that the imposition of a flat income tax of 13 percent under Putin government's tax reform is proving particularly controversial. According to the daily, about 1 percent of Russians are paying 30 percent or more in income tax and thus will benefit from the reduction to 13 percent, while the taxes paid by enterprises on salaries remains unchanged. "The Moscow Times" reported the same day that labor unions across Russian plan to hold protests on 31 May against the tax reform proposals. It also reported that if the State Duma "unexpectedly nixes" the flat tax, the government will suggest instead a dual tax rate of 12 percent and 20 percent. JAC


President Putin signed a decree on 29 May reappointing Mikhail Zurabov as chairman of the board of the Pension Fund, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the website the same day, the government is preparing legislation whereby the age at which persons become eligible for a pension will be increased by five years for men and 10 years for women. The current age is 55 for women and 60 for men. According to Interfax, the hike would not become effective until 2003. The average life expectancy of Russian men and women is 61 and 72, respectively, according to the State Statistics Committee. Men in Japan live to be 77 on average, while the average life expectancy for men in the U.S. is 72.5 years, Interfax reported. JAC.


A spokesman for the Atomic Energy Ministry's foreign trade department announced at a press conference on 29 May that President Putin has reversed a 1992 decision to ban exports of nuclear material, technologies, and equipment to organizations that do not belong to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), AFP reported. Such exports will be made if they "do not contradict Russia's international agreements and if the governments of the countries concerned assure that they will not be used to build nuclear weapons," the spokesman said, adding that Cuba, Israel, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all have civilian nuclear organizations outside the control of the IAEA. JC


In a deal estimated at some $170 million, Russia is to deliver 40 helicopters to India, Interfax reported on 29 May, citing the press service of the Promexport weapons manufacturer. According to the news agency, the aircraft are an "advanced version" of the Mi-17-1B helicopter, with more powerful engines and larger doors allowing servicemen to disembark more quickly. JC


Security Council Secretary Ivanov told reporters on 29 May that the Russian government is preparing a countersuit against the Swiss company Noga, which recently succeeded in having the assets of the Central Bank and other Russian entities frozen in French banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2000). Ivanov added that he is "convinced the problem will be settled." JAC


In an address to the Azerbaijani people on 28 May, the anniversary of the 1918 Declaration of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Heidar Aliyev said that the U.S. Congress Helsinki Commission's criticism last week of the political and human rights situation in Azerbaijan was unfair and lacking objectivity, Turan reported. He said such organizations should instead focus on the violations of the rights of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis forced to flee their homes during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. During a five-hour hearing convened by that commission in Washington on 25 May, prominent Azerbaijani opposition politicians accused the Azerbaijani leadership of establishing an authoritarian regime and rejecting amendments proposed by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to the election law currently being debated in parliament. They also claimed that there are 50 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. LF


Meeting in Baku on 29 May with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, Aliyev said he hopes for progress in resolving the Karabakh conflict, adding that the OSCE Minsk Group is expected to present a new draft peace plan shortly, Turan reported. Aliyev said he plans to meet on the sidelines of the CIS June summit with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, to continue their discussion of ways to resolve the conflict. In his radio address the previous day, Aliyev said he and Kocharian had several times been close to resolving the conflict but that the "destructive position" of the Armenian side prevented a solution. He said Turkey's assistance is essential in order to resolve the conflict. Aliyev also expressed the hope that recently elected Turkish President Ahmed Necet Sezer's first foreign visit will be to Azerbaijan. Cem, for his part, pledged Ankara's support in the Karabakh peace process and for Azerbaijan's full membership in the Council of Europe. LF


The Washington-based International Women's Media Foundation has bestowed its prize for this year on Zamira Sadykova, founder of the opposition weekly newspaper "Res Publika," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 29 May. The foundation noted Sadykova's courageous journalistic work under continued pressure and persecution from the Kyrgyz government. Sadykova has twice been sentenced to imprisonment for libel. "Res Publika" suspended publication two months ago after being fined for slander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2000). LF


Chubak Abyshkaev told journalists in Bishkek on 29 May that his priorities are fighting corruption, smuggling, and economic crime, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said a total of 213 government officials were arrested on charges of economic crime between January 1999 and March 2000 and that 164 criminal cases have been opened. He estimated the total financial damage to the state as a result of those crimes at 105 million soms (about $2.2 million). LF


Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a cabinet meeting on 29 May that the pace of privatization must be stepped up, ITAR-TASS reported. He said revenues from privatization during the first three months of this year amounted to only 11 percent of the planned amount. Two weeks earlier, Finance Minister Mazhit Esenbaev had similarly told the parliament that the budget may collect only two thirds of planned privatization revenues this year as a result of the previous government's decision to drop four large metallurgical combines from the list of enterprises to be privatized. Toqaev called last month for an investigation into the activities of the previous heads of the Finance Ministry's Property and Privatization Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). LF


Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 29 May with UN Special representative for Tajikistan Ivo Petrov and newly appointed UN Development Program coordinator Matthew Kahane, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR- TASS reported. Petrov informed Rakhmonov that the UN Security Council failed at its 12 May session to reach a decision on the nature of the future UN presence in Tajikistan following the expiry of the mandate of its observer mission there. Echoing Petrov's 24 May statement that Tajikistan needs substantial economic aid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000), Rakhmonov told Kahane that his agency should focus on job creation, developing agriculture, combatting drought and attracting foreign investment in Tajikistan. Rakhmonov and Petrov agreed that the UN should play a greater role in seeking to end the civil war in Afghanistan. LF


Visiting Ashgabat on 29 May on the first leg of a tour of the Central Asian states, Austrian Foreign Minister and OSCE chairwoman in office Benita Ferrero-Waldner asked President Saparmurat Niyazov to release Mukhametkuli Aymuradov and Shagildy Atakov, according to an RFE/RL correspondent travelling with the OSCE delegation. Aymuradov was sentenced in 1995 to 15 years imprisonment on charges of activities aimed at overthrowing the constitutional order, while Atakov was imprisoned last year on charges of swindling, which the OSCE considers were fabricated in retaliation for his involvement with a Baptist congregation. In addition, Ferrero-Waldner raised the case of Pirkuly Tanrykuliev and Nurberdy Nurmamedov, who have also been jailed for their political engagement. She expressed disappointment after the meeting at Niyazov's rejection of her plea for clemency. LF


The Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), which is headed by exiled BNF leader Zyanon Paznyak, has urged that preparations for an "All-Belarusian Congress" be expedited, Belapan reported on 29 May. The party argued that because of "the intensity of efforts by the regimes of [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka and [Vladimir] Putin to put Belarus under occupation" the congress must be held no later than July. Some 40 Belarusian politicians and public figures who are opposed to the current regime formed a committee in February to organize an "All-Belarusian Congress" that would discuss threats to Belarus's independence under Lukashenka's rule. JM


Ukraine's National Council of Security and Defense has set target figures for reducing the number of army troops, Interfax reported on 29 May. The council announced that Ukraine's armed forces will total 400,000 by 31 December 2000 and 375,000 by 31 December 2005. Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said the reductions are intended to bring the Ukrainian army closer to European models. He added that army units will be made more mobile, multifunctional, and efficient in combat. The numerical strength of Ukraine's army in 1997 was 476,000 troops. JM


U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Stephen Pifer said on 29 May that Ukraine could improve its chances to raise funds to shore up the sarcophagus over Chornobyl's destroyed reactor if Kyiv announces a date to close the whole nuclear power plant, Reuters reported. "There have already been about $400 million raised to build a new sarcophagus over the destroyed reactor. We still need about $350 million and I expect that my government will shortly be announcing a fairly sizeable contribution," Pifer noted. He said Chornobyl will be one of the issues on the agenda during U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Ukraine on 5 June. JM


Crimean Communists on 29 May re-elected Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach as first secretary of the Crimean Republican Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Interfax reported. They also adopted a resolution obliging Crimean Communists "to expose the anti-popular essence of Ukraine's regime, free all spheres of life from oligarchic domination, replace today's 'democracy' with genuine people's democracy, and gradually return social guarantees to the working people." The Crimean branch of Ukraine's Communist Party, which Hrach has led for nine years, has 8,600 members. JM


Former Finance Minister Mart Opmann, the controversial nominee to head the central bank, has withdrawn his name from consideration for that post, ETA reported on 29 May. Opmann, who was proposed by the central bank's governing board, was rejected by President Lennart Meri. As the reason for his withdrawal, Opmann cited extreme pressure on him, saying he does not want to become involved in a legal challenge against the government and president. "Postimees" listed as possible alternative candidates central bank chief Vahur Kraft, former candidate Kalev Kukk, emigre economist Toomas Kabin, and acting head Peter Lohmus, whom the newspaper called the "only realistic candidate." MH


A Riga Regional Court on 29 May found members of the radical organization Perkonkrusts (Fire Cross) guilty on several counts of terrorism and vandalism, LETA reported. Three of the individuals were released for time already served, while several others received suspended sentences. Two others were sentenced to three years in jail. All the defendants were ordered to pay for damage caused by bombs their group planted. MH


After a long illness, Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevicius died on 28 May at the age of 80. President Valdas Adamkus said the cardinal "can undoubtedly be considered the 20th century's model of morals, service to God, truth, and humanness," BNS reported. Pope John Paul II called Sladkevicius a "diligent servant of God" in his tribute to the only Lithuanian cardinal in the last few centuries. Sladkevicius was first ordained in 1944 and faced continuous repression and pressure from Soviet authorities, even after his appointment to cardinal 12 years ago. MH


Former Interior Minister Antoni Maciarewicz--who heads the Catholic-National Movement, a fringe nationalist party--has urged Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) leader Marian Krzaklewski to form a new parliamentary majority coalition. According to Maciarewicz, it is possible to construct a "Solidarity- peasant coalition" that could control 235 votes in the 460- seat lower house. Marek Siwicki, deputy chairman of the Polish Peasant Party, commented that his party could consider "the possibility of supporting a minority government" if such a step led to early parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, since Premier Jerzy Buzek's refusal to accept the resignation of Freedom Union (UW) ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000), the AWS and the UW have not scheduled any talks on the future of the coalition. JM


Aleksander Kwasniewski told the Israeli parliament on 29 May that Poland will do everything possible to restitute property lost by Jews as a result of World War II and postwar changes in Poland, PAP reported. "We want to do everything that can be done by a state that lost half of its territory in the war, suffered great material destruction, and where thousands of Polish citizens were deprived of their property," Kwasniewski added. Knesset speaker Avraham Burg said the issue of Jewish property restitution is a burden on Polish- Israeli relations. JM


Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer said on 29 May that the ODS might agree to support the Christian Democratic Party's proposal to abolish the Senate. Langer said the proposal could figure in the ODS's electoral program for 2002. In an earlier interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny," Langer had also said the party might advocate strengthening the constitutional powers of both the president, who would be elected in direct elections, and of the premier. He later told CTK that he is in favor of "a chancellor system." According to media speculation, ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus might decide to run for president when Vaclav Havel's term expires in early 2003 and Langer, who is considered to be Klaus's "crown prince," would become premier if the ODS won the next elections. MS


Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 29 May announced that Slovakia has decided to postpone the summit of NATO candidate countries scheduled for 4 July in Bratislava, CTK reported. Kukan said the decision was prompted by the fact that those countries' foreign ministers recently met in Vilnius and by the failure of all candidate countries to confirm their participation in the planned meeting. He said the meeting will now be held after the next U.S. presidential elections to enable representatives of the new administration to attend. MS


Kukan told CTK on 26 May that Slovakia "highly values" the assistance rendered by Czech President Havel in securing U.S. endorsement of Bratislava's candidacy to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Kukan said Havel had "promptly faxed" U.S. President Bill Clinton the day Dzurinda asked him to do so and had thus "played a role in determining the U.S. stand" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). In an interview with "The Washington Post," Dzurinda said his country will be ready to join NATO in 2001, after its army had been brought into line with the organization's standards, ITAR-TASS reported. MS


Montenegrin Premier Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica that "no one in Yugoslavia, Montenegro, or the international community could seriously expect Montenegrin authorities to arrest [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic and extradite him to The Hague," AP reported on 30 May. Vujanovic added, however, that he hopes Milosevic will not visit the mountainous republic "in the near future." The prime minister's statement comes in response to recent remarks by a prominent Montenegrin supporter of Milosevic that the Yugoslav president has accepted an invitation to visit Montenegro and that Milosevic's backers know the Montenegrin government will be under international pressure to arrest him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). Elsewhere, Miodrag Vukovic, who is an aide to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, said that any visit by Milosevic to Montenegro would be a "provocation," "Vesti" reported on 30 May. Vukovic added that Milosevic should come to Montenegro only as a private citizen and not expect to be officially welcomed as president. PM


Vujanovic met in Podgorica on 29 May with unnamed representatives of the Serbian Otpor (Resistance) student movement. One Otpor member told the private Beta news agency that the Montenegrin authorities regard Otpor as "one of the democratic forces in Serbia." The Montenegrin authorities have met previously with many Serbian opposition leaders and provided them with refuge and moral support. But Djukanovic and other Montenegrin leaders have stressed that the Serbs must democratize Serbia by themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2000). PM


This is the question that the private Belgrade daily "Danas" asked on its front page on 30 May, following the visit of several top Serbian opposition leaders to Moscow the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). The leaders met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev, but Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was "too busy" to see them, Reuters quoted unnamed Foreign Ministry officials as saying. The ministry issued a statement calling for "the prompt return of the Studio B television station to its owner, [which is] the Belgrade city council." Representatives of the opposition Yabloko party discussed the current situation in Yugoslavia with the visitors and called on the Russian president and government to "support human rights in Yugoslavia," "Danas" reported. The daily "Izvestiya" criticized the Foreign Ministry for what it called "supporting Milosevic," "Vesti" reported. PM


Vladan Batic, who is one of the leaders of the Alliance for Change, said in Belgrade on 29 May that the opposition's disappointingly small rally there two days earlier may be the "swan song" of the opposition in its present form (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). Batic argued that the opposition may need to "regroup" if it continues to remain ineffective and unable to agree on a common platform, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He did not elaborate. PM


Cooperation between Banja Luka and the Hague-based war crimes tribunal was on the agenda of talks between Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and the tribunal's president, Claude Jorda, on 29 May. This is the first visit by a top Bosnian Serb official to the tribunal. Dodik also met with unnamed indicted war criminals at a seaside prison. The Bosnian Serb leader said that the tribunal must demonstrate that it seeks to determine responsibility for war crimes committed by individuals of any nationality. He argued that many Serbs regard it as an anti-Serbian "political tribunal" and feel that the "whole [Serbian] nation is on trial here," AP reported. Dodik added that peacekeepers in Bosnia should arrest former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, both of whom have been indicted by the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Amor Masovic, who heads the Bosnian government's commission on missing persons from the 1992-1995 war, said in Sarajevo on 29 May that experts have found the remains of some 80 people in a forest between Srebrenica and Bratunac. He added that identification of the bodies will begin in approximately three weeks. PM


A Bosnian Serb police spokesman said in Banja Luka on 30 May that police have found the bodies of four Iranians in the Sava River and that an unspecified additional number of Iranians are believed to be hiding on Bosnian Serb territory. The spokesman ruled out any terrorist links, adding that the Iranians sought to reach Croatia and Italy via Bosnia, AP reported. Meanwhile on an Italian ship off the Istrian coast, Croatian police found 240 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of nearly $9 million, Reuters reported on 29 May. The Croats acted on a tip from U.S. drug authorities. PM


Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, said in Sofia on 29 May that he hopes the Serbian authorities will allow Serbian refugees from Kosova to register with UN officials there by 11 July. He added that he also hopes to convince Serbs inside and outside Kosova that it is in their interest to register and vote. Several local Serbian leaders have called for a boycott of the registration process until the UN and NATO guarantee the safety of Kosova's Serbian minority and enable the refugees to return. Kouchner has said repeatedly that organizing local elections in the fall is one of his top priorities. PM


An unidentified person shot and killed three Serbs, including a four-year-old boy, in Cernica on 28 May. Two additional Serbs are being treated for wounds at the nearby U.S. Camp Bondsteel. A NATO spokesman said in Prishtina that an ethnic Albanian suspect remains at large. Almost all of Cernica's 600 Serbian inhabitants attended the funeral of the three victims the following day. The villagers were "distraught and angry," AP reported. Moderate Kosovar Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic said that "it is high time" for Serbs to reconsider their continued participation in Kouchner's interim administrative council. In Mitrovica, local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic told a protest meeting of about 1,000 Serbs that Serbs in Kosova must "guard their own houses and streets." KFOR strictly forbids the formation of local paramilitary groups. PM


President Rexhep Meidani and his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, agreed in Tirana on 29 May to step up cooperation in combating prostitution, drug trafficking, and other crimes affecting their two countries. Stoyanov discussed with several top Albanian officials improved coordination on joint projects within the framework of the EU's Stability Pact. On 30 May, Stoyanov is slated to visit the port of Durres, which will be linked to Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey by an east-west highway to be built largely with EU funds. PM


Speaking on Romanian Radio on 29 May, President Emil Constantinescu said he has ordered the government to open an investigation into the circumstances that prompted the collapse of the National Investment Fund (FNI) and the illegal withdrawal of deposits from the fund after it had been temporarily closed. He said he had ordered the Intelligence Service to investigate whether the crisis is "jeopardizing national security" and whether it had been purposely provoked. Ruling coalition parties and the opposition have accused each other of having provoked the crisis. As thousands of people demonstrated in various cities to demand the return of their investments in the FNI, a rumor prompted withdrawal demands from account holders with the Commercial Bank. Bank officials gave assurances that the bank is not in danger of collapsing. MS


The joint commission on drafting amendments to the constitution has ended its work, having reached compromises among its members on most of the points on the agenda, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 29 May. The commission, which is composed of three representatives of the parliament, three of the president and one of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission of constitutional experts told journalists that some points remain to be decided by the parliament. The commission is recommending that the legislature vote confidence in the premier instead of the government as a whole and that the formation of the government follow his being installed in office. The premier is to be appointed by the president and present the government team to the president for approval. The cabinet does not need to have its program approved by the parliament before it is sworn in. Venice Commission representative Giorgio Malinverni said the proposed system resembles "the [semi-presidential] French system." MS


Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea on 29 May said that President Petru Lucinschi considers the idea of having the case of the Tiraspol-imprisoned group reviewed in a third, OSCE-member country to be "a reasonable compromise," RFE/ RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Romania recently proposed that the case be retried in Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). MS


Petar Stoyanov on 29 April asked the parliament to reconsider a recent law shortening military service, AP reported. He said his intervention was prompted by Bulgarian military leaders' opposition to the law. Under the new law, as of 1 October 2001 service is to be cut to nine months for most soldiers and six months for those with a university degree. In 1998, military service was reduced from 18 months to 12 months and from 12 months to nine months for university graduates. MS


Pedro Solbes, EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, has signed a $212 million loan approved last month for the modernization of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, dpa reported on 29 May. The same day, the Bulgarian River Shipping Corporation warned that the country's idle Danube ship owners will not survive more delays in clearing the Yugoslav section of the river, AP reported. The corporation's executive director, Dimitar Stanchev, said the ship owners cannot survive another winter like the last one. His remarks were prompted by an earlier statement of a Danube Commission official, who had said in Budapest that the reopening of the waterway navigation system will be delayed by one year. MS


By Donald N. Jensen

In an article in the 11 May issue of the newspaper "Sovetskaya Rossiya," legal scholar Georgii Shakhnazarov offers proposals for constitutional reform that deserve serious consideration as President Vladimir Putin seeks to rework the Russian political system. Shakhnazarov, currently with the Gorbachev Foundation and formerly an adviser to the former Soviet president, has in the past argued that the Russian Constitution should be amended to reduce the strong powers the president enjoys.

Now he turns that argument on its head. Russia's problem, he argues, is not that the president is too powerful. The country, according to Shakhnazarov, needs such a chief executive and voters support that. Unfortunately, a strong parliament and judiciary do not balance the presidency, and consequently there is no real system of checks and balances.

Shakhnazarov proposes expanding Article 80, Paragraph 3 of the constitution, under which the president "defines the basic guidelines for the state's domestic and foreign policy" to include the Federal Assembly. The government would be made more accountable to the legislature. The role of the bloated presidential administration, in recent years a powerful political force, would be curtailed. The only direct constitutional reduction of the president's powers, according to Shakhnazarov's proposals, would be the simplification of the impeachment process, virtually impossible under the current system. Such changes, Shakhnazarov argues, would help Putin restore the "normal legal order" for which Russian society is yearning. They also would help the new president achieve the policy goals he has established.

Shakhnazarov's proposed amendments are unlikely to receive much attention in the Kremlin. Having inherited a flawed constitution designed to codify the personal authority of his predecessor, Putin has preferred to revise that document through legislation and presidential decrees rather than by the complicated amendment process. In most constitutional systems, Putin's ambitious plans--to alter the composition of the Federation Council, reorganize the country into seven super-regions administered by presidential appointees, and streamline the mechanism for removing local governors--would be fundamental enough to require constitutional amendment and months of national debate. The Putin administration correctly, though unwisely, argues that in Russia this restructuring does not require constitutional amendment.

Such changes, however, drastically shift the balance of power between the center and the regions. If they are ordered from above, rather than resulting from amendments to the constitution or through a referendum, they are far more likely not to work as intended, if they take hold at all. This approach further diminishes the rule of law.

Another problem is that Putin's "perestroika" seems to reflect a vertical view of political power that routinely relies on strong--sometimes coercive--executive authority to attain its goals. This orientation, as social scientist Virginie Coulloudon has recently pointed out, is shared by many Russian elites, from the new president to Anatolii Chubais. Even if its goals, such as a free market, are laudable, it reflects suspicion of political pluralism, the separation of powers (which would be strengthened by Shakhnazarov's proposals), and the resolution of conflicts through negotiation and consensus.

In this regard one of the most interesting aspects of Putin's proposals to bring the regional governors to heel has been the extent to which it has been welcomed by so-called "democrats" in the Moscow establishment. While many regional governors are indeed corrupt, as these supporters of centralization point out, they probably are less so than numerous officials in Moscow, where the temptations are far greater. Moreover, if the goal of the federal reorganization is to improve local governance, subordinating the governors to the Kremlin is likely to be less effective than making the regional leaders more accountable to their local constituencies.

The current Russian Constitution, like basic laws elsewhere, seeks to balance liberty and order. Thus, the government embraces the principles of popular consent, the separation of powers, and federalism. Popular consent was expressed by the direct election of the State Duma. The sharing of political authority among three branches of the federal government was intended to reduce the prospects for tyranny. Federalism gave both national and regional governments independent authority. In such systems, political conflict is intended to be--and usually is--healthy.

These principles have never had deep roots in Russia. The many flaws in the current constitution--including the imbalances that Shakhnazarov discusses--have further impaired such values. On 24 May, Sergei Medvedev, Putin's first deputy chief of staff, expressed his high regard for the country's constitution and added that the "political regime in Russia was and is democratic." At the same time, he urged the Duma to pass the president's federal reorganization passage to stabilize the situation in the country and restore the vertical hierarchy of power.

The problem for Putin is that stability is not usually ensured by centralizing power. And even when the constitution is deeply flawed, such an approach is rarely more legitimate or effective. The author is associate director of RFE/RL's Broadcasting Division.