RUSSIAN PRESIDENT CONSIDERS U.S. DECISION TO WITHDRAW FROM ABM TREATY A 'MISTAKE'...
In an official statement following the U.S. announcement that it will withdraw from the ABM Treaty in June 2002, President Vladimir Putin said on 13 December that Russia was not surprised by the decision, but considers it a "mistake," Russian media reported. Putin warned that "the world cannot afford a legal vacuum in strategic stability [as a result of the cessation of the ABM Treaty]," and said Russia seeks to use improved U.S.-Russian relations to create a new legal framework for strategic relations between the two countries. Putin also affirmed Russia's commitment to arms reduction, saying, "there is a crucial importance in codification of irreversible and verifiable reductions of strategic offensive arsenals." Following the U.S. announcement, Putin discussed the new situation by telephone with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and said afterward that they both stated their desire to "pursue a reliable strategic stability system, based upon international legal mechanisms." VY
...AS EXPERTS SAY KREMLIN LOOKS FORWARD TO RESTRUCTURING ARSENAL
Meanwhile, Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 13 December that following the official cessation of the ABM Treaty, Russia will have full liberty to restructure the composition of its nuclear forces, including the definition of the number of warheads on its ballistic missiles, Radio Mayak reported. Russia will also have an opportunity to "correct a mistake made by previous Russian leadership that agreed to destroy its most efficient ABM system," the radio station reported him as saying in reference to cuts agreed by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Meanwhile, General Anatolii Kvashnin, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said retreat from the ABM Treaty poses no problems as far as Russia's national security is concerned, smi.ru reported the same day. However, he said the move by the United States could encourage many states to enter an arms race, as the system of international controls and inspection based on the ABM Treaty will be hamstrung. VY
LUKOIL SAYS IT WANTS TO RECREATE A NEW TV-6 FROM ASHES OF THE OLD...
Following a Moscow court decision last month to liquidate TV-6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001), LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun told reporters on 13 December that the oil giant is ready to create a new TV-6 with the participation of its current staff. It was LUKoil-Garant, a division of LUKoil, that originally sought the liquidation of TV-6 (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 December 2001). Fedun added that there is no real conflict between LUKoil and the team of TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev, although he charged that media magnate Boris Berezovsky tried to "set us up against Kiselev." JAC
...AS STATION'S JOURNALISTS ARE SKEPTICAL
TV-6 spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova reacted to Fedun's statement with some skepticism and asked, "Why should something new be created after destroying something that has cost such effort to create?" Interfax reported. In his reaction to Fedun's announcement, Kiselev told RTR that, concerning "various sweet promises that some LUKoil figures are making, including at today's news conference -- I don't believe them." Meanwhile, Berezovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio that he will offer Kiselev's team other television jobs in the event that TV-6 is closed down, and said that the journalists are in physical danger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). JAC
WORLD CONGRESS OF PEOPLES OF RUSSIA OPENS IN MOSCOW
President Putin and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II were present at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral on 13 December for the opening ceremony of the World Congress of Peoples of Russia, ORT television reported. Addressing the congress, Putin said that in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States, Russia should present itself as a "model of tolerance and spirituality." Putin said Russia is historically a place where "Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism have peacefully cohabited." The congress adopted a resolution condemning religious sects and "immorality in culture." VY
ZHIRINOVSKY FAILS TO CONVINCE HIS OWN PARTY TO ALLY ITSELF WITH WEST
Speaking at a 13 December Liberal Democratic Party of Russia congress, party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called on delegates to change the "anti-American and anti-Western provisions in the party program" and join the coalition with "Europe, North America, and NATO," RIA-Novosti reported. However, the congress delegates rejected Zhirinovsky's proposal, arguing that after 10 years and more than 150 party documents stressing its anti-Western stance, it is impossible to change the political platform overnight, NTV reported the same day. However, the party congress did adopt two other Zhirinovsky proposals -- to transform the Federal Assembly into a one-chamber parliament, and to restore the KGB. VY
EURASIAN LEADER CRITICIZES COMMUNISTS, PRAISES PUTIN
Writing in "Literaturnaya gazeta," No. 50, Aleksandr Dugin, the controversial leader of Eurasian party, said that both Russia's ruling class and its political opposition have experienced extreme difficulties in their efforts to be the leading political force in the country. Dugin said that, as one of the biggest factions in the Duma, the Communist Party has failed to create an attractive informational outlet to promote its views nationwide. On other hand, he argued, the moderate nationalists have shown themselves to be out of touch with reality. He said that while those movements were able to hamper the efforts of liberal "reformers," they have not been able to present their own positive programs. He said an example of moderate nationalists' failures is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose dogmatic anti-communism made him unwelcome both at home and abroad. According to Dugin, President Putin found the most success when he publicly stated that modern Russia should absorb all periods of her history, including the Soviet one, and proclaimed the sentiment shared by Dugin's Eurasian party that "Russia should exist as great power, or not at all." VY
RUSSIA DECLASSIFIES 'STEALTH' WARSHIP
Russia naval designers have created a new advanced warship codenamed "project 20380" that utilizes stealth technology, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 December. The new ship has a cruising speed of 30 knots and a range of 4,000 kilometers, and is armed with the Yakhont offensive missile system and Medvedka antisubmarine missile system. The news agency said the new Russian ship has no equivalent in Western navies because they have no defense against Yakhont missiles. VY
DUMA ADOPTS LAW ON DIGITAL SIGNATURES
The Duma adopted on final reading on 13 December the bill legalizing the use of electronic digital signatures and giving them the same status as conventional signatures, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. However, the bill recognizes the validation of digital signature only after an original document has first been signed with a conventional signature. According to Duma Committee for Taxes and Duties deputy head Ashot Egiazaryan, the bill is intended to speed up the work of Russian stock exchanges and, in general, to reduce expenses for mailing documents. VY
LATEST PASKO CASE SAID TO CONTRADICT EARLIER SUPREME COURT DECISION
The military prosecutor's request that Grigorii Pasko be handed a nine-year prison sentence for espionage in his trial in Vladivostok (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 13 December 2001) contradicts the decision by the Russian Supreme Court last November to throw out charges that the military journalist disseminated classified Defense Ministry data, "Izvestiya" said on 13 December. The daily argued that, because the current indictment accusing Pasko of divulging state secrets was based on that data being classified, he must immediately be released, along with scientists Igor Sutyagin and Vladimir Danilov, who are accused of the same "crime." VY
DEPUTIES REJECT ANTI-MOONSHINE BILLS...
State Duma deputies approved on 13 December on first reading a constitutional law allowing regional parliaments and local governments to display the Russian state flag on their buildings on a constant basis, regions.ru reported. Some 302 deputies voted in favor of the bill. Previously, the flag was only allowed to be displayed on state holidays. The same day, deputies rejected two bills that would have amended the Criminal Code by imposing criminal penalties on producers of moonshine (samogon). Authors of the bills, proffered by the Bryansk and Kostroma Oblasts legislatures, complained that action was needed as whole villages are addicted to hooch. However, both presidential representative to the Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov and governmental representative to the Duma Andrei Loginov argued against the bill, according to ITAR-TASS. Loginov noted that "half of rural residents make moonshine, and giving new powers to law enforcement bodies could lead to more cases of misuse of power." JAC
...AND AGREE TO MEET ON WEDNESDAYS AND FRIDAYS NEXT YEAR
Deputies also approved amendments to the regulations governing the Duma's work. Beginning next year, the lower legislative chamber will hold plenary sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays, the website akdi.ru reported. This year, the chamber met on Wednesdays and Thursdays. JAC
UPPER HOUSE, AUDIT CHAMBER FORM NEW ALLIANCE
Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin met on 13 December with newly elected Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Interfax reported. The two discussed way of expanding cooperation between their respective organizations. After the meeting, Stepashin told reporters that the Federation Council expressed its support for increasing the powers of the Audit Chamber. For his part, Mironov said the upper houses intends to introduce changes and amendments to the law on the Audit Chamber that is currently awaiting a second reading in the State Duma. In addition, the Audit Chamber will soon have a permanent representative on the Federation Council, polit.ru reported. Also on 13 December, Sakhalin Oblast's legislature voted to approve Boris Tretyak, the current chairman of that legislature, as its representative to the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC
DID PUTIN STRIKE A DEAL WITH SAKHA PRESIDENT?
Officials from the Sakha (Yakutia) Election Commission seized copies of "Moskovskii komsomolets v Yakutske" published on 11 December. Election commission officials explained on 13 December that the 11 December edition of the newspaper contained a great deal of compromising material that could have been used by other candidates in the 23 December presidential race to discredit incumbent President Mikhail Nikolaev, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Nikolaev withdrew from the race on 12 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 December that, according to unidentified Kremlin sources, Nikolaev promised during a meeting with President Putin on 10 December to withdraw from the race provided the Kremlin retract its support for Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov. Meanwhile, Sakha's Election Commission received a letter on 13 December from the federal Supreme Court that said an earlier decision by its republican counterpart invalidating the registration of ALROSA head Vyacheslav Shtyrov was itself invalid, and that Shtyrov's candidacy stands, Russian agencies reported. JAC
REGION TELLS MOSCOW TO PUT UP OR SHUT UP
Irkutsk Oblast Deputy Governor Andrei Burenin demanded on 13 December that either the federal government transfer enough money so that state sector workers' wages can be raised, or introduce external administration over the region, polit.ru reported. According to Burenin, the oblast needs 3.7 billion rubles ($123 million) to raise wages -- money it simply doesn't have in its budget. The website suggested that Burenin's demand was likely a rhetorical one, and that Burenin knew that it is more than likely that Moscow will transfer the money rather than assume full responsibility for the oblast's finances. JAC
TATAR NATIONALISTS PROTEST CENSUS PLANS
The presidium of the moderate nationalist group Tatar Public Center has sent an appeal to the Tatar people in protest against the recent decision to divide ethnic Tatars into six separate groups in the countrywide census to be conducted next year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). According to the appeal, census organizers are attempting to "divide the [Tatar] nation." The previous day, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that he does not believe it is possible for Tatarstan to become a "classic" independent state, and suggests that Tatarstan officials should instead seek more rights, freedoms, and broader national autonomy as part of the Russian Federation. Kravchuk also recalled that during negotiations for a new union treaty in 1991, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev had a more "progressive, more democratic" point of view than the leaders of other autonomous republics, many of whom were trying to preserve the Soviet Union. JAC
PITCHED BATTLE UNDERWAY IN ARGUN
Full-scale fighting has been underway since 12 December in Argun, east of Grozny, where Russian forces have surrounded some 200-300 Chechen militants who retreated there after attacking a Russian convoy, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax on 13 December quoted a Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman as saying that 12 Chechens have been killed during the battle, while an unidentified member of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration told AP that six Russian servicemen were killed in the fighting on 12 December. In the course of the fighting Russian forces seriously damaged a generating plant in Argun, causing power outages on 13 December in Grozny and at the Russian military base at Khankala on the outskirts of the city. LF
RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE DOUBTS BIN LADEN IN CHECHNYA
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 13 December, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii dismissed as not worthy of serious consideration press speculation that Osama bin Laden may try to seek refuge in Chechnya, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 November 2001). Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov similarly said there is no "reliable" confirmation of those reports. Ilyasov added that in view of the $25 million reward offered, bin Laden would undoubtedly be captured if he appeared in Chechnya. LF
RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS DEAD CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER RUNS COUNTERFEITING OPERATION
Colonel Sergei Skvortsov of the Russian Interior Ministry's department for economic crime told a press conference in Moscow on 13 December that 30 percent of the counterfeit dollars confiscated in Russia so far this year were printed in Chechnya, Interfax reported. He said his ministry has established that the center for counterfeiting operations is located in Shali, southeast of Grozny, and added that Chechen field commander Arbi Baraev is directly connected with such operations. Baraev was killed in June 2001 during a special operation by the FSB and OMON troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001). LF
FSB, RUSSIAN MILITARY CANNOT CONFIRM KHATTAB WOUNDED
Russian army Chief of General Staff General Kvashnin and a spokesman for the FSB's department in Chechnya both told Interfax on 13 December that they cannot confirm media reports that Jordanian-born Chechen field commander Khattab was wounded during fighting near Vedeno in southern Chechnya last week. In Grozny, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov rejected those reports as rumors spread by Khattab's own men to mislead the Russian intelligence operatives engaged in trying to hunt him down. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO IRAN POSTPONED AGAIN?
No new date has yet been set for an official visit to Iran by President Robert Kocharian originally scheduled for last month and then for mid-December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2001). Noyan Tapan reported on 13 December that Kocharian will travel to Moscow on 17 December and leave from there on a previously arranged official visit to Japan from 19-22 December. LF
ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR SAYS CAFE DEATH RESULT OF BRAWL
Poghos Poghosian, the ethnic Armenian from southern Georgia found dead in a Yerevan cafe early on 25 September after an altercation with President Kocharian's bodyguards, died as a result of a fistfight, Prosecutor-General Aram Tamazian told journalists in the Armenian capital on 13 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Tamazian said that after addressing "obscene remarks" at Kocharian, Poghosian got into a fight with the bodyguards and died as the result of a fall in which he hit the back of his head against the floor. One of the bodyguards involved has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). Poghosian's brother continues to insist that the victim, who weighed some 100 kilograms, could not have been knocked down by just one man. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT ENDS DEBATE ON BUDGET FOR 2002
Deputies on 13 December ended a weeklong debate of the 2002 draft budget, which is to be put to a vote on 17 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The draft sets expenditures at 257 billion drams ($460 million), and revenues at 214 billion drams. The resulting 43 billion dram deficit is equal to 3.6 percent of GDP. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian has warned that the government will reject most of the proposed amendments to the draft, as they would raise planned spending by a further 16 billion drams. LF
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN FAIL TO AGREE ON RAPPORTEUR FOR KARABAKH
During talks in Strasbourg on 12-13 December, the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe failed to reach agreement on nominating a rapporteur for the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported on 14 December. LF
LOCAL AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES CALL FOR NATIONWIDE UNITY
The local branches in the town of Sheki, 400 kilometers west of Baku, of the opposition Boz Gurd, Democratic, Musavat, Liberal, Justice, and Azerbaijan National Independence parties, and of both wings of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, have issued a joint appeal to those parties' leaders to join forces in a bid to improve socioeconomic conditions and resolve the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported on 13 December. Numerous previous efforts to forge unity among the disparate opposition parties failed, often because their leaders were not prepared to sacrifice their personal ambitions (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 40, 6 December 2001). LF
UN ENVOY AGAIN CALLS FOR WITHDRAWAL OF GEORGIAN TROOPS FROM KODORI GORGE
Dieter Boden, who is the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, told journalists in Sukhum on 13 December that the estimated 350 Georgian servicemen currently deployed in the Kodori gorge should be withdrawn, as their presence could trigger new fighting, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). LF
APPOINTMENT OF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER'S HUSBAND AS DEPUTY PROSECUTOR CRITICIZED
David Gamkrelidze, leader of the opposition New Right Wing parliament faction, argued on 13 December that Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichadze should be fired for violating the principle of the separation of the legislative and executive branches by colluding with parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze to name her husband Badri Bitsadze as his deputy, Caucasus Press reported. Burdjanadze commented the same day that she sees nothing irregular in her husband's appointment, noting that he has worked within the Prosecutor-General's Office for 20 years and will continue the struggle against corruption in his new post. LF
GEORGIAN JUDGE SAYS SEARCH WARRANT FOR INDEPENDENT TV STATION WAS LEGAL
Tbilisi judge David Sulakvelidze ruled on 13 December that the search warrant issued on 29 October to the National Security Ministry officials who conducted a search of the independent Rustavi-2 TV station was legal, Caucasus Press reported. That search triggered widespread protests that culminated in President Eduard Shevardnadze firing the entire government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October and 2 November 2001). LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT UNVEILS YET ANOTHER STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN
President Nursultan Nazarbaev has drafted a supplementary plan for the country's development between now and 2010, Interfax reported on 13 December. That plan is part of the 33-year strategic "Snow Leopard" concept unveiled four years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997), and which comprised a preliminary phase, now successfully completed, followed by three consecutive 10-year programs. Nazarbaev defined as Kazakhstan's main economic tasks for the next decade enacting measures to ensure stable economic growth; double GDP, which is projected at 3.5 trillion tenges ($23.3 billion) in 2002; stimulate the agricultural sector; and keep inflation low. In the social sphere, measures must be taken to provide more jobs, lower the poverty level, and increase social benefits. Speaking in Qaraghanda on 12 December, Nazarbaev pledged that the health care system will be reformed next year and a system of mandatory medical insurance introduced. LF
CONFERENCE ON TERRORISM OPENS IN KYRGYZSTAN...
A two-day international conference on terrorism jointly sponsored by the OSCE and the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention opened in Bishkek on 13 December amid unprecedented security precautions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Addressing the opening session, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev described as terrorism the incursions into Kyrgyz territory in 1999 and 2000 by the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He also stressed the nexus between poverty and terrorism, calling for measures to alleviate poverty in the region. LF
...AS DEMONSTRATORS CALL FOR RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS
Some 70 people staged a demonstration in Bishkek on 13 December near the Hyatt Regency hotel, the venue for the conference, to call for the release of political prisoners, including former Vice President Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF
TAJIK PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2002 BUDGET
The Tajik parliament approved next year's draft budget at its 11 December session, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 December. The draft sets expenditures at 490 million somonis ($183 million), which is $43 million more than in 2001, and revenues at 459.2 million somonis. Annual inflation is estimated at 9.5 percent. LF
PRESIDENT SAYS TURKEY IS BELARUS'S CLOSEST WESTERN PARTNER
"When we take Western states, Belarus has the most advanced relations with Turkey," Belarusian Television quoted President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying at his meeting in Minsk on 13 December with Turkish Minister of State Yilmaz Karakoyunlu. Lukashenka and Karakoyunlu said they are unhappy with low bilateral trade turnover ($31 million in January-October 2001). The same day, a Belarusian-Turkish intergovernmental economic commission signed a protocol outlining cooperation priorities for 2002. The protocol provides for the organization of a Turkish national fair in Belarus, Belarus' participation in a fair in Turkey, an increase in deliveries of Belarusian trucks and machinery to Turkey, as well as closer cooperation on tourism, transportation, agriculture, and investment, Belapan reported. The Belarusian government pledged to create favorable conditions for the operation of Turkish construction companies in Belarus. JM
BELARUSIAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR OPERATES AT LOSS
Agricultural Minister Mikhail Rusy said during hearings at the Chamber of Representatives on 13 December that this year the government expects a 2.9 percent loss in the agricultural sector, Belapan reported. The sector's losses are expected to total 147 billion Belarusian rubles ($94 million). The profitability of agricultural production declined from 45 percent in 1991 to 12 percent in 1999, and 3 percent in 2000. "Cosmetic increases in state purchase prices [for agricultural products] by 5, 7, or 15 percent actually do not save and improve the situation," Belarusian Television quoted one lawmaker as saying after the hearings. JM
BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST FINED FOR DEMONSTRATION
A court in Hrodna imposed a fine on 13 December of some $320 on Mikola Markevich, the editor in chief of the local independent newspaper "Pahonya," which was closed down by the Supreme Economic Court in November. The court found Markevich guilty of organizing an unauthorized rally in defense of his newspaper on 19 November. Markevich did not admit his guilt, but said he will not appeal the verdict, adding that "present-day courts in Belarus serve only one person, not society as a whole," Belapan reported. JM
CZECH POLICE BLOCK MAJOR CASH TRANSFER BY RENEGADE FINANCIER
A Czech investigator said police blocked the transfer of 1 billion crowns (about $28 million) between Harvard Industrial Holding and a Cyprus bank account presumably controlled by its controversial Czech-born founder, Viktor Kozeny, CTK reported on 14 December. Investigator Vaclav Laska has expressed his intention to produce a criminal complaint against Kozeny in the past (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2001), but no formal charges have been leveled in the case. Laska said the money recently blocked was culled from criminal activities, CTK reported. Kozeny, who obtained Irish citizenship and resides in the Bahamas, has been accused by minority shareholders of bilking them of billions of crowns. The transfer from the Czech Republic to a Cyprus bank was attempted following a ruling by the Czech Securities Commission to put a halt to a dubious share buyback scheme in late November, the agency reported. AH
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2002 BUDGET REVENUES, DEFICIT...
The parliament on 13 December voted 241 to 121, with 17 abstentions, to approve three articles of the draft budget bill for 2002 on second reading, Interfax reported. The articles were opposed by the Communist Party caucus, while the Socialist Party abstained and the Fatherland and Reforms-Congress caucuses refused to participate in the vote. The passed section of the bill sets budget revenues for 2002 at 44.3 billion hryvni ($8.36 billion), and the maximum budget deficit at 4.27 billion hryvni. The remaining 40 articles of the bill are to be considered on third reading. JM
...BILL ON MANDATORY TELEVISION DEBATES IN ELECTION CAMPAIGNS...
The parliament also passed a bill on the holding of mandatory television debates during presidential and parliamentary election campaigns. The bill gives the right of participation in such debates to all candidates in presidential elections as well as to leaders of parties and blocs, and to all candidates in single-seat constituencies in parliamentary elections. The bill obliges all countrywide television channels irrespective of their form of ownership to hold election debates. Under the bill, candidates who fail to appear in such debates will be removed from the election race, while the television channels that fail to organize them will have their broadcast licenses revoked. JM
...AND ANOTHER BILL ON LOCAL ELECTIONS
The same day, the parliament adopted a bill on local legislative elections, UNIAN reported. Under the bill, deputies to rural, raion, oblast, and raion-level city councils are to be elected under a majority system, while those to councils in oblast-level cities as well as in Kyiv and Sevastopol will be elected under a mixed system: 50 percent of deputies under a proportional system from party lists, and 50 percent in one-seat constituencies. Local elections are to be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections. JM
UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS ATTEND JOINT ECONOMIC FORUM
Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, at a forum of some 600 Ukrainian and Russian business executives on 14 December. Kuchma told the forum that the potential of Ukrainian-Russian economic cooperation is not being used to its full capacity, UNIAN reported. Putin said Russia and Ukraine should jointly strive to become members of the World Trade Organization. "We want to see Ukraine rich and flourishing, because this is advantageous for Russia," Putin declared. JM
SAVISAAR ELECTED NEW MAYOR OF ESTONIAN CAPITAL
Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar was elected mayor of Tallinn on 13 December by a City Council vote of 34 to 15, with two invalid ballots, BNS reported. Earlier that day, the council approved by a vote of 38 to five, with 20 abstentions, a no-confidence motion against Mayor Toni Palts of the Pro Patria Union. Prior to the vote the council accepted the resignation of its chairman, Rein Voog of the Reform Party, who also quit the council in protest against his party's decision to form a new coalition with the Center Party. In the election for the new chairman, Reform Party deputy Maret Maripuu defeated Pro Patria Union candidate Aimar Altosaa by a vote of 35 to 25. In an apparent effort to show its desire to maintain the three-party coalition in the parliament, the Reform Party faction decided to retract its demand that the introduction of electronic identification cards be voluntary and not mandatory. SG
OSCE TO CLOSE MISSION TO ESTONIA
The Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) decided in Vienna on 13 December not to extend the mandate of its mission to Estonia, in effect ending its nine-year existence on 31 December, ETA reported. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said that during his five years in office the closure of the mission was his third-highest priority, trailing only Estonia's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Prime Minister Mart Laar said that the mission's departure marks the end of an era in the country's history, and brings Estonia into the family of normally functioning democracies. SG
LATVIA, LITHUANIA TO RECEIVE COMPENSATION FOR FORMER EMBASSIES IN PARIS
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his counterparts from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia signed agreements in Paris on 13 December giving the Baltic states compensation for their embassy buildings that were handed over to the Soviet Union in 1940, BNS reported. Although the buildings still legally belong to those Baltic states, their return was hampered because Russia still uses them for diplomatic purposes. France agreed to purchase the property rights to the former Latvian Embassy for 26 million French francs ($3.5 million), and Lithuania's for 23 million francs. SG
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2002 BUDGET
The parliament adopted the 2002 budget on 13 December by a vote of 72 to 51, with two abstentions, ELTA reported. Based on the assumption that GDP will grow by 4.0 percent and inflation will be 2.6 percent in 2002, the budget foresees revenues of 10.33 billion litas ($2.58 billion) and expenditures of 12.26 billion litas. The parliament also approved the 2002 budgets for the State Social Insurance Fund (SoDra), which predicts a deficit of 34 million litas arising from revenues of 4.58 billion litas and expenditures of 4.61 billion litas, and for the Compulsory Health Insurance Fund, which foresees a balanced budget of 1.83 billion litas The parliament also amended the personal income tax law by increasing the monthly tax-free minimum from 214 to 250 litas, beginning on 1 April 2002. SG
POLISH PARLIAMENT INCREASES 2001 BUDGET DEFICIT
The Sejm on 13 December increased the 2001 budget deficit by 3.8 billion zlotys ($938 million) to 32.98 billion zlotys, PAP reported. The same day the Senate approved the Sejm's amendment to the 2001 budget law without any changes. JM
POLISH RAILWAYS' PHONES CUT OVER UNPAID BILLS
On 13 December, the telecommunications giant Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. (TPSA) cut telephone services to Poland's State Railways (PKP) over an estimated $10 million debt in unpaid phone bills, dpa reported. TPSA press spokesman Michal Potocki said the move is a "warning," and added that TPSA planned to restore service to PKP on the afternoon of 14 December. The move has primarily hit passengers, who are not able to contact PKP for arrival and departure information. Communication within PKP has not been affected, as the company has an independent internal phone system. JM
PRAGUE COURT REJECTS UZBEK EXTRADITION REQUEST
A Czech court on 14 December ruled against the extradition of Uzbek dissident Mohammad Solih to Tashkent, local and Western agencies reported. The Prague municipal court cited the international outcry following Solih's arrest on an Interpol warrant in late November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001), and expressed doubt as to whether the poet and human rights activist would receive a fair trial in Uzbekistan. The court also noted that the Czech Republic does not have an extradition treaty with Uzbekistan. AH
CZECH DAILY SAYS TERRORIST SUSPECT MAY NEVER HAVE MET WITH IRAQI AGENT IN PRAGUE
The Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" asserted on 14 December that "the only evidence of a link between the [11 September] terrorists and Iraq has fallen," citing sources close to an ongoing investigation into Muhammad Atta's confirmed visits to the Czech Republic in 2000. The paper said a review of the evidence by the Security Information Service and police "in recent days" has produced no proof of any meeting between the suspected suicide bomber and an Iraqi intelligence officer who was subsequently expelled from the country. While Czech officials have issued contradictory statements following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States about Atta's activities in Prague, an alleged meeting between Atta and Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir Ani has been viewed as possible evidence of Iraqi ties to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. An Interior Ministry source is quoted as confirming the existence of a Pakistani man with the same name, but otherwise "very different" from the suspected terrorist, which may have sparked some of the confusion. Meanwhile, a police source reiterated that authorities are unaware of what the suspected terrorist did while in Prague in mid-2000. AH
BRITISH RESUME AIRPORT CHECKS IN CZECH REPUBLIC
British consular officials said on 14 December that they have resumed checks of passengers bound for Britain from Prague's Ruzyne Airport, CTK reported. The resumption of checks comes after a one-month suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2001) and could continue indefinitely. The screenings were initially launched due to a growing number of Czech asylum seekers in Britain, but a British official told CTK that the new checks are for preventive reasons, not due to increasing requests for asylum. AH
CZECH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES AMENDED ELECTORAL LAW
The lower chamber of the Czech parliament approved an amendment to the country's electoral law on 13 December, clearing the way for parliamentary voting in June 2002. The Senate is expected to follow suit. One of the current law's most contentious clauses, which defines the threshold of votes required for coalitions to secure parliamentary representation, was left unchanged despite attempts for an increase from the two biggest parties in parliament, the Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party. A constitutional challenge by President Vaclav Havel in January wiped out that part of the current legislation, along with other aspects that the court found incompatible with electoral principles of the Czech Constitution. This new amendment also introduces 14 election districts instead of the previously proposed 35, better safeguards the participation of Czechs abroad in balloting, and lowers the threshold for so-called "preference votes" that allow voters to depart from party tickets. Another change is the designation of Friday and Saturday as election days, rather than the current Sunday. AH
CZECH BIRTHRATE LOWEST AMONG EU HOPEFULS
The European Union's statistical office published a report on 13 December showing that the Czech Republic has the lowest birthrate of all 13 countries that are potential candidates for joining the EU, CTK reported. The Eurostat report tracked statistics from 1995 to 1999, and said the average number of children per woman of reproductive age is just 1.1, compared to the highest rate in Turkey of 2.5 children. Average life expectancy is longer in the Czech Republic than in all candidate countries aside from Cyprus, Malta, and Slovenia, CTK reported. AH
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2002 BUDGET
On 13 December, the parliament voted 81 to 46, with eight abstentions, to pass a 2002 budget bill setting revenues at 219.8 billion Slovak crowns ($4.56 billion) and expenditures at 257.8 billion Slovak crowns, TASR reported. The budget deficit is not to exceed 3.5 percent of GDP. GDP growth for the next year is projected at 3.6 percent, inflation at 6.7 percent, and average unemployment at 18.9 percent. JM
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT SETS DATE FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The first round of Hungary's 2002 parliamentary elections will be held on 7 April 2002, and the second round on 21 April 2002, President Ferenc Madl announced on 13 December. He justified his decision by saying that a new parliament and government must be formed at the earliest possible date, primarily to facilitate preparations for EU accession. The announcement officially opened the election campaign. On 12 December, the governing parties indicated during interparty consultations that they preferred a date in early April. The opposition Free Democrats proposed a later date in April and the Socialists argued for May, the month in which the 1994 and 1998 elections took place. Candidates in a constituency must collect at least 750 signatures from local residents between 8 February and 14 March in order to be eligible for the elections. MSZ
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES 2001 FOREIGN POLICY
In a report to parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on Hungarian foreign policy in 2001, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said on 13 December that the country's efforts toward integration into Europe made spectacular progress this year, as evidenced by the EU's favorable report on Hungary, Hungarian media reported. As for the Status Law, Martonyi said the cabinet proposed "concrete and satisfactory" solutions that are "perfectly suitable for dispelling Romania's concerns." He also noted that the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States initiated a global realignment that requires adjustments to Hungarian foreign policy. However, opposition Socialist Party deputy Vilmos Szabo accused the major coalition party FIDESZ of subordinating foreign policy to its own election interests. Fellow Socialist Csaba Tabajdi said Hungary is "further away from the EU than a year ago," and that the policies pursued by Viktor Orban's cabinet have set Hungarian-Romanian relations back 10 years. Free Democrat Istvan Szent-Ivanyi claimed that the Status Law was inadequately prepared, and has slowed down EU accession talks. MSZ
HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST LEADER CALLS FIDESZ TOO INCLUSIVE
Istvan Csurka, the chairman of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), warned FIDESZ on 13 December that "it is not possible to govern effectively as a popular front," Hungarian media reported. He said FIDESZ is sacrificing basic democratic principles by cooperating with the Lungo Drom Romani group, as well as with Christian Democrats and Smallholders. With such a policy, "It will be impossible to maintain a consistent line and internal problems will arise," Csurka warned. He also said that FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni symbolizes "an openness toward leftist and liberal groups," unlike his predecessor, Laszlo Kover. MSZ
YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS CROATIA...
In what local media have described as a landmark visit, Goran Svilanovic arrived in Zagreb on 14 December on his first official visit to Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He will meet with President Stipe Mesic, Prime Minister Ivica Racan, parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic, and Foreign Minister Tonino Picula, among others. Svilanovic and his hosts will sign a number of agreements, including on double taxation and on cooperation between the two foreign ministries. In related news, art objects from the collections of Vukovar were formally returned to the city's museums and galleries on 13 December. Yugoslav troops took them in 1991 and sent them to museums in Novi Sad. PM
After meeting with Picula in Zagreb on 14 December, Svilanovic said: "I deeply regret the suffering of Croatian citizens, both Croats and [Croatian] Serbs, as well as the citizens of Yugoslavia in the last couple of years. Politicians are the most responsible for what has happened in the past decade. It will take some time before reconciliation [between Croats and Serbs] is fully achieved," dpa reported. Observers note that Serbia's current leaders, who succeeded former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, have yet to acknowledge Serbia's role in starting and losing four Balkan wars in the past decade. Belgrade's reluctance to break with the political culture of blame and denial has served to foster mistrust toward Serbia on the part of many Slovenes, Croats, Muslims, and Kosovars. Reconciliation with Croatia is unlikely so long as three officers wanted by The Hague in conjunction with the 1991 Vukovar massacres remain free in Serbia. PM
YUGOSLAVIA, BOSNIA SIGN TRADE AGREEMENT
Officials of the two countries signed an agreement in Belgrade on 13 December aimed at reducing or eliminating tariffs and other trade barriers, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The value of trade is expected to increase from the present annual $400 million to $700 million by 2004. PM
BOSNIAN STATE AUTHORITIES TO TAKE OVER BANJA LUKA CUSTOMS POINT
Members of the state customs police are scheduled to take control of the customs facilities at Banja Luka airport from Republika Srpska authorities on 14 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
HAGUE FREES FOUR BOSNIAN MUSLIMS PENDING TRIAL
Following the receipt of guarantees from the Bosnian federal authorities, The Hague-based war crimes tribunal freed pending trial former General Sefer Halilovic, as well as his subordinates Mehmed Alagic, Enver Hadzihasanovic, and Amir Kubura, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). In related news, the lawyer for Croatian General Rahim Ademi, an ethnic Albanian, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 14 December that he has submitted the necessary papers to the tribunal for his client to be freed pending trial. Like the four Muslims, Ademi surrendered to The Hague voluntarily. PM
HAGUE UNSEALS INDICTMENT OF BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL
The war crimes tribunal said in press release on 14 December that it has made public its indictment of former General Vinko Pandurevic in conjunction with the 1995 massacre of Muslim civilians in Srebrenica. He commanded the Zvornik Brigade of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, and retired from the General Staff in 1998. PM
'TOBACCO WARS' TO BEDEVIL SERBIAN COALITION?
"Vesti" reported on 14 December that the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition may be further split by demands by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) for an investigation of an alleged cigarette-smuggling scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). In the legislature, DSS deputies called for setting up a committee to investigate charges made by a Croatian weekly earlier in the year that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic are involved in a cigarette-smuggling racket. The Serbian parliament voted not to set up such a body. The scandal and moves by the pro-Belgrade Montenegrin opposition to investigate it have been staple fare of the Montenegrin media for months. PM
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: NO ONE SHOULD DODGE RESPONSIBILITIES
Djindjic said in Belgrade on 13 December that his government's priority in 2002 will be solving the social problems that affect ordinary citizens, as well as fighting corruption in government and crime, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that all parties in the DOS must share in the unpopularity resulting from some of the coalition's necessary but painful policies in the transition to a market economy. PM
MONTENEGRIN LEADER EXPECTS EQUAL TREATMENT FROM SOLANA
Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 13 December that he expects that EU mediator Javier Solana will give the same weight to Montenegro's position on future relations with Serbia as he gives to Belgrade's views, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 December 2001). Belgrade starts from the premise that the existing federation must be redefined. Podgorica begins with the assumption that the federation is dead and that Serbia and Montenegro are equal participants in a dialogue in which all options are open. PM
ETHNICALLY MIXED POLICE RE-ENTER MACEDONIAN VILLAGES
Police re-entered several formerly guerrilla-held villages as planned on 13 December. The police were nonetheless kept out of two hamlets by heavy snowfalls, and out of five villages in the Tetovo area by barricades set up by mistrustful local Albanians, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). The Albanians said that before the police can enter their communities, they must dismantle checkpoints on the road to Tetovo, where Albanians claim they are often insulted or even beaten. The Albanians also want the ethnically mixed patrols to be largely Albanian, as are the communities they are entering. The villagers also called on parliament to pass an amnesty law. But in the village of Nikustak, the local guerrilla commander known as Shpati turned out with other villagers to greet the police. AP reported, however, that the reception for the police in most villages was chilly, with one local man saying "this isn't going to end well." In related news, police said that security forces killed an ethnic Albanian from Trebos at a checkpoint on the Tetovo road after he opened fire on them. Details of the incident are not known, Reuters noted. PM
STALLED EFFORTS AT COALITION BUILDING IN KOSOVA
Ibrahim Rugova failed to win a first-ballot victory to become president of Kosova on 13 December because the two next-largest ethnic Albanian parties first want a power-sharing deal to be concluded before they will vote for him, Reuters reported from Prishtina on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). He has already offered them two deputy premier posts and five ministries, but this apparently is not enough for Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj. PM
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL LAUDS ROMANIA'S PROGRESS
Visiting NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Bucharest on 13 December that Romania has progressed on the path to NATO accession, Romanian media reported. Robertson said the Atlantic alliance is "impressed by last year's progress in military reform," and the way Romanian authorities acted in ensuring regional cooperation and security. The secretary-general participated in the Romanian cabinet's weekly meeting, and also met with chairmen of the parliament's two chambers. Robertson refused to identify likely candidate countries for acceptance into NATO next year. Premier Adrian Nastase said his cabinet will mobilize all intellectual and material resources it can to bring about Romania's acceptance into NATO. ZsM
ROMANIAN PUBLIC RADIO GETS NEW CHAIRMAN
Romanian parliament's committees for Culture, Art, and Media appointed public radio Deputy General Director Dragos Seuleanu on 13 December as provisionary chairman, Mediafax reported. Seuleanu is to fill the position for a maximum of six months. The need for a new chairman arose as a result of the parliament's dismissal of the radio's administration council on 12 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). Following the 12 December vote to dismiss the council, three opposition parties that boycotted the voting made accusations of "fraud" during the vote, saying there was no quorum. Chamber of Deputies Chairman Valer Dorneanu dismissed the accusations. Meanwhile, National Liberal Party Chairman Valeriu Stoica accused the ruling Social Democratic Party of wanting to "fully subordinate" the media. ZsM
BESSARABIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH WINS CASE AGAINST MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on 13 December in favor of the Bessarabian Orthodox Church in a case filed against the Moldovan government, Flux reported. The court ruled that by refusing to register the church, the Moldovan government breached ECHR provisions on religious freedoms and the right for association. The ruling is not final, and the cabinet may lodge an appeal. ZsM
BULGARIAN PREMIER VISITS GERMANY
Arriving for his first official visit to Germany, Simeon Saxecoburggotski met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin on 13 December, BTA reported. After the meeting, Schroeder said Germany supports Bulgaria's progress to Europe politically and economically. Asked if Bulgaria will be ready to participate in the European Parliament elections -- in other words, be a member of the EU -- in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001), he said there is no need to debate specific accession dates. "A principled political decision has been made, and now a greater effort is needed to advance the reform process in Bulgaria: this is where we want to help because dates depend on the progress of reforms and not vice versa," he said. The two leaders also agreed on closer cooperation in the energy, telecommunications, and environment sectors. DW
UKRAINE'S OLIGARCHIC SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SUFFER SETBACK
On 13 December, 234 members of the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) voted to dismiss Deputy Chairman Viktor Medvedchuk from his position. Medvedchuk is also the chairman of one of Ukraine's most important, but least liked, oligarchic political parties -- the Social Democratic Party (United) (SDPU-O). Medvedchuk achieved notoriety during the Soviet era when he helped send well-known Ukrainian dissident poet Vasyl Stus to the Gulag, where he died in 1986. In the 1990s, Medvedchuk's rise to fame was meteoric, and he recently set his sights on the post-Kuchma presidency.
The factions that gathered the 150 signatures to place the motion of dismissal to a vote came from the two Rukh parties (36 members), Reforms-Congress (14), Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland (25), Solidarity (21), and the newly created Unity (15) led by popular Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko. The remaining votes came from the Socialists and Communists, who together command 130 members. Those two factions blame Medvedchuk for the adoption by the Rada last month of the land reform bill.
It has been increasingly evident that both the SDPU-O and Oleksandr Volkov's Democratic Union have been out of favor with President Leonid Kuchma. Volkov, a businessman who is reputed to have ties to organized crime and is wanted by Belgian police on money-laundering charges, was presented with a medal by President Kuchma in February in honor of his "selfless work and personal merits in promoting Ukraine's socioeconomic development." But since then his star has also waned.
A new party of power, Regions of Ukraine, was created by the head of the State Tax Administration, Mykola Azarov, earlier this year in the Donbas, and many deputies from Volkov's parliament faction joined it. The final indication that Volkov had fallen out of favor with Kuchma and was no longer needed as an "adviser" was his replacement as head of the Democratic Union by Kuchma's long-time personal friend, Volodymyr Horbulin, who was Yevhen Marchuk's predecessor as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.
Four factors have led to Medvedchuk's decline. First, Omelchenko's Unity faction dislikes the SDPU-O because of its control of many of Kyiv's prize assets, including the Dynamo Kyiv soccer team. Azarov's rival Regions of Ukraine has supported recent draft legislation to tax payments made on the transfers of soccer players from which the USDPU inordinately gained. Omelchenko also dislikes Hryhorii Surkis, Medvedchuk's ally and president of Kyiv Dynamo and the Football Federation of Ukraine, who was his rival in the bitterly contested 2000 Kyiv mayoral elections. Omelchenko is the president of the Hockey Federation of Ukraine.
Second, the SDPU-O feared that as in the 1998 elections, they would again fail to garner the minimum 4 percent of the vote to secure seats for the candidates on its party list. The SDPU-O needed therefore to gain votes in Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine because its main base of support in Western and Central Ukraine was less reliable. The party sought to capitalize on the language question by collecting 140,000 signatures demanding that a new "Law on Languages" be adopted to replace the 1989 law. The new law would elevate Russian to the status of an "official language" while keeping Ukrainian as the "state" language. It is unclear to all concerned what the difference between "official" and "state" languages is, a distinction first introduced by Kuchma during his 1994 election campaign but then shelved after his election. On 30 November, the Rada began to debate the replacement of the 1989 law, which ensured that the national democrats would target Medvedchuk as the person behind this move to place it on the Rada agenda only three months before the elections. Rada Chairman Ivan Plyushch has spoken out against discussing the language question on the eve of the elections.
Third, the SDPU-O is suspected of being one of the most likely culprits behind security service officer Mykola Melnychenko, whose bugging of Kuchma's office led to the "Kuchmagate" scandal. There are rumors that in mid-2000 the SDPU-O made a proposal to Kuchma that he hand over power to Medvedchuk in a manner similar to the transfer by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. But Kuchma refused to do so. The SDPU-O was also angry that Kuchma tolerated Tymoshenko's presence in Yushchenko's government. The SDPU-O argued that Tymoshenko and former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko made a lot of money from insider energy deals and therefore knew how to undercut this source of corrupt funds to the oligarchs. Melnychenko has always spoken highly of Marchuk, his former boss as chairman of the Security Service, and the Melnychenko tapes include no conversations between Kuchma and either Medvedchuk, Surkis, or Marchuk.
Finally, the other oligarchic parties could not have abstained in the vote of no confidence to dismiss Medvedchuk without a nod of approval from the presidential administration. Kuchma's blessing for Medvedchuk's fall from grace allows For a United Ukraine to become the main pro-Kuchma election bloc. Led by presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn, a trusted friend and the only surviving member of Kuchma's 1994 election team, it includes five parties of power -- Regions of Ukraine (Donbas), Labor Ukraine (Dnipropetrovsk), People's Democrats (Kharkiv and southern Ukraine), Agrarians (Galicia and Volhynia), and Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Each of these can draw upon "administrative resources" in the election campaign in the regions and institutions they control.
The rise and fall of the SDPU-O is characteristic of Ukrainian politics insofar as oligarchic parties lack any ideology and exist only at the whim of the executive. Although the oligarchs and the executive need each other, neither side trusts the other.
Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.