FSB CLAIMS TO HAVE KILLED CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER...
Russia's Federal Security Service issued a statement on 25 April claiming that Jordanian-born Chechen field commander Khattab was killed during a "special operation" carried out by the FSB and other services, but gave no details, Russian media reported. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said "documentary evidence" of Khattab's demise will be made public within days. Interfax quoted an unnamed FSB officer as saying that the operation took place last month, while "Vremya novostei" reported that Khattab's headless corpse has been taken to a morgue in Rostov-na-Donu. LF
...BUT CHECHEN LEADER, OPPOSITION SKEPTICAL
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov reacted with skepticism to the reports of Khattab's death, which he said he will believe only when he has seen the body, Interfax reported on 25 April. He pointed out that frequent reports of the death of field commander Shamil Basaev have all proved to be premature. Kadyrov had earlier expressed similar doubts over reports that Khattab had been wounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). Meanwhile, chechenpress.com on 25 April quoted Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev as dismissing the reports as "routine disinformation." On 19 April, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" claimed that Khattab had been killed 3 1/2 months earlier and buried near the village of Niki-Khata. But on 18 April, ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified "well-informed source" within the Russian army's General Staff as saying that Khattab was still alive, although he had twice been wounded in fighting during the winter. LF
POLL SHOWS SAGGING SUPPORT FOR NEW PARTY OF POWER...
About 1,000 delegates attended the first all-Russia party congress in Moscow on 25 April of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In attendance were Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev. The previous day, VTsIOM released results of a poll it conducted recently showing that the percentage of voters that would support the party has fallen to 18 percent from 30 percent in December 2001, according to the bureau. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 April, Unified Russia General Council Chairman Aleksandr Bespalov suggested that the party's low rating had been "arranged." In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, VTsIOM Director Yurii Levada disputed this, noting that "this 'party of power' was created by the central and regional bureaucracies -- it will never have broad mass support." JAC
...AS LUZHKOV FLOATS IDEA OF EJECTING DEPUTIES FOR DISOBEDIENCE
At the congress, Luzhkov noted that several deputies who were elected to the State Duma according to party lists and who have not been fulfilling party decisions be expelled from their factions, RIA-Novosti reported. In May, according to Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin, the centrist deputy groups will introduce a bill in the State Duma on the imperatives of the Duma mandate. If enacted, the bill would make it impossible for deputies to switch factions. According to polit.ru, this bill will require deputies to remain in the faction on whose list they entered the lower legislative house. If they want to leave the faction, then they have to leave the Duma. JAC
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS MILITARY EXERCISES ON CASPIAN SEA
During a press conference in Astrakhan, President Vladimir Putin announced that he has ordered the Russian navy's commander in chief, Vladimir Kuroedov, to conduct military exercises on the Caspian Sea with the participation of units of the North Caucasus Military District, Caspian Naval Flotilla, air force, and Federal Border Guards stationed in the region, nns.ru and strana.ru reported on 25 April. According to Putin, the exercises are intended to protect Russia's economic and political interests, and to "prevent the activities of terrorists and drug dealers." VY
RUSSIA, EU DISCUSS JOINT DECLARATION ON MILITARY COOPERATION
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is in Brussels on a three-day visit for talks with EU and Belgian leaders, said after talks on 24 April with his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt that the two sides agreed to develop a joint declaration on Russia-EU defense cooperation, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. The declaration would stress Russia's involvement in the creation of European military forces known as the "all-European defensive initiative." Kasyanov also announced that he and Verhofstadt agreed to work out a bilateral treaty on military-technical cooperation, as well as on cooperation in combating money laundering. Finally, Moscow and Brussels agreed to expand trade relations and to allow the participation of a Belgian astronaut on a Russian space mission. VY
JEWISH ORGANIZATION DEMONSTRATES AGAINST TERROR AND ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA
The Russian Jewish Congress (REK) on 25 April held in Moscow and 14 other Russian cities demonstrations and actions of solidarity with Israel and against terrorism and anti-Semitism, ORT and RTR reported. Speaking at a meeting near a Moscow synagogue, the head of the Committee in Support of Israel, actor Gennadii Khasanov, said the events of 11 September in the United States showed that terror can come to any land. And in Yekaterinburg, the leader of the local Jewish community, Mikhail Oshtrakh, said Jews in Ural regions experience latent anti-Semitism from local authorities and intolerance from the local Russian Orthodox Church, regions.ru reported on 25 April. VY
INSPECTION UNIT SAYS RUSSIA'S DECOMMISSIONED SUBS ARE A THREAT
According to a recent analytical memorandum of the State Atomic Inspection agency, 190 nuclear submarines that were decommissioned from the Russian navy because of their miserable safety conditions now pose a serious threat to the population and environment, "Trud" reported on 25 April. More than 30 percent of these submarines are waiting to be scrapped. Moreover, more than half of these submarines still have nuclear fuel on board, and the navy stores 14,000 cubic meters of liquid and 26,000 cubic meters of solid nuclear waste on the Russian coastline, according to the memorandum, as cited by the newspaper. The total radioactivity of this waste is 500 million curies, or double the amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere after the Chornobyl nuclear-power-plant catastrophe on 26 April 1986. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the navy considers the decommissioned submarines military objects and bans the State Atomic Inspection agency from inspecting them. Meanwhile, a group of ecologists and scientists has written a letter to President Putin asking him to intervene in order to allow the State Atomic Inspection agency access to nuclear military objects, according to "Trud." Prior to 1996, the agency had access to such objects. VY
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTESTORS GATHER IN RED SQUARE...
On 25 April, about 30 activists from the Ekozashchita nature-conservation group and the Youth Rights Defense movement held a protest in Moscow's Red Square against the import of foreign spent nuclear fuel, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. According to Ekho Moskvy radio, about 20 activists along with several camera crews were detained by police. JAC
...AS THEIR COUNTERPARTS IN TOMSK LOSE BATTLE WITH GOVERNMENT
The same day, the federal Supreme Court ruled that the government has the right to dispose of radioactive waste at the Siberian Chemical Complex located near the city of Tomsk, ntvru.com reported. The court was reacting to a complaint filed by Greenpeace and city residents. Greenpeace representatives told Interfax that research indicates that the underground disposal of waste will lead to water unsuitable for drinking in 10 years' time. Meanwhile, Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters in Tomsk on 25 April that a new nuclear power plant will be constructed in Tomsk within the next 10 years in the "closed" town of Seversk. According to Rumyantsev, a new nuclear power plant will make it possible to shut down the two operating reactors whose service life will be over in the next 10 years. Two years ago, Western and Russian environmentalists charged that two rivers flowing nearby Seversk were the most polluted in the world in terms of radioactivity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 November 2000). JAC
EES PLANS TO DOUBLE ELECTRICITY TARIFF
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais told the Federation Council on 24 April that EES plans to double electricity rates over the next two years, nns.ru reported on 24 April. He added that Russian domestic natural-gas prices should also be raised. "The country cannot develop itself when, domestically, the cost of [1,000 cubic meters of gas] is $19, and outside the country $160." According to Chubais, the average Russian family pays 60 rubles ($2) a month for electricity, which he said is equal to the cost of a cheap bottle of vodka. "Nobody will invest a single ruble or dollar [in this sector]," until they are assured that the utility rates are enough to cover capital investments, the agency reported. VY
REGIONAL COMMUNISTS MULL VARIOUS OPTIONS FOR SELEZNEV
Communists in Novosibirsk are weighing the possibility of nominating State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev as the party's candidate in 2003 gubernatorial elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 25 April. Viktor Kuznetsov, first secretary of the Communist Party's Novosibirsk Oblast committee, told the agency that they are also considering State Duma (Communist) Deputy Sergei Glaziev, as well as other federal-level officials. However, Communists in other regions are thinking more along the lines of expelling Seleznev from their party rather than inviting him to be their candidate. For example, party organs in the cities of Moscow, Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, and Rostov-na-Donu, and in Leningrad Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, and the republic of Adygeya have all demanded that Seleznev be expelled from party ranks, "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 April. According to the daily, Seleznev's fate will be decided at a Central Committee plenary meeting scheduled for the beginning of June. JAC
KREMLIN INTENDS TO CHALLENGE ROSSEL IN SVERDLOVSK OBLAST?
The local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party in Sverdlovsk Oblast intends to nominate Sergei Nosov, general director of Nizhnii Tagil Metallurgical Combine, as its candidate for 2003 gubernatorial elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. Nosov also heads the party's local branch. Meanwhile, the deputies recently elected to the oblast's legislature from Unified Russia have been shut out of any leadership posts in that body, including the offices of the speakers, deputy speakers, or committee heads, according to the newspaper. The new chairman of the legislature is Nikolai Voronin, who is a "true comrade in arms" of Governor Eduard Rossel. Rossel's party fared the best in recent legislative elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 April 2002). JAC
MAGNITOGORSK, NOVYI URENGOI WANT TO REDUCE RANKS OF IMMIGRANTS...
Deputies in the legislature of the city of Magnitogorsk in Chelyabinsk Oblast adopted on 24 April a joint appeal to the oblast governor and oblast legislature to make the city "closed," regions.ru reported the next day. The deputies declared that they consider their territory to be a border zone, and local law-enforcement officials told them that their city is "full" of foreigners, mainly people from neighboring Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia. For example, in the first three months of 2002, 2,500 foreign citizens received a temporary right to live in the city and another 3,500 foreign citizens were living in the city illegally, according to information of the city's local department of the Interior Ministry. However, authorities believe that the number of illegal aliens is much higher. JAC
...AND BECOME CLOSED CITIES
Deputies in the city of Novyi Urengoi in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug made a similar appeal on 23 April to close the city to "the free flow of uninvited guests," according to polit.ru on 25 April. Novyi Urengoi Mayor Viktor Kazarin said that many immigrants come in search of big salaries, not understanding all of the unique characteristics of the Far North. "We need people from specific professions and in limited numbers," he said. Meanwhile, deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Vladimir Ovchinnikov told Interfax-Eurasia that there is no basis for expanding the list of cities with tight regulations on the entry of foreign citizens. Both Magnitogorsk and Novyi Urengoi are located in the Urals Federal District. JAC
AUSHEV'S GOOD-BYE GETS POSTPONED
The Federation Council's Commission on Regulations and Procedural Problems has sent a letter to Ingushetia's former President Ruslan Aushev saying that he remains a representative of that region in the upper chamber despite his resignation statement on 23 April, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). According to the commission, at the next session of the Federation Council a simple majority of the members of the council will have to vote in favor of Aushev's resignation. JAC
ARMENIAN INDEPENDENT TV STATION'S LAWSUIT THROWN OUT
Armenia's Economic Court on 25 April rejected a suit brought by Meltex, the founder of the independent TV broadcaster A1+, against the presidential commission charged with distributing television frequencies, Noyan Tapan reported. Meltex claimed that the commission violated the law in conducting a tender for the frequency on which A1+ broadcast. That frequency was awarded to the rival television station Sharm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002). LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION VOWS TO PROCEED WITH BANNED DEMO
Azerbaijan's United Opposition Movement has rejected all three venues offered by the Baku municipal authorities for holding a protest demonstration on 27 April, and plans to convene that gathering on the city's Azadlyg Square, the scene of major demonstrations in the late 1980s, Turan reported. The head of the Baku police department, Yashar Aliev, told Turan on 26 April that his men will prevent any attempt by the opposition to gather on Azadlyg Square. Meanwhile, in recent days police have detained several members of the opposition Democratic Party and of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, and have summoned other opposition activists to warn them not to participate in the planned demonstration. A similar protest is also scheduled in Gyandja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, Turan reported on 24 April, citing "Hurriyet" and "Halg Cephisi." LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TARGETS OBSTACLES TO BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
President Heidar Aliev met in Baku on 25 April with Azerbaijani businessmen and promised to take action to overcome the numerous bureaucratic obstacles they listed to their activities, Turan reported. Those obstacles include obstructions by law enforcement agencies, the customs and tax authorities, and the Baku municipal trade system and health authorities. Aliev invited participants to submit further comments and proposals anonymously over the next few days. LF
LUKOIL WILL NOT JOIN SPONSOR GROUP FOR AZERBAIJANI OIL PIPELINE
LUKoil will not join the sponsor group to build the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, Interfax quoted LUKoil Vice President Jevan Cheloyants as saying in Moscow on 25 April. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov had earlier expressed interest in acquiring all or part of the remaining 7.5 percent share in the sponsor group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001, and 11 and 25 January 2002). LF
GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON KODORI WITHDRAWAL...
Talks in Sukhum on 25 April between top Georgian and Abkhaz government officials failed to make the slightest progress toward overcoming the tensions generated by the continued presence of armed Georgians in the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz are apparently insisting that all armed Georgians, including border guards and local volunteers, be withdrawn from the upper reaches of Kodori, while the Georgians argue that the 2 April protocol under which Tbilisi pledged to withdraw the 350 army troops it sent to the gorge last fall makes no mention of the need to withdraw other Georgian detachments. The protocol has not yet been published in the Georgian press; Aleksandre Chachia, leader of the opposition movement Ertoba, called on 24 April for its promulgation. The number of armed Georgians currently in Kodori was estimated at 900. But on 26 April, Major General Aleksandr Evteev, the acting commander of the Russian peacekeeping force, said that a Georgian military buildup is underway in the upper reaches of the gorge and that the total number of armed men has reached 1,500, Caucasus Press reported. LF
...AS GEORGIAN SIDE THWARTS JOINT RUSSIAN-UN PATROL
A routine planned 25 April patrol of the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge by members of the UN Observer Mission and the Russian peacekeeping force failed to take place because the Georgian side declined to provide the required security guarantees, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR WALKS OUT OF YEREVAN CONFERENCE
Georgia's Ambassador to Armenia Nikoloz Nikolozishvili on 25 April walked out of a Yerevan conference on South Caucasus security issues to protest a statement by a Russian speaker, Noyan Tapan and Caspian News Agency reported. Aleksandr Skakov, head of the CIS department of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, accused Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and other members of the Georgian leadership of complicity with Chechen fighters ensconced in the Pankisi Gorge in northeastern Georgia. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS ELECTION -LAW AMENDMENTS
After a heated two-day debate, the Georgian parliament approved in the third and final reading some proposed amendments to the existing legislation, but rejected others, Caucasus Press reported. Most of the amendments relate to the composition of election commissions at all levels, on which all parties that receive more than 4 percent of the vote in local and parliamentary elections will be represented. In order not to risk delaying the local elections scheduled for 2 June, however, those amendments will take effect only on 1 August 2002. In addition, persons wishing to cast their ballot may present any kind of identification document. Transparent ballot boxes will be used to minimize the potential for ballot stuffing. LF
AT LEAST FIVE KILLED IN GEORGIAN EARTHQUAKE
At least five people are known to have died as a result of an earthquake that hit the Georgian capital in the late evening of 25 April, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. The quake measured a magnitude of 6 on the Richter scale. Numerous buildings in Tbilisi were badly damaged, especially in the old part of the city, including the Foreign Ministry building and a women's prison. "Dilis gazeti" on 26 April estimated the total damage at 100 million laris ($44.64 million). The Russian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, and German governments have offered help in coping with the aftermath of the quake. LF
KAZAKH, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS OIL EXPORTS
Russian Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko met with a visiting Kazakh government delegation in Moscow on 25 April to discuss quotas for exports of Kazakh crude via Russian pipelines this year, Interfax reported. Energy and Natural Resources Minister Viktor Shkolnik, who headed the Kazakh delegation, complained that if Moscow refuses to comply with OPEC's request to cut oil exports, Kazakhstan's export quota for the second quarter of the year will be cut from 3.6 to 2.9 million tons. In December 2001, the two sides signed a protocol provisionally setting Kazakhstan's total export quota for 2002 at 17.5 million tons, but the Russian government has not yet endorsed that agreement. LF
OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Police in Almaty detained 12 members of the People's Republican Party of Kazakhstan and other opposition groups on 25 April to prevent them picketing a city hotel where a government-sponsored media conference was underway, forumkz.org reported. They were held for seven hours before being charged with an unspecified offense and put on trial. The 12 wanted to draw attention to the Kazakh government's systematic violations of human rights and media freedoms. LF
THREE KYRGYZ OFFICIALS FACE ARREST FOR AKSY CLASHES
Kyrgyzstan's Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 25 April that he has signed arrest warrants for three local officials who, he said, are responsible for the deaths of five demonstrators during clashes with police in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on 17-18 March. He did not name the persons in question. Also on 25 April, President Askar Akaev met in Bishkek behind closed doors with the government commission established to investigate the circumstances of the clashes. No details of the meeting were released. LF
BELARUSIAN PEN CENTER SLAMS MERGER OF LITERARY MAGAZINES
The Belarusian PEN Center has condemned as "absurd" and "illegal" the recent merger of several literary magazines into a state media holding called Litaratura i mastatstva (Literature and Arts) and subordinated to the Information Ministry, Belapan reported on 25 April. "It is clear that the establishment of this 'literary collective farm' was motivated by political, not economic, considerations. The regime is trying to force national democratic literature out of the last islets these publications represented, make the literary magazines a base of its ideological support, and turn them into its mouthpiece," the PEN Center said in a statement. The new media holding -- which includes the literary magazines "Polymya," "Maladosts," "Krynitsa," "Neman," and the weekly "Litaratura i mastatstva" -- is headed by lawmaker Syarhey Kastsyan, who has no experience whatsoever in either publishing or editorial work. JM
BELARUS'S HOARD OF UNSOLD PRODUCTS INCREASES
Deputy Premier Andrey Kabyakou told the Chamber of Representatives on 25 April that the monetary value of unsold production at Belarusian state-run enterprises increased during the first quarter of 2002 to 1 trillion Belarusian rubles ($600 million), Belapan reported. According to Kabyakou, the main problem facing the country's economy is improving the competitiveness of its products. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS GOVERNMENT TO ORGANIZE BEAUTY CONTEST
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a directive obliging the government to organize and hold a national beauty contest, Belapan reported on 25 April. The directive defines the purpose of the contest as "aesthetic and spiritual education of young people, the development of national dress culture, and the promotion of Belarusian fashion." Deputy Premier Uladzimir Drazhyn will be in charge of the organizing committee, which will also include several ministers and all regional governors. JM
FOUR UKRAINIAN BLOCS WANT PROPORTIONAL ELECTION LAW...
Four forces represented in the newly elected Verkhovna Rada -- Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party -- have issued a joint statement declaring their intention to change the election law to allow the entire parliament to be elected from party lists, with seats distributed on a proportional basis, UNIAN reported on 25 April. The statement also publicized their intention to introduce "mechanisms" that could enable a parliamentary majority to form the government. Oleksandr Turchynov from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc commented that the joint declaration is not tantamount to the creation of a parliamentary coalition by the four signatories, which currently control the majority of votes necessary to pass legislation in the Verkhovna Rada. JM
...ACCUSE AUTHORITIES OF 'DEFORMATION' OF PARLIAMENTARY VOTE
The four parliamentary blocs also slammed the authorities for an ongoing "behind-the-scenes revision" of the parliamentary ballot. The statement said the authorities, by way of bribery and intimidation, are trying to ensure support for the "ruling clique" among deputies who won their seats on independent tickets in single-mandate constituencies. "The basic task of all healthy forces in society is to prevent the deformation of the election results and the transformation of the parliament into a decorative body whose main function will be carrying out orders of the ruling clique," the statement read. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT INVALIDATED IN TWO CONSTITUENCIES
The Central Election Commission has invalidated the 31 March election in constituency No. 18 (Vinnytsya Oblast) and constituency No. 201 (Cherkasy Oblast), UNIAN reported on 25 April. According to former decisions by the relevant lower-level election commissions, the ballot in constituency No. 18 was won by Socialist Party candidate Svitlana Melnyk and in constituency No. 201 by Our Ukraine candidate Mykola Bulatetskyy. Meanwhile, the election saga of Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach acquired a new turn on 25 April when a district court in Simferopol ruled that the ballot in Hrach's constituency was invalid, and subsequently canceled Hrach's registration as a deputy of the Crimean Supreme Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RULES OUT JOINING EURASIAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said on 25 April that Ukraine has chosen its path of integration with the EU and cannot simultaneously be a member of any similar union, UNIAN reported. Zlenko added that he fully supports the statement of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official Oleksandr Chalyy, who said earlier this week that Ukraine cannot simultaneously integrate with the EU and the Eurasian Economic Community (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus). Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin called Chalyy an "obtuse man," and said, "Ukraine has not been invited to the EU thus far, while the Eurasian Economic Community is today's reality." 1+1 Television quoted Zlenko as saying, "Ukraine chooses the union it prefers. This is the EU. Of course, I think Viktor Stepanovich [Chernomyrdin] said this at the spur of the moment and probably did not completely understand the comments made by our state secretary, Oleksandr Chalyy." JM
ESTONIAN DEFENSE LEAGUE NOT TO BE ABOLISHED
Defense Minister Sven Mikser rejected claims in the newspaper "Eesti Paevaleht" of 25 April that the volunteer Defense League will be abolished as part of the reorganization of the defense forces in preparation for NATO membership, ETA reported. He told a press conference that, while the share of funding of the Defense League in the overall defense budget will not be increased, it will continue to perform certain clearly defined missions such as mobilization, local defense, and participation in territorial units of the defense forces. Enn Tarto, the chairman of the Defense League elders' assembly, said that Mikser has been ambiguous when discussing the Defense League and has not met with the elders' assembly to explain his views. SG
LATVIA PASSES LAW ON PREVENTING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ON THE PART OF STATE OFFICIALS
The parliament on 25 April passed a law on preventing conflicts of interest in the actions of state officials, LETA reported. The law stipulates restrictions and bans on state officials, and imposes the obligation to file income declarations. The key differences between the new law and the Anticorruption Law that it replaces are in the specified list of officials, the delegation of state administrative functions to several NGOs, more precise restrictions on holding several positions simultaneously, and on the acceptance of gifts and donations. The newly established Corruption Prevention Bureau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2002) will be tasked with overseeing compliance with the law. The parliament also passed a law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages from 10:00 p.m. to 8 a.m. except in bars, restaurants, cafes, and clubs, where beverages must be consumed on the premises, as well as at tax-free stores. SG
RUSSIA WANTS EXCEPTIONAL TERMS FOR TRANSIT THROUGH LITHUANIA
Deputy Governor of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast exclave, Mikhail Tsikel, told reporters in Vilnius on 25 April after a meeting of the Lithuanian and Kaliningrad region cooperation council that the EU should make an exception in visa regulations for Russian citizens transiting Lithuania, BNS reported. Lithuania and Russia currently have visa requirements for each other's citizens, but Kaliningrad and Lithuania have a visa-free travel arrangement that Lithuania plans to end in July 2003 in line with Schengen agreement requirements. One of the suggestions offered by Tsikel is "closed-door," or nonstop, Russian train transit after Lithuania joins the EU. Anticipating the need for more visas, Lithuania wants to expand its consulate in the city of Kaliningrad and build a new one in Sovetsk, but Kaliningrad officials have not yet agreed to this. Deputy Foreign Minister Evaldas Ignatavicius, who along with Tsikel is a co-chairman of the council, noted that only a third of the Kaliningrad population has passports. The council meeting also discussed transport, border infrastructure, energy issues, cooperation between the ports of Klaipeda and Kaliningrad, as well as cooperation in culture and education. SG
POLISH PREMIER APPOINTS SECURITY-SERVICE CHIEF
Premier Leszek Miller on 25 April appointed Andrzej Barcikowski as the head of the State Security Office (UOP), PAP reported. The parliament is currently working on a new bill envisaging the abolishment of the UOP and the creation of an Internal Security Agency and an Intelligence Agency to take over UOP functions. JM
POLAND'S MONETARY AUTHORITY CUTS INTEREST RATES
The Monetary Policy Council on 25 April trimmed the National Bank's 28-day intervention rate to 9.5 percent from 10 percent, the discount rate to 11 percent from 12 percent, and Lombard rate to 12.5 percent from 13.5 percent, Polish media reported. The government welcomed the cuts but said they are not sufficient to revitalize the flagging economy. "Of course, like most businessmen for whom expensive credit is an obstacle to economic activity and who expected the cuts to be bigger, I also expected [them] to be bigger," Prime Minister Miller was quoted as saying by PAP. JM
CZECH, U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS MEET IN PRAGUE
Vice Admiral Thomas Wilson, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, met in Prague on 25 April with Czech Military Intelligence chief Andor Sandor and other military leaders to discuss cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism, CTK and dpa reported. Wilson said after the meeting that the threat of terrorism is "widespread and large," and consequently, "intelligence cooperation must be widespread and large." He said he is "pleased" that Czech intelligence has helped the U.S. "in the areas of common concern" since 11 September 2001, but stressed that the task is not over yet. "A worldwide network of terrorists is trying to attack our country and others throughout the world," and "Europe is certainly not immune to that threat," Wilson said. He stressed that the terrorists "have capabilities that we know about in many countries around the world...[but] they probably have capabilities that we do not know about." MS
CZECH PREMIER SAYS PALESTINIANS HAVE NO RIGHT TO OWN STATE UNLESS TERRORIST ACTS STOP
Milos Zeman said in parliament on 25 April that Palestinians have no right to form an independent state unless they stop terrorism against Israel, CTK reported. Responding to a question from Communist deputy Vaclav Exner, Zeman said Israel is now facing a situation similar to that faced by Czechoslovakia in 1938. MS
CZECH NATIONAL BANK SLASHES INTEREST RATES AGAIN
The National Bank on 25 April slashed interest rates for the fourth time in less than five months, dpa reported. Facing pressure to act against the strengthening crown, the bank reduced discount rates by one-half a percentage point to an all-time low of 2.75 percent. It also slashed the repo rate to 3.75 percent and the Lombard rate to 4.75 percent. The cuts came two weeks after the banks intervened on the foreign exchange markets in the hope of weakening the crown, which is currently trading at 34 crowns to the U.S. dollar, as compared to 37 crowns to the dollar some two months ago. MS
POLISH PRESIDENT IN SLOVAKIA
Visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster on 25 April that the Benes Decrees should by no means be linked to Slovakia's or the Czech Republic's accession to the EU, CTK reported. Kwasniewski also ensured his host of Poland's support for Slovakia's NATO bid, but hinted that the outcome of the quest depends on preventing former Premier Vladimir Meciar's return to power. "There is no doubt that this year's elections will also decide on [Slovakia's] NATO membership. If the voters say 'no,' we cannot forcefully pull them into the alliance, but if they say 'yes' to pro-alliance partners, this will open the door for Slovakia," Kwasniewski said. Schuster responded that, while Meciar won the 1998 elections, the government was formed by a three-fifths majority coalition, and that as president, "I will do everything to ensure our NATO membership, but only by acting within my prerogatives. " MS
HUNGARIAN ELECTORAL RESULTS CHALLENGED BY STUDENT'S APPEAL...
The official announcement of final election results has been further delayed by a legal challenge from a third-year law student at Pecs University, Sandor Vecsernyes, Hungarian media reported on 26 April. Vecsernyes has formally asked the National Election Commission to rule on whether a party can receive fragmentary votes from those candidates who stepped aside in the second round of the election. According to Hungary's election rules, votes cast for candidates who did not win seats in the parliament are added to the votes cast for their parties, and additional seats are given to that party. Vecsernyes argues that the rule should not be applied to those Free Democrat candidates who withdrew in the second round in favor of Socialist candidates. If Vecsernyes' appeal is supported, the Socialist-Free Democrat majority would have a majority of just one seat. MSZ
...AS COURTS REJECT SEVERAL RECOUNTING DEMANDS
A Szabolcs County court on 25 April rejected the regional election committee's decision to hold new elections in Nyirbator, where a FIDESZ-Democratic Forum candidate was elected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002), Hungarian media reported. One day earlier, the electoral committee ruled that unlawful acts were committed that had a decisive effect on the final result. The court overturned that decision on procedural grounds. Meanwhile, a Veszprem County court rejected on 25 April a Socialist application for a recount of votes in Varpalota. Karoly Torzsok's wife, who is a Socialist candidate, challenged the outcome after losing by 10 votes to FIDESZ-Forum candidate Zoltan Gyapay. The votes were recounted on the night of the election, but Torzsok alleged that "invalid ballots were not interpreted in a consistent manner" in the polling stations. And a Jasz-Nagykun-Szolnok County court on 25 April rejected an appeal by FIDESZ-Forum candidate Gabor Szadvari and declared his election defeat valid. MSZ
HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS, FREE DEMOCRATS VOW TO SPEED UP COALITION TALKS
The Socialist Party and the Free Democrats will speed up coalition talks in order to reach agreement on forming a government by 20 May, party officials told Hungarian media on 25 April. Prime-ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy said the two main negotiating teams will meet once a week, while separate working groups will discuss a government program, a coalition agreement, the government's structure, and a "democracy package." He said the program of the first 100 days was discussed separately, as urgent preparations are necessary. For his part, Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze said the new government will put a stop "to the destruction of documents and stealthy privatization." Kuncze said the parties will be able to reach agreement on the government program very quickly; a program, he added, "for which it will be worth entering a coalition." MSZ
EU WARNS HUNGARY AGAINST REOPENING FARMLAND ISSUE
Eneko Landaburu, leader of the European Commission's enlargement directorate, on 25 April warned Hungary against trying to renegotiate with the EU the agreement on the purchase of farmland by foreigners, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Hungary reached an agreement that allows it to ban nonresident foreigners from purchasing farmland for seven years after accession, and resident foreigners for three years. The EU and Poland recently agreed that Poland can for 12 years maintain a system that links the purchase of farmland by foreigners to a permit. Landaburu said, "Hungary cannot hope to get the same deal as Poland." His remarks came a few days after Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said the three-year moratorium on resident foreigners' purchase of farmland should not be extended unless the EU agrees to raise subsidies to Hungarian farmers to full EU levels within three years after accession, instead of the agreed 10 years. MSZ
U.S. CALLS ON BELGRADE FOR MORE COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
Referring to General Dragoljub Ojdanic's surrender to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 25 April that Belgrade must do more, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). He added, "We recognize it is a difficult thing for an individual to do. [Ojdanic] has done the right thing and I think that deserves a little bit of credit... We are encouraged that the authorities in Belgrade are working to improve their cooperation with The Hague tribunal. Further necessary steps are for the Yugoslav government to take remaining indictees into custody and transfer them to The Hague as soon as possible." Boucher also noted that, "while we see [Ojdanic's move] as a positive step on the part of the individual...as well on the part of the government of Yugoslavia for facilitating this, at this point we have not made any further decisions with regard to certification" of further U.S. aid payments to Serbia. PM
DEL PONTE WANTS EU TO PUT MORE PRESSURE ON BELGRADE
Speaking in Madrid on 25 April, Carla Del Ponte, who is the war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said the EU should increase pressure on the Yugoslav authorities to cooperate more fully with The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She added that she is still waiting for a concrete answer from Belgrade about the extradition of the 23 indicted war criminals believed to be on Yugoslav territory, including General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Unlike the U.S., the EU has previously said that it will not impose sanctions on Belgrade for its failure to cooperate with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 9 April 2002). PM
YUGOSLAVIA SEEKS MEMBERSHIP IN PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE
After some months of hints from General Staff chief General Nebojsa Pavkovic and other top officials, the Yugoslav government formally decided on 25 April to seek membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). The government noted that membership is in keeping with "contemporary European integration processes." The biggest stumbling blocks to Belgrade's military cooperation with the West have been the lack of civilian control over the Yugoslav military and the presence of indicted or suspected war criminals in the ranks. PM
NATO AMBASSADOR TO MACEDONIA MEETS FORMER REBEL LEADER
Ambassador Nicolaas Biegman and NATO's Director of Operations, Crisis Management, and Defense Robert Serry, met on 24 April with Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the disbanded ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), Makfax reported. They discussed the roadblocks set up recently by Albanians near Tetovo and other obstacles to the planned return of ethnically mixed police to former rebel-held areas. Also on the agenda were the issue of ethnic Albanian prisoners held by the authorities, as well as the fate of kidnapped Macedonians and Albanians. According to U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Lawrence Butler, the meeting was planned already in 2001. "NATO wanted to hold a meeting with Ahmeti in order to make sure that the UCK was really disbanded and that all of them, including Ahmeti, work against violence and on the implementation of the [Ohrid] Framework Agreement," MIA quoted Butler as saying. UB
NEW MACEDONIAN ANTITERROR UNIT TAKING SHAPE
U.S. and British antiterror specialists are wrapping up a training program in Stip for Macedonia's new elite Sokoli (Hawks) unit, dpa reported from Skopje on 24 April. The Sokoli are patterned after the U.S. Delta Force and the British SAS. They are intended to be superior to existing elite formations, which have proven to be either ineffective in combat or more interested in pursuing the goals of one of the governing political parties than in defending national security. The Sokoli will be under the direct command of President Boris Trajkovski and will be armed with helicopters and Yugoslav-made sniper rifles. PM
KOSOVA PRIME MINISTER UNVEILS STRATEGY FOR MITROVICA
Speaking in the divided city on 25 April, Bajram Rexhepi said that he has a three-point plan for its reintegration, dpa reported. His strategy calls for the establishing of security by KFOR, the improvement of controls on the border with Serbia, and the return of Albanians to their homes in Serb-held northern Mitrovica. He presented his draft to KFOR and to the UN civilian administration, which are responsible for security issues. PM
BUSH NAMES NEW AMBASSADOR TO ALBANIA
U.S. President George W. Bush announced in Crawford, Texas, on 25 April that he has nominated career Foreign Service officer James Franklin Jeffrey to be the next U.S. ambassador to Albania, AP reported. PM
ALBANIAN COURT OVERRULES PARLIAMENT
The Constitutional Court ruled on 25 April that the legislature acted illegally in March when it voted to sack public prosecutor Arben Rakipi because of his alleged incompetence and links to organized crime, AP reported. President Rexhep Meidani approved the parliament's action at the time. Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha, who launched the parliamentary move against Rakipi, called the court's decision an "institutional coup," and demanded that the court's judges be sacked. Many legislators were "shocked" by the ruling and plan to discuss it in a session on 29 April. One of Rakipi's top aides was arrested in 2001 for alleged links to a Colombian drug cartel that wanted to use Albania as a conduit for drugs bound for Europe. Rakipi himself has been blamed for the failure to bring to justice hundreds of pimps who have brought an estimated 20,000 women and girls into prostitution in Western Europe. PM
EU'S 'BIG THREE' TO RUN BOSNIAN MISSION
Paddy Ashdown said in London on 25 April that he will officially take office as the international community's high representative in Bosnia on 27 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ashdown added that he will have two deputies, one German and the other French. This will be the first time since the Dayton peace agreement was signed at the end of 1995 that there has not been a U.S. deputy. Nor will any of the EU's smaller members hold any of the top three offices. The outgoing high representative is Wolfgang Petritsch, a member of Austria's Slovenian minority with a professional background in Balkan affairs and a political career in the Socialist Party (SPO). PM
CROATIAN GOVERNMENT RULES ON THE MILITARY
In a closed-door session on 25 April, the government agreed on the future size, strategy, and development of the armed forces, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The armed forces will be further reduced to 21,000 active personnel, which is 13,000 fewer than at present. The military will be organized into four corps based in Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka, and Pula, respectively. Croatia joined the Partnership for Peace program in 2000. The current reforms are aimed at making Croatia ready for full NATO membership. PM
SLOVENIA TO END THE DRAFT
Defense Minister Anton Grizold wants the Slovenian military to become a professional force by 2004, dpa reported from Ljubljana on 26 April. He added that "the envisaged changes would see a gradual transformation of the Slovene armed forces into a professional army with a voluntary reserve force," with a total strength of about 26,000. Slovenia hopes to join NATO at its Prague summit in November, but many Slovenes balk at what they regard as the high cost of membership. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT OPTIMIST ON NATO BID...
Ion Iliescu, in an interview with Reuters ahead of a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, said on 25 April that the 11 September terrorist attacks against the U.S. reinforced U.S. President George W. Bush's call for the Atlantic alliance to expand "from the Baltic to the Black Sea." He said that after the attack, "the idea of a larger expansion...became the general approach from the strategic point of view." Iliescu said Romania and Bulgaria are a stabilizing force in a region torn by conflict and by organized crime, and can be a bridge between Central Europe and the alliance's only Muslim member -- Turkey. Reuters described Iliescu as "optimistic" regarding his country's chances for NATO accession, adding that he stressed that Romania's most active supporter is the U.S., but its bid is also backed by France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey. On 26 April, Iliescu was to participate in a workshop on NATO expansion at the George Marshall Institute in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany. MS
...BUT ROBERTSON COOLS THAT OPTIMISM
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told journalists after meeting Iliescu that while "the southern dimension [of the alliance] is a very important one and will be a factor" at the November Prague summit, "no decision has yet been made." He said that decision will take into consideration "not only what candidates have done in 2002, but also what they are likely to do in the long-term perspective," Romanian radio reported. Robertson added that all candidate countries "must still make efforts" ahead of the summit. In addition, he said NATO is grateful for the support Romania has shown following the 11 September attacks, "but NATO membership is not a present or a prize for rendered services, but a great responsibility." MS
ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS U.S. HAS ACCEPTED OFFER TO PROVIDE TROOPS FOR 'ENDURING FREEDOM'
Ioan Mircea Pascu told journalists following a cabinet meeting in Bucharest that the U.S. has accepted Romania's offer to send troops to participate in the operations under way in Afghanistan, Romanian radio reported. MS
UDMR CHAIRMAN SAYS ROMANIAN-HUNGARIAN MEMORANDUM MUST BE PRESERVED...
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko told journalists on 25 April that the memorandum signed by Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase and outgoing Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban last December on the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law "is beneficial" and "must be preserved," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Marko thus positioned himself against the opinions expressed by Peter Medgyessy and Laszlo Kovacs, who are likely to become Hungary's next premier and foreign minister, respectively. "If the Hungarian side wants to raise some points on the memorandum, that is one thing, but the memorandum itself is another thing and it must be maintained," Marko said. MS
...ANNOUNCES COMPROMISE AGREEMENT ON TARGU-MURES LYCEUM
Marko also said that a compromise has been reached between the UDMR and the ruling Social Democratic Party, which should make possible ending the ongoing conflict at the Targu-Mures Bolyai Farkas Lyceum. The agreement stipulates that ethnic Romanian pupils will continue studying in the Romanian language until graduation, while beginning with the next school year the lyceum will admit only new pupils who study in the Hungarian language, thus making possible the gradual transformation of the school into one where teaching is conducted in Hungarian alone. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON PACE RESOLUTION
Vladimir Voronin said on 25 April that Moldova "wishes to assure the international community of the firm determination [of its leadership] to overcome an artificial situation created and maintained by forces that were sanctioned by the electorate in February 2001," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin described the previous day's resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) as "objective" and reflecting the "neutrality" of the assembly's two rapporteurs on Moldova. He said the resolution demonstrates that Moldova has "chosen the right path, overcoming the difficulties of the transition period by initiating a constant dialogue with society." Voronin said that all Moldovan political forces must begin a "constructive dialogue, without any trace of ultimatum tone," but added that such a dialogue is "impossible if the Popular Party Christian Democratic does not stop the [antigovernment] demonstrations." MS
TELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKERS COMPLAIN OF INTENSIFIED CENSORSHIP
The strikers' committee at Teleradio Moldova said on 25 April that on the very day that PACE approved the resolution calling for respecting democratic rights, Teleradio Moldova's management intensified censorship, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. According to the committee, News Department Director Victor Tabarta on 24 April forbade the broadcasting of reports in both "Moldovan" and Russian on the forthcoming PACE resolution, as well as three other reports covering activities of organizations opposed to the government. "Massive control by the government of state media continues against the background of the government's insistent claims that there is no censorship" in these media, the committee said, adding that Moldova's population is "subjected to an information blockade." MS
MOLDOVAN JUSTICE MINISTER PROMISES REGISTRATION OF BESSARABIAN CHURCH
Justice Minister Ion Morei said on 25 April that Moldova will implement PACE's recommendation and register the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Morei also said the government will abide by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and pay the Metropolitan Church 27,000 euros ($24,257) in damages. Victor Stepaniuc, head of the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group, said the registration will respect the 31 July deadline set by the PACE recommendation. Bessarabian Metropolitan Bishop Petru Paduraru welcomed the PACE resolution, but added that experience shows that the Moldovan authorities "do nothing without prior consultation with Moscow and the Russian Patriarchate." MS
TRANSDNIESTER TAKES MEASURES TO PREVENT 'KIDNAPPING OF OFFICIALS' BY MOLDOVA
Transdniester "Minister of State Security" Vladimir Antiufeev told the Supreme Soviet in Tiraspol on 25 April that border guards have been given "stern instructions" to prevent Transdniester officials from traveling to Moldova, Infotag reported. Antiufeev said the guards on 24 April stopped a group of local parliamentarians headed by Supreme Soviet deputy Viktor Belchenko from "crossing the border" for "safety reasons." He explained that after the kidnapping in Comrat of Gagauz-Yeri official Ivan Burgudji and the disappearance of Moldovan deputy Vlad Cubreacov, the authorities in Transdniester must take measures to "prevent unlawful actions by the Moldovan special services." Beginning immediately, Transdniester officials will be allowed to travel to Moldova only on official business trips or if they sought and received prior authorization from the authorities, Antiufeev said. MS
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS HEADS OF WORLD BANK, IMF
Simeon Saxecoburggotski met with World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler on 24 April, BTA reported, citing a government press release. After the meeting, Wolfensohn said the government's program is in line with the development strategy coordinated by the World Bank. Wolfensohn told Saxecoburggotski that the World Bank's board of directors will discuss at the beginning of May a possible $450 million loan to Bulgaria. Saxecoburggotski said after his meeting with Koehler that the IMF official was impressed by Bulgaria's anticorruption measures. UB
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON OFFICIAL VISIT TO CANADA
Solomon Pasi arrived in Ottawa on 24 April for an official visit to Canada, focus.bg reported. According to information from the Canadian Foreign Ministry, Pasi is to meet with his Canadian counterpart Bill Graham, Defense Minister Art Eggleton, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, and the speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Miliken. "Canada is looking forward to further enhancing its ties with Bulgaria," Graham said. "We fully support the country's recent achievements in economic and institutional reform, which have caught the attention of the Canadian private sector," Graham added. At the start of his visit, Pasi discussed cooperation plans between Bulgaria and Canadian enterprises in the nuclear-energy sector. UB
'PRO-UKRAINIAN' OR 'PRO-KUCHMA?' UKRAINE'S FOREIGN POLICY IN CRISIS
With more than two years of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's second term remaining, it is becoming increasingly clear that his continued presence in office is negatively affecting Ukrainian foreign policy. Although Kuchma is fond of stating that Ukraine's foreign policy is neither "pro-Western" nor "pro-Russian" but "pro-Ukrainian," it is in reality more "pro-Kuchma," in that it almost exclusively serves to further the interests of the executive and its oligarch allies.
Ukraine's international image began to worsen almost immediately after Kuchma's re-election in November 1999, and this process accelerated with the revelations of presidential wrongdoings that became public during the "Kuchmagate" scandal in the winter of 2000-01. Nobody within the Ukrainian elite denies the authenticity of the tapes made in Kuchma's office by presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko; Kuchma merely argues that they were doctored as a "provocation" against him. The authenticity of the tapes was obviously not questioned by oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), who reportedly offered $3 million to Melnychenko for them at the end of last year -- an offer Melnychenko turned down.
The latest scandal to affect Kuchma and thereby Ukraine's foreign policy is the allegation that in contravention of a UN Security Council embargo, advanced weaponry (a "Kolchuga" air-defense system) was sold to Iraq after it was demonstrated at the SOFEX-2000 arms exhibition in Jordan in April 2000.
Melnychenko testified to a federal grand jury in San Francisco in mid-April that a conversation on the tapes between Kuchma and Ukrspetseksport chief Valeriy Malev in July 2000 about the delivery of a "Kolchuga" system to Iraq is genuine. This portion of the tapes has also been authenticated by forensic experts used by the FBI.
Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry have strenuously denied the new allegations, while Kuchma has characteristically dismissed them as "dog shit." Nevertheless, the head of counterintelligence within the Security Service of Ukraine, Serhiy Makarenko, has admitted that Malev lobbied for the sales to Iraq. Kuchma knew the scandal was about to explode, and therefore there are suspicions about Malev's death in a car accident on 6 April, days before the scandal became public. Yuriy Ryabkin, director of the Donetsk-based Topaz plant where "Kolchugas" are manufactured, has also confirmed that a conversation between Kuchma and Malev did indeed take place on this question, but denies that a "Kolchuga" system was delivered to Iraq.
Even before this latest scandal Kuchma was already persona non grata in the West; his most recent foreign visit, to Germany in January 2001, had been planned before the eruption of "Kuchmagate." Prior to the Iraqi arms scandal, the U.S. had laid down the condition that the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze must be resolved before any visit to Washington can take place. Last week, FBI agents who had attempted to assist Ukraine's incompetent 17-month investigation of Gongadze's death left the country without accomplishing anything after they were denied access to any evidence.
U.S. military intelligence has confirmed that a "Kolchuga" system is in Iraq, and if U.S. investigations confirm that the supplier was indeed Ukraine the consequences will worsen Ukraine's semi-isolation. In its just published annual report, the Kyiv-based Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy of Ukraine (CPCFPU) concluded that relations in 2001 between Ukraine and the U.S. were in "crisis," saying, "Tension and stiffness were present in all political and diplomatic contacts." Last year marked the first year of Kuchma's terms in office in which no U.S.-Ukrainian summits took place, as even prior to the latest scandal there was no enthusiasm in Washington for a Ukrainian presidential visit.
The latest scandal is negatively affecting Ukraine's foreign policy in two other ways, despite the evident isolation from reality of the Ukrainian executive. In January 2002, Volodymyr Lytvyn, head of the presidential administration and the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine election bloc, argued that, "We don't need to return to Europe. We are in Europe. We don't need to seek the West's approval. We are an inseparable part of it." Ukrainian ambassadors to Western countries have also argued along similar lines that the results of last month's parliamentary election showed that Ukrainians voted for the "European choice."
Such statements by Ukraine's executive incorrectly assume that, like the reformist and pro-Western Our Ukraine, the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine (ZYU) is seen as "pro-European," which has not been the case since the late 1990s and certainly not since "Kuchmagate." The CPCFPU defines the foreign policy of ZYU and its oligarchic allies as "moderate pro-Russian isolationism," and argues that of the three main election groups (ZYU, Our Ukraine, and the Communists), only Our Ukraine supports Ukraine's integration into European and trans-Atlantic structures.
Although the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the U.S. State Department described the 31 March elections as an important step, they also complained about serious violations that were committed by the executive on behalf of the ZYU. And the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on 26 April that concluded that "all of the actions of the authorities -- the use of administrative pressure, controlling who had access to the media, the use of compromising materials -- were undertaken in order that democratic elections would not take place in Ukraine." As the CPCFPU noted, the main obstacle to Ukraine's integration into "Europe" is the existence of a regime "that does not comply with the European model of political order and European values." Ukraine's elites have still not understood that to be accepted into "Europe" requires the pursuit of European policies at home and abiding by international treaties abroad.
If evidence is uncovered regarding Ukraine's supply of arms to Iraq, Ukraine will not be invited to the NATO summit in Prague in November. Five to seven Central/Eastern European states are expected to be invited to join NATO this year and a new NATO-Russia Council will be created. Ukraine's position on NATO expansion or membership is unclear because of its ambivalent "multivector" foreign policy and the ongoing ramifications of the "Kuchmagate" crisis. Consequently, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council chief Yevhen Marchuk warned last week in the newspaper "Den" that there is a real danger that Ukraine will be "sidelined from the major Euro-strategic processes."
Ukraine's foreign policy was already ambivalent prior to the late 1990s. This ambivalence has worsened since "Kuchmagate," the unwillingness to resolve the Gongadze case, blatant abuse by the ZYU of "administrative resources" during and after the elections, and now the Iraqi arms scandal. Ambivalence has become a crisis of Ukraine's foreign policy because that policy is pro-Kuchma, rather than pro-Ukrainian.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.