|Thursday, 27 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 23, 98-02-04
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 23, 4 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RESIGNS...Speaking on national television on 3 February, Levon Ter-Petrossyan said he was resigning in response to demands by "state bodies well known to you." He argued that the move is aimed at preventing "instability" in the country and signals "the defeat of the party of "honorable peace in Armenia." He called on the nation to display "restraint" and ensure early free presidential elections. Ter-Petrossyan said, however, that differences over Nagorno-Karabakh are just a pretext that hard-line forces are using to make him resign. Drawing parallels with Israel's defeated Labor government, Ter- Petrossyan said the victory of the hard- liners is a "temporary" one and that sooner or later his ideas will prevail. PG
 ...LOSES POLITICAL BASETer-Petrossyan's resignation followed mounting attacks on him for his Karabakh policy and the defection of 40 of the 96 deputies from the Hanrapetutyun bloc, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Most of those defecting went over to parties and groups backing Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, who has opposed Ter-Petrossyan over making concessions to achieve peace in Karabakh. In addition to the parliamentary defections, Armenian government officials sought to resign. On 3 February, Ter- Petrossyan had turned down resignation requests by the entire management of the Armenian Central Bank. PG
 SHEVARDNADZE TAKES TOUGH LINE ON ABKHAZIAIn a speech to the parliament on 3 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that force might have to be used in the Abkhazia dispute if diplomatic efforts fail to make progress, ITAR-TASS reported. He also called on Moscow to compensate Georgia for military equipment that the Russian government has withdrawn from Georgian territory. Such compensation, he said, would more than cover Georgia's current debts to Russia. The Georgian leader went on to say he is setting up an independent commission to fight corruption and black market activities. He added that the black and gray markets now account for almost half of the country's economic activity. PG
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ESCAPES BOMBINGAzerbaijani officials defused a bomb placed in a building where Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev was scheduled to speak on 3 February, Interfax reported. Two suspects have been arrested. The same day, Aliev told a visiting Turkish diplomat that Ankara should do more to pressure Western oil companies into supporting the Baku-Ceyhan route for Caspian basin oil. PG
 SPECIAL UNIT FORMED TO GUARD UN WORKERS IN TAJIKISTANPresident Imomali Rakhmonov signed a decree on 3 February creating a special unit to guard UN employees working in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The 120-man unit is comprised of 60 soldiers from the Tajik Defense Ministry and another 60 from the United Tajik Opposition. Last year, bandits frequently kidnapped UN employees and held them for ransom. In the fall, a French woman was killed during a rescue operation. BP
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENTSaparmurat Niyazov has told the parliament that the country's agricultural sector needs improving, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat and Interfax reported on 3 February. Last year, only half of the target for grain was met, while cotton production was just 41 percent of the expected total. Niyazov criticized law- enforcement agencies and the military, which, he said, are frequently not "a model of decency." He also announced an amnesty will take place on 19 February, which is both Turkmen Flag Day and Niyazov's birthday, for 7,000 people guilty of minor offenses. RFE/RL correspondents, meanwhile, report that there are plans to send between 4, 000 and 5,000 prisoners to a new facility near Karabogaz Lake, close to the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. That region is an ecological disaster area. BP
 GAZPROM PULLS OUT OF TURKMEN-PAKISTANI PIPELINE PROJECTInterfax reported on 3 February that Russia's Gazprom has sold its stake in the project for a pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan. The U.S. company Unocal has bought 7 percent of Gazprom's 10 percent share, while four companies from Japan, Korea, and Pakistan have acquired the remaining 3 percent. BP
 RUSSIA COMPLAINS ABOUT UZBEK TV BROADCASTA recent Uzbek Television broadcast about the meeting of the heads of state from the four-country Customs Union "did not go unnoticed" by Russia, ITAR- TASS reported on 3 February. The agency said that "as a result of political games, several CIS states could easily become dependent on their elder brother" (a reference to Russia). Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said Moscow regrets that "the television company of a country friendly to us" would air such a report. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 IS YUGOSLAVIA CALLING UP RESERVISTS FOR KOSOVO?Miodrag Isakov, the president of the opposition Reform Democratic Party of Vojvodina (RDSV), said in Novi Sad on 3 February that the Yugoslav army has recently begun to call up reservists, which, he commented, recalls the mobilization that preceded the 1991 war in Croatia. Isakov added that the young men are being sent to Kosovo but that many of them have gone into hiding or fled the country rather than enlist, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Nenad Canak, the president of the opposition League of Vojvodina Social Democrats, said his party is investigating the RDSV report and is considering organizing public protests and setting up a counseling center for deserters if the charges prove true. Canak added that "we will not die in Kosovo as we died at Vukovar." The fighting in the eastern city was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the 1991 Croatian war. PM
 ALBANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS UN OF "SUPER BOSNIA"Following a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 3 February, Rexhep Meidani said he asked his host "to increase international pressure on the Serbian side to resolve this conflict as soon as possible." Meidani added that the world "must not permit a tremendous explosion in the [Balkan] region, an explosion that will involve not only Albania but all the countries there--Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey." He added that if diplomacy fails, a "second 'super Bosnia' will happen there." PM
 IZETBEGOVIC BALKS AT REFUGEE RETURNSParticipants at the international Sarajevo conference on refugee returns adopted a declaration on 3 February saying that at least 20,000 non-Muslims must be allowed to return to the now mainly Muslim city by the end of the year. The declaration also sets a two-week deadline for the Muslim authorities to restore property rights to non-Muslim former residents of Sarajevo. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, rejected Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic's attempt to attach conditions to the declaration. Izetbegovic argued that if the Muslims must accept returnees, the Serbs must allow refugees to return to Banja Luka and the Croats must permit Serbs to come back to Knin. U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard threatened to cut off financial aid to Sarajevo if property rights are not clarified within two weeks. PM
 WESTENDORP ANNOUNCES NEW BOSNIAN FLAGThe international community's Westendorp on 4 February imposed a joint flag on Bosnia following the failure of the joint legislature the previous day to agree on one of three designs. Each design is blue, yellow, and white and contains no national symbols. Local and foreign critics charged that the designs looked more like television test patterns than flags. The new flag will make its international debut at the Nagano Winter Olympics on 7 February. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Westendorp said on 4 February that Bosnian Serb officials agreed to accept 1 million pieces of mail addressed to people in the Republika Srpska. The letters and parcels have been piling up in Sarajevo post offices for the past 22 months. Bosnian Serb hard- liners had refused to accept the mail. PM
 U.S. SEEKING "PARAMILITARY" FORCE FOR BOSNIAThe U.S. has proposed to its NATO allies that the peace-keeping force that will replace SFOR in July include a 1,600-strong "paramilitary" force, "Jane's Defense Weekly" reported on 3 February. The contingent will be better armed that the UN-sponsored police force and will specialize in tasks such as crowd control. An unnamed U.S. military official told the magazine that NATO is discussing the proposal. PM
 EXPLOSION KILLS ONE IN MOSTARA UN spokesman said in Mostar on 4 February that a car bomb killed one Muslim and wounded another the previous evening. The previous day, a UN police spokesman announced that the Croatian police chief in nearby Stolac was replaced following a wave of anti-Muslim violence there. And Mostar's local Croatian television resumed news broadcasts after a two-month hiatus. Officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last fall accused the station's editors of spreading anti-Muslim sentiments. PM
 MONTENEGRIN CATHOLICS IN DUBROVNIKFor the first time in seven years, a group of 60 Roman Catholic pilgrims from Kotor visited Dubrovnik on 3 February for a local religious festival, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the port city. PM
 OPPOSITION TAKES POWER IN RIJEKAA representative of the Croatian government formally transferred power in Primorsko-goranska County on 2 February to Milivoje Brozina, the new county chief, who belongs to the opposition Primorsko-goranska League. The transfer marks an end to a two-and-a-half-year fight by the governing Croatian Democratic Community not to accept its loss in the last regional election, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Istria's main city. PM
 DOWNSIZING IN CROATIAInterior Minister Ivan Penic said on 2 February that he intends to reduce the number of employees at his ministry over the next few years from 35,000 to 27,000. He said that, compared with some other European countries, Croatia's police force is far too large relative to the size of the population, "Vjesnik" reported. And in Rijeka, harbor officials announced on 2 February that they have ordered 660 workers to be laid off, saying they are no longer needed because of automation. Some of the workers will go on extended vacation, but others will lose their jobs, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Rijeka. PM
 ALBANIAN COURT BACKS LOCAL AUTONOMYThe Constitutional Court on 3 February ruled that prefects have no right to interfere in the appointment of civil servants in cities, towns, or villages, "Koha Jone" reported. The court thereby agreed with Tirana Mayor Albert Brojka, who had challenged an order by former Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi giving prefects the right to appoint local officials. The court ruled that Meksi's order violated the law on local government. FS
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1998 BUDGETThe legislature on 3 February approved the 1998 budget, which aims to reduce the deficit from $337 million or 11.5 percent of GDP in 1997 to $274 million or 8 percent of GDP this year, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The budget also seeks to keep inflation at 10 percent and to reduce the share of the national debt from 63 percent to 59 percent of annual GDP. The government said it expects revenues of $586 million or 21.8 percent of GDP (compared with revenues totaling $290 million last year). Some $234 million or 40 percent of those revenues are expected to derive from value- added tax ($110 million in 1997). The expected increase is based on the October 1997 hike in VAT from 12 percent to 20 percent and on the recent streamlining of the customs service. FS
 ROMANIAN COALITION LEADERS DRAFT AGREEMENTRadio Bucharest reported on 4 February that the coalition leaders have reached an agreement on a new protocol but that the "last details" are to be worked out before the end of the day. The protocol provides for establishing a Coalition Political Council, composed of the leaders of the parties participating in the coalition, that will make decisions on government policies. It also provides for a Council of Parliamentary Coordination that will coordinate the activities of coalition parties in the parliament. The protocol does not stipulate, however, that coalition deputies and senators must refrain from either initiating or supporting a motion of no confidence in the government. The Democrats had been opposed to such a provision, but observers say that without it, a new crisis can emerge at any time. MS
 RUSSIAN COMPANY TAKES OVER ROMANIAN REFINERYLUKoil on 3 February bought a 51 percent stake in the state-owned Petrotel refinery, paying some $300 million, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The Russian oil giant will take over all Petrotel's debts and invest $360 million. It will not lay off personnel. Romania is hoping that the association with LUKoil will result in deliveries of Caspian crude for refining in Romania. Also on 3 February, the presidential office announced that President Emil Constantinescu has received a letter from Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin saying the two countries can greatly expand economic ties and inviting his Romanian counterpart, Victor Ciorbea, to visit Moscow in the spring to discuss the issue. MS
 JOINT CONTROL COMMISSION RESUMES ACTIVITIES IN TRANSDNIESTERThe Joint Control Commission, which is overseeing the truce in the security zone of the Transdniester region, has resumed its activities, Infotag and BASA-press reported on 3 February. The commission did not meet during the last two months because the separatists objected to Moldova's appointing police Colonel Vitalie Bruma to the commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). But the Moldovan side has agreed to suspend Bruma's appointment for the time being and to postpone further talks with commission members over the issue. In other news, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 3 February that the Tiraspol authorities have called on Moldovan citizens in the separatist region to vote in the March elections for Socialist Unity-Edinstvo, which is the only competing party that agrees with the separatists' claim to sovereignty. MS
[C] END NOTE
 A FORMULA FOR CHECHEN INDEPENDENCEby Paul Goble
Advisers close to Russian President Boris Yeltsin are now prepared to recognize the virtual independence of Chechnya. But their willingness to do so is generating a backlash among other Russian officials who advocate the use of force to suppress the Chechens.
Last week, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said that Moscow has offered Chechnya sovereignty and independence "based on interdependence with Russia." He described such a status as associate membership in the Russian Federation. He also said it would mean that no Russian troops would be stationed on Chechen territory.
At the same time, Rybkin repeated past Russian statements that Moscow would never agree to the complete independence of Chechnya. And he noted that there are many ways that would enable Moscow to "maintain a small thread" linking the Russian Federation and Chechnya.
But those qualifications were undercut by Rybkin's own suggestion that Chechnya would enjoy a status much like that of Bavaria within Germany. Despite the autonomy that region has in the Federal Republic, Bonn has never committed itself to avoid stationing German troops there- -something Rybkin said Moscow was prepared to do in the case of Chechnya.
The significance of Rybkin's remarks were underscored by Yeltsin's decision last week to form a new interagency task force within the Russian Security Council and to appoint as its head Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Abdulatipov, who has long advocated that Moscow be more forthcoming in its relations with Chechnya.
Not surprisingly, many both in Chechnya and Russia see all this for what it is: a search for some kind of figleaf that will allow Chechnya to be independent while allowing Moscow to claim that it really is not. The Chechen leadership is thus likely to continue to take a hard line on independence, viewing this latest Russian concession as but one more step toward full recognition of their status.
Indeed, Rybkin himself clearly anticipated such a response and sought to warn Grozny that his proposal was the best they could hope for. He cited unofficial polls showing that most Chechens want to maintain close ties with Russia. And he said he was "alarmed" by what he called a decline in the authority of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.
But a potentially more serious reaction to this shift in the position of those around Yeltsin came from Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. In an interview last week, Kulikov said that Chechnya should be declared a "rebel territory in which Russian laws are not observed" and that Moscow should be prepared to renew its military campaign against Grozny.
Such sabre-rattling appeals to many in the Russian parliament and some in the Russian population. But there are both domestic and international reasons suggesting Moscow would be very reluctant to restart the conflict.
Not only is the Russian population unwilling to support any new campaign, but Russian human rights groups have already denounced Kulikov's ideas. And however reluctant foreign governments may be to press Moscow to recognize Chechen independence, they would certainly be opposed to any resumption of the fighting.
Reflecting those considerations, Rybkin himself dismissed Kulikov's proposals as unworkable. He said he was opposed to any use of Russian military force against Chechnya: "Evil leads only to evil, especially when a whole community or a whole nation is punished," he said.
Even more contemptuously, the Russian national security adviser said "many are writing reports like novels without travelling to Chechnya, without having visited it a single time for the past 18 months." That comment was a direct reference to Kulikov. And Rybkin concluded that "these lies should not reach the president's office."
As the Rybkin-Kulikov exchange shows, Moscow remains divided on how to deal with Chechnya. But the Rybkin's words and Abdulatipov's appointment suggest that those closest to Yeltsin are now committed to finding a formula for Chechen independence that gives Moscow a plausible basis to claim it has not in fact granted that status.
It remains unclear whether that commitment will be sufficient to guide Russian policy and whether any such formula will satisfy the Chechen government now or in the future. But the latest statements in the Russian capital suggest that Grozny is closer to achieving its goals than at any time in the past.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty