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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 60, 00-03-24

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 4, No. 60, 24 March 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER VISIT WOUNDED KARABAKH LEADER
  • [02] FORMER AZERBAIJANI GENERALS CALL FOR NEW WAR OVER KARABAKH
  • [03] AZERBAIJAN QUERIES LEGALITY OF OIL TARIFF CONCESSION...
  • [04] ...AND OPPOSITION SLAMS IT...
  • [05] ...AS GEORGIA CALCULATES PROFITS
  • [06] AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA SIGN FURTHER COOPERATION AGREEMENTS
  • [07] GEORGIAN MILITARY CLARIFIES RETURN HOME OF KFOR CONTINGENT
  • [08] LAST GEORGIAN DESERTERS SURRENDER
  • [09] SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MURDER OF ABKHAZ VICE PREMIER
  • [10] KYRGYZ DEMAND ARRESTED OPPOSITION LEADER'S RELEASE...
  • [11] ...AS PROTESTS OVER POLL OUTCOME CONTINUE
  • [12] TAJIKISTAN ELECTS UPPER CHAMBER OF PARLIAMENT
  • [13] UZBEKISTAN TO LIBERALIZE BANKING SYSTEM

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [14] ETHNIC ALBANIAN MILITANTS PLEDGE POLITICAL STRUGGLE
  • [15] NATO LEADERS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF KOSOVA CAMPAIGN
  • [16] U.S. OPPOSES PARTITION OF MITROVICA
  • [17] ALBANIA CONDEMNS 'EXTREMIST ACTS
  • [18] MILOSEVIC HONORS WAR DEAD
  • [19] EU PLEDGES SUSTANTIAL AID FOR MONTENEGRO...
  • [20] ...CALLS FOR BETTER COORDINATION IN KOSOVA
  • [21] HAGUE COURT HIKES BOSNIAN CROAT'S SENTENCE ON APPEAL
  • [22] CROATIAN OPPOSITION LETS BUDGET PASS
  • [23] FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HOT LINE NEVER PASSED
  • [24] ROMANIAN LIBERALS TORN BY CONFLICT
  • [25] ROMA PROTEST RACISM IN ROMANIA
  • [26] MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ELECTORAL LAW CHANGES
  • [27] BULGARIA'S FOREIGN DEBT DECREASES SIGNIFICANTLY

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [28] PUTIN'S RISE TO POWER DELAYS CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER VISIT WOUNDED KARABAKH LEADER

    Robert Kocharian and Aram Sargsian on 23 March visited

    Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-

    Karabakh Republic, who is recovering in a Yerevan hospital

    from gun wounds received during the unsuccessful attack on

    his life early on 22 March, Interfax reported. Ghukasian's

    brother Areg and one of the surgeons who operated on him both

    pronounced his condition satisfactory, RFE/RL's Yerevan

    bureau reported. In Stepanakert, police discovered "illegal

    weapons and ammunition" in the homes of former Defense

    Minister Samvel Babayan and his brother Karen, both of whom

    were taken into custody on 22 March on suspicion of

    involvement in the bid to assassinate Ghukasian. Karabakh

    First Deputy Prosecutor-General Aramais Avagian told Noyan

    Tapan on 23 March that no charges have yet been brought

    against any of the several dozen detainees. LF

    [02] FORMER AZERBAIJANI GENERALS CALL FOR NEW WAR OVER KARABAKH

    Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 24 March, former

    senior Azerbaijani Defense Ministry officials argued that

    since all attempts to resolve the Karabakh conflict

    peacefully have failed, a new attempt should be made to win

    back control of Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent currently

    Armenian-controlled territories by force, Turan reported.

    Former Defense Minister Tajaddin Mehtiev argued that it would

    be possible to inflict a military defeat on Armenia if the

    Azerbaijani leadership and opposition close ranks. LF

    [03] AZERBAIJAN QUERIES LEGALITY OF OIL TARIFF CONCESSION...

    Azerbaijani observers are puzzled over the implications of

    President Heidar Aliev's statement in Tbilisi on 22 March

    that Azerbaijan has agreed to use its profits to augment the

    tariff that Georgia will receive from the transit of Caspian

    oil, Turan reported on 23 March. The agency quoted

    unidentified experts as suggesting that the legal owner of

    the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline would pay a certain amount (for

    example, 12 cents) to Georgia and Azerbaijan per barrel of

    oil carried via these countries. A concession by Azerbaijan

    to Georgia such as Aliev hinted at would mean that Azerbaijan

    would be paid not 12, but 8 cents, while Georgia would

    receive not 12, but 16 cents. LF

    [04] ...AND OPPOSITION SLAMS IT...

    Opposition party leaders have

    criticized Aliev's announcement, Turan reported on 23 March.

    National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov pointed

    out that "the fees for oil, the oil pipeline, and oil

    transportation are not Heidar Aliev's property that he can

    present to his friend.... This is a strategic issue and it

    cannot be resolved in a hurry." Musavat Party Chairman Isa

    Gambar similarly argued that "infringing upon one's own

    interests in favor of the other side is an incorrect decision

    from both the political and economic viewpoints." Both Gambar

    and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party first deputy chairman Ali

    Kerimov termed Aliev's decision as yet another example of his

    placing personal interests above those of the state. LF

    [05] ...AS GEORGIA CALCULATES PROFITS

    Gia Chanturia, the chairman

    of the Georgian International Oil Corporation, told a news

    conference in Tbilisi on 23 March that the transit of the

    "main" Caspian oil via Georgia will bring in transit fees of

    $52.5 million annually, which will be equal to 10 percent of

    the state budget, Caucasus Press reported. He said that at

    the initial stage (2004-2008) Georgia will receive 12 cents

    for 1 barrel or 89 cents for 1 ton of oil; at the second

    stage, (2009-2018) it will get 14 cents for 1 barrel or 1.4

    dollars for 1 ton and at the third stage (2019-2043) 17 cents

    and more for 1 barrel or1.26 dollars for 1 ton. An

    Azerbaijani official representing the Azerbaijan

    International Operating Company, the only Western consortium

    currently exporting Azerbaijani oil, said President Aliev's

    concession was motivated by the desire to expedite the start

    of construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. LF

    [06] AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA SIGN FURTHER COOPERATION AGREEMENTS

    Addressing the Georgian parliament on 23 March, President

    Aliev characterized relations between his country and Georgia

    as "a strategic partnership" and "really friendly and

    mutually beneficial," ITAR-TASS reported. Several bilateral

    agreements were signed during Aliev's two-day state visit to

    Tbilisi, including on the exchange of information and on

    cooperation in the social protection of the population and

    between the two countries' Justice Ministries. LF

    [07] GEORGIAN MILITARY CLARIFIES RETURN HOME OF KFOR CONTINGENT

    Members of the Georgian peacekeeping contingent serving with

    KFOR in Kosova were sent back to Tbilisi for insubordination

    before their eight-month tour of duty was complete,

    "Segodnya" reported on 22 March. The newspaper claimed that

    the Georgian troops had refused to accept orders from the

    Turkish officers under whom they served and had locked

    themselves in their barracks and declared a hunger-strike.

    Georgian military officials admitted that the Georgian

    Defense Ministry has failed to pay on time the $600 per month

    to which the men were entitled. A Georgian Defense Ministry

    spokesman denied last week that Georgian peacekeepers have

    returned home because of friction with the Turkish contingent

    (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2000). LF

    [08] LAST GEORGIAN DESERTERS SURRENDER

    All the 60 or so Georgian

    servicemen who deserted from their unit at the Kodjori

    training camp earlier this month have now returned, Caucasus

    Press reported on 24 March, citing "Rezonansi" (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 15 March 200). LF

    [09] SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MURDER OF ABKHAZ VICE PREMIER

    Russian

    and Abkhaz police recently arrested a man on suspicion of

    involvement in the September 1995 assassination of Abkhaz

    Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Voronov, "Kommersant-Daily"

    reported on 23 March (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 13 September

    1995). The suspect, named as Albert Tarba, is believed to

    have acted on instructions from Georgian intelligence with

    the aim of destabilizing the internal situation in Abkhazia.

    LF

    [10] KYRGYZ DEMAND ARRESTED OPPOSITION LEADER'S RELEASE...

    Some

    250 people demonstrated on 23 March outside the Kyrgyz

    Security Ministry to demand the release of opposition Ar-

    Namys Party Chairman Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau

    reported. Kulov was arrested the previous day on suspicion of

    participating in illegal activities by members of the Kalkhan

    anti-terror squad while he headed the Security Ministry in

    1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1999 and 23 March

    2000), according to Reuters. Speaking at a press conference

    in Bishkek on 23 March, Security Ministry department head

    Ikramadin Aitkulov said that Kulov has been charged with

    abuse of power while he served as security minister and

    deputy premier and with violating the rights and interests of

    the state and individual citizens. He said that Kulov is also

    suspected of misappropriating some $22,000 that the Security

    Ministry had received from unnamed commercial firms. LF

    [11] ...AS PROTESTS OVER POLL OUTCOME CONTINUE

    The OSCE mission

    in Bishkek issued a press release on 23 March stressing its

    concern over the situation that has arisen in Kyrgyzstan

    since the two rounds of voting for a new parliament on 20

    February and 12 March as well as over the violations

    committed before and during the vote, Interfax and ITAR-TASS

    reported. Also on 23 March, some 300 people continued their

    protest in the town of Kara-Buura to demand the annulment of

    the 12 March parliamentary runoff in that constituency, in

    which Kulov was defeated. LF

    [12] TAJIKISTAN ELECTS UPPER CHAMBER OF PARLIAMENT

    Regional

    assemblies in Tajikistan's five electoral districts on 23

    March elected five deputies each to the upper house of the

    new parliament, Reuters and Asia-Plus Blitz reported. They

    include the mayor of Dushanbe, the prosecutor-general, and

    the heads of the writers' union and Academy of Sciences. The

    remaining eight members of the upper house were named by

    President Imomali Rakhmonov last week. LF

    [13] UZBEKISTAN TO LIBERALIZE BANKING SYSTEM

    President Islam

    Karimov has issued a decree intended to increase the

    independence of commercial banks and make it easier for them

    to issue low-interest loans to farmers and small and medium-

    sized businesses, Interfax reported on 23 March. Banks are to

    set up a special fund to issue such loans, and the proceeds

    from doing so will be tax exempt for five years, provided

    they are reinvested in the fund. LF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [14] ETHNIC ALBANIAN MILITANTS PLEDGE POLITICAL STRUGGLE

    Unnamed

    political representatives of the Liberation Army of Presevo,

    Medvedja, and Bujanovac said in a formal statement on 24

    March that they "are committed to a political solution [to

    the problems of southwest Serbia's Albanian minority] in

    cooperation with the international community," AP reported.

    The statement did not include a pledge of a unilateral cease-

    fire or an offer to disarm as some Western diplomats had

    hoped. But in Washington the previous day, State Department

    spokesman James Rubin said that "it's an important statement

    in moving the problem there from the military to political

    sphere." In Gjilan, Januz Musliu of the Political Council for

    Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac told Reuters after nine

    hours of meetings with U.S. and Kosovar Albanian officials:

    "Our stance and our engagement will be in accord with our own

    national and international interests, especially with those

    of the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance." PM

    [15] NATO LEADERS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF KOSOVA CAMPAIGN

    NATO

    Secretary-General Lord Robertson and Supreme Commander Europe

    General Wesley Clark are slated to visit Kosova on 24 March.

    They will mark the first anniversary of NATO's bombing

    campaign that forced the Serbian leadership to end Operation

    Horseshoe, which was the code-name for a campaign launched in

    early 1999 to expel the ethnic Albanians who make up some 90

    percent of Kosova's population. Robertson and Clark were

    originally scheduled to arrive at 9:00 a.m. local time, but

    the trip was delayed for what an unnamed NATO official called

    "operational reasons." When Reuters asked if that meant

    because of security concerns, the official replied: "I won't

    go into that." Later, KFOR spokesman Major Nick Naudin said

    that the planned trip by the two leaders to the divided city

    of Mitrovica has been canceled. Reuters suggested that it

    would be an embarrassment for NATO if it could not guarantee

    the two men's security there. PM

    [16] U.S. OPPOSES PARTITION OF MITROVICA

    NATO peacekeepers on 24

    March put up signs in parts of the Serb-held area of northern

    Mitrovica indicating that those areas are a "confidence zone"

    in which all people may move about freely. The zone now

    stretches from northern Mitrovica across the bridge over the

    Ibar River and into mainly Albanian southern Mitrovica. Local

    Serbs told AP, however, that KFOR "will make a terrible

    mistake if they tried to enforce the zone. We know their are

    doing all this to enable the Albanians to take everything."

    The previous day in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine

    Albright stressed Washington's opposition to the partition of

    the northern Kosova city. PM

    [17] ALBANIA CONDEMNS 'EXTREMIST ACTS

    'The Albanian government

    said in a statement on 24 March that there has been a

    "tangible improvement" in the situation of Kosova's ethnic

    Albanians since NATO forces occupied the province in June

    1999. The government added, however, that "the latest

    incidents in Kosova...clearly show that there are still many

    difficulties ahead," dpa reported from Tirana. In an apparent

    reference to southwestern Serbia, "the Albanian government

    declares that it condemns any extremist act by any side.

    Albania is ready to contribute to the prevention of such acts

    that might plunge Kosova into a new crisis." Yugoslav

    President Slobodan "Milosevic and his clique are persistently

    trying to destabilize the situation, undermine stabilization

    processes, and edge Kosova towards a new chaos," the

    government noted. PM

    [18] MILOSEVIC HONORS WAR DEAD

    Yugoslav President Slobodan

    Milosevic placed a wreath near the tomb of the unknown

    soldier in the Avala region of Belgrade on 23 March. He wrote

    in the guest book: "May there be eternal glory to the heroes

    of the fatherland who fell in defense of the freedom and

    dignity of their people and [in defense] of their state from

    the [threat posed by the] new fascism," "Vesti" reported. The

    next day, officially sponsored "anti-NATO rallies" took place

    in several municipalities in different parts of Serbia.

    Reuters reported from Belgrade, however, that many Serbs

    question why the government is using their money to

    "celebrate a defeat." Such individuals also called for a

    "more dignified" commemoration of the war dead. PM

    [19] EU PLEDGES SUSTANTIAL AID FOR MONTENEGRO...

    Leaders of the 15

    EU member states said in a draft communique on 24 March that

    Montenegro must receive considerable economic assistance if

    its democratic reforms are to succeed, dpa reported from

    Lisbon. "The European Council underlines the urgent need for

    substantial assistance to Montenegro in order to ensure the

    survival of democratic government and to avoid another crisis

    in the region," the statement added. The leaders did not

    specify an amount of money but called on relevant EU bodies

    to act quickly to find the necessary funds. Elsewhere in the

    communique, they leaders said that a "democratic, cooperative

    Serbia, living at peace with its neighbors, will be welcome

    to join the European family." In the meantime, however,

    sanctions will remain in place as a "pressure for democratic

    change," the communique added. PM

    [20] ...CALLS FOR BETTER COORDINATION IN KOSOVA

    In their Lisbon

    communique of 24 March, the EU leaders added that "the

    international community needs a more coherent and action-

    oriented strategy for providing economic and political

    support to [Kosova] and the region. To this end, [the EU

    recognizes] the need to provide support in a much more

    coordinated, coherent fashion and to ensure that the efforts

    of the Union and its member states receive appropriate

    recognition," the statement added. NATO and the UN civilian

    administration currently play the key roles in Kosova. PM

    [21] HAGUE COURT HIKES BOSNIAN CROAT'S SENTENCE ON APPEAL

    The

    Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 24 March extended the

    prison sentence for Zlatko Aleksovski from two and one-half

    to seven years. The tribunal ruled that the initial sentence

    reflected neither the fact that he was commander of a prison

    camp in 1993 nor the severity of crimes committed there

    against Muslim inmates. He is charged with displaying

    exceptional cruelty toward prisoners and with using those

    inmates as human shields. PM

    [22] CROATIAN OPPOSITION LETS BUDGET PASS

    Parliamentary deputies

    belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community of the late

    President Franjo Tudjman and to the far-right Croatian Party

    of [Historic] Rights have abstained from an upper-house vote

    on the government's budget, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service

    reported on 23 March. The two parties have a majority in the

    upper house and could have obstructed passage. The budget now

    goes to the lower house for consideration. Meanwhile at

    Velika Kopanica on the main Zagreb-Lipovac highway, several

    hundred refugees and returnees from Slavonia blocked traffic

    to protest what they called insufficient budget funding to

    enable refugees to return home and rebuild their communities.

    PM

    [23] FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HOT LINE NEVER PASSED

    'EXPLORATORY TALKS'

    In an interview with Mediafax on 23

    March, former President Ion Iliescu said talks with Russia on

    setting up a hot line were initiated by the Kremlin, were

    "exploratory," and were conducted at "expert, not negotiator,

    level." He added that the Supreme Council of National

    Defense, which he headed, never discussed or approved the

    line, and he described the debate over the line as "clear

    electoral diversion whose obvious purpose is to deflect the

    attention of people from the country's real problems."

    Earlier on 23 March, retired General Vasile Ionel, who was

    Iliescu's counselor on defense matters, said that after

    "discussions at expert level," Iliescu concluded that the

    time for concluding an accord was "not ripe, as long as we

    still do not have a [basic] treaty with Russia." MS

    [24] ROMANIAN LIBERALS TORN BY CONFLICT

    National Liberal Party

    (PNL) Chairman Mircea Ionescu-Quintus said on 23 March that a

    decision taken by the party's Standing Central Bureau in his

    absence from the country last week had infringed on his

    powers as PNL chairman. The bureau had designated First

    Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica as "negotiator with all

    [other] parties." Ionescu-Quintus said he may call an

    extraordinary PNL congress and announce he will run for

    another term. Earlier, he had said he will step down in 2001.

    Ionescu-Quintus also said some members of the bureau had

    joined the PNL after quitting other parties but had done

    little for the PNL, "being concerned only about their

    positions." Also on 23 March, the bureau revised its decision

    on Stoica to name him as negotiator with only those parties

    that are members of the Democratic Convention of Romania,

    RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

    [25] ROMA PROTEST RACISM IN ROMANIA

    Dozens of Roma marched

    through downtown Bucharest on 23 March to protest against

    racism, AP reported. VG

    [26] MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ELECTORAL LAW CHANGES

    The

    Moldovan legislature on 23 March passed a series of

    amendments to the country's Electoral Code, Basa-Press

    reported. Under the amendments, the minimum threshold for

    political factions to gain representation in the parliament

    has been increased from 4 percent to 6 percent, while the

    threshold for independent candidates has been lowered from 4

    percent to 3 percent. The amendments also bar "foreign or

    rebroadcast television and radio stations, as well as foreign

    publications and their satellite newspapers" from running

    electoral campaign advertisements. Any candidates who violate

    the law will be disqualified. The changes also call for state

    television to offer two hours of commercial time to each

    candidate "but not more than two minutes a day." VG

    [27] BULGARIA'S FOREIGN DEBT DECREASES SIGNIFICANTLY

    Bulgaria's

    foreign debt has dropped by almost $1 billion since the end

    of last year, AP reported, quoting Bulgarian Finance Minister

    Muravei Radev. The minister said the country's foreign debt

    now totals $9.07 billion; in December it stood at $9.984

    billion. The latest figure is equal to about 78 percent of

    the country's GDP. He said the government is drafting a law

    on containing debt growth for the next three to five years

    and reducing it thereafter. In other news, the Bulgarian

    cabinet approved four defense cooperation accords with

    Romania on 23 March, BTA reported. VG


    [C] END NOTE

    [28] PUTIN'S RISE TO POWER DELAYS CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

    By Donald N. Jensen

    Vladimir Putin's coming to power has sidelined proposals

    to reduce the constitutional powers of the Russian

    presidency. In fact, an elected Putin administration would be

    more likely to deepen the crisis of government by amending

    the constitution to further strengthen presidential power.

    The Russian Constitution, ratified in December 1993,

    provides for an extraordinarily strong chief executive and a

    weak legislature and judiciary. Popular support for that

    document stemmed from the desire to be permanently rid of the

    stalemate between the executive and legislative branches that

    had paralyzed the national government for the previous two

    years. The strong presidency was tailored for Boris Yeltsin,

    who many liberals and Western governments believed to be the

    best guarantor of reform. It also reflected both Yeltsin's

    desire to maximize his own political power and Russia's

    historical and cultural preference for a strong leader.

    Despite formally strong presidential powers, the

    weakness of Russia's institutions and the rule of law

    contributed to the strong personalization of authority and

    the chronic difficulty in implementing government decisions.

    Yeltsin ruled largely by decree, signing more than 1,000 a

    year, many of which were largely ignored. And on many issues,

    he ignored the elected State Duma, whose powers, budget,

    experience, and professionalism were limited.

    Most important, this imbalance allowed businessmen,

    regional leaders, and many others to exert disproportionate

    pressure on the presidential apparatus. Key government

    programs involving the transfer of state assets worth

    billions of dollars, such as privatization and the 1995

    loans-for-shares auctions, were decided by presidential

    decree with the support of the so-called "oligarchs." For

    most of his presidency, Yeltsin tried to govern by balancing

    these interests. During his final years in office, however,

    an exhausted and infirm president was coopted by some of

    them.

    Changing the constitution to address these problems

    would be one answer. Despite the inherent difficulties of

    such an undertaking, there have been many proposals to scale

    back the presidency. Some plans have suggested tinkering with

    succession procedures or the power to declare and wage war.

    Others have called for a parliamentary system in which the

    legislature would appoint the prime minister and the cabinet

    or in which the Duma would appoint a prime minister who had

    enhanced powers and selected the government, while the

    presidency would be scaled back. Another blueprint provided

    for strong powers for the president, albeit diminished

    compared with Yeltsin, the introduction of a vice presidency,

    and increased autonomy for the government. According to this

    scheme, the Duma would have the right to appoint and remove

    the prime minister and his ministers.

    There have been three major attempts to go forward with

    these changes.

    The first was in response to Yeltsin's endorsement of

    the 1994 invasion of Chechnya. The proposed amendments,

    however, failed to gain the necessary two-thirds support in

    the Duma.

    The second bid occurred in 1997, in response to

    Yeltsin's health problems. A broad coalition of parties,

    factions, and regional leaders proposed a wide range of

    amendments, including proposals addressing the problem of

    presidential disability. Yeltsin resisted those proposals,

    arguing that it would be premature to amend the constitution

    only a few years after it had been adopted. In the end, the

    parliament and the president agreed on an antecedent law,

    passed in 1998, on the procedures for constitutional

    amendment. The system itself, however, remained unchanged.

    The third attempt was triggered by the economic crisis

    of August 1998. In an effort to gain the Duma's approval of

    Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister, Yeltsin signaled his

    willingness to consider amendments. A pact was drafted, but

    Yeltsin backtracked when Chernomyrdin's candidacy failed to

    gain approval a second time and a compromise candidate,

    Yevgenii Primakov, was approved instead. Subsequent efforts

    by Primakov first to revive the pact and later to draft a new

    one convinced Yeltsin that Primakov was too independent, and

    the prime minister was removed accordingly. Yeltsin conceded,

    however, that the constitution needed revision, but only

    after the presidential elections in 2000.

    Putin's interim presidency, a product of this system,

    has halted the momentum for downsizing the executive branch.

    The presidential succession was less a genuine transfer of

    power than the final act of a months-long drama in which

    political and business interests sought to find a successor

    to Yeltsin who would protect their interests. The fact that

    Putin was both acting president and prime minister during the

    three-month transition has further weakened the other federal

    structures.

    In recent weeks, moreover, Putin has hinted he may try

    to reverse the country's decline by seeking additional

    powers. He has supported extending the term of the presidency

    from four to seven years. The Kremlin has also revived the

    idea of directly appointing Russia's governors--their popular

    election, introduced in the mid-1990s, was a major factor in

    the ebbing of authority from the federal center.

    Stronger presidential powers, however, are unlikely to

    solve Russia's political problems. More effective would be to

    build effective coalitions with the rest of the federal

    government and with the regions to ensure better governance

    and more enduring popular support. Power-sharing agreements

    that fell short of amending the constitution but were

    observed by all parties would also help establish the ground

    rules of political behavior. Such steps would require,

    however, the avoidance of strong-arm tactics and less

    reliance on the oligarchs. During his interim presidency, at

    least, Putin has been either unwilling or unable to act in

    this direction.

    The author is associate director of RFE/RL's Broadcasting

    Division.

    24-03-00


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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