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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 51, 01-03-14

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. 5, No. 51, 14 March 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] GREEK TELECOM FIRM DENIES PLANS TO SELL ARMENIAN ENTERPRISE TO TURKEY
  • [02] KARABAKH AUTHORITIES CALL FOR SURRENDER OF WEAPONS
  • [03] AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT STRESSES 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH TURKEY...
  • [04] ...CONDEMNS ARMENIAN TERRITORIAL CLAIMS...
  • [05] ...AS DOES AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION
  • [06] AZERBAIJAN CRITICIZES RUSSIAN-IRANIAN CASPIAN DECLARATION
  • [07] FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS GEORGIA ASPIRES TO NATO MEMBERSHIP
  • [08] GEORGIA HAILS AZERBAIJANI-TURKISH GAS DEAL
  • [09] GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS MONITOR FORMER BOSS'S MOVEMENTS
  • [10] GEORGIA TO INTENSIFY CONTROLS ON BORDER WITH CHECHNYA
  • [11] KAZAKH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE CABINET'S DRAFT LEGISLATION
  • [12] JAPAN ALLOCATES MORE GRANTS TO KYRGYZSTAN

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [13] CEASE-FIRE BEGINS IN PRESEVO
  • [14] SERBIAN FORCES ENTER SECURITY ZONE
  • [15] SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER HAILS 'FIRST STEP TO RETURN'
  • [16] MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS MARCH FOR PEACE
  • [17] FIGHTING REPORTED IN WESTERN MACEDONIA
  • [18] KOSOVA'S THACI BACKS MACEDONIAN MODERATES
  • [19] SERBS ATTACK MITROVICA POLICE STATION
  • [20] YUGOSLAVIA HAS 'ABOUT 15' WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS
  • [21] YUGOSLAV BANK CHIEF BUILDING UP EVIDENCE ON MILOSEVIC
  • [22] MONTENEGRIN CAMPAIGN BEGINS
  • [23] BOSNIAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO CLEAN HOUSE
  • [24] HERZEGOVINIANS TO SET UP OWN ARMY?
  • [25] 'FIRST SERIOUS BLOW' TO CROATIAN GOVERNMENT?
  • [26] SLOVENIAN EX-DEPUTY MINISTER INDICTED
  • [27] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES MEDIATION REPORT ON LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW
  • [28] PRM TO SUE PRESS OUTLETS
  • [29] GREEK OFFICIAL PROMISES SUPPORT FOR ROMANIA'S NATO, EU ACCESSION BIDS
  • [30] MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST SEEKS TIES WITH ROMANIA
  • [31] BULGARIAN PYRAMID SCHEME OWNER GETS PRISON SENTENCE
  • [32] BALKAN AIRLINES TICKETHOLDERS NOT TO GET REFUNDS SOON

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [33] AN OLIGARCHIC TAKEOVER IN UKRAINE?

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] GREEK TELECOM FIRM DENIES PLANS TO SELL ARMENIAN ENTERPRISE TO TURKEY

    The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) issued a statement on 13 March denying a Greek newspaper report that it plans to sell its 90 percent stake in the Armenian telecom monopoly ArmenTel to Turkey's largest telecom firm, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Greek report claimed that OTE is disappointed with the returns on its investment since its 1998 acquisition of the stake in ArmenTel. LF

    [02] KARABAKH AUTHORITIES CALL FOR SURRENDER OF WEAPONS

    The Interior Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has appealed to the enclave's population to surrender all arms and ammunition they retained after the signing of the 1994 cease-fire, according to Snark on 12 March, as cited by Groong. At a cabinet session on 7 March, Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian severely criticized the work of the Karabakh law-enforcement organs. LF

    [03] AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT STRESSES 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH TURKEY...

    Continuing his state visit to Turkey, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev met in Ankara on 13 March with deputy prime ministers Mesut Yilmaz and Devlet Bahceli, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, and former President Suleyman Demirel, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Aliev also delivered a lengthy address to the Turkish parliament in which he underscored the Turks' and Azerbaijanis' close ethnic and linguistic ties, and their shared religion and values. Aliev also appealed in that address for Turkish support in helping to resolve the Karabakh conflict, which he said poses a threat to Turkey. LF

    [04] ...CONDEMNS ARMENIAN TERRITORIAL CLAIMS...

    In his address to the Turkish parliament, Aliev also condemned what he termed Armenians' "insolent" claims on the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan, and on the Turkish regions of Kars and Ardahan. In a 9 March statement in Yerevan, Armenian presidential Commission for Human Rights Chairman and former dissident Paruyr Hairikian called for the annulment of the Treaty of Kars and the return of those regions to Armenian control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). Speaking in Ankara on 13 March, Turkish State Minister Suayip Usenmez said that those Armenians who make such claims on Turkish territory "are living in a dream world," Anatolia News Agency reported. "We cannot give them even a single pebble," he added. LF

    [05] ...AS DOES AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION

    The Nakhichevan chapters of the Musavat, Democratic, and Azerbaijan National Independence parties and of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party have issued a joint statement condemning Hairikian, Turan reported on 13 March. Hairikian's statement "demonstrates the Armenian aggressor's readiness to establish a new center of tension in the Caucasus," the four opposition groups claimed. LF

    [06] AZERBAIJAN CRITICIZES RUSSIAN-IRANIAN CASPIAN DECLARATION

    The declaration on the Caspian Sea signed in Moscow on 12 March by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001) is inconsistent with earlier agreements between Moscow, Astana, and Baku that the sea should be divided into national sectors, Interfax on 13 March quoted an unidentified Azerbaijani diplomat as saying. That source attributed Russian and Iranian objections to the laying of pipelines on the bed of the Caspian to those countries' shared desire to exclude Azerbaijan from the transportation of Caspian hydrocarbons to world markets. LF

    [07] FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS GEORGIA ASPIRES TO NATO MEMBERSHIP

    In an interview with Japan's "Sankei shimbun," Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili disavowed President Eduard Shevardnadze's recent suggestion that Georgia might in 2005 opt for neutral status rather than NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001), ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported on 13 March. Menagharishvili said Georgia will endeavor to join both NATO and the EU as soon as the required degree of internal political stability is attained and economic development and the professional level of the armed forces permits. LF

    [08] GEORGIA HAILS AZERBAIJANI-TURKISH GAS DEAL

    President Shevardnadze has written to his Azerbaijani and Turkish counterparts, Aliev and Ahmet Necdet Sezer, to express his satisfaction over the signing of the 12 March agreement whereby Turkey will import natural gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field, Caucasus Press reported on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Shevardnadze characterized the agreement as a victory for those forces which wish to see the states of the Caucasus strong, stable, and benevolently disposed to each other. Shevardnadze also met on 13 March with Sharik Taras, president of the Turkish company Enka, which has expressed interest in participating in the construction of the pipeline sector needed to implement the Azerbaijani- Turkish project. LF

    [09] GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS MONITOR FORMER BOSS'S MOVEMENTS

    National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze told journalists in Tbilisi on 13 March that his ministry is monitoring the activities of former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, wanted for his suspected participation in the August 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Kutateladze said Giorgadze is intensifying his efforts to make contact with Georgian political parties. In two Russian press interviews in late 1999, Giorgadze claimed to have extensive contacts and support in Georgia. The weekly "Kviris palitra" reported on 13 March without naming its sources that Moscow is grooming Giorgadze to succeed Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba should the latter step down because of his allegedly deteriorating health. LF

    [10] GEORGIA TO INTENSIFY CONTROLS ON BORDER WITH CHECHNYA

    The head of Georgia's Border Guard Service, Valeri Chkheidze, told journalists on 14 March that the number of Georgian border posts on the Georgian-Chechen sector of the Georgian border will shortly be increased from five to 15, and those on the border with Ingushetia from two to five, Caucasus Press reported. Chkheidze said increased control of the border is needed in light of an anticipated upsurge of activity by Chechen fighters as the spring snow in the Caucasus mountains melts. LF

    [11] KAZAKH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE CABINET'S DRAFT LEGISLATION

    Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev criticized his cabinet at a 13 March session for the low quality of the draft legislation it prepares, Interfax reported. He noted that some 68 laws passed since 1995 have not been implemented because they lack the necessary auxiliary framework. Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov, who is deputy head of the presidential staff, similarly expressed concern that plans to submit to parliament no fewer than 120 draft bills during the current session instead of the slated 48 will make it impossible to "plan the legislative process normally." First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov noted that the government's draft guidelines on transport policy fail to include a section on pipelines, which handle up to half of the country's transportation of raw materials. LF

    [12] JAPAN ALLOCATES MORE GRANTS TO KYRGYZSTAN

    Japanese Ambassador Kenji Tanaka and Kyrgyz Finance Minister Temirbek Akmataliev signed a memorandum in Bishkek on 13 March whereby Tokyo will give Kyrgyzstan two grants, worth 800 million and 330 million yen ($6.6 million and $2.7 million), for agricultural development, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Tanaka also met the same day with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev to discuss bilateral cooperation. Japan has given Kyrgyzstan technical and financial help worth over $300 million since 1992. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [13] CEASE-FIRE BEGINS IN PRESEVO

    Serbian forces and guerrillas of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) observed a cease-fire on 13 March, London's the "Daily Telegraph" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Men on both sides remained in their positions and did not venture into the open. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quoted UCPMB commander Shefqet Musliu as saying that he takes "no responsibility" if any Albanian chooses to shoot at Serbian forces. The "New York Times" cited UCPMB commander Mohamed Rrebeli as saying that "the Serbs have broken cease-fires so often that I don't believe in...just a piece of paper." Belgrade's "Glas javnosti" wrote that "the Albanians" cannot be expected to keep the cease-fire. PM

    [14] SERBIAN FORCES ENTER SECURITY ZONE

    Musliu added that his guerrillas will "fight to the last man" if Serbian forces enter the demilitarized zone, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 14 March. Under an agreement with NATO, Serbian troops began entering a small section of the zone that morning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Speaking to Vienna's "Die Presse" of 13 March, former Kosovar guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci said that readmitting Serbian forces to the zone will not help stability either in Presevo or in Kosova. He warned Serbian troops against approaching the border with Kosova. Thaci argued that the size of the zone should be enlarged rather than reduced. PM

    [15] SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER HAILS 'FIRST STEP TO RETURN'

    Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Presevo, said the Serbian- NATO agreement is the "first step toward the return of our country's sovereignty over the security zone," "Vesti" reported on 14 March. He also said that "Yugoslav forces will not take any measures against the local population, and we appeal to the local population to stay calm. We expect that extremist groups will respect the cease-fire agreement that has been guaranteed by NATO. We expect Macedonian security forces to undertake special defensive measures along the border to prevent any incidents," the "Daily Telegraph" reported. Official Belgrade still regularly refers to its opponents as "extremists," "terrorists," or "separatists." PM

    [16] MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS MARCH FOR PEACE

    Some 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organized by the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) in Skopje on 13 March, the "Daily Telegraph" reported. The motto of the protest was "we are not terrorists." Menduh Thaci, who is deputy chairman of the PDSH, said that "most Albanians support us." He added that the purpose of the march was to "show that the Albanians want stability" and impress upon the government the need to make more progress in guaranteeing rights to the Albanian minority, Reuters reported. There appears to be some confusion over the exact number of participants. Belgrade's "Danas" put the figure at 30,000, while the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote that only 5,000 people turned out. Militant nationalists held a march in Tetovo on 14 March under the motto "against Macedonian terrorism." The turnout was about 3,000, dpa reported. PM

    [17] FIGHTING REPORTED IN WESTERN MACEDONIA

    Reporters in Tetovo heard heavy machine-gun and some mortar fire from nearby mountains in the direction of Kosova in the late morning of 14 March, Reuters reported. Macedonian police were heading into the Sar Planina area. AP said the clashes took place in the Tetovo neighborhood of Kale and in the nearby village of Selce. The extent of the fighting is not clear, although AP reported that at least 10 ambulances were sent to Kale. A police spokesman said "the situation is exceptionally serious in Tetovo." A Defense Ministry spokesman added that "police are being shot at, and they are responding." This is the first report of fighting in the heartland of western Macedonia, where most of the country's Albanians live. PM

    [18] KOSOVA'S THACI BACKS MACEDONIAN MODERATES

    Hashim Thaci told "Die Presse" of 13 March that he and his followers support the mainstream Albanian parties in Macedonia. "We condemn any form of extremism. We do not support the people who have launched an armed conflict," he added. Thaci stressed that "one cannot draw any parallels between the situation in the Presevo Valley and that in Macedonia. The Presevo problem is the result of the violence that the regime of [former Yugoslavian President Slobodan] Milosevic carried out against the Albanians." PM

    [19] SERBS ATTACK MITROVICA POLICE STATION

    On the morning of 14 March, French peacekeepers used tear gas to break up a crowd of some 50 Serbs who had surrounded the police station in northern Mitrovica and set fire to a UN police car, AP reported. Crowds then "rampaged" through the city. The protesters were angry over the recent arrest of three Serbs for assaulting two UN policemen. PM

    [20] YUGOSLAVIA HAS 'ABOUT 15' WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS

    Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 13 March that "about 15" of the persons listed in the public indictments of The Hague- based war crimes tribunal are currently living in Yugoslavia. This is the first such revelation by a top Belgrade official, AP reported. It is not clear whether the former Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, is included on Zivkovic's list. Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said a draft law on cooperating with the tribunal could be ready by the end of March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

    [21] YUGOSLAV BANK CHIEF BUILDING UP EVIDENCE ON MILOSEVIC

    Mladjan Dinkic, who is governor of the Yugoslav National Bank, said in Nicosia, Cyprus, that he has amassed considerable evidence that Milosevic abused his office to embezzle state funds and property, "Danas" reported on 14 March. The former president's assistants laundered or deposited money by using financial channels in Switzerland, Germany, the U.K., South Africa, China, and Lebanon, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

    [22] MONTENEGRIN CAMPAIGN BEGINS

    The campaign for the 22 April parliamentary election has officially begun, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 13 March. Parties have until 27 March to file their respective lists of candidates with the government election commission. In practice, however, the campaign has been underway for some weeks. PM

    [23] BOSNIAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO CLEAN HOUSE

    Social Democratic Prime Minister Alija Behmen told the federal parliament in Sarajevo that his government aims to promote Bosnia's integration into Europe, Reuters reported. In addition to promoting human rights, refugee return, and the development of state institutions, he intends to uproot corruption and encourage foreign investment. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 14 March that one of the reasons nationalists in the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) refuse to have anything to do with the new government is that they fear it will expose some HDZ leaders' own corrupt practices, including their involvement in the smuggling of cars and cigarettes. PM

    [24] HERZEGOVINIANS TO SET UP OWN ARMY?

    Controversy continues in Bosnia and Croatia following the publication of a story in "Jutarnji list" on 13 March to the effect that HDZ leader Ante Jelavic wants to set up an army as part of his proposed "Croatian self- administration, "Oslobodjenje" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2001). General Stanko Sopta has allegedly been organizing such a force. Such a move would be an open breach of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. Former Defense Minister Miroslav Prce told "Dnevni avaz" that he has no intention of serving in any Jelavic breakaway administration. PM

    [25] 'FIRST SERIOUS BLOW' TO CROATIAN GOVERNMENT?

    Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 13 March that he hopes Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic will remain in the cabinet, where he is responsible for economic affairs, "Jutarnji list" reported. Racan added that Linic came to Zagreb out of a sense of duty and has said that he wants now to return to Rijeka and run for mayor. As the head of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Racan is theoretically in a position to make Linic's decision for him, the daily noted. If Linic does leave, his most likely replacement would be Finance Minister Mato Crkvenac, who could in turn be replaced by SDP economic expert Dragan Kovacevic. The year-old government has not made much progress in keeping its campaign promise to improve the standard of living of the population. PM

    [26] SLOVENIAN EX-DEPUTY MINISTER INDICTED

    Officials in Ljubljana formally indicted Boris Sustar on 13 March on charges of blackmailing and bribe-taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2000). Four of the former deputy economic minister's associates were also charged. AP reported that this is the first corruption charge against a top- level government official since Slovenia became independent in 1991. PM

    [27] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES MEDIATION REPORT ON LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW

    The lower house of the Romanian parliament on 13 March approved the mediation report on the Local Public Administration Law, Mediafax reported. As the same report has already been approved by the Senate, the law now awaits President Ion Iliescu's signature. The law provides the right of ethnic minorities to use their native language in the local administrations of localities where they comprise at least 20 percent of the total population. It is this provision that the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) considers "unconstitutional and antinational." PRM Chamber of Deputies group leader Lucian Augustin Bolca announced that his party will attack the law in the Constitutional Court. ZsM

    [28] PRM TO SUE PRESS OUTLETS

    Corneliu Ciontu, PRM first deputy chairman, on 13 March announced that his party will sue all media outlets accusing the PRM of extremism, Romanian media reported. Ciontu said his party is the target of a misinformation campaign led by the press. He added that a party can only be accused of extremism if it propagates violence, racism, or xenophobia. PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor gave xenophobic speeches primarily addressed against Hungarians, Jews, and Roma on many occasions. In 1998 he said "Romania should be ruled with a tommy gun," and promised "mass executions in stadiums." The PRM-sponsored "Greater Romania" weekly frequently uses derogatory language when referring to national minorities living in the country. The press increased its criticism of the PRM after the first round of the November 2000 presidential elections, in which Tudor tallied 30 percent of the vote. ZsM

    [29] GREEK OFFICIAL PROMISES SUPPORT FOR ROMANIA'S NATO, EU ACCESSION BIDS

    Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Elisavet Papazoi on 13 March said Athens can provide "real support" for Romania's NATO and EU accession bids, Mediafax reported. Meeting in Bucharest with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who also serves as OSCE chairman, Papazoi said Greece wishes that all countries in its region belong to the same stability structures. Papazoi saw Romania's current role at the head of the OSCE as a great opportunity for the entire region, as Bucharest authorities have a thorough knowledge of the Balkans. ZsM

    [30] MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST SEEKS TIES WITH ROMANIA

    Meeting with Victor Barsan on 12 March, the Romanian Ambassador to Chisinau, Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Chairman Vladimir Voronin said his party is interested in developing multiple ties between the two countries, Flux reported on 13 March. Voronin said the PCM is primarily interested in developing economic and trade relations, as well as attracting Romanian investments to Moldova. Barsan said Bucharest is interested in deepening its "privileged" relations with Chisinau and in supporting Moldova in international organizations. Just two weeks earlier, Voronin had rejected the notion of "two Romanian states" favored by some Bucharest officials as being unacceptable to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). At the 13 March meeting Voronin added that the PCM will initiate modifying the constitution to allow Moldovan citizens to hold double citizenship. Many Moldovans studying or working in Romania have already obtained Romanian citizenship. ZsM

    [31] BULGARIAN PYRAMID SCHEME OWNER GETS PRISON SENTENCE

    The Sofia city court sentenced Michael Kapustin on 13 March to 23 years in jail for embezzling some $4 million from some 2,800 investors, BTA reported. Kapustin, a Ukrainian-born Canadian, was the owner of Life Choice International, a pyramid scheme that stopped paying returns to investors in 1995. The trial against him began in 1999 but was repeatedly adjourned as Kapustin changed defense lawyers and interpreters. Some 30,000 Bulgarians are estimated to have lost money in get-rich pyramid schemes, Reuters reported. PB

    [32] BALKAN AIRLINES TICKETHOLDERS NOT TO GET REFUNDS SOON

    Passengers holding tickets to fly with the bankrupt Balkan Airlines will not be eligible to receive refunds until the company has repaid its debts to creditors, a trustee in the bankruptcy said on 13 March, BTA reported citing "24 Chasa." Trustee Vladimir Petkov said that process will take some time but will begin at a court hearing on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). "24 Chasa" also announced that Hemus Air will take over domestic services previously run by Balkan Airlines. It said Hemus will operate three flights per day between Sofia and Varna beginning on 26 March. PB

    [C] END NOTE

    [33] AN OLIGARCHIC TAKEOVER IN UKRAINE?

    By Jan Maksymiuk

    Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko met on 10 March with the leadership of the parliamentary majority to discuss a "political accord" between the cabinet and the legislative majority in order to define the mutual obligations and responsibilities of the government and its legislative support group. Interfax reported that the meeting resulted in a decision to set up a working group to draft such an accord.

    Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, commented after the meeting that he fully shares Yushchenko's conviction that his cabinet works in a businesslike manner. Turchynov said the recently voiced alarms about a crisis in Yushchenko's cabinet are only an attempt by some political forces to divert public attention from the political crisis in the country and transform it into a cabinet problem. Turchynov added that no lawmaker proposed any personnel changes in the cabinet during the meeting with Yushchenko. The Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus is against the signing of a joint accord by the government and the parliamentary majority, and is opting for a series of accords between the cabinet and each separate pro-government parliamentary group.

    Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, told Interfax that the only possible non-leftist pro-government majority is the one presently existing. Kostenko added that any attempt at changing the current lineup of the parliamentary majority will put an end to the reformatory effort of the Ukrainian legislature.

    Kostenko seemed to be commenting on last month's ultimatum by first deputy parliamentary speaker and a major oligarch, Viktor Medvedchuk, who said that unless Yushchenko forms a coalition cabinet, "the reformist parliamentary majority will create a new coalition government with a new premier." For some political observers of the Ukrainian political scene, Medvedchuk's statement clearly signaled the beginning of a crucial campaign by Ukrainian oligarchs to rearrange the country's top echelons of power.

    The testing day for Yushchenko will be on 10 April, when he is expected to deliver a report to the parliament on the performance of his cabinet. Some political analysts say the parliament is very likely to dismiss Yushchenko under the pretext of his alleged failure to deliver on a government program that was approved by lawmakers a year ago. Yushchenko may be voted out jointly by the Communists -- whose representative will subsequently head the legislature -- and some oligarchic caucuses that want Medvedchuk (or some other oligarch) to head the government.

    There are three major oligarchic parties in Ukraine, each of which has its own parliamentary representation: the Social Democratic Party (United) (led by oligarchs Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis); the Democratic Union (Oleksandr Volkov); and the Labor Ukraine Party (Serhiy Tyhypko, Viktor Pynchuk, and Andriy Derkach). The parties may have a keen interest in unseating Yushchenko for at least two reasons.

    Firstly, Yushchenko, assisted by courageous Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, has managed to shift the majority of payments in Ukraine's economy from shady barter schemes to transparent cash settlements, thus depriving Ukrainian oligarchs of considerable profits. Secondly, Ukraine is to hold parliamentary elections next year, and the oligarchs may simply want to have their own people in the government to grasp administrative levers of control over the situation in the country, which would better position their parties for the upcoming election campaign.

    As of now, President Leonid Kuchma seems to be in full control of the situation in the country, but it is also obvious to everyone that he is currently more concerned about what takes place on Kyiv's streets and squares than about developments in parliamentary lobbies and government offices. Taking advantage of the president's political troubles, the oligarchs -- who have thus far influenced developments in Ukraine from behind Kuchma's back -- now appear to be prepared to take the reins of power directly in their hands.

    Yushchenko's immediate and defiant reaction to the oligarchs' move indicated that he is aware of the looming political takeover in Ukraine. On 28 February he commented on Medvedchuk's threat that "the government will never participate in a dialogue of ultimatums with any political force." Yushchenko added that Medvedchuk's statement is "a prologue for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine" and "an attempt to change Ukraine's future." Speaking on behalf of his cabinet, which discussed the domestic political situation during a closed-door session, he noted: "We are convinced that this is a purely clannish approach toward organizing Ukrainian politics."

    Last week, however, Yushchenko proposed that talks be held between the government and the parliamentary majority on signing a political accord that could regulate mutual relations. Some see this proposal as an indication that in the meantime the premier unsuccessfully tried to get support from Kuchma to strengthen the cabinet's stand against oligarchs. True, Kuchma publicly declared he is not going to dismiss Yushchenko's cabinet. But he added, however, that the government should be efficient and depend more on the parliamentary majority. Yushchenko apparently treated this pronouncement as less than comforting, and made an attempt at concluding a separate peace agreement with the oligarchs.

    It may sound paradoxical to many, but the question of whether Kuchma survives the current political unrest in Ukraine seems to be of secondary importance in comparison with the question of Yushchenko's survival. Yushchenko's possible ouster in April may not only disrupt the current positive economic trends in the country, along with the government's reformist course, but also make a much more gloomy prospect a reality. Ukraine may soon find itself left to the full discretion of those who contributed enormously over the past 10 years to the plunging of the country into all-encompassing corruption, economic inefficiency, and abject poverty.

    14-03-01


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


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