|Saturday, 27 February 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 63, 01-03-30
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 63, 30 March 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 NEW ARMENIAN ALLIANCE LISTS OBJECTIVESAt a press conference in Yerevan on 29 March, leaders of the recently formed National Accord Front (AHCh) which unites a dozen small left-wing parties and organizations, said that their primary objectives are to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian and a realignment of the country's foreign policy that would again make relations with Russia the strategic priority, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They said the campaign to force Kocharian's resignation will be peaceful, comprising of rallies and demonstrations, but that no such protests will be scheduled before the 3 April Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Key West. Former presidential national security adviser and Union of Socialist Forces head Ashot Manucharian, who is believed to be the moving force behind the new alignment, said the AHCh may also try to launch impeachment proceedings against Kocharian in parliament. LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN COMMUNIST LEADERPresident Kocharian met in Yerevan on 29 March with Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, to discuss bilateral ties, boosting trade and economic relations, and the relations between political parties and the state, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. Zyuganov plans to attend a congress of the Communist Party of Armenia. LF
 KARABAKH COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON FORMER DEFENSE MINISTERA three-member panel of the Supreme Court of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic on 29 March upheld the verdicts handed down one month earlier on former General Samvel Babayan and four other men charged in connection with the March 2000 attempt to assassinate the unrecognized enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Lawyers for Babayan, who denies the charges, and for the four other defendants had argued earlier this month that the sentences are legally void. LF
 EU TO PROVIDE MORE DROUGHT RELIEF AID TO ARMENIA, GEORGIAThe European Commission announced on 29 March that it will make available an additional 1.95 million euros ($1.72 million) to those areas of Armenia and Georgia most severely affected by last summer's severe drought, AP reported. The commission has already provided 3.15 million euros in drought relief for those two countries. LF
 FRENCH OIL COMPANY EXPRESSES INTEREST IN BAKU-CEYHAN PROJECTThe Baku representative of TotalFinaElf has informed the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR of its interest in the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Caucasus Press-MPA reported on 29 March. But TotalFinaElf will refrain from entering into negotiations on joining the consortium to build that pipeline until the size of the oil reserves in the three Azerbaijani fields in which it has a stake is determined. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO CURB CRIMEPresident Eduard Shevardnadze has issued a decree aimed at intensifying measures to crack down on violent crime, including violent reprisals against religious sects, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 March. He noted that the recent upsurge in violent crimes against foreigners, hostage-taking, and attacks on passenger buses has negatively affected Georgia's international image. LF
 STALIN'S GRANDSON TO FOUND NEW GEORGIAN COMMUNIST PARTYYevgenii Dzhughashvili announced in Tbilisi on 28 March the formation of his New Communist Party, which aims to unite "all genuine patriots," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The party will join the "Patriots of Georgia" bloc, which also includes a Cossack organization and the Georgian Union of Officers. Dzhughashvili expressed the hope that the Justice Ministry will register his party despite what he termed its antipathy toward Communists. He said if his party is registered, it will propose Djumber Patiashvili, who in 1985 succeeded Shevardnadze as Georgian Communist Party first secretary, as its presidential candidate. Dzhughashvili criticized the two existing Georgian Communist Parties, accusing United Communist Party of Georgian Chairman Panteleimon Giorgadze of "manipulating people to achieve his personal goals." LF
 GEORGIAN HOSPITALS USING PATIENTS AS GUINEA PIGS?In a report that recalls John le Carre's most recent novel, "Rezonansi" on 29 March claimed that on the initiative of Labor, Health and Social Security Minister Avtandil Djorbenadze, six cardiology clinics in Tbilisi are testing on patients an unlicensed preparation named herodine that in some cases has caused brain hemorrhaging and even death. The paper quotes a Georgian graduate of a U.S. medical school as saying that the Georgian doctors are providing their U.S. sponsors with false data on the outcome of the clinical tests in order to continue receiving funding from them. LF
 GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS HIS PREDECESSOR WILL NOT BE PROSECUTEDGia Meparishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 March that no criminal proceedings will be brought against his predecessor, Djamlet Babilashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Babilashvili resigned last month following a campaign for his impeachment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). An interim parliament commission had accused Babilashvili of appointing as local prosecutors 40 persons not qualified to hold such posts. But Meparishvili ruled that doing so was not a criminal offense. LF
 MINGRELIA'S COMMUNISTS DEMAND AUTONOMYAt a meeting on 29 March in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi to mark the 102th anniversary of the birth of Stalin's henchman Lavrenti Beria, the head of a local Communist Party organization, Revaz Bulia, called for Mingrelia to be given the status of an autonomous republic within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 TRIAL OF OPPOSITION KAZAKH JOURNALISTS RESUMESAfter a one-month postponement, the trial of Ermurat Bapi, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "SolDat," and of dissident historian Karishal Asanov resumed in an Almaty District Court on 29 March, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. The two men face charges of insulting the honor and dignity of President Nursultan Nazarbaev in an article by Asanov published in "SolDat" on the eve of Nazarbaev's 60th birthday last summer. The issue of the paper containing that article was printed in Russia and confiscated by Kazakh customs officers on the Russian-Kazakh border. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor on 29 March demanded two years of imprisonment for Bapi and one for Asanov. Representatives of several opposition parties picketed the court building on 29 March demanding that the trial be halted. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN ANTICIPATES ECONOMIC SLOWDOWNIn the wake of President Nazarbaev's announcement of 10 percent first quarter GDP growth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001), the Kazakh government warned on 29 March that GDP growth for this year is unlikely to exceed 4 percent, while industrial output is expected to grow by 8 percent, Interfax reported. The corresponding figures last year were 9.6 percent and 14.6 percent year-on-year. The cabinet's priorities for this year were identified as achieving stable economic growth with low inflation, improving the investment climate, reducing unemployment and raising the population's real income. The government will also seek to strengthen the nascent Eurasian Economic Community formed last year on the basis of the CIS Customs Union. LF
 TURKISH PARLIAMENT DELEGATION VISITS KAZAKHSTANA Turkish parliament delegation headed by speaker Omer Izgi met in Astana on 29 March with President Nazarbaev, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Addressing the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament the same day, Izgi proposed creating an interparliamentary union of Turkic nations that would comprise not only Turkey and Kazakhstan, but also other Central Asian states. Reviewing bilateral economic relations, Izgi noted that Turkish companies have invested $1.5 billion in Kazakhstan. He expressed the hope that bilateral trade can be increased from $450 million to $1 billion. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN-CHINA OIL PIPELINE PROJECT ON HOLDThe planned 3,000 kilometer pipeline to export oil from Kazakhstan's Aqtobe Oblast to China is not expected to be built in the near future, Interfax reported on 29 March, quoting a senior China National Petroleum Company official. Implementation of that $3 billion project, on which Beijing and Almaty concluded an agreement in 1997, will depend on the size of hydrocarbon reserves found in Aqtobe. LF
 KYRGYZ CABINET REJECTS INCREASE IN DEFENSE SPENDINGFinance Minister Temirbek Akmataliev proposed at a cabinet meeting on 29 March that budget spending for this year should be increased to allocate a further 116 million soms (about $2.4 million) for defense purposes and 95 million soms for administrative costs, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. But despite reports of an imminent incursion into Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants now gathered in neighboring Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001), the cabinet rejected that proposal. LF
 RUSSIA, TURKMENISTAN DISCUSS PREPARATIONS FOR CASPIAN SUMMITRussian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuznyi held talks in Ashgabat on 29 March with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyev, Russian agencies reported. The primary topic discussed was the planned summit of heads of Caspian littoral states, originally scheduled for early April, which Kalyuzhnyi told journalists will now take place in the Turkmen port town of Turkmenbashi on 14-15 April. Kalyuzhnyi also said that Niyazov showed "understanding" for the shared position of Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan that the Caspian Sea bed be divided into national sectors while the waters remain in common use. Niyazov argues that no decision on dividing the sea can be taken before its legal status is determined. The two sides were also scheduled to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and aspects of bilateral relations, according to Trubnikov, who told journalists that there is "huge potential" for bilateral cooperation. LF
 WATCHDOG DETAILS UZBEK RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS LITERATUREThe Uzbek government controls the import, publication and dissemination of religious literature, which is subject to rigorous censorship, according to a study circulated on 27 March by Keston News Service. That study, based on interviews and fieldwork conducted in Tashkent earlier this month, describes the workings of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs that assumed exclusive responsibility for religious publishing and the dissemination of religious literature following the 1998 amendments to the law on religion. The study notes that religious literature is not on public sale in Tashkent, that Christian sects may import only very limited quantities of religious books, and that while permission may be granted to import Christian texts in Russian, the same text in Uzbek may be confiscated. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 SHELLING KILLS 3 IN KOSOVAR VILLAGETwo ethnic-Albanian villagers and a British journalist were killed, and at least 10 others were injured on 29 March in the Kosovar border village of Krivenik by a shell reported to have been fired from Macedonia, dpa reported. Krivenik is just eight kilometers from the Macedonian village of Gracani, the scene of an offensive by Macedonian troops to root out ethnic Albanian insurgents. Both the Macedonian military and the insurgents denied responsibility for the shelling. KFOR spokesman Axel Jandsek said U.S. Army personnel are investigating to determine who may have fired the shells. Macedonian Defense Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov said "the commander of operations in the Gracani area has said no Macedonian forces have used fire against targets inside Kosovo." A special Macedonian investigative team sent to the area after the incident returned to Skopje later in the day and said they found "no proof" that Macedonian soldiers were responsible for the incident. PB
 KOSOVAR OFFICIALS, DAILIES BLAME MACEDONIA FOR DEATHSThe three main political parties in Kosova blamed the Macedonian government on 30 March for the shelling, AP reported. Kosova's largest political party, moderate Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova, said in a statement that: "despite all the warnings of the international community that Macedonia needs to act toward stopping the conflict and starting a dialogue with Albanians in Macedonia, they have continued their offensives and they have spread them into Kosova territory as well." It added that Macedonia was risking "not only destabilization of Macedonia but also of the whole region." Former Kosova Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova said in a statement that "we won't allow Macedonia to vent their anti-Albanian anger." A third party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, blamed NATO for not protecting the citizens in the Serbian province. The Croatian agency Hina reported on 30 March that all of the main Kosovar Albanian dailies condemned the attack, which they unequivocally blamed on Macedonia. PB
 KOSOVA'S UN ADMINISTRATOR TO DISCUSS ISSUE WITH MACEDONIAHans Haekkerup said on 29 March that he would discuss the Krivenik shelling incident during his meeting with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in Skopje, which was scheduled to take place on 30 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Trajkovski, for his part, said he had spoken about the general situation in Macedonia with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 29 March. He said Annan supports plans by Macedonia to begin a dialogue with ethnic Albanian officials in Macedonia. Trajkovski added that he is also in daily contact with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana. PB
 TALKS BETWEEN ETHNIC ALBANIANS AND SERBS IN PRESEVO CALLED OFFA meeting between the Serbian government and ethnic Albanian insurgents aimed at reducing violence in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley was canceled on 29 March, AP reported. The meeting was called off because of a disagreement over an exchange of prisoners. Serbian official Milovan Coguric said talks can be held only after the rebels release four Serbian civilians and two Yugoslav soldiers kidnapped earlier this month. But the rebels said they will not do that until Serbian police release three ethnic Albanians arrested earlier this year on terrorism charges. Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic said such an exchange is a nonstarter. Januz Musliu, a representative of the ethnic Albanian guerilla group fighting the Serbs in the Presevo Valley, said the Serbs had also violated terms of a cease- fire agreement calling for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry. NATO-mediated talks between the two sides have thus far resulted in a fragile cease-fire and one meeting. PB
 U.S. TO DECIDE ON CONTINUING AID TO YUGOSLAVIA"The New York Times" reported on 29 March that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is going to acknowledge an acceptable degree of cooperation by Belgrade with the UN war crimes tribunal and will approve of the disbursement of more aid. The U.S. Congress has mandated a decision from the government by 31 March. A positive response from Washington will lead to the disbursement of the second half of a $100 million aid package to Yugoslavia. PB
 15 GROUPS TO RUN IN MONTENEGRIN ELECTIONSThe Montenegrin Election Commission confirmed that 15 parties and factions have registered by the deadline to compete in parliamentary elections to be held in the Yugoslav republic next month, AP reported on 28 March. The main movements in the election will be a pro-independence alliance dominated by President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, and the opposition coalition called Together for Yugoslavia (TfY). Recent polls estimate Djukanovic's movement as having some 40 percent support, while TfY garners between 20 and 30 percent support from prospective voters. A strong victory by the pro-independence coalition will likely mean that a referendum on breaking away from Yugoslavia will be held. A recent poll showed nearly 60 percent support for an independent Montenegro. PB
 HDZ: ALL CROAT TROOPS LEFT BOSNIAN ARMYAccording to a statement issued on 29 March by the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)-led Croat National Assembly, "no more than 50 members" of the Bosnian Croat element of the Muslim-Croat federation's defense forces remain in their barracks, and these will soon leave, Reuters reported. The nationalist HDZ has called on all Croat soldiers to leave the army in a bid to establish self-rule of Croat-dominated areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Federation sources refused to say how many troops had left -- the HDZ said as many as 8,000 -- but said hundreds in the northern town of Orasje had returned to their posts. A former commander from the area, Ivo Filipovic, disputed this on Bosnian Croat radio, saying only the newly appointed commanders had declared loyalty to the government. DW
 CROATIAN MOB BOSS KILLED IN BROAD DAYLIGHTThe alleged boss of a Croatian criminal gang died of wounds suffered a week before in a mob-style shootout in broad daylight in Zagreb's second-largest square, AP reported. On 22 March, Vjeko Slisko was shot in the head by a Belgian citizen, who was then caught and shot in the forehead by Slisko's bodyguard. The Belgian man died 25 March and the bodyguard has been charged with murder. Interior Minister Sime Lucin faced pressure to resign, but a deputy police chief was fired instead and Lucin has vowed to crack down on crime. DW
 ROMANIAN CONSTITUTION TO BE AMENDEDThe ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the opposition National Liberal Party on 29 March agreed to amend the existing constitution, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Other political parties are to be also consulted and involved in the process. The amendments shall be discussed by a commission formed by constitutional experts, representatives of parties, the government, and the presidential office. Debates in the parliament on the commission's recommendations are to start in September 2001 and end by 30 March 2002, after which the amendments are to be submitted to a plebiscite. Among the envisaged changes are a differentiation between the prerogatives of the parliament's two chambers; introducing single mandate constituencies in the Senate elections; restricting the immunity of parliamentarians; guaranteeing property; and strengthening the prerogatives of the judiciary. The recent Democratic Party proposal to change the semipresidential system into a parliamentary system is not among the envisaged changes. MS
 ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY LEADER CRITICIZES 'NATIONALIST RHETORIC' IN PDSRHungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko on 29 March told the MTI Hungarian news agency that as of late "nationalist rhetoric" has re-emerged in the PDSR and this endangers the agreement under which the UDMR backs in the legislature the PDSR minority government, Mediafax reported. Marko said their agreement brought about some "positive results," counting among these the recently passed laws on local public administration and on the restitution of real estate. At the local government level, however, PDSR prefects and mayors had dismissed ethnic Hungarian experts from their posts and this is "unacceptable to us," Marko said. On 28 March, the PDSR and the UDMR leadership discussed the 2001 budget and the UDMR said its support of the budget in the parliament depends on meeting its demands on Hungarian-language universities and the restitution of church property. MS
 THIRD PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY REGISTERED IN MOLDOVASixteen deputies representing the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) in the parliament on 29 March submitted a second candidacy of a PCM member, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The third presidential candidate on the ballot scheduled for 4 April is Valerian Cristea, who served in the previous legislature as chairman of the parliament's Committee for Social Issues, Health and the Environment. PCM deputy Maria Postoico denied that the move was prompted by PCM apprehension that outgoing Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis might withdraw from the race against Vladimir Voronin at the last moment, thereby creating a legal deadlock, but provided no other explanation for Cristea's candidacy. The existing legislation makes no provision for single presidential candidacies. MS
 LUCINSCHI WINS IN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT...TOO LATE. The Constitutional Court on 29 March heeded the appeal of outgoing President Petru Lucinschi against the Electoral Code approved by the former legislature on 30 June 2000. In a bid to stop Lucinschi from organizing a referendum on Moldova's transformation to a presidential system, the code introduced a differentiation between "consultative" and "constitutional" plebiscites, with the former plebiscites being viewed as "non-binding." The court ruled that the decision to deprive citizens of the right to initiate a constitutional amendment amounts to infringing on the constitutional provision that "national sovereignty belongs to the people" and ordered the distinction between the two referenda struck out of the code, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS
 BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NATO MAY USE TERRITORY IN BALKAN CRISISForeign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 29 March said the memorandum recently signed with NATO would allow the alliance to use Bulgarian territory in the event of a Balkan crisis, Reuters reported. The text of the memorandum and an accompanying note from the government says Bulgaria will allow NATO forces taking part in operations to secure peace in the Balkans to use its land, air and sea space. A spokesman for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) said the BSP will back the memorandum's ratification in the parliament, but the agreement was not likely to advance aspirations for NATO membership, as the ruling Union of Democratic Forces "is making people believe ahead of the [17 June] elections." MS
 U.S. DEFENSE EXPERTS TO STUDY BULGARIAN ARMS INDUSTRYFormer NATO Supreme Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark, is to arrive in Bulgaria on 9 April to head a delegation of U.S. defense experts who will study Bulgaria's military industries slated for privatization, the English- language daily "Monitor" reported on 28 March. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source said U.S. arms makers are showing a keen interest in the Sopot-based VZM plant, which produces munitions and artillery equipment. The U.S. weapons manufacturers are also interested in the Arsenal small-arms maker in the town of Kazanlak, the source aid. Clark is to meet with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and Defense Minister Boiko Noev, and will prepare a report about Bulgaria's military industry that will be made available to potential U.S. investors in this sector. MS
 BULGARIA POSTPONES VISA REQUIREMENT FOR SOME EASTERN TOURISTSThe government on 28 March decided to postpone until 1 October the introduction of visa requirements for tourists traveling to Bulgaria on organized package tours from Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia, Reuters reported. An official statement said the government "expects substantial revenues from tourism this year and the introduction of the requirement at the beginning of the summer season could have hindered bookings." The requirement remains in place for citizens of the three countries traveling to Bulgaria privately and will come into force as of 14 June. MS
 AUSTRIAN BANK DENIES BULGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER'S STATEMENTA spokeswoman for Bank Austria denied that the bank has reached an agreement with BSP leader Georgi Parvanov to manage the country's foreign debt should the BSP win the June parliamentary elections, the daily "Demokratsiya," cited by "Monitor" reported on 29 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 March 2001). The spokeswoman said the bank "would never engage in interfering in Bulgaria's domestic affairs, such as managing its foreign debt." She said the talks Parvanov conducted with the Austrian bank's officials concerned the possibility of Bank Austria consulting in privatization projects and were "informative in nature." MS
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES WAGES AHEAD OF ELECTIONSThe government on 29 March decided to raise by 10 percent wages in sectors funded by the state, "Monitor" reported. Earlier on 29 March, President Petar Stoyanov set 17 June as the date for parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001). MS
 BULGARIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER RESTRICTS USE OF WATER FOR INDUSTRYDue to the danger of a renewed drought, Environment Minister Evdokia Maneva on 29 March banned industrial use of water from state-owned reservoirs, "Monitor" reported. The ban was imposed without any time limit. Water from state-owned reservoirs is to be used only for household purposes. Under the ordinance issued by Maneva, industrial use of reservoir water for purposes such as power generation or irrigation requires special ministerial permission, which will be issued only in case of "proven urgent necessity." MS
[C] END NOTE
 DOES KREMLIN RESHUFFLE AUGUR REAL CHANGE?By Jeremy Bransten and Sophie Lambroschini
On 28 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin made substantial changes in the Russian government, replacing the interior and defense ministers -- among other cabinet officials -- with close personal associates. Putin said those moves would advance plans for military reform and what he called the "demilitarization" of Russian public life.
Analysts say the government reshuffle further consolidates Putin's grip on power, promoting people closely associated with Putin while downgrading officials associated with former President Boris Yeltsin. But at the same time they point out that, in contrast to Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who resigned in the wake of a conflict-of-interest scandal, dismissed former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo have been reassigned to still prestigious, although less influential, positions. Moreover, those analysts are uncertain whether Putin's new appointments will translate into significant changes in government policies.
Putin himself emphasized that the two top people at the Defense Ministry, as well as the head of the Interior Ministry, will now be civilians, a move he termed "a step toward the demilitarization of Russian society." But although new Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is now a civilian, he had previously served for 20 years in the Soviet and Russian security services - - where he was a colleague of Putin -- rising to the rank of general in the KGB. Ivanov is seen as Putin's most-trusted ally, precisely because of bonds formed during their joint KGB work.
Michael McFaul, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment, notes that Rushailo's replacement as interior minister by Boris Gryzlov -- who heads the pro-Kremlin Unity faction in the Duma -- is also important.
"It's a further consolidation of Putin's power over ministries where he previously did not have his people in place. Both the interior appointment and the appointments at the ministry of defense -- these are now loyalists to Mr. Putin. Rushailo, especially, was a holdover from [businessman Boris] Berezovsky's clan, so that's a big change and important in terms of Putin's consolidation," McFaul explained.
Speaking to RFE/RL late on 28 March, opposition Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Ivanenko pointed to another sign that Putin is succeeding in imposing his own team. Ivanenko noted that despite the major changes, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is regarded as a Yeltsin-man, was left completely out of the picture. Ivanenko said: "In essence, this is a government of Putin, who is in reality the government's head. He directly controls all of his ministers and in this sense the fact Kasyanov was not mentioned once today is very revealing."
But will the change in government personnel mean a change in policy? Putin clearly implied sweeping changes. He said on 28 March that the reshuffle was prompted by the situation in the North Caucasus and the need to get on with a long-awaited military reform. Yet all the officials responsible for waging Russia's latest war in Chechnya are still in place, albeit in different posts.
Moscow-based defense analyst Francoise Deauce sees some hope that new Defense Minister Ivanov can shake up the military. "He is someone who is outside the armed forces, who has a lot of authority -- notably from his [earlier] posts inside the security services -- and so maybe he can impose decisions on the army that it might see as going against its interests. In other words, he may be capable of fighting the corporatism of the military institutions that until now was largely responsible for braking successive attempts at military reforms since 1991."
Stephan De Spiegeleire, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Europe policy think tank, is more pessimistic. He said the equation is very simple: until the war in Chechnya is ended, no significant reforms can be expected, no matter what appointments Putin makes from his inner circle.
New Defense Minister Ivanov indicated on 28 March that there would be no "revolution" in military reforms, adding that any changes would be gradual. Military reforms such as streamlining and reorganizing the army, strict reduction of personnel, and the introduction of a professional, rather than conscript, army have been announced for the past decade as indispensable to cut costs and adapt to new realities. But they have never been implemented.
Analysts further note that the reshuffling of a few key cabinet members will not in itself guarantee meaningful reforms. Divisive factions that existed in the upper echelons of the Russian government and the military before Putin came to power still exist. Analyst De Spiegeleire argues that Putin may have a harder time imposing his authority on the machinery of government than his predecessors, as he still lacks their political power base.
"The infighting that's going on -- that has been going on for a very long time -- hasn't stopped just because Putin came in. There may be some different interest groups that are involved right now but the main fact that -- also within the military -- there are some clans that keep fighting is not going to change by the mere appointment of Ivanov. Unlike previous leaders of Russia, or the Soviet Union, who grew up as first [Communist Party] secretaries and had a huge cadre of people around them, Putin doesn't have it," he commented.
Sophie Lambroschini is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent and Jeremy Bransten is an RFE/RL senior editor based in Prague.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty