|Thursday, 24 September 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 17, 97-04-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 17, 23 April 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SUPPORTS TRASECA PROJECT, LUKASHENKA PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE.Askar Akayev and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, held talks in Tbilisi yesterday that focused on strengthening bilateral relations and cooperating in transportation, RFE/RL's bureau in the Georgian capital reported. Akayev stressed the importance to Kyrgyzstan of the TRASECA road and rail project that will link China, Central Asia, and the Transcaucasus with Europe. Kyrgyzstan has received a $140 million loan from Japan to finance its participation in the project. Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka proposed in Seoul yesterday the creation of a Beijing-Moscow-Minsk transport corridor "not only as a victory for the economy but as a response to NATO enlargement," Interfax reported. Belarusian economists say the corridor would constitute a cheaper and safer way of transporting Chinese goods to the CIS and Europe than existing routes. Lukashenka said he will discuss the project with the Chinese leadership in Beijing on 28 April.
 IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR CLOSER REGIONAL COOPERATON.Ali Akbar Velayati told journalists in Baku yesterday that the Transcaucasian countries should join forces to prevent the increase of U.S. influence in the region, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. He also said that the liberation of Azerbaijani territories currently occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces should take place without the intervention of external powers. Velayati refused to answer questions about Iranian economic cooperation with Armenia or about his government's failure to honor an agreement to open an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz. In response to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's request to "exert influence" on Armenia to expedite a settlement to the Karabakh conflict, Velayati said Iran will do what it can to promote "normal relations" between Azerbaijan and Armenia, according to ITAR- TASS.
 NORTH CAUCASIAN PRESIDENTS WANT GREATER ROLE IN MEDIATING ABKHAZ CONFLICT.The presidents of Russia's North Caucasian republics believe that, given the opportunity, they could mediate a political settlement between the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported yesterday, citing BS-Press. Unnamed North Caucasian leaders are reportedly unhappy that the mediation process is monopolized by international organizations. They say they want to play a greater role in that process. Georgia enjoys harmonious relations with North Ossetia and is expanding ties with Chechnya. Georgian First Deputy Security Minister Avtandil Ioseliani will travel to the North Caucasus next month.
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 BULGARIAN PARTIES MEET TO DISCUSS POST-ELECTION STRATEGY.Ivan Kostov, leader of the United Democratic Forces (ODS), which won the 19 April parliamentary elections, yesterday met with representatives of the four other parties that won seats in the legislature, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov said after the talks that his formation agrees in general with the ODS's anti-crisis program but remains opposed to the application to join NATO. Euroleft, which is composed largely of Socialist Party defectors, will support the program. Leaders of the Union for National Salvation (ONS) told Kostov they wanted a more detailed discussion of the IMF deal agreed on last month. But Ahmed Dogan, leader of the largely ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which is also a member of the ONS, did not attend the meeting. Kostov said his absence was a "bad beginning" for future cooperation.
 ALBANIAN REBELS CALL MEETING TO DISCUSS INTERNATIONAL FORCE.Rebel leader Albert Shyti announced in Vlora yesterday that representatives from all rebel town councils in southern Albania will meet in Vlora on 25 Arpil. Shyti says it is "time to evaluate the relations between us and the multinational force." Vlora council member Ylli Mecaj said that the foreign troops are officially in the city to distribute aid, adding that "they must involve themselves only with that and not form a direct or indirect alliance with [President Sali] Berisha." Rebel leaders fear that the force may help to shore up the embattled president as the June elections draw near. Vlora residents have so far given the foreign troops a friendly welcome.
 ALBANIAN PRESIDENT STANDS BY POLICE CHIEF.Speaking in Tirana yesterday, Berisha reiterated his opposition to the 19 April dismissal of national police chief Agim Shehu. The government has defended its decision to sack Shehu by saying he is not acceptable to the Albanian public. It is unclear whether Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has signed a formal dismissal. Shehu is a close Berisha ally, and many Albanians blame him for police brutality against Berisha's opponents. Nine out of the ten parties in the broad coalition government voted to oust Shehu.
 ALBANIAN ROUNDUP.Italian military spokesmen said in Rome today that tugs have freed the cruiser Vittorio Veneto, which ran aground off Vlora on 21 April. In the central industrial town of Elbasan, the World Food Program reported yesterday that it has delivered more than 200 tons of flour in the presence of Italian troops. In Brussels, the WEU said it is sending a delegation to Tirana today to assess what is needed to rebuild Albania's police force. In Tirana, police officials said yesterday that a bomb destroyed the car of Arben Ujka, deputy chief of the city's criminal police force. And in Rome, the Health Ministry announced that it has signed an agreement with its Albanian counterpart to help revive Albania's health care services.
 UN'S KLEIN CERTIFIES SLAVONIAN ELECTIONS.Jacques Klein, the UN administrator for the last Serb-held part of Croatia, said in Vukovar yesterday that the 13-15 April elections in the region were "free and fair," despite irregularities that prompted an extension of polling time. He remarked that the vote in eastern Slavonia presented "a victory for reconciliation, [refugees'] return, and a better future." Klein said he had "duly considered but dismissed" all complaints and based his decision on monitors' reports. Final election returns confirmed earlier, unofficial ones (see RFE/RL Newsline, 21 April 1997). Klein is now preparing a plan to enable refugees to return to their homes on either side of the former front lines.
 SERBIAN-CROATIAN COALITION IN VUKOVAR?Vojislav Stanimirovic, the leader of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS), said in Zagreb yesterday that he can envisage a coalition in the Vukovar town council between his party and President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. The SDSS and HDZ are the two largest parties in the council, but the balance of power lies with the Independents, led by local kingpin Tomislav Mercep. Mercep is regarded by many Serbs as a war criminal and has many enemies in the HDZ. The Serbs took Vukovar in a long and destructive siege in 1991, and its return to Croatia is a highly emotional issue in that country.
 CROATIA ADMITS RIGHTS ABUSES AGAINST SERBS.Ante Klaric, the Croatian government's ombudsman, said in Zagreb yesterday that there have been violations of Croatian Serbs' human rights and that Serbian refugees have been prevented from going home. Klaric noted that returning refugees face legal obstacles to getting their homes back and then often find that Croats are living in them. This is the first time that a government official has admitted such abuses against Serbs in the areas recaptured by the Croatian army in 1995, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb.
 TRIAL OF "ZVORNIK SEVEN" ENDS.Bosnian Serbs wrapped up a controversial murder trial of seven Muslims in Zvornik yesterday. The proceedings closed after the court-appointed defense lawyers were given just five minutes to speak. The international community's Deputy High Representative Michael Steiner had demanded that the Serbs allow the "Zvornik Seven" to choose their own lawyers. The Serbs refused on the grounds that the Muslim lawyers chosen by the men are not citizens of the Republika Srpska. The accused say the Serbs tortured them in the jail where they have been since U.S. peacekeepers handed them over to Serb police last May. A verdict is due to be announced tomorrow.
 ROMANIA OFFERS TO REPLACE U.S. TROOPS IN BOSNIA.Foreign Minister Adrian Severin says Romania is ready to replace the U.S. troops in Bosnia when they withdraw next year. Severin was speaking at his meeting yesterday with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum, Radio Bucharest reported. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Severin on 21 April that the U.S. wants Romania to be part of the process of unifying Europe. But she said "no decisions have been made by NATO on which new countries would be taken in." Meanwhile, leaders of the U.S. Jewish communities have urged the Romanian government to take down a statue of wartime leader Ion Antonescu erected by his sympathizers on the site of the marshal's 1946 execution, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported.
 IMF APPROVES LOAN TO ROMANIA.The IMF yesterday approved a $400 million stand-by loan to Romania, which will be released in five installments of $80 million each, Radio Bucharest reports. The IMF will monitor the progress of Romania's implementation of the reforms program before releasing each installment. In other news, George Danielescu, a former deputy chairman of the National Liberal Party and a former minister of finance, is under investigation on suspicion of forgery and fraud in connection with a mutual investment fund, Romanian TV reported yesterday. Gen. Victor Athanasie Stanculescu, who is also under investigation (see RFE/RL Newsline, 21 April 1997), said the case against him was "political" and aimed at discrediting the former government of Petre Roman. Finally, the government on 21 April revoked the licenses of two private banks--Credit Bank and Dacia Felix-- which ran into solvency difficulties nine months ago.
 UKRAINE DISTANCES ITSELF FROM CHISINAU-TIRASPOL MEMORANDUM.Ukrainian Ambassador to Chisinau Evhen Levitsky says his country welcomes the readiness of Chisinau and Tiraspol to sign the memorandum on ways to settle the conflict in Moldova but cannot agree with all its provisions. Levitsky told Infotag that Ukraine objects in particular to the memorandum's inclusion of a provision saying the CIS "has experience" in settling such conflicts. Ukraine believes that the OSCE, rather than CIS, can provide the best mechanisms for such tasks. Ukraine is a guarantor of the memorandum, which is to be signed in Moscow on 8 May. Levitsky said Kyiv considers the text of the memorandum "still open" because it has not been consulted on all the provisions.
[C] END NOTE
 "YEREVANGATE" DISCLOSURES LEAVE KEY QUESTIONS UNANSWEREDby Liz Fuller
More than two months have passed since the allegations of large-scale clandestine arms shipments from Russia to Armenia triggered a major political scandal. On 14 February, Moskovskii komsomolets reported that Russian weaponry was being illegally supplied to conflict zones, including Chechnya, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. The one concrete example cited was the transfer to Armenia in 1995 and 1996 of 84 T-72 tanks and 50 armored combat vehicles. At a news conference the same day, Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Aman Tuleev said the transfer of tanks and armored vehicles to Armenia had taken place and that Russia had received no payment for them. He said he had alerted senior Russian officials and asked them to investigate the matter.
In a letter to Tuleev released to the press in mid- March, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov confirmed the transfer of arms to Armenia, sparking denials from the Armenian Foreign Ministry, protests from Azerbaijan, and speculation in the Russian press about who sanctioned the shipments. While corroborating details have since emerged, a number of key questions remain unanswered.
At a 2 April closed session of the Russian State Duma, Gen. Lev Rokhlin presented the findings of a Duma investigation, listing all the military hardware involved and specifying how, when, and with whose connivance it was transported to Armenia from various locations in the Russian Federation. Rokhlin estimated the worth of the equipment at more than $1 billion but exonerated Armenia of trying to avoid payment and suggested that huge sums of money had been misappropriated by middlemen. He also argued that the transfers could not have taken place without the knowledge of then Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and that former chief of staff Mikhail Kolesnikov could not have authorized them without consulting Grachev. He did not speculate about who could have given Grachev the green light to proceed but, revealing an implicit flaw in his argument, said the arms shipments continued after Igor Rodionov replaced Grachev as defense minister last July but without Rodionov's knowledge.
Possibly on the basis of Rokhlin's testimony, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia Ramiz Rizaev told journalists on 4 April that "the main culprits" were Grachev, Kolesnikov, and Col.-Gen. Fedor Reut, who was dismissed from his post as commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus on 4 March. In mid-April, a spokesman for the presidential Main Control Directorate announced that neither Russian President Boris Yeltsin nor the Russian government had authorized the arms shipments. Vladimir Putin, the head of the directorate, told reporters that Yeltsin knew the names of those responsible and that Grachev, who had been questioned by the directorate during its investigation, was not one of them.
Various hypotheses have been advanced as to why the arms transfers to Armenia were made public and for what reason, with much attention focusing on Rokhlin's perceived role. It has been suggested that the whole objective of the leak was to thwart the Duma's ratification of the 1995 agreement, signed by Yeltsin and Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossyan, permitting Russia to maintain a military presence in Armenia. (The Duma ratified that agreement last week by an overwhelming majority.) In early February, Nezavisimaya gazeta's Yerevan correspondent identified Rokhlin as one of the authors of a draft Duma resolution calling for a revision of Russia's military-strategic policy in the Transcaucasus-- but not, as some observers have argued, the closure of Russian bases in Georgia and Armenia, which Rokhlin opposes. True, there are interest groups in Moscow that advocate revising Russia's Transcaucasus policy to favor oil-rich Azerbaijan at the expense of Moscow's traditional ally, Armenia. But Yeltsin stated unequivocally at the CIS summit in March that it is he who determines Russia's policy toward the CIS member states.
It is conceivable that the data cited by Moskovskii komsomolets was deliberately leaked by Defense Ministry officials angry at the continued underfunding that has weakened Russia's military potential, with the aim of embarrassing and thereby exerting pressure on Yeltsin. Rokhlin, for his part, has repeatedly stressed that his disclosures were not directed against Armenia and that his primary concern was to prevent further astronomical financial losses. The sum of $1 billion, he points out, would pay for 30,000 apartments for military personnel or three months wages for all officers and warrant officers of Russia's armed forces.
Other players with other motives may also have been involved in the "Yerevangate" affair. The findings of the ongoing Russian Military Procuracy investigation may clarify the still unanswered questions-- assuming they are made public.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty