|Wednesday, 21 February 2024
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 136, 97-10-10
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 136, 10 October 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS...Akezhan Kazhegeldin, currently in Switzerland for medical treatment, tendered his resignation on 10 October, as did his cabinet. President Nursultan Nazarbaev accepted Kazhegeldin's resignation, allegedly on health grounds, but asked the government to continue to discharge its duties. Addressing the parliament earlier the same day, Nazarbaev had acknowledged the government's "energetic" work but said that "reforms have been insufficient and in some aspects have not produced the desired results." Kazhegeldin's resignation had been widely predicted following allegations of corruption and two interviews with Russian newspapers in September in which he claimed to have been recruited by the KGB in the late 1980s and to have played a key role in the arms scandal. Kazhegeldin also predicted that all the younger members of his cabinet would soon resign. Nazarbaev reacted to Kazhegeldin's September revelations by immediately appointing Deputy Premier Ahmetzhan Yesimov acting premier.
 ...WHILE PRESIDENT NAMES SUCCESSORAddressing the parliament on 10 October, Nazarbaev named Nurlan Balgimbaev, the head of the Kazakhstan National Petroleum Company, as prime minister. Balgimbaev, who will turn 50 in November, is a graduate of the Kazakh Polytechnical Institute and has spent most of his working life as an engineer in the oil sector. Between 1986 and 1992, he worked in the former USSR Oil and Gas Industry Ministry in Moscow. He then studied at MIT, in the U.S., and at Chevron's headquarters. He was appointed Kazakh oil and gas industry minister in October 1994 and head of the state oil company created to replace that ministry in March 1997.
 TAJIK PRESIDENT ORDERS RELEASE OF OPPOSITION MEMBERSFollowing his 8 October meeting with United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri, Imomali Rakhmonov has ordered the release by 12 October of some 170 out of 700 jailed opposition supporters, according to an Interfax report. An amnesty for participants in the 1992-1993 fighting provides for their release. Rakhmonov and Nuri also discussed how to repatriate opposition fighters still in Afghanistan and where they should be stationed once back in Tajikistan.
 TAJIK MILITARY MOVES TO FREE HOSTAGESThe Tajik presidential guard on 9 October launched an operation to locate and secure the release of six hostages currently held by warlord Rizvon Sodirov on the outskirts of Dushanbe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 1997). Davlat Usmon, the chief of staff of the armed units subordinate to the UTO, told ITAR-TASS that "it is time to put an end to terrorism, lawlessness, and hostage-taking." He said that "adequate measures" will be taken against all illegal armed groups that fail to comply with the 16 November deadline to surrender their arms.
 ARMENIA AGREES "IN PRINCIPLE" TO KARABAKH PEACE PLANArmenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 9 October that Armenia has accepted in writing the most recent Karabakh peace plan proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. Gasparyan said Armenia accepts the plan "as a basis for further negotiations" but has unspecified serious reservations about it. Gasparyan denied statements by some Azerbaijani officials that the plan's first stage involves an immediate withdrawal of Karabakh Armenian forces from six occupied Azerbaijani districts and that the future of the Shusha and Lachin districts will be solved at the same time as the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh's status. Mediators have not yet decided on "the sequence of the stages," he commented. Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade told Interfax on 9 October that Azerbaijan gave its written acceptance of the peace plan on 8 October.
 SHOOTINGS ON CIS-TURKISH FRONTIERShortly after taking off from Batumi on 8 October, a Russian border guards helicopter came under fire, Russian agencies reported. The helicopter belonged to the Russian border guards unit that, together with its Georgian counterpart, jointly controls the Georgian-Turkish frontier. The helicopter was badly damaged, but none of the crew or passengers were injured. In a second incident on 9 October, Russian border guards in Armenia were fired on from Turkish territory. No casualties were reported. The Turkish Foreign Ministry denied any knowledge of the first incident, while the governor of Artvin province said on 9 October that local peasants had opened fire on the helicopter. According to the Russian Federal Border Service, the helicopter had not entered Turkish airspace.
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 UN POLICE ACCUSE BOSNIAN CROATS OF COVER-UPThe UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia said on 9 October that Bosnian Croat police in Mostar have withheld evidence about the 18 September bomb blast. The IPTF noted that as a result, it cannot certify the investigation into the bombing as correct. Police in Croatian-held west Mostar have not yet announced the results of their investigation into the explosion, which took place in the courtyard of the main Bosnian Croat police station, wounding dozens of people. UN spokesman Alex Ivanko said the IPTF believed that local canton Interior Minister Valentin Coric had ordered forensic evidence given to investigators from neighboring Croatia, which have no jurisdiction in the case.
 DRVAR POLICE SUPERINTENDENT BLASTS SFORIvan Jurcevic has criticized the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) for allegedly failing to abide by a 9 October agreement between representatives of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina and local authorities in Drvar, which is administered by the Bosnian Croats. He said SFOR has refused to remove check-points outside the village of Martin Brod, near Drvar, Hina reported. As a result, he alleged, displaced Croats accommodated in Martin Brod are without food for the third day while Serbian returnees in the village are being regularly supplied with food by SFOR members. An attempt by the local church and the Red Cross to bring food to displaced Croats failed because barricades had been put up outside Martin Brod and SFOR patrols were controlling all roads leading to the village, Jurcevic said.
 BANJA LUKA EDITOR TARGET OF CAR BOMBA bomb explosion destroyed a car belonging to Gordan Matrak, the editor-in- chief of the daily "Glas Srpski" in Banja Luka on 9 October in Banja Luka. No one was injured but two other cars were damaged and windows on a nearby building shattered. The Republika Srpska parliament condemned the attack in a statement saying "we do not approve of any terrorist actions against persons with different political views. We demand that political struggles be waged by political means and that all those who use force against persons with different views to theirs be dealt with by the law immediately."
 BANJA LUKA ACCUSES PALE POLICE OVER DERVENTA INCIDENTThe Public Security Center in Banja Luka, which is loyal to Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, has accused police loyal to Pale of causing the recent incident near Derventa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). Pro- Pale police claimed to have thwarted an attempt by pro Plavsic police to occupy police stations in Derventa, Teslic, Bijeljina, and Brod. But the Banja Luka police said in a statement that it has "reliable information" that the Pale police wanted to take advantage of the "Autumn '97" military exercises for an "illegal assault into territory under the control of the Banja Luka police" between Derventa and Prnjavor, BETA reported. In a bid to prevent this, the statement continued, "strong police forces" loyal to Plavsic seized all roads west of Derventa.
 SERB DEMOCRATS CLAIM LOCAL ELECTION VICTORY IN BRCKOThe Pale-based ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) said on 9 October that it has won in the majority of municipalities in the Republika Sprska in the recent local elections. Slobodan Kovac, the Bosnian Serb Republic member of the provisional election commission in Brcko, said 17 councilors will be from SDS, seven from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), and six from the Socialist Party of the Serbian Republic (SPRS). Of the non-Serbian parties, the Coalition for a Single and Democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina won 16 seats, the Party of Democratic Changes of Bosnia-Herzegovina seven, and the Croatian Democratic Union three. The SDS's main committee concluded that the party's greatest success was its victory in Brcko and some other municipalities where parties from the Muslim-Croatian Federation had hoped to win.
 SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATEOpposition Civic Alliance of Serbia leader Vesna Pesic says she hopes discussions among opposition parties that boycotted the recent presidential elections will result in a common candidate, "Nasa Borba" reported on 10 October. She said a joint candidate would have a real chance of victory since voters cast their ballots in protest at the government rather than in support of a given party. Pesic added that the authorities must reach a clear agreement with the opposition to ensure democratic conditions in the next elections. Meanwhile, former Belgrade mayor and opposition Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told "Nais" TV that he no longer wants to be a candidate in the next presidential elections. He said he is the victim of a well synchronized campaign in the official media.
 U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY AUTHORIZES PARTIAL WITHDRAWAL FROM MACEDONIAThe U.S. Defense Department announced on 9 October that William Cohen has authorized that the withdrawal of 150 of the 500 U.S. peacekeepers in Macedonia start in October. The move follows a decision by the UN to decrease its peacekeeping force in Macedonia, which is composed of U.S. and Scandinavian troops, from 1,050 to 750 soldiers.
 CROATIAN PRESIDENT FOUNDS TRUST COMMITTEEFranjo Tudjman on 9 October established a National Committee for the Realization of the Trust Establishment Program, Accelerated Return, and Normalization of Life in War-Ravaged Areas of Croatia, Tudjman's office said in a statement, reported by HINA The committee is to help "create a general atmosphere of tolerance and safety, establish equality and trust among all citizens of Croatia, create general social, political, security, and economic preconditions for the normalization of life, organize the return of refugees and displaced Croatian citizens, establish a democratic society and create a political framework for the implementation of legal norms in war-ravaged areas." Tudjman has nominated his deputy chief of staff, Vesna Skare Ozbolt, to head the committee.
 NORTH ATLANTIC ASSEMBLY MEETS IN BUCHARESTThe North Atlantic Assembly (NAA), the parliamentary arm of NATO, opened its fall session in Bucharest on 10 October--the first time the assembly has convened in a former Warsaw Pact country. At a press conference in Bucharest the previous day, NAA Secretary-General Simon Lunn said the assembly's choice of Romania for the session is "clear" recognition of that country's progress toward democracy and its will to be admitted into NATO, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana will address the meeting on 13 October.
 HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SUMS UP ROMANIAN VISITAt a press conference in Budapest following his two-day visit to Romania, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said Bucharest does not consider it possible split the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj into separate Romanian and Hungarian sections but will not hinder the establishment of an autonomous Hungarian university elsewhere, an RFE/RL corespondent in Budapest reported on 9 October. At a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, in Bucharest, Kovacs said both governments are duty-bound to act against manifestations of extreme nationalism. In this connection, he mentioned "anti-Hungarian" positions in Romanian "political rhetoric" and in the media. Kovacs said the government in Budapest would take action if anti-Romanian reports were to appear in Hungary.
 ROMANIAN "REVOLUTIONARIES" CONTINUE PROTESTFollowing their meeting with Senate Chairman Petre Roman, members of the "1989 revolutionaries" associations said they have launched a hunger strike in protest at the government's intention to change the law granting them benefits.(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). Roman told the protesters he opposes the envisaged changes in the law. They agreed that a joint commission should be set up to examine the authenticity of claims about participation in the 1989 uprising.
 CHISINAU, TIRASPOL NEGOTIATORS REACH AGREEMENTAt the end of negotiations in Moscow from 5-9 October, experts from Moldova and the separatist Transdniester region reached an agreement, BASA-press reported. No details on the agreement were released, but observers believe it deals with the division of areas of competence. The agreement is to be forwarded to the respective leaders for final approval.
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES HOLDING REFERENDAThe parliament on 9 October debated the demands by the Socialist Unity- Edinstvo and the Communist factions for referenda on the laws on selling and purchasing land and on raising the retirement age from 60 to 65, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Socialist Unity-Edinstvo is also demanding a plebiscite on the law on the country's administrative division. Rejecting those demands, parliamentary deputy chairman Andrei Diaconu argued that the law on selling and purchasing land was passed in the summer and that the other legislation has still to be debated. He also said that the 245,000 signatures collected by the Communists in support of a referendum carry no weight since the constitution makes no provision for forcing a vote through popular support.
 BULGARIA TO PUNISH BAD DEBTORSThe parliament on 9 October approved a law stripping debtors of their right to bank secrecy in a bid to alleviate the country's bad loans problem, AFP reported from Sofia. The law gives Bulgarians one month to start repaying debts incurred after 1991 and sizable ones dating from 1987 to 1991. Otherwise, they face having their names made public by the National Bank. Fourteen banks crashed in 1996 under the weight of losses of $ 230 million, mainly incurred through bad loans to state and private companies. Also on 9 October, the parliament passed a law to allow government departments and the State Prosecutor's office to use phone-tapping and other monitoring techniques after receiving court authorization. A law adopted in June allows such information to be used as evidence in courts.
[C] END NOTE
 GAZPROM'S PLANS STRAIN RUSSIAN-BULGARIAN RELATIONSby Ron Synovitz
A dispute over Gazprom's plans for a Balkan pipeline network has developed into a political crisis between Sofia and Moscow. Bulgarian officials accuse Moscow of letting Gazprom's economic agenda influence foreign relations. Bulgarian newspapers go further, charging that Moscow is using the Russian natural gas monopoly's economic influence to pressure Sofia on issues such as the Bulgarian desire to join NATO and the EU. At the root of the dispute is a battle for control of pipelines that carry Russian natural gas across Bulgaria to Macedonia, Turkey, Serbia, and Greece.
The disagreement has stalled construction for years of a crucial pipeline link from Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to Greece's Aegean Sea port at Alexandropolis. Gazprom insists that the project's joint venture, Topenergy, should be given control of Bulgaria's gas pipeline network for nearly 50 years. That would essentially give Gazprom control of pipelines on Bulgarian territory because the Russian firm owns 50 percent of Topenergy and has the allegiance of the largest Bulgarian partner, the private conglomerate Multigroup. Gazprom also wants a Multigroup-owned distributor, Overgas, to be an intermediary for most Russian gas deliveries in Bulgaria.
The demands have angered Sofia's pro-market government, which controls only 20 percent of Topenergy through the state-owned Bulgargaz. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's cabinet complains that a private monopolist intermediary like Multigroup would force impoverished Bulgarians to pay 30 percent more than German consumers now pay for Russian gas. Instead, Kostov wants gas deliveries in Bulgaria to be handled by Bulgargaz. Sofia also wants Multigroup subsidiaries to sell their Topenergy shares to Bulgargaz, thus raising the state holding to 50 percent.
Bulgaria depends upon Russia for oil and gas, and Gazprom is the largest and perhaps most politically influential company in Russia. Allegations that Gazprom has a powerful say in Moscow's political decisions are based on the fact that Viktor Chernomyrdin headed the firm from its creation in the late 1980s until he became Russian prime minister in 1992.
Meanwhile, many companies under the Multigroup umbrella are reported to have been started by Sofia's totalitarian-era ruling elite in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Headed by alleged Soviet-era Bulgarian Intelligence Service agent Iliya Pavlov, Multigroup has been accused of draining the Bulgarian economy by plundering assets of state firms through hidden privatization schemes.
The late Andrei Lukanov also has been closely linked to Multigroup. Lukanov, a former Communist Party Central Committee member, became Bulgaria's first post-communist premier after helping orchestrate the fall of dictator Todor Zhivkov in November 1989. Some three years earlier, Lukanov's friendship with Chernomyrdin helped him negotiate a cheap gas supply contract that continued until early this year. The contract benefited firms like the state steel maker Kremikovtzi, by far the largest Bulgarian consumer of Russian gas, and the private Intersteel Ltd., a Multigroup subsidiary that has profited from conducting Kremikovtzi's trade operations. Lukanov was also Topenergy's first board chairman, a position that he held until a few months before his assassination by an unknown gunman in Sofia on 2 October 1996. His successor at Topenergy was Multigroup's Pavlov.
Recent editorials in the Sofia press have exacerbated tensions by charging that Gazprom is trying to retain a monopoly on the gas market for both itself and its Multigroup partners in order to give Moscow leverage over the political situation in Sofia. Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Leonid Kerestedjiantz has called the articles "organized harassment." But Prime Minister Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova have both said they are feeling pressure from the Russian government. Mihailova has urged Moscow not to confuse economic disputes with political relations.
Ivan Krastev, a political scientist in Sofia who sometimes advises the government, says Gazprom is trying to implement a calculated plan that threatens Bulgarian independence on issues like NATO and European Union membership. He argues that a Gazprom-backed intermediary would allow Russia to limit the sovereignty of small countries by raising gas prices or refusing to deliver supplies. He calls the scenario the "doctrine of Vyakhirev," in reference to current Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev.
Gazprom and Bulgargaz have so far failed to reach agreement on a new gas contract. The Bulgarian Interior Ministry has accused Gazprom of trying to "blackmail" Sofia with high prices.
Moreover, relations have been strained further by Sofia's recent refusal to invite Russia to talks with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and defense officials from eight southeastern European countries. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov refused to meet Mihailova in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. Primakov's spokesman said Bulgaria tried too late to arrange the meeting. But Mihailova's spokesman says Sofia tried repeatedly to confirm a meeting that had been agreed in advance.
The author is an RFE/RL news editor.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty