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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 23, 01-02-02

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. 23, 2 February 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT GIVES INTERVIEW TO TURKISH MEDIA
  • [02] ARMENIAN SECURITY MINISTRY DISCOVERS ANOTHER ARMS CACHE
  • [03] ARMENIAN TAX REVENUES SOAR
  • [04] POLL INDICATES EXTENT OF ARMENIANS' GLOOM
  • [05] AZERBAIJANI POLICE CONTINUE BLOCKADE OF WAR INVALIDS' HEADQUARTERS
  • [06] AZERBAIJAN PASSES AMNESTY LAW
  • [07] SUPPORTERS OF FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONE COLLECTIVE SUICIDE
  • [08] KAZAKHSTAN HOPES FOR OBSERVER STATUS IN PACE...
  • [09] ...PLANS TO DOUBLE GRAIN EXPORTS TO IRAN
  • [10] RESIDENTS OF KYRGYZ CAPITAL PROTEST GAS, HEATING SHORTAGES
  • [11] TURKMENISTAN INTRODUCES ENTRY DUE FOR UZBEK CITIZENS
  • [12] TURKMEN AUTHORITIES HUNT FOR FUGITIVE PROTESTANT PASTOR...
  • [13] ...BUT BACKTRACK ON CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [14] MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS U.S. PRESENCE 'NECESSARY AND MORAL'
  • [15] POWELL GIVES MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT 'BRUSH-OFF'
  • [16] SERBIAN FORCES SHELL DEMILITARIZED ZONE...
  • [17] ...WHILE SERBIAN AUTHORITIES TALK PEACE
  • [18] BRITISH TROOPS QUELL RIOTING IN MITROVICA
  • [19] MILOSEVIC UNDER POLICE WATCH
  • [20] BELGRADE THIEVES RELIEVE SLOVENIAN DELEGATION OF TWO CARS
  • [21] EXPLOSION DAMAGES TITO-ERA WAR MONUMENT IN CROATIAN CAPITAL
  • [22] CANDIDATE FOR BOSNIA'S MODERATES?
  • [23] ROMANIAN ULTRANATIONALIST CRITICIZES PREMIER
  • [24] ROMANIA FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE
  • [25] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO MEET WITH ILIESCU
  • [26] GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT LEADER CALLS FOR FEDERALIZATION OF MOLDOVA
  • [27] BULGARIAN PREMIER SUPPORTS STOYANOV FOR SECOND TERM
  • [28] BULGARIAN POLICE CHIEF TO REMAIN ON JOB
  • [29] BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MULLS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION AGAINST GOVERNMENT

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [30] IMF VISITS RUSSIA FOR NEW TALKS

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT GIVES INTERVIEW TO TURKISH MEDIA

    In an interview with prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand that appeared in the "Turkish Daily News" on 1 February, Robert Kocharian said that even if Turkey were to acknowledge the 1915 genocide, Armenia has no legal grounds for making any territorial claims on Turkey and will not do so. Nor, Kocharian said, will the Republic of Armenia request compensation from Turkey for the sufferings of the genocide victims. He said it is not even necessary for Turkey to admit to "genocide," simply "mass killings," saying such an acknowledgment is "a matter of honor" for Armenia. Kocharian said the recent French parliament resolution recognizing the 1915 genocide was the result of lobbying by the Armenian community in that country, and that diaspora Armenians who are descendants of genocide victims have the right to lobby for the passage of such resolutions, and to file suit for compensation. Kocharian said that efforts by Armenia and the diaspora to achieve international recognition of the genocide proceed in tandem, adding that it is unimportant where those parallel campaigns are coordinated from. LF

    [02] ARMENIAN SECURITY MINISTRY DISCOVERS ANOTHER ARMS CACHE

    National Security officials have discovered and confiscated quantities of arms and ammunition on the territory of a private livestock farm in Ararat province, according to Snark on 31 January as cited by Groong. The weaponry included a grenade launcher, mines, explosive devices, home-made sub- machine guns and ammunition. An Armenian Defense Ministry official was arrested in December after quantities of arms and ammunition were found during a search of his apartment and garage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). LF

    [03] ARMENIAN TAX REVENUES SOAR

    Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told a cabinet session on 1 February that tax revenues in January amounted to 9.4 billion drams ($17 million), 47 percent more than during the same period last year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The government's tax target for this year is 168.4 billion drams. Minister for State Revenues Andranik Manukian attributed the January increase to the improving economic situation and greater efficiency on the part of his agency. He expressed confidence that the big shortfall in tax revenues which resulted in a serious fiscal crisis last year will not be repeated this year. LF

    [04] POLL INDICATES EXTENT OF ARMENIANS' GLOOM

    In a recent government-sponsored poll of some 300 residents of Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor and Ararat, 68.3 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the present situation in Armenia, according to Armenpress on 31 January as cited by Groong. Among the government's most serious failures, 75.6 percent of respondents cited the mass impoverishment of the population, 43.7 percent the way that privatization had been conducted and its economic consequences, 42 percent the failure to identify the perpetrators of political assassinations, and 41.3 percent the creation of "an atmosphere of permissiveness." Among the country's primary achievements since independence, 47.3 percent named the creation of the Armenian army, 43 percent victory in the Karabakh war, 37 percent the recognition by several foreign countries of the 1915 genocide and 21 percent Armenia's admission to full membership of the Council of Europe. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJANI POLICE CONTINUE BLOCKADE OF WAR INVALIDS' HEADQUARTERS

    Police in Baku continued to surround the headquarters of the Society of Karabakh War Invalids on 2 February, refusing to allow anyone to enter the building where invalids are in the 12th day of a hunger-strike to demand a three-fold increase in their disability pensions and allowances, Turan reported. Rei Kerimoglu, a spokesman for the society, said that the building in Saatli Raion where invalids are conducting a parallel strike has also been cordoned off, and the strikers are threatening to set fire to the building if police attempt to storm it. Meanwhile Azerbaijani officials have made conflicting statements on the protest. Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov argued on 1 February that the invalids' allowances should be raised, while Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov told a press conference the following day that although the assistance provided to war invalids is inadequate, their demands are nonetheless "unreasonable" and "politically motivated." LF

    [06] AZERBAIJAN PASSES AMNESTY LAW

    Azerbaijan's parliament approved on 1 February by a vote of 101 to one an amnesty law submitted two weeks earlier by President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. Under that law, almost 2,300 prisoners are eligible for release and a further 800 will have their terms reduced. LF

    [07] SUPPORTERS OF FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONE COLLECTIVE SUICIDE

    Supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who last month embarked on a hunger-strike in Rustavi penal colony to demand the release of fellow Gamsakhurdia supporters whom they consider political prisoners announced on 1 February that they have postponed until 14 February their collective suicide planned for 2 February, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). Parliament deputies had told journalists on 31 January that the legislature will debate whether to ask the Supreme Court to review the cases of 24 Gamsakhurdia supporters sentenced on charges of taking up arms against the state. LF

    [08] KAZAKHSTAN HOPES FOR OBSERVER STATUS IN PACE...

    Saken Seidullaev, a member of the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, told journalists in Astana on 1 February that Kazakhstan hopes to be granted observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe by the summer of 2001, Interfax reported. Noting that Kazakhstan first applied for that status in 1997, Seidullaev explained that Astana has already ratified six relevant international conventions, and must now ratify six more. He said that during last week's PACE session in Strasbourg, which he attended as head of the Kazakh delegation, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey and Lithuania all expressed support for Kazakhstan's bid for observer status. LF

    [09] ...PLANS TO DOUBLE GRAIN EXPORTS TO IRAN

    Nurlan Smagulov, who is president of a state food production corporation, told journalists in Astana on 1 February that Kazakhstan plans to double grain sales to Iran from 50,000 tons last year to 100,000 tons in 2001, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan produced 11.5 million tons of grain last year, while Iran imports 7 million tons annually. Smagulov explained that the campaign by neighboring states (by which he presumably meant Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) to become self-sufficient in grain production had narrowed Kazakhstan's traditional market. But he admitted that obstacles exist to increasing exports to Iran, in the form of transportation difficulties and delays in bank settlements. LF

    [10] RESIDENTS OF KYRGYZ CAPITAL PROTEST GAS, HEATING SHORTAGES

    Some 150 people blocked the main highway leading from Bishkek to President Askar Akaev's suburban residence on 1 February to protest electricity outages in Bishkek on the previous two days, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bishkek mayor Anatolii Slezovskii assured the demonstrators that he will do his best to resolve the problems. Electricity consumption in Bishkek has risen by 30 percent in recent days to compensate for the cutoff of natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Chu and Osh oblasts are similarly without electric power for several hours each day; in the town of Osh, only 23.3 percent of buildings currently have normal heating, while 32 percent are without heat. LF

    [11] TURKMENISTAN INTRODUCES ENTRY DUE FOR UZBEK CITIZENS

    In accordance with a decree issued by President Saparmurat Niyazov, as of 1 February Uzbek citizens must pay $6 for a permit to enter Turkmenistan, Interfax reported. That fee is payable in Turkmen currency at the exchange rate on the date of entry. LF

    [12] TURKMEN AUTHORITIES HUNT FOR FUGITIVE PROTESTANT PASTOR...

    Police in Ashgabat arrested Protestant Christian Nikolai Ognev on 29 January, possibly believing that he knows the whereabouts of fugitive Pastor Shokhrat Piriev, Keston News Service reported on 1 February. Piriev went into hiding late last year after he and two colleagues from the Bezmein church in Bezmein near Ashgabat were tortured by Turkmen security officials and evicted from their homes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2001). LF.

    [13] ...BUT BACKTRACK ON CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

    The Ashgabat City Court on 31 January returned to a lower district court for review a ruling handed down four weeks earlier that the home of Pentecostal Pastor Viktor Makrousov be confiscated, Keston News Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2001). The city court termed that ruling, against which Makrosuov had appealed, "flawed." LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [14] MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS U.S. PRESENCE 'NECESSARY AND MORAL'

    President Boris Trajkovski told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on 1 February that a continued U.S. presence in the Balkans is "necessary and moral," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Trajkovski specifically mentioned the need to keep a U.S. peacekeeping contingent in Kosova as a contribution to regional political stability, including that of Macedonia. Trajkovski appeared reassured after meeting with Powell, telling reporters that there is "no room for fear," Reuters reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher added that Powell told Trajkovski that the U.S. will not "cut and run" in the Balkans. Washington plans no hasty withdrawal and will make future decisions in consultation with European allies, the VOA's Croatian Service reported. Powell is slated to meet on 2 February with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and with Kosovar leaders Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, and Veton Surroi. PM

    [15] POWELL GIVES MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT 'BRUSH-OFF'

    The "New York Times" reported on 2 February that "Powell has refused to see Milo Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro, sending a firm signal that the Bush administration opposes independence for his republic, Serbia's last partner in the Yugoslav federation. General Powell's decision not to see Mr. Djukanovic, who is in Washington to explain why he thinks Montenegro should be independent, was based on a desire not to encourage the further changing of borders in the region, administration officials said. A meeting would give further impetus to leaders in Kosovo, who want independence, and in the Serbian entity in Bosnia, whose leaders would like to attach themselves to Serbia proper" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 23 January 2001). For his part, Djukanovic told the daily that "it is wrong to suggest that Montenegrin independence will trigger instability in the region." Djukanovic noted that he will soon have a fresh mandate in early elections, and that his government has pledged full cooperation with The Hague. PM

    [16] SERBIAN FORCES SHELL DEMILITARIZED ZONE...

    Serbian tanks continue to fire shells into ethnic Albanian villages in the "demilitarized" Ground Safety Zone on southwestern Serbia's frontier with Kosova, the "Guardian's" Jonathan Steele reported from the region on 2 February. He added that "it is hard to find any Albanian who will criticize" the guerrillas, noting that "people are calling for a 'third force' to protect civilians from the Serbs." It is not clear whether the shells are trained on specific, allegedly guerrilla targets, or whether the firing is more random. Some observers have suggested that the Belgrade authorities are deliberately keeping up the tensions in the Presevo region to increase political pressure on the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). PM

    [17] ...WHILE SERBIAN AUTHORITIES TALK PEACE

    Biserka Matic, who is the "senior Serb information official in the region," told the "Guardian" of 2 February that the new government is determined not to alienate the ethnic Albanians the way that its predecessor did. She noted that it is crucial to integrate the Albanians into state structures and the police, pointing out that mass sackings of Albanians in Kosova more than a decade ago led to the formation of two parallel societies in the province. She stressed that the new "government is trying to turn a page and finally do something smart." The London-based daily noted that the Yugoslav army is "literally a loose cannon" in the region, and that there are "serious differences" between Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and the army's General Nebojsa Pavkovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). The "Guardian" suggested that "the only tactics [the military] seem to know are to order tanks and heavy artillery to fire on villages." PM

    [18] BRITISH TROOPS QUELL RIOTING IN MITROVICA

    Using a combination of persuasion and force, British peacekeepers ended a fourth consecutive day of rioting by hundreds of mainly youthful Albanians in Mitrovica on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). The UN's Hans Haekkerup, KFOR's General Carlo Cabigiosu, and local Albanian leaders issued a joint statement calling for calm. NATO's Secretary General Lord George Robertson told reporters in Oslo that the alliance will "continue to be robust with those who seek to challenge law and order," AP reported. In Mitrovica, Cabigiosu stressed that "we aren't going to start a war." But the "Daily Telegraph" reported on 2 February that British forces are considering breaking the power of Serbian paramilitaries in northern Mitrovica on the model of the British army's 1972 Operation Motorman in Northern Ireland. That operation was directed against IRA strongholds. PM

    [19] MILOSEVIC UNDER POLICE WATCH

    Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic confirmed on 1 February that he has placed former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic under 24-hour police surveillance at a Belgrade residence. RFE/RL has learned that the number of Milosevic's loyal body guards serving at the residence has been reduced. But both the Yugoslav and Serbian governments deny reports that Milosevic is under formal house arrest. No Serbian or federal Yugoslav criminal indictments have been issued against Milosevic. Mihajlovic, appointed last week as part of Serbia's new reformist government, had promised to place Milosevic under round-the-clock surveillance because of his indictment by the United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Batic told RFE/RL on 1 February that Belgrade's governing coalition has agreed upon a group of experts who will draft legislation that could clear the way for Milosevic to be transferred to The Hague. PM

    [20] BELGRADE THIEVES RELIEVE SLOVENIAN DELEGATION OF TWO CARS

    A Slovenian business delegation to Serbia will soon be returning home, minus two Audi A8 cars, "Vesti" reported on 2 February. One car was stolen in front of a Belgrade restaurant, the other in front of the hotel Metropol, where the group was staying. A massive crime wave is one of the legacies of the Milosevic regime that the new government is committed to reversing. PM

    [21] EXPLOSION DAMAGES TITO-ERA WAR MONUMENT IN CROATIAN CAPITAL

    An explosion in Zagreb's Mirogoj cemetery on 1 February damaged a communist- era monument to anti-fascist fighters, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic condemned the attack. Croatia has a small but vocal far-right movement that has become increasingly politically marginalized since the end of the war for independence in 1995. PM

    [22] CANDIDATE FOR BOSNIA'S MODERATES?

    Bozo Matic, who is the president of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 1 February that he is willing to stand for prime minister on behalf of the non- nationalist Alliance for Changes coalition. His one condition is that he first receive assurances from the international community that it is serious about having the central and entity governments carry out important reforms quickly. Martin Raguz, who is the current prime minister and a member of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community, declined to comment on Matic's statement but offered to debate him on television. PM

    [23] ROMANIAN ULTRANATIONALIST CRITICIZES PREMIER

    Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the runner-up in December's presidential elections, said on 1 February that Premier Adrian Nastase "cannot save the country from disaster," AP reported. Tudor, speaking after a meeting with other political party leaders hosted by President Ion Iliescu, said Nastase is "very weak," noting that he won't stand up to international financial institutions. Tudor said institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF are "blackmailing" Romania. Tudor also criticized Nastase and Interior Minister Ioan Rus for failing to investigate corruption in the previous government and said he may call for a vote of no-confidence in the government next month. His Greater Romania Party has about 25 percent of the seats in parliament. Nastase currently has a job approval rating of some 62 percent, one month after taking office. PB

    [24] ROMANIA FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE

    Mircea Geoana said following talks with Colin Powell in Washington on 1 February that the secretary of state assured him that the "strategic partnership" that exists between the two countries will continue, Romanian Radio reported. Geoana added that the two discussed Romanian efforts to continue with economic reforms and Bucharest's efforts to join the EU and NATO. Geoana also expressed, in his capacity as chairman of the OSCE, that organization's fears that the U.S. will reduce the number of its forces in the Balkans. Geoana met the previous day with members of the U.S. congress. PB

    [25] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO MEET WITH ILIESCU

    Romanian President Iliescu said on 1 February that he will meet with his Moldovan counterpart, Petru Lucinschi, in the Romanian city of Husi on 9 February. They are to discuss issues related to the organization of the Moldovan-Romanian-Ukrainian summit scheduled for March or April. PB

    [26] GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT LEADER CALLS FOR FEDERALIZATION OF MOLDOVA

    Mihail Kendighelean, chairman of the Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic in Comrat, has called on the central government in Chisinau to accept the idea of the federalization of Moldova, Basa-Press reported 1 February. "We cannot think of the Republic of Moldova as anything else but a federation between Chisinau, Tiraspol, and Comrat," Kendighelean said after a two-day visit to Moscow, referring to Moldova, the breakaway Transdniester Republic, and Gagauz-Yeri. According to him, the idea of the federalization of Moldova is supported by former Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov, who represents Moscow in the negotiations. DW

    [27] BULGARIAN PREMIER SUPPORTS STOYANOV FOR SECOND TERM

    Ivan Kostov said in Sofia on 1 February that he backs President Petar Stoyanov for a second term as president, BTA reported. Kostov said "Stoyanov has had a successful term of office and we suppose that he will surely run for a second one." Kostov made his comments after being asked about an issue before the Constitutional Court on whether someone must live in Bulgaria for five years before being allowed to run for president. The verdict is important as many believe former King Simeon II, who lives in Spain, is planning to stand for president. King Simeon is currently visiting Bulgaria, though he has declined to comment on his future plans. The presidential election is slated for later this year. PB

    [28] BULGARIAN POLICE CHIEF TO REMAIN ON JOB

    President Stoyanov and Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov met on 1 February in Sofia and agreed not to accept the resignation of police chief General Vasil Vasilev, Bulgarian Radio reported. The previous day, Yordanov told reporters that he would accept the resignation, though Stoyanov said the same day that Vasilev should not be blamed for the recent spate of violent incidents in Sofia and other parts of Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). PB

    [29] BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MULLS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION AGAINST GOVERNMENT

    The two largest members of the opposition -- the Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which represents Bulgaria's Turkish minority -- are planning to call a no-confidence vote in the government because of its failure to deal with a recent upsurge in violent crime in the country, BTA reported on 1 February. DPS leader Ahmed Dogan said the same day that the vote is likely to be called next week. Bulgarian Socialist leader Georgi Parvanov said that members of his party will support the measure. Dogan said the government of Premier Kostov has "done nothing to solve the problem" of violent crime. Kostov and Interior Minister Yordanov are to speak before the parliament on the crime issue on 6 February. Kostov's government has survived three no-confidence votes during its three years in office. PB

    [C] END NOTE

    [30] IMF VISITS RUSSIA FOR NEW TALKS

    By Sophie Lambroschini

    A delegation from the International Monetary Fund has returned to Moscow for two weeks of talks to map out future cooperation between the fund and the Russian government. But Russian officials say they expect little from those talks and want even less.

    Higher oil prices over the past year have helped Russia to improve its finances, lessening any immediate need for a new loan, and enabling the country to live off its own tax revenues. IMF support is nonetheless still seen as a prerequisite for negotiations with the Paris Club of international creditors on rescheduling the some $38,000 million Russia still owes in Soviet-era debt.

    Russia probably will not receive the $1,750 million IMF loan that it has included in its budget for 2001. But then, Russian officials now say they don't even need it.

    Speaking last weekend at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Russian Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko said that because of this past year's higher oil prices, Russia does not need IMF money this year. Instead, Russian negotiators are expected to push for an emergency stand-by credit that could be used as an insurance policy in case oil prices drop. The two sides failed to reach agreement in November.

    International creditors will be looking for an agreement to provide a basis for rescheduling payments on Russia's Soviet-era debt. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov disappointed international lenders last month by saying Russia will not make this quarter's debt payments.

    Troika Dialog analyst Sergei Prudnik says the debt issue should form the main aim of the IMF talks. He reasoned that "Even if IMF negotiations don't lead to getting money from the IMF, [the negotiations] are still important because an agreement would open possibilities for further negotiations with the Paris Club over restructuring the debt after 2001. In my view, the possibility of restructuring the payment schedule should in principle still be seen as the aim of negotiations with the IMF. [Negotiators should try to make the repayment schedule smoother], especially for 2003 when the main external debt burden falls. Such a restructuring will not be possible without an agreement with the IMF."

    Recent pronouncements by Russian officials indicate they still take the debt issue seriously. On 26 January, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin said Russia will try to catch up on its missed 2001 payments and would eventually pay off the $38,000 million it owes. Kudrin was speaking just a few days before the arrival of the IMF mission, and his statement was clearly meant to impress the IMF.

    But there are still strong obstacles to any agreement, the same obstacles left over from last November, the last time the two sides tried to agree and failed.

    The "Financial Times" this week reported that the IMF remains concerned over what it sees as growing inflationary pressures. The paper says the fund wants to allow the ruble to appreciate against the dollar and to ensure that any additional budget revenues are used on debt reduction rather than current spending. The Russian government argues instead that allowing the exchange rate to drift would have a negative impact on growth.

    The paper also notes that the IMF is concerned about the pace of structural reforms and the absence of restructuring and tighter regulation in the banking sector.

    The Russian government has moved along somewhat, with the State Duma studying a blueprint for bank reform that included some amendments that echo IMF requests. At the same time, however, plans to make Sberbank, Russia's enormous state-controlled savings bank, more competitive and less monopolistic are at a stand-still.

    Prudnik says this could be a major point of disagreement.

    "For now, it looks as if the Russian government does not want to decrease its influence in Sberbank. So I think there will be quite a harsh discussion of this issue."

    In general, discussions over reforming the big state-owned monopolies, such as Unified Energy Systems (UES) and Gazprom, are still at the initial stage. Plans to break up UES unleashed a public row between its boss Anatolii Chubais and presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov and led to accusations of document falsifications. A reform program for UES that was supposed to be outlined by the end of last year has been put off until April.

    Sophie Lambroschini is a Moscow-based correspondent with RFE/RL

    02-02-01


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


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