|Wednesday, 20 January 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 33, 01-02-16
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 33, 16 February 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT KILLINGS TRIAL OPENS, ADJOURNS...The trial began in Yerevan on 15 February of five gunmen who opened fire in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999, killing eight senior officials, and of eight other men accused of abetting them, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Judge Samvel Uzunian adjourned proceedings after less than two hours because of the absence of defendant Misak Mkrtchian, who is charged with illegal possession of weapons, and of two defense counsels. Some 200 relatives of the victims gathered outside the court-house to demand the death sentence for the five gunmen, as did members of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war, which was founded by Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, one of the eight victims. Sargsian's brother Aram, who succeeded him as premier, said on 15 February he still believes the investigation failed to identify the persons who masterminded the bloodbath. Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen, insists he acted alone. LF
 ...AS REPORTING RESTRICTIONS ANNOUNCEDArmenian Justice Minister David Harutiunian told journalists in Yerevan on 15 February that in order to ensure the impartiality of the court, verbatim publication of the testimony given by the 13 defendants will be forbidden, Noyan Tapan reported. Summaries of testimony will be permitted. All domestic and international media organizations wishing to cover the trial will be accredited to do so. LF
 ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT SHUT DOWN AFTER MINOR ACCIDENTOfficials shut down the Medzamor nuclear power station near Yerevan on the afternoon of 14 February after damage to the high-voltage power line that connects it to the national grid resulted in a dangerous accumulation of power, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The plant is to be reactivated within the next few days. The accident did not lead to any escape of radiation, according to Snark on 15 February as cited by Groong. LF
 VERDICT IN KARABAKH ASSASSINATION TRIAL TO BE ANNOUNCED IN TEN DAYSJudge Suren Aleksanian said on 14 February that the verdict in the trial of 16 men accused of attempting to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in March 2000 will be announced in 10 days, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 February. Also on 15 February, Armenian parliament deputy Kim Balayan (Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun) told Noyan Tapan that no response has yet been received to the appeal made by some 70 deputies to President Ghukasian to ensure that the verdict handed down on former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who is accused of masterminding the attack, is fair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). Babayan denies any part in the attack. LF
 KARABAKH DENIES AZERBAIJANI CLAIMS OF FAILED INFILTRATIONThe Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 15 February issued an official denial of an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry report that an Armenian reconnaissance group attempted to cross the front line near the village of Acarli in Agdam Raion, according to Snark as cited by Groong. The Azerbaijani statement said the Armenian intruders opened fire, but were driven back when Azerbaijani forces returned their fire. ANS TV on 15 February claimed that two Armenians were killed in the exchange of fire. LF
 AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALIDS RESUME HUNGER-STRIKEBaku police on 15 February surrounded the headquarters of the Society of Invalids of the Karabakh War and of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party in an attempt to prevent war invalids convening at either venue, Turan reported. Electricity to the Society's headquarters was also cut off. Despite police intervention, several dozen invalids gathered at the Society's headquarters. Some 20 of them embarked on a new hunger-strike to demand the annulment of what they termed the Ministry of Justice's "illegal" decisions to revoke the Society's registration and to register a government-sponsored organization representing the interests of war veterans, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Also on 15 February, the Azerbaijani authorities announced the creation of a government commission to assess the invalids' demands that their pensions and allowances be increased. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PARLIAMENT SHOULD RATIFY 'ZERO OPTION'Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 15 February that if the parliament declines on 5 March to formally relinquish any claim by Georgia on a share of former Soviet assets in return for the restructuring of Georgia's debts to Russia, the Paris Club will refuse to restructure Georgia's $2 billion foreign debt, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. In that case, Shevardnadze continued, Georgia would have to use over half the annual budget for 2001 for debt repayment, which would precipitate economic collapse. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili similarly appealed to parliament deputies on 16 February to ratify the "zero option," Caucasus Press reported. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS TRADE, OIL TRANSITVisiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Kazakhstan's First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov co-chaired a session of the bilateral intergovernmental cooperation commission that opened in Astana on 15 February, Russian agencies reported. They noted that bilateral trade grew by 70 percent in 2000 to reach $4.5 billion. They also agreed on the need for a long-term agreement on Kazakh oil exports via Russia. In that context, Khristenko assured Akhmetov that Moscow will not impose any restrictions on those exports. The talks also focussed on Russian gas supplies to Astana and the creation of a joint enterprise, in which Russia's Unified Energy Systems is a partner, on the basis of the Ekibastuz Thermal Power Plant No. 2. LF
 LITHUANIA NOTES PROBLEMS IN IMPORTING OIL FROM KAZAKHSTANLithuanian Ambassador Virgilius Bulovas said in Almaty on 15 February that Lithuania is encountering unspecified problems in importing oil from Kazakhstan via Russia, Interfax reported. He said Vilnius hopes to resolve those problems by means of a trilateral accord currently under discussion. Bulovas repeated that Lithuania wants to import a total of 1 million tons of Kazakh crude in 2001. Under a three-year agreement signed last summer, Lithuania's Mazieiku Nafta was to receive 70,000 tons of crude per month, beginning in September 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000), but no virtually oil was shipped last year. Bulovas said he hopes shipments will begin in March 2001. LF
 NEW PROBLEMS MAY FURTHER DELAY COMMISSIONING OF KAZAKHSTAN-RUSSIA PIPELINE?Trials of the 1,580 kilometer Caspian Pipeline Consortium pipeline linking the Tengiz oilfield with the Russian terminal at Novorossiisk, which are currently scheduled for late June 2001 may be delayed by up to six weeks, Interfax reported on 15 February. Zinon Abdrakhmanov, who manages the pipeline's eastern sector, said that some sections of the pipeline are clogged with paraffin and may need to be replaced. He also admitted that some ancillary equipment, including devices for measuring the volume of oil passing through the pipeline and the internal temperature and pressure, has not yet been installed. Those shortcomings have already delayed the launch of the pipeline from 1 January to 1 March 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). LF
 'SHANGHAI FORUM' FAILS TO FORMALIZE AGREEMENT ON ANTI-TERRORISM CENTERThe military officials of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan ended their two-day meeting in Bishkek on 15 February without reaching any formal agreement on setting up an anti-terrorism center in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Russian and Tajik representatives argued that the legal basis for doing so has not yet been prepared, but Kyrgyz General Askarbek Mameev expressed the hope that the requisite legal documents will be ready for signing at the group's summit planned for Shanghai in June 2001. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON BORDERMeeting in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast on 14-15 February, Kyrgyz and Uzbek government delegations failed to reach agreement on some 140 disputed points on their common 1,300 kilometer border, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyzstan is demanding that Tashkent return to its jurisdiction all oil and natural gas fields on Kyrgyz territory that Uzbekistan has leased since before the collapse of the USSR and pay 9 billion soms ($180 million) in rent arrears for those facilities. The Uzbek side said it would agree to do so on condition that Bishkek placed under Uzbekistan's jurisdiction a highway leading to Sokh, an Uzbek exclave within Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan, however, rejected any linkage of what it termed border and economic issues. LF.
 ROMANIAN EMBASSY IN UZBEKISTAN ROBBEDFour masked gunmen entered the Romanian embassy in Tashkent, tied up three diplomats and escaped with $7,000 and personal belongings, AP and Interfax reported on 15 February. Charge d'affaires Traian Bordeanu said the robbers had keys to the building. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 SERBS KILLED IN KOSOVA BUS EXPLOSIONUnknown persons blew up a bus on 16 February near Podujeva using a remote control device. Ten Serbs died and 40 were injured in the blast, AP reported, citing local peacekeepers. The bus had just returned to Kosova from a trip to Nis when the explosion took place. An earlier Reuters report put the casualties at four dead and 23 injured. UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel said in Prishtina that seven people had died. This was the second attack on a Serbian convoy in less than a week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). PM
 YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR: BUSH UNDERSTANDS IMPORTANCE OF U.S. PRESENCEMilan Protic has presented his letters of accreditation to President George W. Bush, "Vesti" reported on 16 February. Protic told Serbian reporters that Bush "understands very well" that the continued presence of U.S. forces in Kosova is most important for the continued security and stability of the region. Protic added that he does not expect any major breakthrough in Belgrade-Washington ties, but noted that the recent changes of government in both capitals have led to a marked improvement in the atmosphere in bilateral relations. Protic is a historian who attended graduate school in the U.S. and is very much at home with the idiom and culture of that country. PM
 GUNMEN TRY TO KILL SERBIAN INTERIOR MINISTERUnknown gunmen fired on early 16 February at a car carrying Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic in downtown Belgrade. No one was injured. Police are investigating what they regard as an assassination attempt. Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told AP that the attack is a "clear warning to the new government not to interfere in corruption and criminal deals involving the former regime." Zivkovic added that "our efforts to establish a state based on the rule of law are a huge blow to all those who profited from rampant crime and corruption" under former President Slobodan Milosevic. "But no number of attacks and assassination attempts will deter us," he added. The attack on Mihajlovic is but the latest in a series of apparently politically motivated killings or assassination attempts in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). PM
 SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST MILOSEVIC A 'MATTER OF DAYS'Zoran Djindjic told reporters on 15 February in Belgrade that the new government has made good progress in investigating one of those unexplained murders, namely that of journalist and publisher Slavko Curuvija, "Vesti" reported. Djindjic added, however, that little progress has been made finding out the truth about the disappearance in 2000 of former Serbian leader Ivan Stambolic, the one-time mentor of Milosevic. Djindjic told "Vesti" that he expects the launching of legal proceedings against Milosevic on unspecified charges to begin "in a matter of days." The prime minister promised to extradite all non-Yugoslav citizens on Yugoslav territory who have been indicted by The Hague. He also pledged that parliament will soon pass a law regarding unspecified cooperation with the tribunal. He added that these measures are "a package of actions that should satisfy -- at least by March 31 -- all well-meaning parties in the international community," AP reported. U.S. President George W. Bush will decide by that date whether to extend a $100 million aid package to Belgrade. PM
 YUGOSLAV MINISTER: 'FINANCIAL COLLAPSE' IN THE OFFINGDeputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said in Belgrade on 15 February that the government faces "financial collapse" soon if it does not launch cooperation with the Hague-based tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that Belgrade spends $30,000 daily on its security forces in southwestern Serbia, and that it will need just over $100 million for the economic revitalization of the three troubled communities there. PM
 NATO CHIEF WARNS BELGRADE OF NEED FOR PATIENCE IN PRESEVO...Lord George Robertson told visiting Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in Brussels on 15 February that there is much of interest in the "Covic plan" for Presevo, but that a solution to the region's problems will not be quick or easy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2001). "The Belgrade proposals are complex and they will require a great deal of study. Nobody should underestimate the difficulties involved, and we must be realistic about how long it will take to reach a solution. The problems caused over 40 years cannot be solved in four months," RFE/RL quoted Robertson as saying. Robertson called on ethnic Albanians "to enter into a dialogue with Belgrade to build a balanced, long-term settlement." PM
 ...AND BUILDING CONFIDENCE OF ETHNIC ALBANIANSRobertson added in Brussels on 15 February that NATO is ready to consider changes in the status of the demilitarized zone as long as this does not lead to a security vacuum or an increase in violence, warning that premature changes could prove counterproductive. Robertson said KFOR has strengthened its presence along the boundary and is cutting the supply links between Kosova and the Presevo Valley insurgents. He said more than 100 people have been arrested near the border this year. Robertson argued that the only basis for long-term peace and stability will be an agreement negotiated and agreed to by all sides. As a start, Robertson said the Yugoslav government should launch a series of confidence-building measures. He said Belgrade should remove the so-called Prishtina Corps from Presevo. That unit took part in the 1998-1999 ethnic cleansing operations in Kosova. Its presence in Presevo is greatly resented by the local Albanians. Belgrade has ruled out negotiating with insurgents, whom it calls "terrorists," "separatists," or "extremists," as it did during the Milosevic regime. NCA/PM
 SERBIAN AUTHORITIES PRESS FOR REVISION OF KUMANOVO AGREEMENTSThe guests from Belgrade called for the abolition of the demilitarized zone set down in the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ended the Kosova conflict, RFE/RL reported from Brussels on 15 February. Covic said that "as far as the plan...is concerned, we are open and ready to any additions...and we will certainly have in mind the proposals of the ethnic Albanian community. But what cannot be denied in this process is that [for] the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Serbia, there will be no change of borders, no special status, no autonomy." Covic confirmed Serbia has asked NATO to sanction the gradual phasing out of the zone. He said Yugoslavia will guarantee that in dealing with the ethnic Albanian insurgents, its security forces will not resort to "brutal or massive" use of military force. Observers note that the head of the General Staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, commanded Serbian troops in Kosova during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign. The commander of the Serbian Interior Ministry special police and deputy interior minister, General Sreten Lukic, commanded Interior Ministry forces in Kosova at that time. PM/NCA
 EU SIGNS ON TO SERBIAN PLANIn their capacity as current EU chair, the Swedish authorities said in a statement in Stockholm on 15 February that they endorse the Covic plan and call on "Albanian extremists" to stop fighting, Reuters reported. "The EU supports the initiative of the Belgrade authorities to find a peaceful and durable solution to the current situation in Southern Serbia, which risks destabilizing the region... This implies an immediate cessation of violence by the armed extremist Albanian groups notably in the GSZ (Ground Safety Zone)." In Brussels, EU Commissioner Chris Patten pledged an additional $830,000 in aid for southwestern Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 DJUKANOVIC: INDEPENDENT MONTENEGRO WILL NEED NO ARMYMilo Djukanovic said in Podgorica that a well-equipped police force will be sufficient to provide security for an independent Montenegro and that no army will be necessary, "Vesti" reported on 16 February. He added that relations with Serbia have "never been worse" than they are now. He hopes, however, that ties between Serbia and Montenegro can be established on the model of "two houses that can be in a common courtyard." Djukanovic argued that his opponents know that they are likely to lose a referendum on independence, and that that is why they want the vote to be extended to Montenegrin citizens living in Serbia. PM
 MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT AGREES TO DISSOLVEThe legislature voted on 15 February to dissolve after a session on 20 February in preparation for the 22 April elections. That ballot is widely seen as a setting of the stage for a subsequent referendum on independence. PM
 HAGUE COURT PROSECUTOR PRAISES MONTENEGRIN COOPERATIONCarla Del Ponte said in Podgorica on 15 February that she "would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to President Djukanovic, Prime Minister [Filip] Vujanovic, and Interior Minister [Vukasin] Maras for their full and principled support of cooperation with the tribunal, not only today, when it is much easier and safer, but also through the years of Milosevic's rule," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). PM
 MACEDONIA, YUGOSLAVIA WRAP UP BORDER AGREEMENTYugoslav chief negotiator Radojko Bogojevic told a news conference in Skopje that his team and its Macedonian counterpart have concluded an agreement delineating their common border, Reuters reported. The documents will be signed at a Balkan summit in Skopje on 23 February. Macedonia's chief negotiator Viktor Dimovski said that his government rejects ethnic Albanian claims that Belgrade has no right to negotiate about the boundaries of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). PM
 CROATIAN PARLIAMENT PLEDGES PROSECUTION OF WAR CRIMINALSThe legislature passed a resolution on 16 February reaffirming the government's commitment to prosecuting war criminals despite the opposition of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and some veterans' groups, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). PM
 U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA CANCELS CLUJ VISITAmbassador James Rosapepe on 16 February canceled a planned visit to Cluj in order to distance himself from a planned nationalist rally scheduled for the same day by nationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar against the new Law on Local Public Administration. In a press release, Ambassador Rosapepe said he planned to go to Cluj and Iasi to distribute the "Simple and Rapid" award to local small businessmen. He said that "most people in Cluj...want jobs and decent lives, not political stunts and inflammatory rhetoric." He added that "as they yearn to join the EU and NATO, Romanians know they have more to fear from divisive language than from [a] foreign language." Rosapepe said that he will now distribute the prize only in Iasi, adding that "'Simple and Rapid' can bring jobs to Cluj" but "'Simple and Divisive' can destroy them." MS
 NO SANCTIONS FOR ROMANIAN DEPUTIES WHO VISITED IRAQThe Chamber of Deputies' Permanent Bureau decided that no sanctions will be imposed on the three deputies who recently visited Iraq, and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) parliamentary group in the chamber decided not to debate the case of the two deputies from that party who went there, Mediafax reported. Ovidiu Petrescu, deputy chairman of the chamber, said the deputies will not follow the example set by the Senate, who "warned" the two senators who went to Baghdad. Petrescu also added that, as a result of the visit, a $5 million contract for Iraqi deliveries of oil to Romania has been concluded. MS
 NEW ECOLOGICAL ACCIDENT IN ROMANIAPrime Minister Adrian Nastase on 16 February said all those responsible for an ecological accident the previous day must be "severely sanctioned," Mediafax reported. Nastase said the Dolj county prefect had informed the government of the accident "about noon time," although its occurrence had been known "at 9 o'clock in the morning." As a result of a leak from the Doljchim state chemical company, ammonia at ten times accepted levels was released into the Jiu River, causing the death of thousands of fish. Local authorities later said the company's managers have been dismissed and a criminal investigation has been launched. Romanian Radio says drinking water supplies for the nearby town of Craiova have not been affected. This is the second major spill in the past month in Romania, and the third since last year. MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ANNULS 'POPULIST MEASURES'The cabinet on 15 February decided to "abolish a series of populist legislation" passed by the predecessor Mugur Isarescu government before the November 2000 parliamentary elections. Among the nullified legislation is a governmental ordinance that would have increased wages in the state sector by 80 percent as of 1 March. The cabinet said the measure was "economically untenable." MS
 BRAGHIS ALLIANCE PLEDGES NOT TO CHANGE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEMPrime Minister Dumitru Braghis on 14 February told journalists that his own Braghis Alliance will not seek to change the recently-introduced parliamentary system after the 25 February elections , RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. "If we decided that Moldova is a parliamentary republic, we must consistently work within this framework in the legislature," the head of the pro-presidential list stated. Braghis said his party will advocate changing the proportional system into a single-constituency system and reducing the number of parliamentary deputies, which "is too large for such a small republic as ours." MS
 RUSSIAN FBS HEAD MEETS LUCINSCHINikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service (FBS) chief, on 15 February discussed with President Petru Lucinschi in Chisinau the agreement concluded one day earlier on cooperation between the two countries' security services, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). MS
 NEW JUDGES APPOINTED TO MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURTThe Supreme Magistracy Council on 15 February selected Victor Puscas, currently chairman of the Supreme Judicial Chamber, and Mircea Iuga, currently Prosecutor-General, to succeed outgoing Constitutional Court Chairman Pavel Barbalat and judge Nikolai Kiseyev as members of the Constitutional Court, Infotag reported. The parliament is to decide on 19 February on the remaining two vacancies on the court. MS
 BULGARIA HOSTS TRILATERAL BALKAN MEETINGThe presidents of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey on 16 February ended in Plodviv a two-day meeting aimed at coordinating efforts to curb cross- border crime and ways to harmonize efforts to join the EU, Reuters and AP reported. Presidents Petar Stoyanov, Ion Iliescu and Ahmet Necdet Sezer also discussed measures to boost cooperation and enhance regional stability. Stoyanov said that "the idea that our three countries cannot do without the EU, whereas the EU can do without us, is absolutely wrong in respect to the struggle against organized crime." The three countries are on the main route of illegal traffic from Asia to Europe. Stoyanov also pledged that Bulgaria will never allow the Kurdistan Workers' Party to act on its territory. The three presidents also discussed how NATO member Turkey can support Bulgaria and Romania in their bid to join the alliance. MS
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTEWith a vote of 135 against and 74 for, the parliament on 16 February rejected the no-confidence motion moved against the cabinet headed by Premier Ivan Kostov by the opposition Socialist Party, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). The Socialists said the government is both incapable and unwilling to combat the raising tide of crime. Alluding to the parliamentary elections likely to take place in June, Kostov said that "some are trying to draw political dividends from the pain of the people, and this is very sad." He added that the Interior Ministry is undertaking urgent measures to combat crime. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which is the third-largest group in the parliament, backed the Socialists' motion. MS
 BULGARIAN RADIO JOURNALISTS PLAN PROTEST MARCHJournalists at the Bulgarian Radio, who have been staging protests since the appointment of a new director last week, are planning to march across central Sofia, Reuters reported on 15 February, citing one of the strike committee members. Silvia Velikova told the agency she doubts a formal strike can be launched, for which purpose the committee would need the endorsement of 51 percent of station staff. "People are afraid of losing [their] jobs and we do not blame them," she said. The striking journalists claim that the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as director is politically motivated. MS
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TAKES LEGAL ACTION AGAINST ISRAELI INVESTORThe government on 15 February ordered a tax audit of the Balkan Airlines national carrier and asked the Prosecutor General's Office to investigate Israeli owner Zeevi Holdings in connection with alleged breaches of the 1999 privatization contract. Transportation Minister Antoni Slavinski said "Bulgaria considers some of the steps of the Balkan Airlines' majority shareholder as aiming [at] a premeditated bankruptcy." In view of "the company's insolvency, the government has started consultations with all of its creditors to ascertain the extent of the liabilities and agree on joint action to overcome the crisis," he said. One day earlier, Zeevi Holdings grounded all Balkan Air flights, after filing a $230 million claim against Bulgaria at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris. MS
[C] END NOTE
 A DEMOGRAPHIC THREAT TO RUSSIAN SECURITYby Paul Goble
A Russian government report says that the country's declining population now poses a serious threat to Russian national security. But the remedy Moscow has proposed -- promoting in-migration of ethnic Russians from other post-Soviet states -- is unlikely to make the contribution to solving the problem that some expect.
According to the report, released on 15 February, Russia's population declined by 768,000 in 1999 and may fall by another 2.8 million over the next three years. Such declines, the report suggests, reflect a low standard of living, inadequate health care, and rising rates of alcohol and drug abuse, trends that have already reduced male life expectancy and the birthrate and increased mortality rates of many age groups.
Speaking to a cabinet meeting at which the report was discussed, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that Russia's economic and political future depends on finding a way out. "The decrease of the able-bodied population of the Russian Federation is not just a social problem," he said. "It is a problem of whether our state will develop successfully or not." And he said Russia would be "stuck" if what he called "decisive measures" are not taken now.
Russia has been suffering from these demographic problems for more than a decade, and as they have grown worse, they have made it more difficult to provide workers for factories and soldiers for the military. Moreover, because they have hit some regions more than others, they have had a political impact as well. And they have contributed to a sense of foreboding about the future that has often overshadowed positive developments.
Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin raised this issue several times during his tenure and ultimately sought to address it by naming Valentina Matvienko to the position of deputy prime minister with responsibility for social affairs. And last summer, President Vladimir Putin spoke about the problem in apocalyptic terms, telling his government that "we are facing the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."
So far, the Russian authorities have not had much success in trying to reverse the situation, lacking either programs or funding to address the underlying problems. Now, Kasyanov and his government are pinning their hopes on something Russian scholars and officials have talked about in the past but have done relatively little to promote: persuading ethnic Russians currently living in other post-Soviet states to emigrate to Russia.
Kasyanov himself admitted that doing this would not be easy. One report in the Russian press this week noted that Russia has a less than impressive track record in dealing with people the government often calls "compatriots." Not only are Russian authorities now spending less than one cent per ethnic Russian abroad each year, but Moscow has been unable to keep its promises to those who have returned.
But at its 15 February session, the Russian government called for the federal and ethnic policy ministry to develop a program for 2001 by April 1, and for a larger group of agencies to draw up a new migration policy for 2002-2005 by May 15. Both documents, Russian media reports suggest, will devote particular attention to providing support for displaced persons.
Russian officials have suggested this week that such new programs could attract as many as three to five million people a year back to the Russian Federation. But analysts and experts have expressed doubts that Moscow will be able to find the funds needed for such an effort unless and until the economy begins to boom and provide jobs for such people.
Anatolii Vishnevsky, the director of Moscow's Center for Demography and Human Ecology, said this week that "in order to compensate for the natural population decline, which will continue for many years, the volume of immigration to Russia would have to be very large." The country "is not ready for that," he said, "either economically or even psychologically."
Arguing that only a dramatic increase in the birthrate could address the country's demographic decline, Vishnevsky said the government's talk about a quick fix through the promotion of immigration "sows illusions that will not turn into reality in the future." Instead, he and other demographers argue, Russia must turn the corner economically both to help its current residents and possibly to attract new ones.
Consequently, Russia is likely to face many of the security problems rooted in demography for sometime to come. But by suggesting that immigration from the post-Soviet states is the answer, the Russian government may have unintentionally created for itself yet another and more immediate security problem as well.
Russian government calls for ethnic Russians to come back to the Russian Federation from the former Soviet republics and Baltic states appear likely to prompt some ethnic Russians in these countries to hold back from fully integrating into those societies. And such shifts in attitude could in turn create problems in Moscow's relationships with the countries it has declared its primary foreign policy focus.
In that event, Russia could easily become the exception to the rule that demography is destiny only in the very long term, and find, as Kasyanov suggests, that Russia's demographic situation really is the key security question for his government and country at present.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty