|Monday, 11 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 01-11-30
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIA AND U.S. AGREE ON ENERGY, OIL PRICE POLICIESRussian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and visiting U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham discussed on 29 November Russian-American cooperation in energy projects, the current price of oil, as well as joint efforts on scrapping nuclear reactors from decommissioned Russian submarines, "Izvestiya" reported. The same day, "Vremya novostei" quoted Abraham as saying that the U.S. is in favor of consultations between Russia and other non-OPEC oil producers in an effort to stabilize oil prices. VY
 CIS PRIME MINISTERS HOPE TO REVERSE DECLINE IN TRADE TURNOVER...At a meeting in Moscow on 29 November to assess the first decade of the CIS's existence, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov expressed concern that trade between CIS states has fallen to one-third of the pre-1992 level, while those countries' exports of raw materials to the "far abroad" have quadrupled, Russian agencies reported. He advocated a clearer division of labor between the economies of CIS member states, which he claimed are complementary. Among the noneconomic issues addressed at the meeting were the need to draw up a coordinated plan of antiterrorism measures and the adoption of a program on creating a single CIS educational space. LF
 ...AS RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER UPBEAT ON PROSPECTS FOR SECURITY COOPERATIONRussian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told fellow CIS foreign ministers in Moscow on 29 November that the involvement of CIS states in the international antiterrorism coalition testifies to the commonwealth's "capacity to react adequately to changes in the international situation," AP reported. Noting that zones of conflict and instability fuel terrorism, Ivanov argued that the success of antiterrorism measures depends partly on the prevention of regional conflicts. In that context, he highlighted the importance of cooperation in CIS peacekeeping operations and foreign policy. LF
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS FREE-TRADE ZONE TO UKRAINE...Vladimir Putin announced after meeting on 28 November with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma, who was in Moscow for the meeting of CIS leaders, that the two countries have agreed to sign a treaty on establishing a "free economic zone" within the next six months, RIA-Novosti reported. Ratification of Russian-Ukrainian accords last summer stimulated the development of trade relations between the two countries in many areas. Russia also offered to help Ukraine in the reconstruction of the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants, Putin added (see Ukrainian item, Part II). VY
 ...MEETS WITH TAJIK, KAZAKH PRESIDENTS...Putin also meet with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss the two countries' joint efforts in the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Putin also met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see Transcaucasus and Central Asia section below). VY
 ...AS EXPERTS PROCLAIM 'CLINICAL DEATH' FOR CISA group of intellectuals who gathered in Moscow on 27 November for a conference organized by the Russian political club Civic Debates and devoted to the 10th anniversary of the creation of the CIS came to a consensus that the CIS failed in all but one respect -- the relatively peaceful disintegration of the Soviet Union, vesti.ru reported. Sergei Markov, the director of the Center for Political Research, said the Russian elite is to blame for the fiasco of the CIS, as it was unable to formulate its own interests over the two decades leading up to the collapse. VY
 DUMA DECLARES AMNESTY FOR WOMEN AND MINORSThe Duma on 30 November approved on third and final reading an amnesty for minors and women, Interfax reported. The vote was 352 in favor with zero abstentions or votes against the measure, ntvru.com reported. The amnesty will apply to some 10,000 minors and 14,000 women charged with petty crimes, a group that represents 9 percent of the overall population of Russian prisoners. In his speech in favor of the bill, Union of Rightist Forces deputy Aleksandr Barannikov said the population of women and minors in Russian prisons is 45,900 and 18,900, respectively. Candidates for amnesty are prisoners who committed a crime while they were minors (under 18), were sentenced to less than six years in prison, had never previously been incarcerated in disciplinary institutions, as well as those minors who have served more than half of their sentence. Amnesty will also be considered for pregnant women, single mothers, female invalids, women over 50, and widows. The amnesty does not pertain to minors who were sentenced for violent crimes, rapes, terrorism, kidnapping, or the trading of narcotics. The bill will be implemented on the day of its promulgation. VC
 PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE INVESTIGATES STATE CUSTOMS COMMITTEE...The Prosecutor-Generals Office has filed official charges of abuse of office against Aleksandr Volkov and Marat Faizulin, two high-ranking officers of the State Customs Service Committee (GTK), RBK reported on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). The two are accused of smuggling contraband furniture worth several million dollars in the early 1990s. "Vremya novostei" said on 29 November that the charges are an attempt by the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Federal Security Service (FSB) to put pressure on the GTK and its head, Mikhail Vanin, who is considered to be a holdover from Boris Yeltsin's presidency. However, "Kommersant-Daily" said on 27 November that it believes the action is aimed at Nikolai Patrushev, the director of FSB, and his Deputy for Economic Security Yurii Zaostrovtsev. The company implicated in smuggling the contraband furniture is owned by Zaostrovtsev's father, while Patrushev was responsible for supervising the Customs Service at that time. VY
 ...WHILE FSB KEEPS AN EYE ON DEFENSE MINISTRYThe FSB has increased its control over the Defense Ministry and placed its senior officers under surveillance, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 November. The reason cited for this development is that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, once considered to be close to President Putin, has failed to consolidate his control over the Defense Ministry and Putin has lost confidence in him. In particular, Ivanov was unable to lessen the influence of Chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, who is represented in the second tier of power within the ministry. The split in the Defense Ministry is delaying reforms, which are needed to maintain troop morale and the loyalty of the military electorate. For these reasons Putin asked the FSB to keep an eye on the armed forces, the newspaper speculated. VY
 ACADEMICIAN CLAIMS PUTIN'S ENTOURAGE MISINFORMED HIM ABOUT THE SITUATION IN RUSSIAA member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Mikhail Zalikhanov, said President Putin's entourage painted him a picture of a Russia that does not corresponded to reality, "Vechernyaya Moskva," reported on 29 November. The social and economic statistics presented to the Russian president by academic institutions, government experts, and secret service analysts on dozens of occasions exaggerated the real potential of Russia and prevented him from making sound and objective decisions. "If Putin wants to get an undistorted picture, he should know that Russia is a very poor and cold country producing less than 2 percent of the world's gross product, lagging behind developed countries on labor productivity by 5-6 times, and in personal income by 10-15 times," Zalikhanov said. VY
 NEWSPAPER SHEDS LIGHT ON SCHISM ON PUTIN'S TEAMPresident Putin has no real presidential team, as his staff is divided into those who came to the Kremlin before Putin became president, and those came with him, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 November. In the first category belongs the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, his aides Vladislav Surkov and Igor Shuvalov, and Prime Minister Kasyanov. The second group includes Voloshin's deputies Igor Sechin and Viktor Ivanov, who are considered to be Putin appointees; FSB Director Patrushev and his deputy Zaostrovtsev along with other former KGB officers in power; Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov; and Mezhprombank President Sergei Pugachev. Paradoxically, neither group is completely pro-Putin, but the second group is becoming more politically active, the newspaper reported. VY
 NATURAL RESOURCES MINISTRY VERSUS GAZPROM'S MONOPOLYNatural Resources Minister Vitalii Artyukhov stated that Gazprom's monopoly of the energy market in Russia is "absolutely artificial and temporary," "Izvestiya" reported on 29 November. The only part of Gazprom that can be considered a natural monopoly is its network of pipelines. All the rest is a product of the political and economical situation in Russia in the 1990's, he added. Gazprom currently owns 157 licenses for the most productive deposits of hydrocarbons in the country, and such a situation cannot be tolerated for very long, according to Artyukhov. One of the tasks of his agency will be to help Russia to divest Gazprom of its holdings. This mean that within a few years several competitors must emerge to challenge Gazprom for the common good, Artyukhov concluded. VY
 DEFENSE MINISTRY TO SCRAP RAIL-BASED STRATEGIC MISSILES...Russia has begun decommissioning mobile SS-24 strategic missiles on trains, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 November, citing the head of the company that is responsible for the project. Askond head Vladimir Andreev said that decommissioning the SS-24s is part of Russia's obligation under the START-1 treaty, and that the first train carrying missiles will be moved next week from the Plesetsk space center to a special facility in Bryansk. VY
 ...BUT REFUSES TO MAKE 'ANY CONCESSION' TO THE U.S. ON STRATEGIC ARMS...On 30 November, First Deputy Head of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said "From the Russian side, there are no concessions, there have been none and there will not be any, on the question of antimissile defense and strategic arms," Reuters reported. Baluevskii spoke two weeks after a U.S.-Russian summit in the United States at which President George W. Bush said Washington would reduce the number of its strategic weapons, but made clear it would press ahead with plans to develop a missile defense system opposed by Russia. VC
 ...AND INCREASES NUMBER OF SPY SATELLITESRussian Space Troops at the Plesetsk space center are ready to launch three modified Uragan communication satellites to beef up Russia's orbital recognizance system, Space Troops commander Anatolii Perminov told RIA-Novosti on 27 November. Unmodified Uragans had a life span not exceeding three years, while the new satellites can function in orbit for up to six years. Russia also wants to increase its number of military satellites, as one-third of those now in orbit have already exhausted their life spans, according to Perminov. VY
 DEPUTIES TINKER WITH CURRENT BUDGET...State Duma deputies approved on 29 November on second and third readings amendments to the 2001 budget. The bill details how 318.4 billion rubles ($10.6 billion) in additional revenue will be spent. Deputies also approved on second reading a bill on the privatization of state and municipal property. The vote was 269 in favor, 88 against, and no abstentions, according to Interfax-AFI. According to the bill, items that will be privatized will be confirmed by a decree of the government and not by federal law, which was the earlier practice, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. In addition, the bill requires the president to approve of the sale of any enterprise that has strategic significance. Sales of natural monopolies require the parliament's agreement. JAC
 ...AND PREPARE FOR NEXT YEAR'S CENSUSAlso approved by the Duma on 29 November on first reading was a bill on the next all-Russia census, which will be conducted beginning on 9 October 2002. To pay for the census, some 4 billion rubles ($133.6 million) will be allocated from the federal budget and 1.5 billion rubles from the budgets of the federation subjects, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
 STROEV ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION...Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev told Interfax on 29 November that he will resign from his post and that the upper chamber will discuss the question of leadership on 5 December. Federation group head Valerii Goreglyad said the same day that Stroev's departure in December is the preferred option for his group, RIA-Novosti reported. Yurii Korgunyuk of the INDEM political research group told AFP the same day that Stroev's likely replacement, Sergei Mironov, the speaker of St. Petersburg's legislative assembly, is a man with few enemies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). "He is absolutely new to Moscow, a compromise figure who gives the Kremlin a chance to iron out any potential discontent in the council," Korgunyuk said. JAC
 ...AS ANOTHER GENERAL JOINS UPPER CHAMBERDeputies in Novgorod's legislative assembly voted on 28 November to confirm Lieutenant General Mikhail Sorokin, former military commissar for Moscow, to represent them in the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 November. According to the daily, the company, Transneftprodukt, which has been working closely with Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak on constructing an oil pipeline across the region, suggested him as a senator. The daily noted that the company now has its own representative in the upper legislative chamber. JAC
 PROSECUTORS ACCUSED OF INTERFERING IN REGIONAL ELECTIONSIn an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on 29 November, former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev charged that there are "clear signs of interference by the Prosecutor-General's Office in the election struggles in regions." He continued, "It is completely obvious that in Yakutia prosecutors are carrying out various activities that do not fall under general judicial procedure." Kovalev accused the Prosecutor's Office of acting in support of Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov, who is a candidate in the race. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Sakha (Yakutia) canceled on 29 November the registration of three candidates in the 23 December presidential elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Local Interior Ministry head Semen Nazarov, along with businessmen Mikhail Sannikov and Afanasii Maksimov, lost their right to participate in the elections. ALROSA head Vyacheslav Shtryov was ejected from the race earlier. JAC
 MAYOR CLAIMS CRIMINAL PROSECUTION IS POLITICAL PERSECUTIONAndrei Dyomin, the mayor of Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, has been charged with exceeding his official duties by signing a deal for the purchase of 25 used Mercedes buses, TV-6 reported on 29 November. Prosecutors in Karelia charge that the city paid too high a price for the buses and damage was thus caused to the city's budget. The republic's legislature voted last month to strip Dyomin of his immunity from criminal prosecution. Dyomin told TV-6 that the case against him is politically motivated and that the republic's prosecutor is deliberately dragging the case out so that Dyomin will be hampered during mayoral elections next spring. If found guilty, Dyomin faces a possible prison sentence of seven years. JAC
 RALLY AGAINST 'ISLAMOPHOBIA' IN THE WORKS...In an interview with "Vremya MN" on 29 November, Abdul-Wahid Niyazov, a State Duma deputy and leader of the Eurasian party, said his group is planning "a rally against xenophobia and chauvinism" that will take place in the middle of Ramadan and one month after the pogrom at the Tsaritsyno market in Moscow. According to Niyazov, "Islamophobia" must be stopped in Russia immediately, because 20-25 years from now one-third of Russian citizens will be Muslim. He added that according to current figures some 22 million of Russian citizens are Muslim. JAC
 ...ALONG WITH NEW PLAN FOR ETHNIC GROUPSNiyazov also said he plans to propose a bill that will call for a national referendum on giving ethnic-cultural autonomies special status within Russia's federal structure. Under such a system, for example, German ethnic districts in the Altai Krai or Karelians in Tver Oblast would be formed as special administrative units within those regions. According Niyazov, the current federal structure does not properly address the needs of ethnic groups. "The Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug cannot handle the problems faced by Khanty and Mansii people; instead it is forced to deal with matters of importance to oil companies," he said. JAC
 TV-6 JOURNALIST CLAIMS TO HAVE BEEN BEATEN FOR POLITICAL REASONSIldar Zhandarev, co-anchor with Boris Berman of the "Without Protocol" program broadcast on TV-6, was attacked on 29 November when entering his home, Ekho Moskvy reported. Zhandarev was robbed and beaten. He left the Sklifosovskii hospital on 30 November. Although the Moscow police initially considered the case to be criminal, Zhandarev claimed that he was attacked for political reasons, Ekho Moskvy reported. Before he came to TV-6, Zhandarev was the anchorman of "Interesting Movie" on NTV. The attack on Zhandarev came just a few days after another TV-6 journalist, Vasilii Utkin, was attacked in the street. VC
 CORRECTION:Vladimir Pekhtin is a leader of the Unity faction, and not of Fatherland-All Russia as was reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 29 November.
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 TURKEY MAY PARTICIPATE IN NATO EXERCISE IN ARMENIATurkish troops may participate in multinational military exercises to be held in Armenia within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace Program in 2003, Armenian armed forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mikael Harutiunian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 29 November. He said "several dozen" European countries will also participate in the maneuvers, which will test coordination in joint peacekeeping operations. Armenia and Turkey currently do not have diplomatic relations. LF
 ARMENIAN MILITARY PROSECUTOR ACCUSED OF HUSHING UP MISTREATMENT OF CONSCRIPTSFormer senior Armenian military official Ruben Martirossian told Noyan Tapan on 29 November that the Military Prosecutor's Office has systematically thwarted the investigation of cases of mistreatment of servicemen, including cases that resulted in their death or permanent disability. He cited several instances in which the perpetrators were absolved of any responsibility, and one case in which an innocent serviceman was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for the killing of a fellow soldier. LF
 AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION UP IN ARMENIAArmenia's agricultural output in 2001 is likely to exceed last year's figures by at least 10 percent, Agriculture Minister Zaven Gevorgian told a news conference in Yerevan on 28 November, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The severe drought in 2000 caused an estimated $100 million damage to the agricultural sector, which accounts for almost one-third of the country's GDP. LF
 ARMENIAN SECURITY MINISTRY DENIES PLANS TO ASSASSINATE AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SONIn a statement released on 29 November, the Armenian National Security Ministry rejected as "complete rubbish" and "an outright provocation" the claim made the previous day by a former Azerbaijani prisoner that Armenian security officials tried to recruit him to assassinate Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham, according to Mediamax on 29 November, as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). LF
 AZERBAIJANI POLICE PREVENT GATHERING TO COMMEMORATE FORMER PRESIDENTPolice in Baku resorted to violence on the evening of 29 November to prevent participants in a ceremony to honor deceased President Abulfaz Elchibey from entering the theater where the event was to take place, Turan reported. LF
 OSCE OFFICIAL CONCERNED AT SITUATION OF MEDIA IN AZERBAIJANGerard Stoudmann, who heads the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told journalists in Baku on 29 November, one day after a meeting with President Aliev, that ODIHR is concerned at restrictions on media freedom in Azerbaijan, in particular the arrests and trials of journalists and editors of media outlets, TURAN reported. Stoudmann also said that the ODIHR and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission will assist Azerbaijan in drafting new election legislation. International observers cited flaws in the country's election laws as contributing to the unsatisfactory conduct of both the presidential poll in 1998 and the parliamentary ballot in 2000. LF
 DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS BOMBED GEORGIA...Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denied on 29 November that Russian helicopter gunships bombed Georgia's Pankisi gorge early the previous day. "Helicopters don't fly at night, especially in difficult mountainous conditions," he said. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, however, said in Moscow the same day that OSCE observers deployed on the Georgian-Chechen border established that at least 12 warplanes and six helicopters participated in the air raid, Interfax reported. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 29 November that "there is nothing else to add" to Defense Minister Ivanov's statement. But at a separate meeting between Igor Ivanov and Menagharishvili, agreement was reached on setting up a joint commission to investigate the bombing, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ...AS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER STRESS THAT TBILISI WILL NOT USE RECIPROCAL FORCE...In Moscow to participate in the 30 November CIS summit, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told NTV on 29 November that he does not think Russian President Vladimir Putin knew in advance of the decision to bomb Georgian territory, which Shevardnadze suggested was taken at a lower level, probably "by military commanders," Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze stressed that Georgia will not risk starting a war by shooting down aircraft that violate its airspace, as Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze last month threatened to do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2001). Menagharishvili had similarly told the Georgian parliament on 28 November that Tbilisi will neither "declare war" nor resort to aggression, but seek to resolve its differences with Russia by diplomatic means, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ...AND LOCAL OFFICIAL DENIES CHECHEN GROUPS FIGHTING IN PANKISI GORGEInterfax on 29 November quoted local Georgian police chief Zurab Tushuri as rejecting as untrue Russian media claims that Chechen fighters and Arab mercenaries had clashed in the Kodori gorge and that an ammunition dump exploded during that fighting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). LF
 ABKHAZ REPORT BLAMES CHECHENS FOR DOWNING UN HELICOPTERThe UN Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) issued a statement on 29 November expressing reservations about the conclusions, made public the previous day, of an Abkhaz government investigation into the shooting down in October in the Kodori gorge of a helicopter chartered by UNOMIG, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2001). The Abkhaz report concluded that the helicopter was downed by an Igla surface-to-air missile fired on orders from Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev by members of the armed group that had infiltrated the gorge. The UN statement questioned whether adequate evidence exists that Gelaev ordered the helicopter to be shot down. LF
 THREE KIDNAPPED MONKS FREED IN EASTERN GEORGIAThree of the four monks and novices abducted in the Pankisi gorge in eastern Georgia on 19 November have been released, Caucasus Press reported on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2001). A local police official said no ransom was paid for their release. The kidnappers had demanded $1 million. But two of the three monks subsequently disappeared without briefing police on the circumstances of their kidnapping as they had promised to do, Caucasus Press reported on 30 November. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN SIGNALS READINESS TO HOST ANTITERRORISM COALITION FORCESKazakh President Nazarbaev said in Moscow on 29 November that his country "is ready to consider" requests by the international antiterrorism coalition to station troops on Kazakh territory, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbaev added, however, that no such requests have been received to date. He also said he considers it inexpedient for U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the antiterrorism operation. LF
 TAJIKISTAN AGREES TO ALLOW FRENCH JETS TO USE ITS AIR BASESTajikistan has agreed to allow France to station six Mirage 2000 fighter-bombers on its territory for the duration of the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists in Paris on 29 November. It is not clear, however, where the fighters will be based. U.S. military specialists concluded earlier this month that Tajikistan's Kulyab base is unsuitable for either bombers or transport aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). LF
 NEW CHANNEL OPENED FOR SHIPPING HUMANITARIAN AID FROM TAJIKISTAN TO AFGHANISTAN...Meeting on 28 November at the Nizhnii Pyandj border post between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Afghan, Tajik, UN, and Russian officials reached agreement on reopening that checkpoint and resuming ferry traffic across the Pyandj River to speed up the transportation of humanitarian aid to areas of northern Afghanistan previously controlled by the Taliban, AP and Interfax reported on 29 November. LF
 ...AS UZBEKISTAN SAYS OPENING OF BORDER BRIDGE MAY BE DELAYEDUnnamed senior Uzbek government officials warned in Washington on 29 November that the opening of the Termez border bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan may be delayed if an inspection reveals that repairs are needed to enable the bridge to withstand heavy traffic, Reuters reported. International relief agencies are anxious that the bridge be opened as soon as possible to speed up deliveries of humanitarian aid to northern Afghanistan. LF
 MISSING OPPOSITION LEADER'S WIFE URGES PUTIN 'TO STOP POLITICAL CRIMES' IN BELARUSThe wife of Belarusian opposition leader Viktar Hanchar, who disappeared in Minsk in 1999, has sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to "to stop political crimes" in Belarus, Belapan reported on 29 November. "You showed sympathy for a tragedy far away in New York. At the same time, you find it possible not to notice what is happening in your neighboring 'sister Belarus.' Prominent politicians disappear without trace in this small country in the center of Europe," Zinaida Hanchar said in her letter. "The disappearances of political opponents and the cynicism displayed by the Belarusian authorities over these crimes worry people not only in Belarus and Russia, but also far beyond our borders. I understand that Russia has strategic interests of its own in Belarus. But can friendship be built on the blood and suffering of people?" she asked. JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES ANTIPIRACY BILL...The parliament on 29 November voted by 227 to 115 to pass on first reading a government-sponsored bill aimed at combating the piracy of compact discs, Interfax reported. In particular, the bill provides for issuing licenses to domestic producers and exporters/importers of CDs and imposes fines on those producing CDs without licenses. The U.S. has repeatedly threatened economic sanctions against Ukraine for its failure to protect copyrights in the sphere of CD production and sales. The Ukrainian government estimates that the country may lose at least $400 million annually if such sanctions are imposed. JM
 ...CIVIL, TAX, COMMERCIAL CODESThe same day the parliament concluded the adoption of a Civil Code that, if signed by the president, will come into effect in 2003. The adoption of such a code was part of Ukraine's commitment as a member of the Council of Europe. The parliament also passed a new Commercial Code that regulates relations in the country's business and economic sphere. Moreover, the parliament endorsed a Tax Code on second reading. The code lowers corporate income tax from 30 percent to 25 percent, VAT from 20 percent to 17 percent, and the maximum personal income tax rate from 40 percent to 25 percent. In addition, the code reduces the total number of taxes levied in Ukraine. JM
 WESTERN PLAN TO HELP UKRAINE COMPLETE TWO REACTORS REPORTEDLY COLLAPSESA $1.5 billion Western project to help Ukraine complete two reactor blocks at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants collapsed on 29 November, the "Financial Times" reported on 30 November. The Ukrainian government told the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the EU's Euroatom agency that it will not sign a relevant agreement by 7 December as planned, and simultaneously asked to renegotiate terms attached to EBRD and Euroatom credits, including planned increases in electricity prices. "Many [EBRD] members would not be willing to reopen a discussion, and in particular would not want to relax the condition on tariff increases," the daily quoted EBRD spokesman Jeff Hiday as saying. Meanwhile, President Leonid Kuchma said the same day in Moscow that the Western conditions mean "eternal slavery for Ukraine," and proposed that Russia take part in the completion of the two reactors "on any conditions [Russia likes]," Interfax reported (see Russian item, Part II). JM
 PICKETERS WANT UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO RISE MINIMUM WAGE, EDUCATION FUNDINGSeveral thousand people representing the Ukrainian Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Party, and other organizations picketed the parliamentary building on 29 November to demand that lawmakers increase the minimum wage and public education funding in the budget draft they are currently debating, Inter television reported. The trade unions want the minimum wage to be established at 165 hryvni ($31) per month in January-June 2002, and increased to 183 hryvni beginning on 1 July 2002, while the government and the deputies suggest that the 2002 minimum wage should be 140 hryvni. JM
 NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL VISITS ESTONIADuring a one-day visit to Tallinn on 29 November, Lord George Robertson met with President Arnold Ruutel, Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Defense Minister Juri Luik, and parliament deputies, ETA reported. He stressed that the next six to seven months will be crucial for Estonia's efforts to join NATO, as the organization will be making its decision on new members at its Prague summit meeting in November 2002. Robertson thanked Estonia for participating in the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosova, and for its offers to help combat international terrorism. He noted that "NATO admits not governments, but states," and emphasized the necessity for strong public support for the alliance. SG
 IMF SEES CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT AS ONLY RISK TO LATVIAN DEVELOPMENTAdalbert Knoble, the International Monetary Fund's representative in the Baltic states, told a Latvian business daily on 29 November that the only risk that could threaten Latvia's development at present is its large current account deficit, BNS reported. He said the current economic decline in the West is likely to negatively affect exports, while Latvia's local demand level will remain very high and increase the country's deficit. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Latvia's economy is positive in general and that it must grow faster than those of the West to even out the gap between their economies. Knoble also noted that the IMF decision not to continue negotiations on its cooperation agreement with Latvia because of its larger than agreed upon budget deficit for 2002 is unlikely to affect the country's image since "Latvia has already shown its successful image of a reform maker." SG
 ABOUT 40 TONS OF OIL SPILLED FROM LITHUANIAN OIL PLATFORMMazeikiai Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil), the owner of the Butinge floating oil platform, confirmed on 29 November that it agrees with the figures of the Environment Ministry that about 40 tons of oil were spilled last week, BNS reported. This is significantly larger than the 10 tons that were reported earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). Following talks with President Valdas Adamkus on 29 November, Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas estimated that the damage to the environment from the spill will cost more than 2.5 million litas ($750,000). He said the accident was caused by misuse of the terminal facility, lack of sufficient regulation and legislation, and lack of defined accountability among institutions for the terminal's use and the consequences of accidents. It was the third spill at Butinge since it began operations in 1999. SG
 POLISH PARLIAMENT SACKS LEPPER FROM POST OF DEPUTY SPEAKER...Following a stormy debate, the Sejm on 29 November voted by 318 to 74, with 21 abstentions, to dismiss Self-Defense farmers union leader Andrzej Lepper from his post as deputy speaker over his insulting remarks about Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). The motion to sack Lepper was supported by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc as well as by the opposition Civic Platform and Law and Justice. Lawmakers from the Peasant Party, the ruling coalition partner, were split in their vote on Lepper, while those from the opposition League of Polish Families either supported Lepper or abstained. "Deputy Andrzej Lepper was not recalled because he fought against wrong and injustice, but for the fact that he praised and called for the infringement of the law and also publicly insulted and humiliated people. Today, unfortunately, he has also given proof of this," parliamentary speaker Marek Borowski said of the vote and of Lepper's speech preceding it. JM
 ...WHILE LEPPER CHARGES LAWMAKERS WITH BRIBE-TAKING...Before the vote to strip him of his parliamentary office, Lepper delivered a lengthy tirade to the Sejm in which he fiercely accused the government and political elites of ignoring the plight of Poles in the post-communist transformation period and of selling out state companies to foreign investors. Lepper also alleged that a number of lawmakers have accepted illicit payments in the past and claimed to possess documents proving those facts. Lepper mentioned Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz and Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski as well as Civic Platform politicians Andrzej Olechowski, Donald Tusk, and Pawel Piskorski as persons who allegedly have accepted bribes. "The goal of my dismissal is to cut me off from documents [confirming corruption]," Lepper said. JM
 ...AND LAMBASTES PARTIES, MEDIA"I have my heart on the left side. [But] think what your leaders have on the left side -- hearts or tin cans?" Lepper told lawmakers from the Democratic Left Alliance in the parliamentary hall. Turning to lawmakers from the Civic Platform, he called them "champions in ruining the country." He also made ironic remarks about the Labor Union and Law and Justice. Lepper attacked Polish journalists for "forcing negative reactions" to his person on lawmakers over the past week. He said the Polish leading daily "Rzeczpospolita" has become a tabloid, adding that a columnist for the newspaper said Lepper's supporters are "millions of churls." JM
 POLISH PROSECUTORS TO PROBE LEPPER'S CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONSJustice Minister and Prosecutor-General Barbara Piwnik has said prosecutors will examine the allegations of corruption among politicians voiced by Lepper in the parliament on 29 November, PAP reported. "If there is a suspicion that a crime has been committed, the Prosecutor's Office will undertake immediate actions and every case will be treated in the same way...without the necessity for any additional instructions, and irrespective of who it refers to," Piwnik said. JM
 POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER STRESSES NEED FOR EFFECTIVENESS IN EU TALKSForeign Minister Cimoszewicz told parliament on 29 November that Poland has closed the 19th chapter out of the 31 negotiation areas with the EU, PAP reported. Cimoszewicz stressed that "quick, effective, and determined actions" are necessary at the present stage of preparations for Poland's EU membership. He said the government's goal is to close all chapters by the end of next year. In Cimoszewicz's opinion, the most difficult negotiation areas for Poland are agriculture, regional policy, and budget and finances. Cimoszewicz assured lawmakers that keeping the parliament and people fully informed about Poland's position in EU entry negotiations is the government's "absolute priority." Cimoszewicz faces a vote of confidence over presenting unannounced concessions on farmland sales in Brussels earlier this month. JM
 UZBEK DISSIDENT DETAINED IN PRAGUEProminent Uzbek dissident Mohammad Solih was arrested by the Czech authorities upon his arrival at Prague's Ruzyne airport on 28 November and faces extradition, Human Rights Watch said the following day. That organization called on the Czech authorities to refuse Uzbekistan's extradition request, release Solih immediately, and guarantee his security while in the Czech Republic. Solih is chairman of the opposition Erk Democratic Party, which is banned in Uzbekistan. He was the only genuinely independent candidate to challenge President Islam Karimov in the 1991 presidential elections. Following those elections he was harassed and repeatedly detained by the authorities, and ultimately was forced to flee the country. In November 2000, Uzbekistan's Supreme Court sentenced Solih in absentia to 15 years in prison on charges of terrorism and antistate activities arising from his alleged involvement in the February 1999 bombings in Tashkent in which 16 people were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 16, and 20 November 2000). Solih intended to meet in Prague with RFE/RL broadcasters. MS
 CZECH, AUSTRIAN LEADERS END 'MELK PROCESS'Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel signed an agreement in Brussels on 29 November mediated by EU Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, CTK and international agencies reported. The four-page document titled "Closure of the Melk Process" stipulates that the Czech safety commitments concerning the Temelin nuclear power plant will be attached to the future protocol of Czech accession to the EU -- when that protocol is concluded, presumably in 2004 -- and in return, Austria will not block negotiations on the Czech Republic's accession to the union. Both Zeman and Milos expressed satisfaction over the compromise. The same day, Austrian opponents of Temelin again blocked the road leading to the Wullowitz-Dolni Dvoriste crossing point, but border traffic was not significantly affected, CTK reported. MS
 CZECH AIR FORCE GROUNDS L-39S, MIG-21SThe Czech air force on 29 November grounded all flights of Russian-made MiG-21 and Czech-made L-39 fighters, which make up most of the force's fleet, CTK and international agencies reported. The Defense Ministry said the decision was prompted by doubts concerning the planes' onboard altimeters. The two models have been involved in crashes that killed three Czech pilots over the past 13 months. The dailies "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Pravo" wrote on 20 November that police are investigating whether bribery or fraud may be linked to the government's purchase of faulty altimeters. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross confirmed the criminal investigations, but declined to give specifics. MS
 CZECH DAILY SAYS CHEMICAL UNIT TO BE DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTANThe daily "Pravo" wrote on 30 November that the Czech antichemical unit, which was offered by the government to the United States to assist in the ongoing operations against international terrorism, will be deployed in Afghanistan and directly involved in action there at the beginning of 2002, CTK reported. The daily quoted U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton as saying that the unit could be dispatched to Afghanistan within three days if the terrorists start using chemical or biological weapons, but otherwise it will not go to Afghanistan before the end of 2001. MS
 CZECH NATIONAL BANK SLASHES INTEREST RATES TO HISTORIC LOWThe National Bank on 29 November slashed key interest rates to all-time low levels in an attempt to shore up weakening economic performance, dpa reported. Discount rates for commercial bank loans were cut by 0.5 percent, to 3.75 percent -- the first time the rate has ever dipped below 4 percent. The bank also lowered the two-week repo rate to 4.75 percent from 5.25 percent, and cut the Lombard rate to 5.75 percent from 6.25 percent. MS
 FORMER CZECH COMMUNIST AGENT SENTENCED FOR TORTUREOn 29 November, a Czech court in Uherske Hradiste sentenced Vladimir Zavadilik, a former investigator for the communist secret police (StB), to a two-year suspended sentence with a five-year probation, CTK and dpa reported. Zavadilik, who is 80, was charged with torturing political prisoners in the 1950s. He denied the charge and said he is considering an appeal. MS
 EU SAYS SLOVAKIA MUST SPEED UP AGRICULTURAL REFORMSEU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said in Bratislava on 29 November that Slovakia should stop "wasting time" on agricultural reforms and implement them urgently, Reuters reported. "Unfortunately, progress in [Slovakia's] agricultural sector has been very limited. The question of land ownership is still not solved [and the] restructuring of farms has to continue," Fischler said. He also said the EU is not planning to immediately begin paying subsidies under its Common Agricultural Policy at full EU-levels to new members' farmers, as it would hinder the completion of reforms in that sector. MS
 SLOVAKIA AGAIN SHARPLY CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN STATUS LAWForeign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo, speaking to the parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, said on 29 November that the Hungarian Status Law infringes on Slovak sovereignty, and fails to respect basic norms of international relations and the provisions of the basic Slovak-Hungarian treaty, the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" reported. Commission Chairman Peter Weiss said that unless Hungary makes concessions that are reflected in the decrees on the law's implementation, the commission will recommend that the parliament issue an official declaration condemning the Status Law. MS
 STATUS LAW PROVOKES DISPUTE IN HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTIstvan Csurka, the chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, on 29 November sharply criticized in the parliament the basic treaties concluded with neighboring countries, Hungarian media reported. Csurka proposed the elaboration of a "national strategy" that would include the revision of those treaties. Deputies representing the opposition Socialist Party and Free Democratic Party said the latest EU report on Hungary contains over 40 critical remarks dealing with the Status Law and the public media boards. In response, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the passage of the Status Law is a major step forward for Hungary's national strategy, as it will surely help handle the "Romanian and Transylvanian problem" in relation to EU accession. Orban said EU accession is an important means of "catching up," as it would help Hungary attain a Western living standards. Integration into the EU would also enhance the competitiveness of the economy, he added, which facilitates national sovereignty. MSZ/MS
 HUNGARIAN CALVINIST SYNOD BANS PASTORS FROM POLITICAL CAREERThe Calvinist Church synod on 29 November passed a conflict of interest regulation that bans pastors from membership in political parties and states that pastoral service is irreconcilable with a parliamentary member's position, Hungarian media reported. The synod ruled that if a pastor accepts political party membership, becomes a deputy, or goes abroad on an official mission, he or she must suspend their church service for that period. The amendments will take effect on 1 March 2002. Lay President Attila Kalman said the church must take part in public life but not in party policy. Bishop Gusztav Bolcskei called the decision "historic," saying it is high time to clarify that pastors undertaking political roles do not represent the Calvinist Church. The decision came one day after the synod strongly criticized an anti-Semitic article written by Calvinist pastor Lorant Hegedus Jr., deputy chairman of MIEP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). MSZ
 FORMER HUNGARIAN DEPUTY TO SEEK POLITICAL ASYLUMFormer Independent Smallholders' Party deputy Zoltan Szekely, who is suspected of accepting a bribe of 20 million forints ($70,000), has sought political asylum for himself and his family from the embassies of the U.S., Germany, and Austria, Hungarian media reported. Szekely told reporters on 29 November that he has invited officials from the three embassies to attend his upcoming trial. In other news, Defense Ministry Political State Secretary Janos Homoki won a libel suit against the Internet magazine "Stop." On 8 August, "Stop" published a story suggesting that corruption was involved in the procurement of MiG fighter jets, and hinted at Homoki's involvement. In other developments, the Complaints Committee of the National Radio and Television Board condemned the "Press Club" program aired on the cable channel ATV, saying that the opinions expressed on 9 November by Duna TV Deputy Culture Director Zsolt Bayer "exceed socially accepted moral and ethical norms." Bayer, while discussing incidents at commemorations of the 1956 uprising, said the present opposition should "go to hell for good and be glad that they won't be hanged from a lamppost." The program has since been taken off the air. MSZ
 MACEDONIA TO EXTEND NATO MANDATE...Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 29 November that his government supports a three-month extension of the mandate for NATO's Operation Amber Fox (known locally as Kilibarska lisica), Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). He said after meeting with President Boris Trajkovski: "As [matters stand] now, it's obvious we will go with a prolongation of the NATO mandate." NATO officials had expressed concern over what might happen on the ground if NATO forces were to leave Macedonia. Speaking on the grounds of anonymity, one NATO official said, "There's no doubt that if NATO had to pull out its troops and monitors, we would have a nightmare in the crisis regions." A recent incident between Macedonian elite police and armed Albanians left three police dead. It served to "chasten" Macedonian hard-liners, who might otherwise have opposed keeping Amber Fox in place, the news agency added. PM
 ...AND GET NEW GOVERNMENTGeorgievski announced in Skopje on 29 November the appointment of a government "that will try to stabilize Macedonia and fully implement the [peace pact] by enacting new laws and reintegrating [guerrilla-held] territory," Reuters reported. The news agency commented that "the nominees were seen either as moderates or 'cautious' nationalists, unlike the interior minister, [Ljube Boskovski], who kept his post but appears to have had his wings clipped by the near-disastrous clash between his police and rebels three weeks ago." Slobodan Casule (Nova Demokratija) is the new foreign minister, while Dosta Dimovska (VMRO-DPMNE) becomes deputy prime minister. Moderate Vlado Popovski (Liberal Party) returns to the Defense Ministry, which he headed under a previous Social Democrat-led government some years ago. Georgi Orovcanec (Nova Demokratija) becomes health minister, dpa reported. PM
 YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT STRESSES 'STABILITY'On 29 November, Vojislav Kostunica ended his official visit to Britain, which was overshadowed by charges made by The Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that his government is harboring war criminals (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). Speaking in London before his departure, Kostunica warned that further Balkan border changes will threaten "stability," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. He did not spell out, however, exactly how respecting any democratically expressed wish of Kosovars or Montenegrins for independence will destabilize anything. His critics charge that problems tend to arise when democratically expressed wishes are not respected, not when they are. Kostunica also stressed his long-standing theme that most of his country's problems are the result not of decades of indigenous dictatorships, but of "NATO bombing." He also strongly implied that the West consequently owes something to his country, which started and lost four wars in the 1990s. PM
 YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS BELGRADE COOPERATES WITH THE HAGUESpeaking in London on 29 November, Goran Svilanovic said that his government is cooperating with the war crimes tribunal and will continue to do so, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He also echoed Kostunica's message that border changes will lead to instability. PM
 BELGRADE DENIES WAR CRIMES COMMITTED IN KOSOVA...In Belgrade on 29 November, the Serbian Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that police General Sreten Lukic, whom The Hague tribunal is investigating for war crimes in Kosova in 1999, "acted professionally, in accord with the law, as well as in line with the rules of conduct," Reuters reported. The news agency added that in May, Lukic told reporters that he does not believe Serbian forces committed atrocities in Kosova. Speaking in London on 29 November, Kostunica argued in the same vein, saying that "these people defended their country during the NATO bombing" and that The Hague's investigations will promote "instability." He did not mention that the NATO campaign began in response to atrocities in Kosova, and not the other way around. In August, former President Slobodan Milosevic said in a telephone interview that his forces were under orders only to "eliminate terrorist groups" in Kosova. PM
 ...WHILE HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH POINTS TO ATROCITIESThe New York-based NGO said in a new report that Milosevic and his associates -- including Lukic and his army counterpart, General Nebojsa Pavkovic -- conducted a "coordinated and systematic campaign to terrorize, kill, and expel" Kosovar Albanians in 1999, Reuters reported on 29 November. The study added that "the Yugoslav army, Serbian police, and paramilitaries were all responsible for war crimes." At that time, Pavkovic and Lukic commanded their respective forces in Kosova. "We think there is certainly a credible basis for this investigation by the tribunal given the facts that we have gathered," Human Rights Watch spokesman Richard Dicker said. PM
 FORMER YUGOSLAV STATES SIGN SAVA RIVER AGREEMENTOfficials from Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Yugoslavia signed an agreement in Sarajevo on 29 November to revitalize the Sava River for commercial and navigational use, AP reported. In related news, EU Commissioner Chris Patten, who deals with foreign affairs, announced in Budapest that the Danube River is now completely navigable for the first time since NATO bombed Milosevic's communications and transportation network in 1999. The last of the debris was recently cleared away. PM
 EU TO START TALKS WITH ALBANIACommission President Romano Prodi said in Tirana on 29 November that the EU will start negotiations with Albania as early as the spring of 2002 on an "association and stabilization" agreement, Reuters reported. Prodi praised what he called Tirana's moderate policies in Balkan affairs. He stressed that Albania first needs a stable government, adding that "if it has stability, Albania can [work] miracles." One Albanian observer told "RFE/RL Newsline" that he was amused to hear an Italian politician lecture others about the need for stable governments. PM
 BALKAN STABILITY PACT CHIEF SLAMS CRITICSBodo Hombach, the outgoing head of the EU's Southeastern European Stability Pact, said in Sarajevo on 29 November that cooperation between the Balkan countries has never been better, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He rejected criticism from many European politicians and media that the project is expensive and ineffective. The pact serves as a clearinghouse for development and reconstruction projects. Hombach also praised Bosnia's economic progress and appealed to foreign investors to act quickly to invest in Bosnia. He will return to private business in December. PM
 U.S. DONATES ANTICRIME AID TO BOSNIAU.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond made a gift to Bosnia's joint border police of $1.2 million worth of computers and software to better control their borders and fight organized crime and smuggling, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 29 November. PM
 CROATIA TO SEND AID TO AFGHANISTANThe Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Zagreb on 29 November that it will soon send medical goods, tents, blankets, and food worth about $55,000 to Afghanistan as part of Croatia's contribution to the war against terrorism, AP reported. PM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS FRENCH PRESIDENTOn the second day of his visit to France, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase met on 29 November with French President Jacques Chirac, Romanian radio reported. Chirac said the "political enlargement" of the EU must be extended to all 12 candidate countries, leaving the union's "technical enlargement" to be decided on the criteria of individual country performance. He also said France will back Romania's NATO bid at the alliance's 2002 summit in Prague. Nastase expressed a "strong interest" in seeing the expansion of economic collaboration with France, and said France is "a model" for his country in economic and political spheres. Nastase also met with the leadership of the French Socialist Party (PSF), who told him the PSF will back Nastase's Social Democratic Party's (PSD) quest to become a full-fledged member of the Socialist International (contrary to claims by the PSD General-Secretary Cozmin Gusa reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 29 November 2001, the "consultative member" status recently confirmed by the Socialist International on the PSD is not the equivalent of full membership). MS
 HUNGARIAN LEADERS IN ROMANIA CRITICIZE PROVOCATIVE STATEMENT BY DISSENTERSLeaders of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) said on 30 November that they "disapprove" of the call launched the previous day by the UDMR's Miercurea Ciuc branch to boycott the celebrations of Romania's National Day on 1 December, Mediafax reported. UDMR Executive Chairman Takacs Csaba said in a press release that the call "is contrary to the spirit of coexistence and mutual respect," and thus infringes on the political program of the UDMR. Government spokesman Claudiu Lucaciu said on 29 November that the appeal to boycott the celebrations is a "provocation" by the "so-called reformist group" in the UDMR. The appeal also called on Miercurea Ciuc's population, which is overwhelmingly Hungarian, to wear black armbands in mourning over Hungary's loss of Transylvania. The appeal was signed by Senator Csaba Sogor, Miercurea Ciuc Mayor Csaba Istvan Csedo, UDMR branch Chairman Aron Hajdu, and several local councilors. MS
 ROMANIANS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST POVERTYSome 15,000 people demonstrated in Bucharest on 29 November against poverty and the government's austerity program, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The demonstration was organized by the National Syndicate Bloc and demonstrators called for the dismissal of Premier Nastase and his cabinet. MS
 ROMANIAN BANK PRIVATIZEDA conglomerate formed by the Austrian Raiffeisen Zentralbank and the Romanian-American Fund has finalized the deal under which the conglomerate will acquire over 99 percent of the troubled Banca Agricola for $37 million, Mediafax reported on 28 November. The Austrian bank is the majority shareholder with 93.37 percent, and 0.91 percent of the shares are held by private investors. The deal is Romania's second-largest privatization this year, after that of the Galati Sidex steelmaker. MS
 MOLDOVA'S DEBT TO RUSSIA FOR GAS DELIVERIES RESCHEDULEDPrime Minister Vasile Tarlev, currently on a visit to Russia, on 29 November signed with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov an agreement for the rescheduling of Chisinau's debt for gas deliveries, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Under the agreement, the debt, estimated by Moscow at some $800 million, shall be paid within 11 years, beginning in August 2003 at a 5.75 percent yearly interest rate. The two premiers also agreed that gas deliveries to Russia will continue at the current price of $80 per 1,000 cubic meters, with Moldova paying $60 in down payments, and $20 as credit at a 7 percent interest rate with a three-year grace period. The same day, Russian Ambassador to Moldova Pavel Petrovskii said Moldova is one of the most "preferential countries" for investments by Russian businessmen, and that in the first half of 2001 alone more than $95 million was invested by Russian companies in Moldova. MS
 RUSSIAN TV JOURNALIST REJECTS TRANSDNIESTER ALLEGATIONS OF BIASRussian TV presenter Yevgenii Revenko on 29 November rejected as "nonsense" the allegations of Transdniester "Information Minister " Boris Akulov that the report on Transdniester broadcasted on RTR television on 25 November was biased. Revenko told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti that his station's correspondents "reported what they really saw." He added that he has no idea "with what court the unrecognized republic intends to file suit" against the Russian network, since "a country called the Transdniester Moldovan Republic cannot be found on any map." He also said that the name Boris Akulov "means nothing" to him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27, 28, and 29 November 2001). MS
 UKRAINE REFUTES MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S ALLEGATIONSUkrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Dolhov said on 28 November that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's allegations that his country is aiding Transdniester in smuggling "do not correspond to reality," Infotag reported. Dolhov said that "smuggling...is the transportation of commodities without custom controls and appropriate documentation. However, all cargoes coming from both Moldova and the Transdniester over to Ukraine and via Ukraine have the necessary customs documents." He said declarations such as those made by Voronin "do not promote the ongoing negotiations [between Kyiv and Chisinau on joint custom checkpoints] and "cast doubt on the significant progress already achieved" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001). On the other hand, the new U.S. ambassador to Moldova, Pamela Hyde Smith, told Voronin on 28 November that Washington "supports Chisinau's efforts" to set up the joint customs checkpoints aimed at curbing smuggling generated by the separatist region. MS
 MOLDOVA TO REINSTATE 7 NOVEMBER AS OFFICIAL HOLIDAYA Moldovan parliamentary commission on 29 November approved a draft submitted by deputies representing the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists to reinstate 7 November, the anniversary of the October Revolution, as an official national holiday, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS
 BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY EXPELS DISSENTERThe National Council of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 26 November expelled from the SDS the former head of the SDS Sofia Branch, Evgeni Bakardzhiev, BTA reported. The parliamentary alliance of the United Democratic Forces (ODS), of which the SDS is the main component, subsequently decided on 28 November to recommend that the ODS parliamentary group expel Bakardzhiev as well, BTA reported. However, according to media reports on 30 November, Bakardzhiev is to be elected chairman of the Agrarian Democratic Union, which might bring about a split in the ODS. Bakardzhiev has harshly criticized the SDS leadership following outgoing President Petar Stoyanov loss in the presidential runoff of 18 November to President-elect Georgi Parvanov. Also on 28 November, SDS Chairwoman Ekaterina Mihailova said her party is drafting a new program to be approved at the SDS National Conference in February 2002. MS
 NATO'S ROBERTSON SAYS ALLIANCE'S TIES WITH RUSSIA 'DISTINCTLY WARMING'By Ahto Lobjakas
NATO and Russia have in the past few weeks started to seriously explore ways of revamping their traditionally strained relationship. Leaders of key NATO allies -- such as the United States, Britain, and Germany -- are suggesting that significantly improved levels of cooperation are possible. Last week, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson visited Moscow to discuss the options with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a 28 November interview with RFE/RL, Robertson offered insight into NATO's thinking on the issue.
Referring to what he termed a "distinct warming" between NATO and Russia, Robertson said this could be a "historical moment of opportunity" to tie together Russian and Western interests for the first time since both joined forces 60 years ago to fight fascism.
Robertson, who had just returned from talks in Moscow, said it is too early to speak precisely about how NATO and Russia may be able to translate this opportunity into new institutional arrangements. On the one hand, Robertson said, neither side is interested in seeing Russia become a NATO member at this stage. On the other hand, he said, NATO must genuinely embrace Russia as a partner if cooperation is to attain qualitatively improved levels.
He explained, "It's not a question of Russia becoming a quasi-member of NATO or entering into the affairs of the North Atlantic Council. They [Russia] don't want to do that. They made that clear. And it wouldn't be appropriate anyway. But alongside NATO, through the connections we already have, we deal with a whole series of issues, but we do it on the basis of the 19 NATO nations plus Russia, which they've often seen as the 19 NATO nations against Russia. What we're now exploring is whether at the level of '20' -- that is, myself in the chair and Russia sitting between Spain and Portugal -- we could make progress in certain identified areas where there is a commonality of interest."
Robertson said it is premature to specify areas where Russia might be given a say in NATO affairs, but he mentioned as natural areas for such cooperation the fight against terrorism, ensuring the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and future Balkan operations.
Robertson indicated that, in the longer perspective, the NATO-Russia relationship might develop beyond these areas. He pointed to the new relationship being forged on a political, as well as on a personal level, between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush as an important catalyst. He said key allies like Germany, Britain, Italy, and Canada all clearly support a rapprochement with Russia.
Nevertheless, Robertson flatly ruled out the possibility that Russia might be given the right to veto NATO decisions. "There's no question of Russia having a veto," he said. "It doesn't even want a veto, because President Putin made it clear to me that they're not interested in obstructing the work of NATO, neutralizing the work of NATO, or having a veto over the work of NATO. There was no prospect of that."
This point, Robertson said, applies specifically to the issue of NATO "enlargement" -- a term Robertson said Russia has begun to use -- significantly -- instead of the more threatening term "expansion." Robertson said the issue of NATO enlargement was "hardly mentioned at all" during his three days in Moscow.
Robertson said Putin emphasized during a visit to Brussels in early October that Russia respects the "sovereign right" of NATO to make its own decisions with regard to admitting new members. He said the Russian President made it "very clear" that he is not an "enthusiast" of NATO enlargement and does not think enlargement will contribute to European security, but that he sees the issue of enlargement as part of NATO's internal agenda and not a point on the Russian-NATO agenda.
Robertson stressed that, whatever form NATO-Russian cooperation may take in the future, it can only proceed from the pragmatic interests of both parties, an indication that NATO's traditional concern for shared core values will have to take a backseat, at least for a while.
"We're not in the business of preaching. We're building the relationship on the common interests of both sides. And that businesslike relationship is extremely important. I have no sentimental motivation for the NATO-Russia connection. I see it as being in NATO's self-interest to have a more predictable and a more transparent and a more stable Russia. And I recognize that there is no sentimentality in President Putin's view of NATO."
Again, Robertson went on to say that the "logic of common interest" dictates that the essential, overriding objective for both sides is to establish "ground rules" for cooperation. Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.