|Sunday, 17 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-02-03
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 NTV JOURNALISTS PROTEST...NTV's Executive Board voted unanimously on 30 January to express its lack of confidence in the station's new director, Nikolai Senkevich, Interfax reported. According to "Vremya novostei" on 31 January, the catalyst for the move was Senkevich's appointment of 35-year-old Aleksei Zemskii as NTV's first deputy director. Popular NTV host Leonid Parfenov said he and many others know Zemskii as the producer of "entertainment programs." "How this person can direct an information service is not understandable. The first deputy for broadcasting at NTV is first of all an information-service director," Parfenov told the daily. The journalists said Senkevich is "totally unsuited for his position," ITAR-TASS reported. NTV Editor in Chief Tatyana Mitkova told Interfax that when a company's staff expresses no confidence in the management, "either [the staff] or the management has to leave." Mitkova was also quoted as saying there will be "no strikes or revolutions on the air." However, on 30 January, Mitkova failed to appear in her normal slot as the anchor of the evening news, and journalist Kirill Pozdnyakov reported the Executive Board's decision in her stead. JAC/RC
 ...AS MANAGEMENT STANDS FIRMNTV senior management on 30 January issued a press release saying the company does not have an "executive board" and, therefore, the vote of no confidence in Senkevich is not valid, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Newly appointed Gazprom-Media General Director Aleksandr Dybal also expressed this opinion. Gazprom-Media owns NTV. Dybal declared his complete confidence in Zemskii, saying there can be no doubts about his professional competence, newsru.com reported on 31 January. The disputed NTV Executive Board the same day issued an open letter to Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller that states the station "is on the brink of a crisis" and appeals for him to intervene. Copies of the letter were sent to the Media Ministry and President Vladimir Putin's administration. Newsru.com quoted Mitkova as saying the situation cannot be resolved "without interference from above." RC
 FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO INFORMATION ON IRAQ'S ALLEGED LINKS TO AL-QAEDAForeign Minister Igor Ivanov said after meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi in Sofia on 30 January that Russia has no information to support U.S. and British claims that Iraq has ties to Al-Qaeda, BTA reported. Ivanov added that the large-scale information exchange within the international antiterrorism coalition has not confirmed such links. "The common goal of the international community is to dispossess Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and not to change the regime in Baghdad," bnn quoted Ivanov as saying. "Some states relate the problem of Iraq's disarmament to a replacement of the government there. This contradicts Resolution 1441 of the UN Security Council." UB
 EXCLAVE LAWMAKERS CALL FOR CHANGES TO TREATY ON LITHUANIAN BORDER...The Kaliningrad Oblast legislature on 31 January passed a nonbinding resolution asking the State Duma to postpone consideration of the border treaty between Russia and Lithuania, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies argued that the treaty does not take into account the needs of oblast residents after Lithuania's almost-certain accession to the European Union. The resolution states that the oblast legislature will submit its recommended modifications to the treaty to the Duma by 5 April. Deputies rejected a harsher resolution sponsored by the Communists and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) that would have called upon the Duma to reject the treaty altogether. The lack of a treaty could delay Lithuania's entry into the EU. RC
 ...AS ENVOY REPORTS PROGRESS ON TRANSIT ISSUESPresident Putin's envoy for Kaliningrad issues Dmitrii Rogozin reported that his recent talks with Lithuanian representatives regarding transit issues have met with some success, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). According to Rogozin, Lithuania has agreed that its border-control personnel will not stamp Russian domestic passports used as transit documents. Lithuania also agreed to allow minors to use their birth certificates as transit documents when they are accompanied by a parent. However, Vilnius did not agree to accept Russian military identification cards as transit documents, and Russian service personnel transiting the country between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia will have to present either internal or foreign passports. "The talks were difficult," Rogozin said, "and their successful outcome became possible due to the constructive personal involvement of Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas in the negotiations." RC
 ADVERTISING MARKET BOOMED IN 2002Russia became one of Europe's 10 largest advertising markets in 2002, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January, citing Russian Association of Advertising Agencies (RARA) President Vladimir Yevstavev. The Russian market totaled $2.7 billion, up by 51 percent from 2001. Television advertising represented the largest share, reaching $900 million. Non-Moscow-based television advertising was worth $190 million. According to RARA analysts, the market is expected to continue its growth this year, and prices of advertising services are expected to rise. RARA estimates the Russian advertising market will be worth $2.73 billion in 2003, $3.43 billion in 2004, and $3.8 billion in 2005. RC
 DEPORTED AMERICAN QUESTIONED, RELEASEDLaw-enforcement officials in Los Angeles questioned and released an American woman who was deported from Russia on 29 January under suspicion that she had offered to assist Islamic extremist groups in carrying out terrorist attacks in the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). An FBI spokeswoman said the woman, Megan McRee, "does not pose any kind of immediate threat" and that the Russian government's allegations "have not been corroborated." McRee has denied the allegations, which were made by a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) and widely broadcast on Russian state television. RC
 TRAFFIC FATALITIES UP SHARPLYMore than 33,000 Russians died in traffic accidents in 2002, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 31 January, citing statistics from the State Automobile Inspectorate (GIBDD). The daily noted that 145,000 Russians died in accidents between 1996 and 2000, or about 29,000 per year. The number of accidents was up 12 percent over 2001, and the number of fatalities increased by almost 8 percent. At an average of 90 people killed per day, the daily commented that automobile accidents taken together are virtually the same as if one "Kursk"-type nuclear submarine sank or one tragedy like the 23-26 October Moscow hostage taking happened each day. RC
 SOUTHERN DAM RAISES CONCERNSA 15-kilometer dam protecting the Saratov Oblast city of Engels has begun leaking and could collapse, newsru.com reported on 30 January, citing Engels Deputy Mayor Aleksandr Strelyukhin. If the dam collapses, up to 35,000 square kilometers of territory with 60,000 inhabitants would be inundated, according to the report. Leaks have been discovered in 20 of the dam's 25 sections, and experts from the Emergency Situations Ministry have been called in to examine it. A high-ranking Transport Ministry official earlier this month acknowledged that many parts of the country's water-management infrastructure are in extremely poor condition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). RC
 YABLOKO, YAVLINSKII LEAD SPS, NEMTSOV IN POLLS...According to a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation, the rating for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party rose two points last month, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. When asked which party they would vote for if State Duma elections were held on 2 February, 30 percent of respondents selected the Communist Party (KPRF), and 26 percent chose Unified Russia. The poll was conducted among 1,500 people. Yabloko and the LDPR would gather the 5 percent of the vote required to send party-list deputies to the Duma, but the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) would not. Meanwhile, the results of a similar poll conducted in January by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) were somewhat different. It showed 24 percent for the KPRF, 14 percent for Unified Russia, 8 percent for Yabloko, 6 percent for the LDPR, and 5 percent for SPS. When asked who should head a hypothetical alliance of SPS and Yabloko, 25 percent supported Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, compared with 20 percent support for SPS's Boris Nemtsov. The VTsIOM poll was conducted among 1,600 people in 40 different regions. JAC
 ...AS YAVLINSKII SAYS DOOR ISN'T CLOSED COMPLETELY TO COOPERATIONIn an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 30 January, Yavlinskii said he didn't know in response to the question of whether the creation of a single bloc of SPS and Yabloko is "finally closed" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). "From our point of view, our position has been satisfactorily made, [but] it is difficult to say what our colleagues [in SPS] will do today," he said. Yavlinskii also pointed out that while SPS leader Irina Khakamada suggested that Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais is ready to leave SPS, Nemtsov did not appear to concur. Yavlinskii added that Chubais's departure from SPS is also not the "only or the main condition" for a merger of the two groups. Yavlinskii also noted that Yabloko has suggested that the two parties agree on a common list of candidates for single-mandate districts in the December 2003 State Duma elections. Meanwhile, fellow Yabloko leader Igor Artemev the same day announced that he will run this year from a single-mandate district in St. Petersburg. In the last election, he entered the Duma on Yabloko's party list. JAC
 RUSSIA MARKS 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF BATTLE OF STALINGRADCelebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Stalingrad have begun in the southern city of Volgograd, Russian news agencies reported on 31 January. The celebrations will culminate on 2 February, with President Putin expected to preside. Twenty-three foreign delegations from around the world will participate in the commemoration of the battle that is widely seen as the turning point of World War II, strana.ru reported. The anniversary has revived discussion of the idea of restoring the name Stalingrad to the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). President Putin has said he does not believe that restoring the name "would bring us any benefit" but has said that any decision on renaming cities must be made by local lawmakers and the State Duma. However, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 31 January that a recent initiative sponsored by Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (LDPR) to rename the city was rejected by the Duma Council because it did not have the required commentary from the government. The daily reported that in a recent survey, VTsIOM found that 51 percent of Volgograd residents oppose the idea, while 31 percent support it. RC
 MOSCOW POLICE TO BEGIN NEW CHECKS OF FOREIGNERS...The deputy head of Moscow's Interior Ministry directorate, Viktor Cherkashin, told reporters on 30 January that city police will launch regular checks of foreigners' migration cards, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Foreign citizens without such cards will face either a fine of 5-10 minimum wages or deportation. Starting in November, more than 30,000 cards have been given out in Moscow. However, an estimated 860,000 foreigners are officially registered as living in Moscow. JAC
 ...AND QUASH EFFORT OF WOULD-BE ENTREPRENEURSOn 28 January, city police arrested three unemployed Muscovites who were trying to sell migration cards and blank forms for temporary registration out of a building at Moscow State University, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 January. JAC
 GOVERNOR CLAIMS HE WAS VICTIM OF 'BLACK PUBLIC RELATIONS'In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 January, Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov accused his political rivals of circulating damaging leaflets to Moscow-based newspaper editors, high-level Moscow-based officials, and throughout his region. The leaflets assert that Voronezh is on the verge of a "socioeconomic explosion that could rock all of Russia." According to the daily, the leaflets appear to have been professionally printed. Kulakov, who is a former head of the oblast directorate of the FSB, declined to speculate on who precisely is behind the action, but he attributed it to a "reaction to my declaration that I intend to seek a second term." Kulakov will come up for re-election in 2004. JAC
 ANOTHER SENATOR ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK...The issue of recalling Tatyana Konovalova, the Federation Council representative for the legislature of Nenets Autonomous Okrug, was postponed by the okrug's legislature on 30 January, RosBalt reported. According to the news agency, Konovalova was unable to travel to Naryan-Mar for the session at which her dismissal was to be discussed, so the matter will now be considered in February. JAC
 ...AS ONE HOLDS ON TO POSTMeanwhile, Konovalova's colleague representing the Murmansk Oblast legislature, former Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, won a recall vote in the oblast's legislature on 30 January, Interfax-Northwest reported. Thirteen legislators voted in favor of keeping Popov, while 10 voted against and one abstained. Popov was confirmed as a senator a little over a year ago. This month, the State Duma rejected a bill that would have restricted the ability of legislators to recall their representatives to the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003). JAC
 USTDA GRANT TO SET UP TATARSTAN DEVELOPMENT BANK...Tatar Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Minister Khafiz Salikhov has announced that the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has allocated a $176,000 grant to begin the establishment in Tatarstan of a regional-development bank, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 30 January, citing AK&M on 29 January. The money will be distributed to the legal firm Hogan & Hartson to develop a business plan. The Agency for Developing International Cooperation under Tatarstan's Cabinet of Ministers will sign a corresponding agreement with Hogan & Hartson, Salikhov said. The project was first discussed in 1997 during a visit to Tatarstan by a delegation from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Participation in the project by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is also being negotiated. The share of the Tatar government in the bank will not exceed 25 percent. RC
 ...AS TATARSTAN, COLORADO STEP UP HIGH-TECH COOPERATIONMinister Salikhov and visiting Colorado state Secretary of Technology Mark Holtzman on 28 January signed a cooperation protocol aimed at developing cooperation and promoting direct ties among companies and organizations in Tatarstan and the U.S. state of Colorado, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 29 January, citing tatnews.ru and intertat.ru. According to the document, the sides will promote cooperation in communications and information technology, oil extraction and processing, and education and training. Meeting with Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov on 28 January in Kazan, visiting Colorado Governor Bill Owens said Colorado and Tatarstan have the same approach to the concept of sovereignty, adding that a successful model of sovereignty exists in Tatarstan, Tatarinform reported the same day. He said power in a federal system should come from the bottom up, and Tatarstan is a very good example of how to work successfully in a federal system and maintain true sovereignty. RC
 SANTAS FOR SADDAMTwelve members of the Union of People for Education and Science (SLON) held a rally against a possible war in Iraq on 30 January outside of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, RIA-Novosti reported. The dozen activists, who are between the ages of 15 and 20, were dressed in Santa Claus suits. SLON spokesman Aleksandr Landay explained that Americans heed Santa Claus. The party is led by former Yabloko members Vyacheslav Igrunov and Andrei Sharomov. Igrunov is a Duma deputy, and Sharomov is the former head of Yabloko's youth organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2002). JAC
 SCIENTOLOGISTS WANT PROTECTION FROM PUTIN YOUTH...Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg community of Scientologists has sent a protest to city authorities regarding the "protest action" launched by the pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together on 27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003), Interfax reported on 30 January. According to the agency, Anton Lychkin, the head of the Moscow-based Scientologist organization, said his group is registered with the Justice Ministry and that the authorities should protect them against those trying to inflame enmity among people of different faiths. However, the Justice Ministry told the agency that the group did not manage to reregister by the 31 December 2000 deadline, despite several attempts to do so. Last year, the Justice Ministry sought the church's liquidation on grounds that it had failed to reregister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2002). JAC
 ...AS PARENTS OF FAR EAST TEENS TO PAY FOR OFFSPRING'S MISBEHAVIORParents of teenagers who are caught smoking in public in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii will have to pay fines of 500 rubles ($16), while parents of youths caught drinking will have to pay 2,500 rubles, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 January. Next month, officials of the city's special commission on underage drinking will conduct raids of establishments believed to be selling liquor to minors. One must be at least 18 years old to purchase alcohol in Russia. JAC
 OFFICIALS COMMENT ON PACE RAPPORTEUR'S PROFFERED RESIGNATIONLord Frank Judd announced in Strasbourg on 30 January that he would step down as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur for Chechnya unless the planned 23 March referendum on the new Chechen draft constitution and election legislation is postponed, Russian news agencies reported. Judd has repeatedly argued that while such a referendum is needed, it should not be held when hostilities in Chechnya are continuing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 January 2003). The Council of Europe is to decide on 5 March whether to reappoint Judd as rapporteur. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev expressed satisfaction at Judd's move, having earlier accused him of inconsistency. Rogozin predicted that following Judd's departure, the PACE-State Duma working group on Chechnya that he and Judd co-chaired might cease to exist as it has "outlived its usefulness." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said he hopes that Judd's successor as rapporteur is "objective," Interfax reported on 30 January. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION BRIEFS OSCE ON ELECTION CAMPAIGN IRREGULARITIESRepresentatives of the 16 opposition parties that aligned last summer to coordinate tactics for the presidential- and parliamentary-election campaigns this year met in Yerevan on 30 January with U.S. diplomat Peter Eicher, who heads the OSCE mission to monitor the 19 February presidential poll, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They informed Eicher of numerous instances of alleged falsification of voter lists and of the illegal use of government resources and intimidation of voters by people campaigning for incumbent President Robert Kocharian. In Giumri, Armenia's second-largest city, members of the campaign staffs of National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian complained to an RFE/RL journalist on 30 January that special "brigades" loyal to Kocharian systematically tear down any rival candidates' campaign posters. LF
 TENDER FOR ARMENIAN TV FREQUENCIES CANCELLED AGAINArmenia's National Commission for Television and Radio postponed indefinitely on 30 January a tender, scheduled for 31 January, for several television frequencies, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Economic Arbitration Court, which is considering an appeal against the tender on the part of five television companies that are already broadcasting on those frequencies, demanded that the tender be postponed until it hands down a final ruling on the appeal. The hearing is scheduled for 14 February, according to Noyan Tapan. The postponement could deprive the independent A1+ television station, which had to cease broadcasting after losing its original frequency in a controversial tender last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002), of the opportunity to resume broadcasting before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 23 May. LF
 MOSCOW MAYOR VISITS ARMENIAYurii Luzhkov and Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian signed in Yerevan on 30 January an agreement on economic, educational, and cultural cooperation between the two cities, Russian news agencies and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Luzhkov noted that trade between Moscow and Yerevan accounts for one-third of all Russian-Armenian trade and could be further expanded. The only obstacle to doing so, he continued, is the difficulties inherent in shipping goods via Georgia. For that reason, he advocated developing alternative transport routes. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE SIGN DEFENSE COOPERATION PROGRAMUkrainian Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkydchenko ended a two-day visit to Baku on 30 January after signing, together with his Azerbaijani counterpart Colonel General Safar Abiev, a cooperation plan between their respective ministries for 2003, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. That plan envisages cooperation in staff training and in the military-technical sphere. Shkydchenko told journalists on 30 January that Ukraine is committed to what he termed the long and difficult process of securing an invitation to join NATO. He also said Ukrainian troops could, if asked, help guard the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea oil, according to Caucasus Press. Shkydchenko met separately on 30 January with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. LF
 GEORGIA RAISES QUESTION OF UN PEACE-ENFORCEMENT OPERATION IN ABKHAZIA...Georgia's ambassador to the UN, Revaz Adamia, sent a letter to the UN Security Council on 30 January arguing that recent Russian policy toward Abkhazia demonstrates that Russia cannot act as an objective mediator in the Abkhaz conflict, RFE/RL's UN correspondent reported. Adamia condemned the Abkhaz leadership for its consistent refusal to begin talks on the UN-drafted document "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies Between Tbilisi and Sukhumi." Adamia further criticized the UN for supporting the presence in the Abkhaz conflict zone of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed there under the CIS aegis. He warned that the Georgian population might lose faith in the UN's ability to resolve the conflict and suggested that "in the circumstances of continued obstruction of the peace process by the Abkhaz side, it would be appropriate to consider the possibility of resorting to measures under Chapter VII" of the UN Charter, which outlines the conditions under which the UN may launch a peace-enforcement operation. Georgian officials have for years hinted that Tbilisi might formally demand such UN intervention if no progress was registered in resolving the conflict. LF
 ...AS UN SECURITY COUNCIL RENEWS OBSERVERS' MANDATEThe UN Security Council on 30 January voted to prolong for a further six months the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), but at the same time undertook to review that mandate unless agreement is reached by 15 February on extending the mandate of the CIS/Russian peacekeeping, RFE/RL's UN correspondent reported. The mandate of the Russian peacekeepers, on whom the UN relies to protect the armed UNOMIG staff, expired on 31 December and its extension depends on an agreement between the Russian and Georgian governments on several contentious issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). The UN Security Council also called yet again for the Georgians and Abkhaz to begin talks on the "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies Between Tbilisi and Sukhumi." LF
 U.S. HAILS AGREEMENT BETWEEN KAZAKH GOVERNMENT, OIL CONSORTIUMA U.S. State Department spokesman on 29 January expressed satisfaction with the agreement reached four days earlier between the Kazakh government and the Tengizchevroil consortium on financing the second stage of development of the vast Tengiz oilfield, according to the 30 January issue of the weekly "Kazakhstan News Bulletin" circulated by the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United States and Canada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). "The $3 billion expansion project is one of the largest foreign-investment projects in the former Soviet Union. It will play a major role in developing the Caspian Basin and helping to diversify the world's oil supply. The Tengizchevroil expansion project will showcase American know-how, create 7,000 jobs, and help develop Kazakhstan's economy," the spokesman said. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S NATIONAL BANK STOPS SETTING TENGE-DOLLAR EXCHANGE RATEFollowing its transition at the beginning of this year to international accounting standards, Kazakhstan's National Bank announced on 29 January that it will no longer set the exchange rate for the tenge for accounting purposes, according to Khabar TV, as cited in the 30 January issue of the weekly "Kazakhstan News Bulletin" circulated by the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United States and Canada. LF
 OPINION POLL SUGGESTS KYRGYZ VOTERS UNFAMILIAR WITH CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTSIn a survey of 400 Kyrgyz citizens in Bishkek and a further 200 in Osh conducted by the M-Vector agency, 66 percent of respondents said they support the 2 February referendum on changes to Kyrgyzstan's constitution, and 63 percent said they will vote, akipress.org reported on 30 January. Those who oppose the referendum generally explained that either they are not familiar with the proposed changes, or they do not think they will lead to improvements in the domestic political situation, or that the money spent on conducting the referendum should have been used for other purposes. A majority of the respondents who are familiar with the proposed changes said they would endorse them. But 64 percent of those questioned said they have no idea what the amendments entail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). Speaking at a 30 January press conference in Bishkek, Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the Association of NGOs and Noncommercial Organizations, predicted that 78 percent of the electorate will approve the proposed amendments, akipress.org reported. LF
 TAJIKISTAN, INDIA DISCUSS ECONOMIC, DEFENSE COOPERATIONVisiting Dushanbe on 28-30 January, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Singh met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev, and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov, Russian news agencies and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Oqilov proposed expanding economic cooperation in power engineering, light industry, and the production of medicines and silk. Oqilov and Singh also considered the possibility of starting regular commercial flights between Delhi and Dushanbe. Singh and Khairulloev focused primarily on the situation in Afghanistan and the prospects for exchanging information on fighting terrorism and for providing training for Tajik defense personnel at Indian military colleges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). On 30 January, Singh and Nazarov signed an agreement under which India will provide $1 million toward the cost of a food-processing plant to be built in Tajikistan. LF
 OSCE CENSURES TURKMENISTANSpeaking in Vienna on 30 January, the deputy head of the U.S. permanent delegation to the OSCE, Douglas Davidson, criticized the Turkmen leadership's refusal to cooperate with an OSCE investigation into the circumstances of the putative 25 November assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Davidson added that the OSCE is deeply concerned by what he termed numerous credible reports that people suspected of involvement in that attack have been subjected to torture and members of their families arrested. Ashgabat has refused to name an official to serve on a OSCE fact-finding mission. Turkmenistan's Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov asked the OSCE last week to abandon that undertaking. LF
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION HEAD VISITS UZBEKISTANUzbekistan's President Islam Karimov met in Tashkent on 30 January with Aleksandr Voloshin to discuss unspecified issues relating to bilateral cooperation and regional security, Interfax and uza.uz reported. Voloshin also briefed Karimov on the informal CIS summit in Kyiv earlier this week, which Karimov did not attend as he was on an official visit to Spain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2003). Voloshin conveyed Russian President Vladimir Putin's birthday greetings to Karimov, who turned 65 on 30 January. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 MINSK CONTINUES TO PUSH RUSSIAN BROADCASTERS OUT OF BELARUSSeven regional transmitters airing Russia's RTR Television will be taken over by Belarusian regional television channels on 1 February, the Charter-97 website (http://www.charter97.org/bel/news/) reported on 30 January, quoting State Broadcasting Company Chairman Yahor Rybakou. Rybakou said the move was prompted by the need to develop regional television in Belarus. "Belarusian viewers are always confused by the existence of the three imperial channels [Russia's RTR, ORT, and NTV] here," Rybakou noted. "We are a sovereign state and we will be developing our [own] television," he added. On 1 January, Belarus stopped retransmitting programming from Russia's Mayak, Golos Rossii, and Yunost radio stations in its UHF band. JM
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST JAILED FOR ANTI-RUSSIAN PROTESTA district court in Minsk on 29 January sentenced prominent opposition activist Vyacheslau Siuchyk to 10 days in jail for his participation in an unauthorized demonstration, Belapan reported on 30 January. Siuchyk was among several dozen people who on 19 January, hours before the arrival of President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, protested what they described as the possible incorporation of Belarus into Russia. On 30 January, a district court in Hrodna jailed artist Dzmitry Ivanouski for 15 days for organizing an unauthorized rally of vendors on 28 January. Ivanouski has launched a hunger strike, saying the rally was spontaneous and had no organizers. JM
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UKRAINEBulgarian President Georgi Parvanov told his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 30 January that Bulgaria supports Ukraine's efforts to integrate into the European Union, BTA and Ukrainain media reported. Parvanov was speaking at the start of a three-day official visit to Ukraine. Kuchma urged Parvanov to ease Bulgarian visa policy vis-a-vis Ukrainians. Some 70,000 Ukrainian tourists spent holidays at Bulgarian resorts in 2001, according to official estimates, but that number declined by more than 40 percent in 2002. The two sides signed accords on 30 January on cooperation to protect intellectual-property rights and monitor nuclear-energy safety, as well as in the areas of environmental protection and culture. JM
 KYIV SAYS KUCHMA'S CIS LEADERSHIP WON'T ALTER FOREIGN POLICYThe Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 30 January issued a statement saying the recent election of President Kuchma as head of the Council of CIS Heads of State (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003) will not change Ukraine's strategic priorities in foreign policy, UNIAN reported. The expansion of Ukrainian ties with the CIS in general and the Russian Federation in particular guarantees the country's successful integration into Europe and NATO, the statement asserts. The ministry also said Kuchma's CIS appointment testifies to the fact that the post-Soviet commonwealth has given priority to developing its "economic vector." Kuchma is the first non-Russian leader to head the CIS Council. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CREATES BODY FOR 'EUROPEAN, EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION'President Kuchma has set up a State Council for Issues of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, UNIAN reported on 30 January. According to the presidential decree, the council is to coordinate efforts toward implementing the country's strategic political goals. Those goals include "ensuring Ukraine's entry into the European political, economic, security, and legal area [and] creating preconditions for Ukraine's admission to the EU and NATO." The council is to be headed by the president and will include the prime minister, the head of the presidential administration, the secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, the foreign minister, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada (whose participation is optional), and several other government officials. JM
 RUSSIAN CHURCH LEADER AGAIN POSTPONES VISIT TO ESTONIAThe head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, has postponed his planned 7-13 February visit to Estonia (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 December 2002) until May or June, BNS reported on 30 January. Leonti Morozkin, the press secretary for the Metropolitan of Tallinn, explained that the patriarch's physicians "have categorically advised him against undertaking such a trip now." The daily "Eesti Paevaleht" wrote the same day that Aleksii, who was born in Estonia in 1929, was planning during his visit to choose a gravesite for himself in the cemetery of the Pyhtitsa Convent in northeastern Estonia to which his parents brought him every year during his childhood. SG
 LATVIAN HEALTH MINISTER SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTEParliament on 30 January rejected by a 41 to 56 vote a no-confidence motion against Health Minister Aris Auders, LETA reported. The opposition People's Party had demanded his dismissal for allegedly receiving double payment for surgery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2003). After the vote, Prime Minister Einars Repse noted that Auders has made a number of mistakes but is not a "hardened criminal" and can prove his worth with successful reforms in the health-care system. SG
 LATVIA'S PARLIAMENT APPOINTS NEW ARMY COMMANDERIn a vote of 78 to 19 with one abstention, lawmakers on 30 January appointed Rear Admiral Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots commander of the National Armed Forces, LETA reported. He will begin a four-year term, replacing Brigadier General Raimonds Graube, on 1 February. The 57-year-old Zeibots was nominated by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). He previously commanded the Latvian navy, was the senior officer in Latvia's delegation to NATO accession talks, and has been armed-forces deputy commander since 2002. SG
 LITHUANIA EASES KALININGRAD TRANSIT RULESAfter talks with Russian presidential envoy for Kaliningrad Dmitrii Rogozin, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told reporters in Vilnius on 30 January that Lithuania has agreed to a Russian request not to stamp the internal passports of Russians entering the country to travel to Kaliningrad Oblast, BNS reported. Instead, a separate document will be placed in Russian passports on entering Lithuania and surrendered on departure. Lithuania also agreed not to demand identification documents from children traveling in groups with official confirmation of travel lists accompanied by adults with proper identification documents. Brazauskas said no final decision has been made on Rogozin's request that military identification cards be recognized as a valid travel document (see Russia items above). Identification cards were not mentioned in the EU-Russian agreement on Kaliningrad transit, and Lithuania will allow their use only if the EU confirms the move will not hinder its efforts to join the Schengen zone. SG
 POLISH MINISTER SAYS EU FARM-SUBSIDY CHOICE STILL OPENEuropean Affairs Minister Danuta Huebner said on 30 January the government has until March 2004 to select a system for calculating direct EU subsidies for farmers, Polish Radio reported. Huebner appears to have modified her statement of the previous day, when she said the government must decide on this issue by the evening of 31 January, when editing of the text of the accession treaty is to be completed in Brussels. The latest Polish-EU controversy concerns whether Polish farmers are to obtain direct subsidies under a so-called simplified or a mixed system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Huebner confirmed that the government continues to favor the simplified system but did not rule out the possibility that this stance might change. "There are ever more voices and experts' reports demonstrating the great benefits of this mixed system, [which] is in fact a dream come true for the Polish situation, since it would allow for the linking together of support for small farms that do not always produce for the market...with those farmers who have advanced production in the areas that are included in the direct payments system," she added. JM
 POLISH WOMEN'S GROUPS URGE EU TO REJECT 'MORALITY' CLAUSESeventeen Polish women's group have signed an open letter urging the EU to reject the Polish government's recent proposal to introduce a so-called morality clause in the EU accession treaty, dpa reported. The Polish government asked the European Union for guarantees that Brussels will not seek to influence the country's anti-abortion law when it joins the EU in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). "We feel completely betrayed by the government, whose members promised to liberalize the highly restrictive anti-abortion law," the letter says. "While cows, land, and milk have been discussed extensively for a long time in public, this declaration was accepted in response to the pressure of the Roman Catholic Church behind closed doors," the organizations argue. JM
 POLAND ENDS 2002 WITH SLOW GROWTH, RECORD UNEMPLOYMENTThe Main Statistical Office revealed on 30 January that Poland's gross domestic product grew by 1.3 percent in 2002, Polish media reported. The economy ended 2002 with record 18.1 percent unemployment, which translates into 3.2 million jobless. Poland's exports increased by 11.4 percent and imports by 8.2 percent in 2002, but the country's negative trade balance remained high at $7.2 billion, including $5.2 billion in trade with EU countries. JM
 CZECH PRESIDENT DRAWS POLITICAL FIRE FOR LAST TIME?Government representatives on 30 January obliquely distanced themselves from President Vaclav Havel's endorsement of a call to unite behind the effort to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). Havel's mandate ends on 2 February. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said he was invited to sign the "group of eight" letter but declined, according to CTK. He stressed that what counts are not personal declarations but "the relevant government resolution and the resolutions of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate." Spidla added: "Our foreign policy is determined by official decisions and not by newspaper articles, even if they are signed by influential people." Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said that by signing the letter, Havel has expressed a personal opinion, which is within his presidential prerogatives. MS
 IRISH PREMIER IN PRAGUEVisiting Irish Premier Bertie Ahren on 30 January met with President Havel, discussing the deadlocked effort to name a Czech presidential successor and the future of the EU, CTK reported, citing presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek. According to Spacek, the two also briefly discussed the situation in Northern Ireland. Ahren also met with Premier Spidla, Senate President Petr Pithart, and Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek. MS
 POLICE DETAIN CZECH ARTILLERY UNIT'S COMMANDERPolice on 30 January detained the commander of an artillery unit stationed in Pardubice, Eastern Bohemia, CTK reported, citing Czech Television. The television report said investigators imposed a strict embargo on information pertaining to the arrest, but Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said the officer is under investigation for his suspected involvement in the trafficking of arms. MS
 SLOVAK PRESIDENT ENDORSES DECISION ON POSSIBLE PARTICIPATION IN ACTION AGAINST IRAQ...President Rudolf Schuster on 30 January endorsed the government's decision on the possible participation of Slovak forces in a military action against Iraq, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). Schuster said he is confident the parliament will approve the decision, which also opens Slovak airspace to U.S. fighters and grants them landing rights in the event of hostilities. Schuster said he does not fear that Slovakia might become a target for terrorist attacks as a result of the decision. "In that event, one can rely on the assistance of our allies," he said. Schuster admitted, however, that Slovakia's possible involvement in a military strike might diminish domestic support for joining NATO, which in November invited Slovakia to become a member. MS
 ...AS PREMIER JOINS CALL FOR UNITED RESPONSE TO IRAQPrime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 30 January added his name to an open letter by eight European leaders who appealed the previous day for a united effort to bring about Iraq's disarmament, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). Dzurinda was invited to join the signatories by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar following Dzurinda's reference to the letter as a document that is "clear, correct, [and comes] at the right time." In a telephone conversation, Dzurinda told Aznar that Saddam Hussein is "taking advantage of the lack of unity" in the West. MS
 SLOVAK PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ORDERS FAST PROBE OF BUGGING ALLEGATIONS...Prosecutor-General Milan Hanzel said on 30 January that he has ordered a "fast and objective investigation" into allegations that Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) leaders' telephones were being tapped, TASR reported. Hanzel said investigators will look for evidence of any Interior Ministry official's involvement in the illegal eavesdropping on ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko and other ANO leaders. He said a special investigation team has been set up and no further information will be provided until the investigation is complete. MS
 ...AS MINISTRY'S OWN INVESTIGATION GETS SIDETRACKEDInterior Minister Vladimir Palko, whom Rusko has suggested was involved in the tapping, on 30 January said he replaced the ministry's own team investigating the affair because the case is difficult and requires professional investigators, TASR reported, citing the daily "Narodna obroda." Palko said the new leader of the team is Jozef Satek, who heads the police department for serious crimes. The daily wrote that the previous investigating team considered Satek a suspect. MS
 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT'S PRESIDENT INAUGURATES BRATISLAVA OFFICEEuropean Parliament President Patrick Cox on 30 January inaugurated the European Parliament's office in Bratislava, TASR reported. Slovak parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky told Cox that all parliamentary parties back EU accession and will participate in the campaign urging a "yes" vote in the 16-17 May referendum on accession. Cox said a resolution approved by the European Parliament earlier on 30 January reflects European public opinion, which is divided over the issue of a possible military intervention against Iraq. The resolution rejects any unilateral use of force outside the framework of a UN mandate. MS
 GERMAN COURT REJECTS SLOVAK JEWISH CLAIM FOR HOLOCAUST COMPENSATIONA Berlin court on 30 January threw out an appeal by the Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia aimed at compensation for the deportation of Slovak Jews to extermination camps during World War II, dpa reported. The challenge sought to overturn a lower court's rejection of the Jewish group's demand. "German legal jurisprudence does not recognize collective claims," and the union is not entitled to represent the deportees, the judge wrote. The Jewish group's lawyer, Rainer Arzinger, countered bitterly that "people could not write their wills at the ramps in Auschwitz," AP reported. The union was seeking $45 million from the German government, representing the 500-reichsmark "fee" charged by Nazi authorities from the puppet Slovak government for the transportation of the Jews to camps. The Jozef Tiso regime paid the sum from assets confiscated from the victims themselves. Central Union of Jewish Communities Chairman Frantisek Alexander said the fight for justice will continue. Arzinger said he will appeal to a federal court, adding that if that appeal is rejected, the union will take its case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. MS
 ROMANY WOMEN CONFIRM REPORTS OF FORCED STERILIZATIONS IN SLOVAKIATwo Romany women on 30 January confirmed allegations by nongovernmental organizations that Romany women have been subjected to forced sterilization, CTK reported, citing TV Markiza. The two women said they are ready to sue a hospital in Krompachy, eastern Slovakia, where they were sterilized after giving birth and then being duped into signing consent forms. Both women said they did not know what they were signing -- one believing it was an agreement to give birth by Caesarean section, the other saying she signed when she was under anesthesia after delivery. Reports by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Center for Civic and Human Rights in Kosice charge that 110 Romany women have been forced to undergo sterilization in Kosice in the last few years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003).
 HUNGARIAN PREMIER DEFENDS EUROPEAN LEADERS' LETTER ON IRAQ...Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 30 January denied that an open letter signed by himself and seven other European leaders praising the United States and urging a united stand in the effort to disarm Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003) represents any change in the Hungarian position, Budapest dailies reported. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said the British ambassador in Budapest asked Medgyessy to sign the letter, adding that Medgyessy consulted with Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, as well as foreign affairs, military, and security-policy experts, on the text of the letter. For his part, opposition FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, wants Medgyessy to appear before the committee to explain his rationale in signing the statement. Medgyessy has no right to confront Hungarian public opinion with a fait accompli, Nemeth said, adding that the premier should have first made his position clear to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Hungarian public. MSZ
 ...VISITS GREECEMedgyessy met in Athens on 30 January with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, parliamentary speaker Apostolos Kaklamannis, and opposition figures and business leaders to discuss the EU, political and economic cooperation, and the Iraq crisis, Hungarian media reported. Hungarian media reported that Greek politicians assured Medgyessy that their parliament will support the ratification of the EU accession treaty and agreed that no new elements should be introduced into the final text of the treaty. Greece is expected to open its labor market to Hungarians from the day Hungary joins the EU. Medgyessy told reporters that the Greek and Hungarian positions regarding the Iraq crisis are identical. MSZ
 HUNGARY ASKS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT TO POSTPONE DEBATE ON STATUS LAWHungarian deputies in the European Parliament on 30 January asked Erik Jurgens, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, not to put his report on the Hungarian Status Law on the council's April agenda, "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. Hungarian lawmakers fear the debate might disrupt the EU accession campaign ahead of Hungary's referendum on 12 April. Jurgens told "Magyar Hirlap" that the legal committee is expected to consider the report on 3 March. Jurgens's report states that some provisions of the Status Law can be interpreted as questioning existing borders. MSZ
 SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT SETS DATE FOR REFERENDUM ON EU MEMBERSHIPLawmakers on 30 January voted to hold the country's referendum on EU membership on 23 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. That date places Slovenia among the first of the 10 aspiring members expected to put EU membership to a plebiscite. UB
 CROATIAN TRADE UNIONS ANNOUNCE JOINT TACTICS AGAINST GOVERNMENTThe leaderships of five trade unions announced on 30 January that they will sign an agreement on joint action against government plans to amend the Labor Code, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Boris Kunst, the chairman of the Labor Confederation of Croatia, said the unions will decide on 13 February whether to call a referendum on a general strike in the event that the government and unions fail to reach agreement on the amendments. UB
 CROATIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO TESTIFY IN THE HAGUERetired General Imra Agotic, who is President Stipe Mesic's military adviser, left for The Hague on 30 January to testify for prosecutors in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB
 SERBIAN COURT SENTENCES FORMER SECRET-SERVICE MEMBERS TO PRISON TERMSA Belgrade district court has sentenced three members of the Interior Ministry's former State Security Department (RDB) to long prison terms, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 31 January. The court found two agents guilty of murder and a former senior officer guilty of complicity in the slaying of four members of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) in 1999. The department's former head, Radomir Markovic, was sentenced to seven years in prison for complicity, while Nenad Bujosevic and Nenad Ilic were sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment each in prison for murder. A fourth defendant in the case was acquitted. Both the prosecutor's office and the defendants announced that they will challenge the verdicts. UB
 YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS CRITICIZE EU FOREIGN-POLICY CHIEFCentral Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic and Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus have accused the EU's foreign-policy and security chief, Javier Solana, of having done too little to ensure the functioning of the future state of Serbia and Montenegro, "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 29 January. Dinkic is quoted as saying Solana has broken his promise to help Serbia and Montenegro harmonize their economies, thus blocking negotiations on the Stabilization and Cooperation Agreement with the EU as well as talks on the new state's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Both Dinkic and Labus expect the new state, which some critics have dubbed "Solania," to split soon. Dinkic rhetorically asked: "We all know that [Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo] Djukanovic wants Montenegro to become independent in any case, so why should Serbia pay for it?" Either republic may call a referendum on independence three years after the new state comes into existence, but many observers feel that a breakup will take place far sooner. UB
 YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT SETS UP CIVILIAN CONTROL OVER SECURITY FORCESLegislators on 30 January formed a standing commission that is to exert civilian and democratic control over the country's security forces, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. According to commission head Boris Tadic, the commission will remain in charge of security forces even after the transformation of Yugoslavia into the new state Serbia and Montenegro. UB
 MACEDONIAN, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEETDefense Minister Vlado Buckovski and his German counterpart Peter Struck met in Berlin on 29 January to discuss the improvement of bilateral military cooperation, Makfax reported. Struck said he expects the EU military mission that is to replace NATO's current Allied Harmony mission in March to remain in Macedonia only until the end of 2003. UB
 NATO SECURITY OFFICE DELEGATION WRAPS UP VISIT TO ROMANIAA NATO Security Office (NOS) delegation headed by Bridget Austin, head of the NOS's Department of General Policies, on 30 January concluded its six-day visit to Romania with a meeting with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Romanian Radio reported. While in Romania, the delegation visited the Office of National Register for Secret State Information (ORNISS) and other departments involved in safeguarding classified information. A Romanian government press release said the delegation highly appreciates the achievements ORNISS has made since it was established last year, saying they are a "positive signal" on the road to Romania's Euro-Atlantic integration. Nastase assured the delegation that ORNISS is free of any political interference and that its personnel are hired and promoted on professional criteria alone. MS
 U.S. OFFICIAL URGES ROMANIANS TO PUT HOUSE IN ORDER...U.S. Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Market Access and Compliance William H. Lash III met on 30 January with Prime Minister Nastase and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, according to a U.S. Embassy press release and an RFE/RL report from Bucharest. Lash thus ended a three-day visit that included meetings with several Romanian officials. He told journalists on 30 January that improving the business climate is crucial to attracting more U.S. companies to the Romanian market. "Investors want predictability and stability," Lash said, adding that "corruption hampers economic growth, destroys markets, and chases foreign investors away." Corruption, he said, is "a diabolically punitive tax levied on business." He advised Romania to "continue to battle corruption and aggressively prosecute those who violate intellectual property rights." In order to do so, he said, the judicial system must be improved. MS
 ...AND PRESIDENT, PREMIER LAUD PERFORMANCE OF NATIONAL ANTICORRUPTION PROSECUTORSPresident Ion Iliescu and Premier Nastase on 30 January attended a meeting at the headquarters of the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) at which the office's 2002 performance was reviewed, Romanian Radio reported. Iliescu said that in the six months of its existence, the PNA has become the "spearhead of the struggle launched at national level" against corruption, which he said is "very serious and damaging" and "must be treated with severity." He said he is "astonished" to realize that educated and experienced people are willing to violate the law by indulging in "boundless gluttony," adding that such people do not hesitate to use "all sorts of influence and all sorts of [ruthless] individuals" to achieve their goals. PNA head Ioan Anamarie said his office is currently probing allegations of corruption among "both former and current ministers and ministers secretary of state." Anamarie refused to disclose any names, citing the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT AGAIN EXTENDS MORATORIUM ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS...The cabinet on 30 January extended until the end of February the moratorium on adoptions by foreigners, Mediafax reported. The moratorium was to have expired on 1 February, but as was the case in previous extensions the cabinet said legislation for regulating the adoption process has not yet been adopted. The initial moratorium was declared in October 2001. MS
 ...APPROVES ROMTELCOM PRIVATIZATION DEALAlso on 30 January, the cabinet approved the deal agreed upon last November under which the Greek OTE company acquires a 54 percent stake in RomTelcom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2002). MS
 BISHOP TOEKES BOYCOTTS UDMR CONGRESSBishop Laszlo Toekes on 30 January told Mediafax that he will not participate in the 31 January-2 February congress of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and is suspending his honorary chairmanship of that organization. Toekes said the election of the UDMR chairman should be postponed until elections are conducted within the UDMR. He added that the chairman who is elected at the congress in Satu-Mare will have "weak legitimacy." The only announced candidacy for that post is that of current Chairman Bela Marko. Toekes said he is boycotting the gathering because he has received information that he will not be allowed to address the congress as honorary chairman, and if he wishes to do so, he must take the floor as a regular UDMR member. Some UDMR leaders have questioned Toekes' right to continue as honorary chair after he sued the UDMR for not conducting internal elections prior to the congress. He told Mediafax he hopes to return to work within the organization within a few months, "after legality is restored." MS
 ROMANIAN LIBERAL LEADER IDENTIFIES MAIN POLITICAL FOENational Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan said on 30 January that the chief political adversary of the PNL has been and will continue to be the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stolojan, who on 25 January said he does not rule out the possibility of the PNL governing in a coalition with the PSD, said his statement was misunderstood as a "declaration of intent" rather than "a last option" aimed at advancing Romania's EU-integration chances if all others prove unviable. Also on 30 January, Crin Antonescu, PNL parliamentary group leader in the Chamber of Deputies, said the PNL's cooperation agreement with the Democratic Party in parliament has been postponed because the Democrats were left without a parliamentary group leader following Alexandru Sassu's defection to the PSD (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 24 January 2003). MS
 CELEBRATION OF MOLDOVAN MUSICIAN'S ANNIVERSARY TURNS INTO PRO-ROMANIA MANIFESTATIONCiting government sources who requested anonymity, Flux reported on 30 January that President Vladimir Voronin intends to fire Culture Minister Vyacheslav Madan for the "poor organization" of a recent concert that was held to celebrate violinist Nicolae Botgros's 50th birthday. The news agency reported that pro-Romanian songs were performed during the concert and the audience, with the exception of Voronin and Premier Vasile Tarlev, sang along. The live televised broadcast of the concert was interrupted when folk musicians from Romania (among them Irina Loghin, a parliamentary deputy from the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party) were about to begin their performance. Madan was appointed to his position on 16 December after Voronin dismissed his predecessor, Ion Pacuraru, for failing to organize a theater festival in honor of playwright Ion Luca Caragiale. MS
 NEW OSCE MOLDOVA MISSION HEAD SAYS FEDERALIZATION PROPOSAL IS BEST BASIS FOR NEGOTIATIONSWilliam Hill, who was recently reappointed as the head of the OSCE's mission in Moldova, said on 30 January that the OSCE's proposal for the country's federalization is the best basis for continued negotiations with the Tiraspol separatists, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. Western analysts have criticized the proposal worked out by Hill's predecessor, David Swartz, saying it would practically transform Moldova into a protectorate of Russia. MS
 PPCD TO BOYCOTT MOLDOVAN LEGISLATUREPopular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca has said the PPCD will protest the Central Election Commission's failure to approve a referendum drive on NATO and the EU by boycotting parliament, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 30 January. The other opposition party in parliament -- the Braghis Alliance -- is already boycotting parliament to protest the majority Party of Moldovan Communists' (PCM) refusal to approve a referendum on changing the system of parliamentary representation. The PCM has refused to approve this plebiscite, claiming the signatures on the petition were improperly collected. Rosca also said the leaders of parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition parties will begin picketing parliament as of 6 February to demand the genuine reform of Teleradio Moldova, respect for local autonomy, and political pluralism. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SUGGESTS WAYS TO CUT COSTS OF RUSSIAN GAS DELIVERIESPresident Voronin has suggested that Russian gas supplies to Moldova be delivered directly via Ukraine, thus bypassing the current route over territory controlled by the Transdniester separatists and making it possible to reduce costs for Russian gas, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. The agency said the proposal was made to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at this week's Commonwealth of Independent States' summit in Kyiv. MS
 FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO INFORMATION ON IRAQ'S ALLEGED LINKS TO AL-QAEDARussian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi in Sofia on 30 January that Russia has no information to support U.S. and British claims that Iraq has ties to Al-Qaeda, BTA reported. Ivanov added that the large-scale information exchange within the international antiterrorism coalition has not confirmed such links. "The common goal of the international community is to dispossess Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and not to change the regime in Baghdad," bnn quoted Ivanov as saying. "Some states relate the problem of Iraq's disarmament to a replacement of the government there. This collides with Resolution 1441 of the UN Security Council." UB
 MINISTERS DENY THAT BULGARIA HAS LOYALTY PROBLEMWhen asked on 30 January which position Bulgaria will support in the UN Security Council's discussions on Iraq, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said, "peace," bnn reported. Saxecoburggotski denied that Bulgaria sent contradictory signals at the 29 January UN Security Council meeting when it supported the United States' and the United Kingdom's calls for tougher measures against Iraq. He added that "any government should take into account its national interests first." Foreign Minister Pasi said later the same day that Bulgaria is not satisfied with Iraq's cooperation with international weapons inspectors, but added that it is willing to allow the inspectors more time to complete their work. Pasi told journalists on 29 January that his country does not face a choice of loyalty between the United States and NATO, on the one hand, and the EU on the other, because the EU has not yet clearly stated its position. UB
 TOP BRASS SAYS BULGARIAN ARMY IS PREPARING FOR OPERATIONS IN IRAQChief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev on 30 January told "Blitz," the joint radio and TV program of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service and the private bTV, that the Bulgarian Army is preparing for a military operation in Iraq. Kolev said the army is carrying out "minor preparations" to be ready in the event that a political decision is made to contribute to a possible military operation in Iraq. "We are not talking about a direct involvement in a military operation, but the contingent that we are preparing...is merely to help the noncombat population, which might suffer in a possible operation," Kolev said. In related news, the Defense Ministry told BTA that antibiological- and antichemical-warfare troops are undergoing training UB
 BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENTS TO PRIVATIZATION ACTParliament on 30 January passed controversial amendments to the Privatization Act by a vote of 113-97, with eight abstentions, bnn reported. The amendments, which await presidential approval, are aimed at reducing judicial control over privatization deals considered to be of "national interest" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003). UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 BOMB KILLS 18 ON AFGHAN BRIDGEKandahar Province police chief Ustad Nazir said that 18 civilians were killed on 31 January when a powerful bomb destroyed the Rambasi Bridge south of Kandahar, AP reported. Ustad Nazir said the blast was most likely intended for Afghan soldiers loyal to Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, whose base is less than two kilometers from the bridge. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Ustad Nazir believes it was carried out by members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, AP reported. On 27 January, Afghan forces loyal to Sherzai assisted U.S.-led international coalition forces in a major battle against remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that took place near Spin Boldak in Kandahar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). AT
 U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASHA U.S. Army Black Hawk transport helicopter crashed near Bagram Air Base on 30 January, killing all four soldier on board, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 31 January. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Martin Compton said that while the official cause of the crash has not been determined, it appears to be an accident, the Los Angeles daily reported. The incident was the worst in terms of the loss of U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan since March 2002, the paper added. Seven German soldiers died near Kabul on 21 December when their CH-53 helicopter crashed because of technical problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002 and 16 January 2003). AT
 AFGHAN PRESIDENT OFFERS ADVICE TO UNITED NATIONSIn an interview published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on 28 January, President Hamid Karzai said: "I'm satisfied with the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan by the United Nations. But I would also like to concentrate more on removing the causes of humanitarian difficulties rather than treating the symptoms. We would like to slowly move from a humanitarian operation and more toward one of reconstruction. Moving toward removing the causes of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan so people can make a living on their own." Karzai said he would like UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations to provide his administration with "a clearer account of where our work has taken place and how much it costs." Karzai listed as his administration's greatest accomplishments in 2002 the introduction of the new afghani banknotes, the repatriation of more than 2 million refugees, the successful implementation of educational programs, and the movement toward freedom of the press. He said the administration's failures include the inability to establish security throughout the country, an initiative he says has been hampered by continued fighting among armed groups. AT
 AFGHAN INTERIOR MINISTER LISTS FORMATION OF AFGHAN NATIONAL POLICE FORCE AS TOP PRIORITYNewly appointed Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 28 January that his top priority is forming a police force "that will be nationally oriented, ethnically balanced, and professionally skilful" in order to enable the central government to overcome the influence of "warlords," whom he described as a legacy of the many years of war in Afghanistan, "The Kabul Times" reported on 29 January. Jalali said the police force will not succeed without the community's cooperation, adding that developing the belief "that people can trust police" will be one of his major challenges, the Kabul daily reported. Jalali said he supports the idea of extending the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul, but realizes that "donor communities are reluctant to do that." However, he said he believes that the newly formed Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) will be able to provide security outside of Kabul until the new Afghan National Army and police force can take over those operations, "The Kabul Times" reported (for analysis on the PRTs see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). AT
 KUWAITI AFGHANS TRAVEL THROUGH IRANKuwaiti Interior Minister Sheikh Muhammad Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah said in the 30 January issue of Kuwait's "Al-Qabas" daily newspaper that Sami al-Mutayri, who carried out a recent terrorist attack near Camp Doha in which one American was killed and another wounded, traveled through Iran on his way to Afghanistan to join Al-Qaeda. He then participated successfully in a selection process conducted in the Medyaf region on the Iranian-Afghan to determine which Arab Afghans would be recruited into Al-Qaeda. Several other Kuwaitis testified recently that they traveled through Iran as they went to and from Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 January 2003). BS
 MONTAZERI CRITICIZES IRAN'S GUARDIANS COUNCILAyatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi criticized the Guardians Council and received some of Iran's leading dissident clerics on 30 January, his first day of freedom after five years of house arrest, ISNA reported. Montazeri met with clerics Mohsen Kadivar, Assadollah Bayat, Hadi Qabel, Ahmad Qabel, and Jalaledin Taheri. Montazeri, who has long been a critic of the Guardians Council's method of supervising elections -- rejecting potential candidates and overturning election results -- said: "Do not abandon your obligations because the country belongs to the people. The Guardians Council has to accept this. If people have freedom to take part in elections, they will most definitely elect good people. The people would naturally refrain from electing wrong or irreligious people." Montazeri discussed the conditions under which he was released in a 30 January interview with Doha's Al-Jazeera television. "First of all, I stress that ending my house arrest was not coupled with any kind of pledge on my part to keep silent or give up my political stands," he said. "I am determined to express my opinions based on the revolution's principles of freedom, independence, and the Islamic republic, but certainly without insulting any senior official or creating tension." BS
 IRANIAN LEGISLATURE REACTS TO U.S. PRESIDENT'S COMMENTSIranian parliamentarians collectively and individually reacted on 30 January to U.S. President George W. Bush's comments about Iran in his State of the Union address two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said the Iranians mentioned by President Bush are "a number of mercenaries who have no place among the Iranian nation," Iranian state radio reported. After Karrubi's comments, members of parliament chanted "Death to America." Abadan representative Mohammad Rashidian described Bush's comments as repetitive, and he said claims about the absence of democracy in Iran are "baseless and unfounded," IRNA reported. Ardabil representative Vali Azarvash said any fair person understands the significance of elections in Iran, and added, "All the [Iranian] state officials have been elected by the people." Azarvash said Iran's "religious democracy" scares President Bush, and rather than establishing democracy in Iran the U.S. president "wants to put an end to religious democracy." Semnan's Seyyed Taher Taheri said: "I don't know how a person, who has become president with the help of the Justice Department, gives himself the right to bring into question the widespread participation of the Iranian people in the elections." BS
 COUNCIL ELECTIONS COULD BE A REFERENDUMAn editorial in the 30 January issue of the daily "Mardom Salari" forecasts several possible outcomes for the forthcoming municipal-council elections and interprets the meaning of these outcomes. The council elections in towns and villages are "not so important," according to the editorial, but in Tehran and other big cities they can be seen as a referendum on the country's political future. If few people vote, it means that they are disappointed in the reform process, the commentary read. There are several possible meanings if the same number of people votes this year as in 1999. If the majority of voters favor the reformist front, it would mean that the majority of people want the reform process to continue unchanged. If the majority of voters favor the conservative lists of candidates, "it would show the people's demand to cede power to the opposing faction and in fact it would show the people's will to yield to the absolute power of the right-wing faction." If people vote for candidates who are outside the current power structure, according to the editorial, it would mean that they want reform to take a new path. BS
 IRANIAN DAILY SAYS COUNCILS NEED FRESH FACES...A commentary in the 14 January "Aftab-i Yazd" daily said the upcoming municipal-council elections are an opportunity for new people -- "young and innovative forces" -- to enter the political scene. Political development requires balanced progress in all areas, according to the commentary. Therefore, "the closed circle of power and politics must be opened up for the entrance of fresh forces that have not been caught up in the spiral of political wrangles and factional prejudices." The commentary went on to say that all political tendencies and ideologies should have a share of political power. BS
 ...AS LONG AS THEY ARE COMMITTED TO ISLAMHabibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Coalition Association, said that the Tehran Municipal Council failed because its members wanted to recreate a Western model of democracy rather than serving Islam, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 22 January. Other reasons for the council's dissolution were its politicking and sloganeering, he said. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has an important task in preventing those who are not committed to the system and the constitution from being elected in the upcoming municipal-council elections, according to Asgaroladi. In this way, the MOIS can prevent the destruction of the system. BS
 IRAQ INVITES INSPECTORS BACK FOR TALKS...Amr al-Sa'di, an adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and head of Iraq's delegation to the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), has invited UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei to visit Iraq before 10 February to discuss "a series of issues related to consolidating cooperation and transparency [between Iraq and] UNMOVIC and the IAEA," Iraq's Foreign Ministry announced on 30 January (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa/epage.htm). "The visit will also allow for a bilateral discussion on the disarmament verification methods raised during the [UN] Security Council session held on 27 January 2003 and [an] improvement of the mechanisms for cooperation and consultation to restore the enhanced monitoring regime," the statement added. El-Baradei responded to the invitation on 31 January by telling reporters in Vienna, "It is important that when we do go, we meet at the highest level of leadership and hear from them a clear commitment that they are ready to be fully transparent," AFP reported. KR
 ...BUT SAYS INSPECTORS CANNOT USE U-2 PLANESIraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has said again that UN weapons inspectors will not be allowed to fly U.S. U-2 spy planes over Iraq as part of the inspection process, Al-Jazeera television reported on 31 January. UNMOVIC head Blix complained about Iraq's refusal to assist inspectors in this area during his briefing to the UN Security Council on 27 January. Iraq has repeatedly stated that it cannot guarantee the safety of U-2 planes flying over Iraq. KR
 KUWAITI CITIZENS TOLD TO CARRY IDENTIFICATIONThe Kuwaiti Interior Ministry on 31 January instructed Kuwaiti citizens and residents on 31 January to carry identification cards at all times in light of the current situation in Iraq, KUNA reported. Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad al-Shargawi, the Interior Ministry's director of public relations, announced that Kuwaitis and expatriates should carry their passports or civilian IDs with them "in view of the current circumstances...which calls for tightening security measures," in the Kuwaiti news agency's words. Al-Shargawi "added that certain security regulations have been carried out, and all those violating the law will be punished," KUNA reported. KR
 U.S. PRESIDENT AUTHORIZES HUMANITARIAN RELIEF IN MIDDLE EASTU.S. President George W. Bush has authorized up to $15 million in humanitarian relief to the Middle East through the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962, according to a White House press release. The U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund will "meet unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs that would be anticipated in the event of a future humanitarian emergency in the Middle East.... Such an emergency may arise if it becomes necessary for the United States and other nations to use military force to disarm the Iraqi regime of its weapons of mass destruction," a presidential determination dated 29 January, and released on 30 January, stated. The presidential determination can be viewed at: (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030130-7.html) KR
 BRITISH PRIME MINISTER EXPECTED TO TELL BUSH ANOTHER RESOLUTION IS NEEDEDBritish Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet with U.S. President Bush at Camp David on 31 December and is expected to call for a new UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Iraq. Blair on 30 January said: "I believe that if the inspectors indicate that Saddam [Hussein] is refusing to cooperate, then I think the implication of [UNSC Resolution] 1441 is clear that there should be a second resolution. And I believe in those circumstances, there will be one," ft.com reported. Regarding the work of UN weapons inspectors, Blair said, "The inspectors have got to have the time [to continue] their work." KR
 IRAQI MINISTERS REFUTE U.S. PRESIDENT'S SPEECHIraqi Trade Minister Dr. Muhammad Mahdi Salih and Health Minister Dr. Umid Midhad Mubarak gave a press conference in Baghdad in which they refuted a statement U.S. President Bush made in his 28 January State of the Union address, Iraq Satellite Television reported on 30 January. In his address, Bush said, "And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food, medicine, and supplies -- and freedom." Both Salih and Mubarak contended that the United States has obstructed the flow of food, medicines, and supplies to Iraq through sanctions and restrictions under the term of the "oil-for-food" program. They added that Iraq was better off in these areas prior to 1991, citing the rise in deaths among women and the elderly, as well as an increase in infant deaths, under sanctions. Mubarak added that the number of Iraqis contracting contagious diseases has increased by six to 20 times from "what they had been in the past," due to a scarcity of medicines and vaccines. He also cited an increase in cancer rates due to depleted uranium, for which he says U.S. and British bombs are to blame. Mubarak noted that cancer drugs are also scarce in Iraq. KR
 ISOLATION OR ENGAGEMENT? THE CHALLENGING CASE OF BELARUSBy Christopher Walker
You can tell a lot about a country by the company it keeps. In the case of Belarus, there has been a steady rapprochement between it and some of the world's most unsavory regimes, North Korea and Iraq among them. This process is occurring at a time when many of Belarus's neighbors are working assiduously to consolidate strong relationships with the community of Western countries and moving to join key Western clubs; Minsk is moving just as diligently to deepen relationships with isolated outlaw states.
Belarus's troubling friendships and its regime's repressive behavior at home contribute to its pariah status in the West. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's lack of interest in reform and confrontational posture have thrown its relations with the United States and the European Union into a destructive cycle through which the country's self-isolation and poor behavior begets further isolation from the West.
Prospects for a reversal of this negative cycle remain dim. The United States, the European Union, and regional neighbors have been unable to craft a policy for effectively dealing with the Belarusian leadership. At any given time, one is more likely to find relations defined by travel bans and blacklists than by cooperative discussions or meaningful agreements.
There are, however, developments under way that are transforming the existing environment and that will influence how Minsk interacts with the rest of the world. At the regional level, the process of Western integration presses forward. While Minsk during the Lukashenka era has done its best to resist the pull of Western integration, no country can remain immune to the effects of this process indefinitely. Belarus's EU-bound western neighbors must find working approaches to the real and immediate challenge of difficult EU enlargement issues, including those associated with borders and immigration.
For the soon-to-be EU and NATO members, close proximity brings special burdens and responsibilities. Recognizing the staying power of the Belarusian president and without the luxury of relying on an isolation policy, these countries have tended toward a policy of "critical engagement." The Poles, Lithuanians, and Latvians have sought to maintain channels of communication with the Lukashenka regime in hopes of coaxing out more constructive behavior, while at times also serving as a bridge to the EU and other European organizations.
The new Lithuanian government has already signaled its interest in continuing this role. "Lithuania is ready to help Belarus in seeking closer contacts with the EU, but the Belarusian government has to follow the recommendations of international institutions, thus ensuring implementation of democratic and legal process in the country," newly elected Lithuanian President Rolandas Paskas said on 15 January.
In the wider international context, Belarus's association with an assortment of dangerous rogue regimes has been a cause for concern in the West. In a post-11 September 2001 context, Minsk finds itself under more intense scrutiny. This can be partially explained by the fact that a number of states counted within Belarus's political and economic circle are simultaneously another exclusive club: the U.S. State Department's list of sponsors of state terrorism.
Relationships viewed as a serious nuisance before 11 September 2001 now fall into the category of first-order menace. Minsk's reported involvement in illegal arms and equipment deals in recent months with regimes at the top of Washington's terror list is just one aspect of this problem.
The recent experience of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has just resumed its presence in Minsk, is illustrative of the challenges of implementing an engagement policy with Belarus. Over the course of 2002, the Lukashenka regime thwarted the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group's efforts to fulfill its mandate. Belarusian authorities, by denying visa renewals for all OSCE-mission personnel, systematically whittled down that mission to the point where its staff in Minsk was reduced to nil.
Belarusian authorities and the OSCE recently reached agreement on a new OSCE presence in Minsk whose precise mandate is not yet entirely clear. But Belarus's treatment of the last OSCE mission and the negotiations that brought into being the new OSCE presence reflect the extent to which the Belarusian regime seeks to circumscribe the international organization's role. Indeed, the regime's treatment of the OSCE underscores the reality that Minsk does not discriminate in its heavy-handed, repressive practices; both domestic forces and foreign entities that the regime perceives as threats are targeted.
Minsk remains hopeful that the United States and European travel ban on top Belarusian officials -- about 50 in all, including the Belarusian president -- that was imposed in November at the time of the NATO Prague summit will be lifted as a result of the compromise allowing the new OSCE presence in Minsk. As part of the action against Belarus in November, the Czech Republic also denied President Lukashenka a visa request to allow him to take part in the Prague summit (due to the fact that Belarus is a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council).
Of course, the most active, if not effective, area of engagement for Belarus is with Russia. For some seven years, Minsk and Moscow have taken part in a slow and awkward dance to find a mutually acceptable nature and degree of integration. But since taking power three years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply recalibrated Moscow's approach to Minsk, at times openly questioning the extent of Belarus's contribution to the inchoate union. Belarus, a country of 10 million that is isolated from the West and dependant on Russia for upwards of 90 percent of its energy, indeed has relatively little leverage in the relationship with its enormous neighbor to the east.
With no sign of a strategic plan for modernization, nor any inclination to liberalize, Belarus is stuck in place. At the same time, President Putin is driving a harder bargain from the east. From the west, the carrots of integration seemingly hold little appeal to the Lukashenka regime, which is more comfortable building relationships with the very outlaw regimes the United States and its allies seek to bring to heel.
The Belarusian people, caught under inward-looking and autocratic leadership, are for the time being left to face opprobrium and isolation.
Christopher Walker is head of the Rapid Response Unit at the EastWest Institute. The views expressed in this article are the author's own.