|Monday, 17 June 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-01-28
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE TALKS TO MOSCOW RADIO STATION...Colin Powell addressed contentious issues in U.S.-Russian relations during an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on 27 January. Despite disagreement over the Iraq invasion, he said, the United States and Russia are now "cooperating to help the Iraqis build a democracy." Powell said he hopes Russia will work to resolve the Chechen conflict politically and will observe its international human rights obligations there. However, he stressed that Chechnya is Russia's "internal matter." Powell said he discussed the Yukos case with President Vladimir Putin and stressed the need for those accused of crimes "to be dealt with in accordance with the law and acceptable rules of evidence." He said Putin assured him "this case would be tried in that manner." Powell also said that more could be done to give Russians access to "free media," but that he is not worried about Russia "returning to the old days of the Soviet Union." Powell had earlier raised questions about Chechnya and Russia's overall political direction in an "Izvestiya" commentary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). JB
 ...AND DENIES THE U.S. MILITARY IS 'SURROUNDING' RUSSIAU.S. Secretary of State Powell was asked by Ekho Moskvy interviewer Vladimir Varfolomeev whether the United States is "surrounding" Russia with "bases." Powell answered that the number of U.S. troops in Europe will actually be reduced. The United States "may want to put some temporary facilities in some of the countries that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact," he said, but these would be "small places" for training or access to hot spots like Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East. They would not constitute "moving our army closer to the Russian Federation," Powell said. Russia and the United States, Powell said, "are now friends, not competitors or potential enemies, and we should not see things in old Cold War terms." JB
 GENERAL STAFF CHIEF GETS FRENCH MEDAL AS MEDIA SAYS HIS DAYS ARE NUMBEREDChief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin was awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration, in a ceremony at the French Embassy in Moscow on 27 January, Interfax reported. French Chief of the Defense Staff General Henri Bentegeat conferred the award on Kvashnin, who thanked him on behalf of Russia's armed forces. Military cooperation between the two countries has intensified, Kvashnin said, citing exchanges of officers for training and the joint development of the MiG-AT jet trainer. French Ambassador to Russia Jean Cadet noted that officials from the two countries will meet in Paris on 5 March to discuss French-Russian security cooperation. He also said that French Navy helicopter carrier "Jeanne D'Arc" will call at St. Petersburg in May. The ceremony honoring Kvashnin came amid media speculation that he might lose his job soon, rumors that were sparked by critical comments Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made to the Academy of Military Sciences on 24 January. Ivanov said, among other things, that an "all-around strengthening of the role of the General Staff" is needed, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 January. JB
 FSB SUMMONS ACTIVIST EDITOR FOR QUESTIONINGAleksandr Podrabinek, a Soviet-era dissident and political prisoner who is editor in chief of the Prima human rights information agency, has received a summons from the Federal Security Service (FSB) to appear at Moscow's Lefortovo remand prison for questioning on 28 January, Interfax and lenta.ru reported on 27 January. Podrabinek, who is also editor in chief of the "Ekspress-Khronika" newspaper, said the summons is probably connected to the FSB's seizure in December of 4,376 copies of "The FSB Blows Up Russia," a book co-authored by Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former FSB officer and associate of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, and historian Yurii Felshtinskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). The book alleges that the FSB was behind a series of apartment-building bombings in 1999 that killed more than 300 people. According to Podrabinek, Prima purchased the copies of the book, which were printed in Latvia and seized while being trucked to Moscow, to sell them at bookstores. JB
 WARRANTS ISSUED FOR 10 YUKOS EXECUTIVES...First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov confirmed on 27 January that international arrest warrants have been issued for three major Yukos shareholders -- Leonid Nevzlin, Vladimir Dubov, and Mikhail Brudno -- who have been charged with tax evasion and other crimes, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). Biryukov said that seven managers of "fake enterprises" that Yukos allegedly used to make bogus oil sales and thereby evade taxes have also been placed on the international wanted list. According to Biryukov, Nevzlin, who has already been charged with evading 26.7 million rubles ($925,000) in taxes in 1999-2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004), also allegedly appropriated shares in two Eastern Oil Company subsidiaries, oil producer Tomskneft and the Achinskii refinery. Biryukov alleged that those actions defrauded the state of $39 million. Biryukov confirmed that Dubov has been charged with large-scale fraud and said Brudno is charged with embezzling $2.8 million in revenues from the Apatit fertilizer plant. Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev was arrested last July on charges of stealing state property in connection with Apatit's 1994 privatization. Nevzlin and Dubov are in Israel, while Brudno is reportedly also abroad. JB
 ...WHILE ISRAEL REPORTEDLY RECEIVES REQUEST TO EXTRADITE THREE OF THEMA Russian-language Israeli website (http://www.kursor.co.il), reported on 27 January that the Israeli police have received a request via Interpol for the extraditions of Nevzlin, Dubov, and Brudno. The website, which cited Voice of Israel (Kol Israel) radio, said the extradition request probably came from Interpol's Russian bureau and not from its main headquarters in Lyons. The website quoted Nevzlin as noting that the tax-evasion case against him was announced the day after he declared his support for former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada's presidential bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2004). First Deputy Prosecutor-General Biryukov, however, denied this, saying that Nevzlin and Dubov were charged in early January before Nevzlin endorsed Khakamada, "The Moscow Times" reported on 28 January. Nevzlin's lawyer, Dmitrii Kharitonov, said the Prosecutor-General's Office might be planning to charge his client with more serious crimes because the current charges are insufficient to secure his extradition to Russia, RBK reported on 27 January. JB
 EX-RUSSIAN BANKER GETS ANOTHER REPRIEVE FROM DEPORTATIONU.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis ruled on 26 January that former Russian banker Aleksandr Konanykhine should not be deported to Russia until he exhausts his legal efforts to obtain asylum in the United States, Reuters reported. Konanykhine, who is wanted in Russia on suspicion of embezzling millions of dollars from his former bank and who has lived in the United States since 1992, was arrested with his wife as they tried to cross into Canada in December to seek political asylum after the U.S. Justice Department rescinded a 1999 decision granting him asylum. The couple was then nearly deported to Russia, but Ellis ordered a stay (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 January 2004). Ellis ruled on 26 January that Konanykhine's arrest and attempted deportation violated a 1997 deal with immigration authorities allowing him to stay in the United States pending a final ruling on his asylum request, Reuters reported. JB
 CHURCH OFFICIAL WANTS CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES OUTMetropolitan Kirill of Kaliningrad and Smolensk, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church's external relations department, said on 27 January that the Roman Catholic Church should end its missionary activity in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. "Go preach to your own flock," he said. "You have responsibility in Italy and Spain and other countries, while the Russian Orthodox Church is responsible to God for our people." Kirill said that "under certain circumstances" there could be "collaboration" with the Roman Catholic Church. "We bear no enmity, but we cannot accept the continuation of well-planned and financed missionary activity among our people, under the pretext of a dialogue," he said, adding that the Vatican established new Catholic structures on Orthodox canonical territory two years ago without notifying the Moscow Patriarchate. The Orthodox hierarchy is employing a carrot-and-stick strategy toward Rome, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 28 January, noting that Patriarch Aleksii II has said he is ready to meet with Pope John Paul II if such a meeting would help resolve disputes between the two churches. JB
 RYBKIN SUPPORTERS SUBMIT SIGNATURE LISTS...Supporters of former State Duma Speaker and Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin on 27 January submitted some 2.5 million nominating signatures to the Central Election Commission (TsIK), Russian media reported. TV-Center quoted Rybkin as saying a group of entrepreneurs who "have not yet lost their nerve" are prepared to finance his campaign. He denied receiving money from businessman Berezovskii, who lives in self-imposed exile in order to avoid criminal prosecution in Russia. However, Rybkin acknowledged that Berezovskii finances a faction of the Liberal Russia party, which is supporting Rybkin and which collected signatures on his behalf, NTV reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is also financed by Berezovskii, on 27 January published Rybkin's election program and a list of politicians whom he would appoint to senior posts. Ekho Moskvy reported that Rybkin has not ruled out withdrawing in favor of another presidential candidate, possibly former SPS co-Chairwoman Khakamada. LB
 ...BUSINESSMAN BOWS OUT OF PRESIDENTIAL RACEAnzori Aksentev-Kikalishvili informed the TsIK in writing on 27 January that he is withdrawing from the presidential campaign, Russian media reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the letter did not specify the reason for his decision. Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 27 January, Aksentev-Kikalishvili noted that Lithuania denied him entry on 23 January when he was en route to Kaliningrad Oblast by train. The Russian Foreign Ministry did not protest Lithuania's action, and the Russian media largely ignored the incident. "How could I participate further as a presidential candidate in this campaign if all of this is being blocked by some kind of orders from above?" Aksentev-Kikalishvili asked. Aksentev-Kikalishvili headed the obscure All-Russian Political Party of the People in the 1999 State Duma elections, but he failed to qualify for the presidential ballot in 2000. His business activities have aroused controversy in Lithuania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004). LB
 KORZHAKOV MULLS RUN FOR TULA GOVERNORSHIPState Duma Deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov (Unified Russia), who was the controversial chief of security for former President Boris Yeltsin, has expressed interest in running for governor of Tula Oblast, Radio Mayak reported on 27 January, citing an interview Korzhakov gave to an unspecified Tula newspaper. Korzhakov was re-elected to the Duma on 7 December from Tula's single-mandate district. Korzhakov said he would agree to run for governor if Unified Russia nominated him. Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev is also expected to participate in the March 2005 election. LB
 HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS URGE ELECTION BOYCOTTHuman rights activists including longtime Democratic Russia co-leader Lev Ponomarev, who also heads the For Human Rights foundation, are leading a campaign to boycott the 14 March presidential election, Ekho Moskvy reported on 26 January. Turnout below 50 percent would invalidate the election. Speaking to Ekho Moskvy, Ponomarev argued that the ensuing political crisis would raise awareness of what he described as a path toward establishing a "totalitarian, arbitrary regime." In 2000, some former dissidents formed the "Nyet" movement, which called on citizens to vote according to their consciences in the first round of the presidential race, but to cast ballots "against all" if Putin and Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov advanced to a second round. The plan never appeared likely to scuttle the election, but the tiny movement proved a convenient bogeyman in state television newscasts, which warned that dangerous forces were trying to destabilize Russia. LB
 KEMEROVO GOVERNOR URGES COMMUNISTS TO BACK PUTINThree-time presidential candidate and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev on 27 January called on the Communist Party to take an "active" rather than a "passive" role in reviving the state, Radio Mayak reported. Tuleev, a loyal Communist ally in the mid-1990s, argued that uniting "all healthy and constructive forces" behind President Putin would enable the Communist Party to return to the center of Russian political life. Tuleev won 6.8 percent of the vote in the 1991 presidential election. He withdrew his candidacy in favor of Communist Party leader Zyuganov shortly before the 1996 election. But he repeatedly criticized the Communist leader -- and praised front-runner Putin -- during the 2000 presidential race, in which Tuleev won just under 3 percent of the vote. The Communist Party has nominated Nikolai Kharitonov for the presidency this year. LB
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIA WELCOMES PROSPECT OF INCLUSION IN EU WIDER EUROPE PROGRAMArmenian officials and opposition politicians welcomed on 27 January a decision made at an EU foreign ministers' meeting the previous day to reassess in late June the prospects for including the three South Caucasus states in the EU's Wider Europe program, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who met on 27 January with EU envoy for the South Caucasus Heikki Talvitie, said in a statement that the move "imparts a new quality to Armenia-EU relations." Vazgen Manukian, one of the leaders of the Ardarutiun opposition bloc, said the inclusion of the three South Caucasus states in the Wider Europe program would be "a very positive fact." LF
 ARMENIA REVERSES DECISION ON RAISING PRICE OF ELECTRICITY EXPORTS TO GEORGIAThe price of the electricity that Georgia imports from Armenia will remain unchanged at $.025 per kilowatt-hour, an official from the Georgian power distribution company Telasi said in Tbilisi on 27 January. Armenia last week announced that tariffs would increase by 30 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). LF
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE SLAMS AZERBAIJAN ON POLITICAL PRISONERS, ELECTION...On the opening day of its winter session, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) discussed on 27 January two reports prepared by its rapporteurs -- one on political prisoners in Azerbaijan and a second on the 15 October presidential ballot, Turan reported. The first report added 88 names to the existing list of Azerbaijani political prisoners and called for the release of all of them, according to zerkalo.az on 28 January. In a 26 January interview with Turan, PACE Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer observed that "one political prisoner in one Council of Europe member state is one too many." The second report focused on the failure to create equal conditions for all candidates during the country's recent presidential election, the poor organization and falsification of the outcome of that ballot, and the "appalling" reprisals against opposition supporters who protested that falsification. It called for the publication of the election results from each individual polling station. LF
 ...AND SETS JUNE DEADLINE FOR ACTION ON HUMAN RIGHTSPACE deputies rejected almost all amendments to those reports proposed by the Azerbaijani delegation, who argued that criticism of lagging democratization is inappropriate in the light of the country's displaced-person problem, Turan reported on 27 January. The PACE concluded that Azerbaijan has failed to implement any of the recommendations the assembly made in September 2002. It adopted a resolution warning that unless Baku demonstrates progress in complying with its human rights commitments by June 2004, the assembly might annul the ratified credentials of the Azerbaijani PACE delegation. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, IRAN DISCUSS PROTECTION OF JOINT BORDERAzerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on 27 January with visiting Iranian Border Troops commander Behman Shariatifar, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The two discussed ways of increasing the effectiveness of cooperation in protecting the 700-kilometer Azerbaijani-Iranian border and the threats posed by illegal migration, drug trafficking, and terrorism. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PROTESTS OVER ENERGY PRICE HIKE ESCALATESome 40 residents of the village of Negram in Azerbaijan's Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic were arrested on 26 January after a four-day protest against a rise in electricity prices, Turan reported on 27 January. Others of the estimated 1,000 protesters marched on the local police station, where some of the detainees were held, and successfully demanded their release. But a district administrator refused on 27 January to free the remaining detainees until villagers pay the increased electricity tariffs. The monthly flat rate has been raised from 15,000 manats ($3.07) per household to 40,000 manats. Residents are protesting that they are unable to pay so much, as most of them are unemployed. Some participants in the 26 January protest carried placards depicting deceased President Heidar Aliyev and demanded the creation of new jobs. Further protests were reported on 26 January in the villages of Abragunis and Bananyar. In late December, police in Nakhichevan began confiscating electrical appliances from the population in a bid to reduce energy consumption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). LF
 AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL DISMISSES 'TENDENTIOUS' CRITICISMIn an article published on 26 January in the Baku newspaper "Ekspress" and cited by Groong, parliament deputy Mubariz Ahmadoglu of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party rejected as tendentious and unfounded a 55-page Human Rights Watch report released last week that criticized human rights violations in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). Ahmadoglu specifically took issue with the charge that the outcome of the 15 October presidential ballot was falsified, claiming that opposition representatives on local election commissions endorsed the election returns. He also denied that more than 1,000 people were detained either for their participation in the protests in Baku on 15-16 October, or for refusing to endorse the official results of the ballot. LF
 NEW ADJAR OPPOSITION MOVEMENT HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS IN TBILISISeveral thousand residents of the Adjar Autonomous Republic attended the founding congress in Tbilisi on 27 January of the Democratic Adjaria movement, the stated aim of which is to replace the existing Adjar leadership by constitutional means, Georgian media reported. Eduard Surmanidze, a leading member of Minister of State Zurab Zhvania's United Democrats and, like Zhvania, a former leading member of former President Eduard Shevardnadze's Union of Citizens of Georgia, was elected chairman of the new movement. Speaking at the congress, David Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party, which until recently constituted the only serious opposition in Adjaria to Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze, accused Zhvania and Surmanidze of holding secret talks with Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported. In Batumi, Abashidze warned on 27 January that confrontation between rival political groups could lead to bloodshed, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 GEORGIAN CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS REFUTEDA fellow parliament deputy of former Communications Minister Pridon Indjia said on 27 January in Tbilisi that Indjia is prepared to answer questions from the prosecutor-general although he currently enjoys immunity, Caucasus Press reported. Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili told journalists on 26 January he plans to reopen an investigation into possible irregularities in the communications sector during the late 1990s when Indjia was communications minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). Also on 27 January, an executive of the U.S. company Metromedia, which owns 49 percent of the shares in the Georgian mobile-phone company Magticom, rejected as untrue Okruashvili's allegation that the origin of Magticom's assets is suspicious. The executive pointed out that Metromedia invested some $10 million in Magticom and paid a total of 140 million laris ($64.9 million) in taxes to the Georgian state budget. The majority stake in Magticom is owned by Shevardnadze's son-in-law. Gia Djokhtaberidze. LF
 GEORGIA URGES FURTHER EFFORTS BY UN TO RESOLVE ABKHAZ CONFLICTAddressing on 27 January a closed session of the UN Security Council that discussed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's most recent report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia's UN envoy Revaz Adamia urged the UN to redouble its efforts to resolve the Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January. Adamia noted that the Abkhaz leadership continues to rule out any talks on the region's status vis-a-vis Georgia, which wants such talks to proceed in conjunction with confidence-building measures and economic restoration. Annan's report similarly deplored the Abkhaz disinclination to discuss the status issue, while noting that Sukhum "generally took a constructive approach to increased practical cooperation." Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze proposed that the UN take over the former Russian military base in Gudauta, which is currently used by the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia under the CIS aegis. LF
 ABKHAZIA DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACK ON GEORGIAN POLICEThe Interior Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia issued a statement on 27 January saying that an attack the previous day on a Georgian police post in western Georgia was perpetrated not by members of an Abkhaz-Georgian criminal gang as Georgian officials claim, but by Georgian criminals who escaped last summer from a Georgian jail, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). The statement said the escaped prisoners took refuge in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion several weeks ago and were then ordered to leave Abkhaz territory. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SUGGESTS JOINT BORDER PATROLS WITH RUSSIAIn the course of an extensive 27 January interview with ITAR-TASS, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili recalled the Soviet-era practice of joint patrols of the USSR's western borders with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland, and suggested that Russia and Georgia should start comparable joint patrols of their shared border to preclude the infiltration of Chechen militants into Georgia from Russia. He said any militants who are apprehended on Georgian territory will be arrested and extradited to the country of which they are citizens. LF
 PARTY OF KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER FORMS PARLIAMENTARY FACTIONAsar party leader Darigha Nazarbaeva told a press conference in Astana on 27 January that the party has formed a parliamentary faction, gazeta.kz reported. The faction is made up of 10 parliamentarians, some of whom have also joined Asar itself. None of them were elected to parliament as members of Asar, which was registered only in December. Nazarbaeva said the Asar faction intends to play an active role in upcoming Senate discussions of the draft media law, because discussion of the media law in the lower house was inadequate. She said the party will also try to amend the draft law on elections now making its way through parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004) by adding a provision that all registered political parties be represented on electoral commissions. She also told the news conference that four pro-presidential parties -- Otan, the Civic Party, the Agrarian Party, and Asar -- are discussing the creation of a unified election bloc for the parliamentary election later this year. BB
 ANOTHER TAJIK CITIZEN KILLED BY UZBEK LAND MINEElmir Pardaev, an inhabitant of northern Tajikistan's Asht Raion in Sughd Oblast, was killed on 22 January when he stepped on one of the land mines planted along the border in 2000 by the Uzbek military to prevent incursions into Uzbekistan by Islamist extremists, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 27 January, citing Tajik Deputy Emergency Situations and Civil Defense Minister Makhmadullo Khalimov. According to the report, the latest fatality brings to 70 the number of Tajik citizens who have been killed by the Uzbek land mines. The article noted that many of those who have been killed or injured were firewood gatherers or shepherds living in areas where the Tajik-Uzbek border is inadequately marked. BB
 TAJIKISTAN RECEIVES $4 MILLION IN U.S. MEDICAL AIDThe U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe announced on 27 January that a $4 million shipment of medicine and medical equipment has arrived in Tajikistan under the Project Hope program, gazeta.kz reported. The aid is to be distributed to 11 medical facilities throughout Tajikistan. The project, which has been under way in Tajikistan since 2001 and has already delivered $57 million worth of medical supplies, is sponsored jointly by the U.S. State Department and the Tajik Health Ministry. BB
 UZBEK GOVERNMENT RE-REGISTERING INTERNATIONAL, DOMESTIC NGOSUzbekistan's Justice Ministry notified international and domestic nongovernmental organizations on 27 January that they must register with the ministry by 1 March, centrasia.ru reported on 27 January. In the future, only diplomatic representations and international governmental organizations such as UN agencies can be registered with the Foreign Ministry. According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov, the number of representations and branches of foreign NGOs working in Uzbekistan increased by a factor of 12 in 1999-2004. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 27 January that among the international NGOs that must register with the Justice Ministry are the Open Society Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and various U.S.-sponsored human rights groups. U.S. diplomats have reportedly warned that the U.S. State Department might recommend political and economic sanctions against Uzbekistan if the human rights groups have to suspend their activities. BB
 UZBEK AIR CRASH FORMALLY ATTRIBUTED TO CREW ERRORThe Uzbek government commission investigating the crash of an Uzbek Airlines Yak-40 airplane at Tashkent International Airport on 13 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2004) has formally ruled that the crash was caused by pilot error, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 January. All 37 people on board the plane were killed in the incident. The commission's announcement confirmed the investigation's preliminary findings. According to the report, the crew failed to follow proper procedures to prepare for landing in conditions of limited visibility. The aircraft itself, though nearing the end of its expected service life, was reported to have been in good operating condition. BB
Central And Eastern Europe
 PACE COMMITTEE ENDORSES REPORT ON HIGH-PROFILE DISAPPEARANCES IN BELARUSThe Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 27 January unanimously approved a report prepared by Christos Pourgourides of Cyprus on the disappearances in Belarus of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski, as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The committee also adopted a recommendation that legislators from Belarus's National Assembly be banned from attending PACE sessions. The recommendation is to be considered by the PACE in April. Pourgourides's reports suggests a high-level government cover-up in the disappearances and the involvement of several high-ranking officials, including current Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, in orchestrating them. The report also calls on the Council of Europe to impose "sanctions" on the Belarusian leadership in order to force an independent investigation of the disappearances. JM
 KUCHMA DECREES 'YEAR OF POLAND IN UKRAINE'Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree furthering organization of "Year of Poland in Ukraine" in 2004, Interfax reported on 27 January, quoting the presidential press service. Deputy Premier Dmytro Tabachnyk was tasked with working out a plan of measures within the project's framework aimed at deepening the Ukrainian-Polish strategic partnership and strengthening bilateral economic and humanitarian ties, according to the decree. Kuchma and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski are expected to open the Year of Poland in Ukraine on 1 April, during Kwasniewski's planned three-day visit to Ukraine. JM
 DEEP CUTS PLANNED IN UKRAINIAN ARMYHeorhiy Kryuchkov, the head of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee, announced on 27 January that the Ukrainian Army will be reduced by 80,000 personnel in 2004, from its current level of 355,000, UNIAN reported. Kryuchkov added that by the end of 2005, the Ukrainian Army will number 200,000. Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said on 28 January that personnel reductions in the military will begin after the Verkhovna Rada passes a relevant bill that has already been submitted to the legislature. JM
 FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE LAUDS LATVIA'S PROGRESSFormer U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 27 January praised Latvia's upcoming accession to NATO and said she hopes it will help improve regional stability, BNS reported. At a press conference following her meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Albright stressed the importance of NATO having a constructive dialogue with Russia. Albright's discussions with Vike-Freiberga centered on the role of the World's Women Leaders Council and the role of women in politics and the economy. In earlier talks with Prime Minister Einars Repse, Albright noted Latvia's progress in EU and NATO integration. As part of her two-day visit, Albright on 27 January received an honorary doctor's degree from the University of Latvia for her achievements in politics and contribution to Latvia's independence through her promotion of Latvian-U.S. relations. She also attended a book signing on 26 January to promote her book, "Madam Secretary," during which she stressed the need for Latvia to improve its policies toward minorities. SG
 LITHUANIAN SOCIAL LIBERALS EXPEL TWO FROM PARLIAMENTARY FACTIONThe parliamentary faction of the New Union (Social Liberals) on 26 January voted to expel Rolandas Pavilionis and Egidijus Klumbys from its ranks by votes of 19 to two with two abstentions, and 18 to two with three abstentions, respectively, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 27 January. Both deputies were not members of the party, but were elected in 2000 on the New Union's list. Povilionis, a former rector of the University of Vilnius, and Klumbys, the chairman of the marginal National Progress Party, were among the more outspoken parliament deputies and have vehemently expressed their opposition to the possible impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas. Pavilionis will lose his position as chairman of the parliament's Education, Science, and Culture Committee as a result of his expulsion. The number of members of the faction thus fell to 23, as Viktor Uspaskich, the chairman of the recently founded Labor Party, withdrew voluntarily last week. SG
 POLISH PRESIDENT URGES BUSH TO GRANT POLES VISA-FREE STATUSVisiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski sought on 27 January to persuade his U.S. counterpart George. W. Bush to allow Poles visa-free travel to the United States, Polish and international media reported. During a meeting with Bush in the Oval Office, Kwasniewski alluded to the electoral impact of the ethnic Polish community in the United States over the visa issue, according to "The Washington Post" of 28 January. Bush reportedly remained noncommittal, noting that it is the U.S. Congress' task to pass an "immigration policy that matches willing workers with willing employers." "President Bush does not for the time being want to agree to a thing about which I am myself most deeply convinced, that the future belongs to a world without visas," Kwasniewski told Polish Television later the same day. Bush reportedly promised Kwasniewski that the 2005 federal budget will include $66 million to help Poland buy military transport planes in order to improve the Polish Army's airlift capabilities. JM
 POLISH TELEVISION GETS NEW BOSSThe Polish Television Supervisory Council on 27 January elected film and television producer Jan Dworak as the new chairman of the management board at public broadcaster Polish Television, Polish media reported on 28 January. Last year, the Polish Television Supervisory Council announced an open, multi-round competition to find a chairman and four board members for Polish Television (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 November 2003). On 11 January, the supervisory council selected three possible candidates for the post of chairman -- Andrzej Budzynski, Piotr Gawel, and Ryszard Paclawski -- but was unable to reach consensus for a majority vote. The supervisory council therefore turned to what it considered the 10 most suitable candidates, including Dworak. Polish Television is currently headed by Robert Kwiatkowski, who earlier this month withdrew from the competition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004). JM
 POLISH PRIVATE BROADCASTER SUSPENDS NEWS ANCHOR OVER PRESIDENTIAL PROSPECTSThe management of the private television channel TVN has suspended news anchor Tomasz Lis in the wake of a survey that suggested Lis would be a popular candidate in the 2005 presidential election, Polish media reported on 27 January. The "Newsweek-Polska" poll, published on 26 January, hinted that Lis's popularity might make him the only person who could challenge current first lady Jolanta Kwasniewska in that election. Lis told the 26 January issue of "Newsweek-Polska" that he was shocked by the poll, but he did not rule out a bid for the presidency. Lis said he will answer that question no sooner than one year from now. This latter statement was reportedly the main reason behind the TVN management's decision to take Lis off the air. JM
 CZECH, PORTUGUESE LEADERS SEE EYE TO EYE ON IRAQ, EUROPEAN FUTUREVisiting Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and his Portuguese counterpart Jose Manuel Durao Barroso told journalists in Lisbon on 27 January that they hold identical views on the future of Europe and on the reconstruction of Iraq, CTK reported. Both countries have troops in Iraq and are seeking contracts related to its reconstruction. Spidla said stability in the Middle East and Iraqi reconstruction are "definitely in the interest of Europe as a whole." Barroso and Spidla expressed opposition to a "two-speed" European Union, and Spidla warned that the German-French idea could lead to European disintegration. "The equality of states is a condition we consider of fundamental importance," Spidla said. "There should be no inequality between old members and new members of the EU." MS
 CZECH SUPREME COURT JUDGE SUSPENDED OVER ALLEGED PLAGIARISMJustice Minister Karel Cermak told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 27 January that Supreme Court Judge Zdenek Sovak has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into alleged plagiarism. Sovak is suspected of having allowed texts written by his colleagues to appear in professional journals under his name. A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said the case marks the first time a judge has been suspected of plagiarism. The daily reported that a prosecutor from within the Prosecutor-General's Office is suspected of a similar offense. MS
 THIRD CANDIDATE ENTERS SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL RACEFrantisek Miklosko, a parliamentarian in the junior ruling Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), was officially registered on 27 January as a candidate in Slovakia's presidential election slated for April, TASR reported. KDH parliamentary group leader Pavol Minarik gave parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky a list of 15 KDH deputies who support Miklosko's bid. Miklosko joins two other official candidates -- Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan for the senior coalition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) candidate Lubomir Roman -- with others expected to join the race. MS
 SLOVAK COALITION SELECTS CANDIDATE FOR EUROPEAN COMMISSIONThe leaders of Slovakia's four governing parties agreed on 27 January to nominate the country's former chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel, as Slovakia's candidate for European commissioner, CTK reported. Figel, a member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), is chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda predicted the cabinet would approve Figel's candidacy on 28 January, adding that Figel is backed by three of the four coalition parties. Dzurinda unsuccessfully backed SDKU member Ivan Stefanec for the post, CTK reported. "I did not want to stand in the way of an agreement," he said. MS
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE GROUP SLAMS SLOVAKIA OVER TREATMENT OF ROMAThe Council of Europe's expert body on combating racism has concluded that Slovak Roma are still victimized by racial violence, "including serious acts of police brutality," according to a report posted on its website (http://www.coe.int/t/E/humanrights/ecri) on 27 January. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said racial violence and police brutality directed at Roma often go unpunished due to weak enforcement of the law. The ECRI also said Slovakia's Romany minority is "severely disadvantaged in most areas of life, particularly in the fields of housing, employment and education." The group also called for "a full, transparent, and impartial investigation into the recent allegations concerning sterilizations of [Romany] women without their full and informed consent" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July, 22 and 30 October, and 1 December 2003). MS
 NATO REPORTEDLY CRITICAL OF HUNGARY'S MILITARY-REFORM PLANSNATO officials have expressed dissatisfaction over a draft proposal on the transformation of Hungary's armed forces, "Magyar Nemzet" wrote on 28 January, quoting a report purportedly summarizing recent talks between alliance representatives and Hungarian military experts. The daily said nothing about the source of the report or who drafted it. According to the report, NATO has urged Hungary to share with other states the costs of purchasing and maintaining tanker aircraft, which would allow the midair refueling of Gripen jets that Hungary expects to lease from Sweden in 2006. NATO also reportedly requested that Hungary apply a "renegade concept" that would allow for firing on hijacked aircraft in Hungarian airspace. Defense Ministry spokesman Peter Matyuc told the daily that legal regulations that would allow Hungary to join the "renegade principle" are being drafted. MSZ
 JEWISH HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL VANDALIZED IN BUDAPESTA memorial erected to Jews killed by Hungary's pro-Nazi Arrow Cross toward the end of World War II was vandalized on 27 January, AP reported, citing the MTI news agency. Vandals poured red paint on the monument -- a mosaic on the banks of the Danube River, into which Jewish corpses were thrown by supporters of the Ferenc Szalasi regime. The act coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Also on 27 January, former Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban attended a formal session of the Bundestag in Berlin honoring the victims of Nazism, according to Hungarian media reports. MS
 SERBIA'S NEW PARLIAMENT HOLDS ITS FIRST SESSION...The recently elected Serbian parliament held its first session on 27 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Deputies failed to elect a speaker because neither of two candidates won a majority among the 250 legislators. Dragan Marsicanin of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) received 107 votes from deputies belonging to the DSS, the G-17 Plus party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and the New Serbia party. Gordana Pop Lazic won 80 votes, all from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Deputies from the Democratic Party and Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) abstained. The next session is scheduled for 30 January. PM
 ...AMID TALK OF FAUSTIAN BARGAINSDSS leader Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 27 January that if other coalition possibilities fail, he might consider sharing power with the SPS of ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in order to avoid calling new elections, "The New York Times" reported. Kostunica added that some SPS members have "administrative skills that we opposition parties are all lacking." The DSS and SPS have a total of 75 seats between them and would require the support of another party or parties to govern. It is not clear which "administrative skills" Kostunica was referring to, since he and his fellow "opposition" leaders who helped govern Serbia for most of the time since Milosevic's ouster in October 2000 have long blamed the SPS for ruining the country. Elsewhere, Democratic Party leader Zoran Zivkovic said on 26 January that the DSS portrays his party as corrupt but nonetheless wants its support in the legislature, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He likened the DSS's behavior to that of Faust seeking cooperation between angels and devils. PM
 ROW OVER GERMAN DIPLOMAT'S REMARKS IN KOSOVAPeter Rondorf, who is Germany's chief diplomat in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 23 January that the final status of the province cannot be settled in opposition to Serbia, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 27 January. He stressed that if the Kosovar Albanians want self-determination leading to independence, they must also grant the local Serbs the same right to self-determination. Rondorf argued that there is no "absolute right to self-determination." Jakup Krasniqi, who is minister of public services and a leader of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), responded that foreign diplomats should mind their own business and not seek to determine the fates of other peoples. Krasniqi stressed that one cannot expect Serbia to play a constructive role in determining the future of Kosova with its more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. He suggested that Rondorf had, in effect, made himself Belgrade's spokesman in Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002 and 17 October, 14 November, and 19 December 2003). PM
 MACEDONIA ASKS UNMIK TO EXTRADITE FORMER REBEL COMMANDEROn 27 January, the Macedonian Justice Ministry formally asked the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) to extradite Xhemail Hiseni, who is a former ethnic Albanian rebel commander also known as "Commander Jamie Shea," a nom de guerre based on 1999 NATO press spokesman Jamie Shea, dpa reported. In November, Hiseni was sentenced in absentia by a Macedonian court to 10 years in prison for two bombings -- one in Kumanovo and one on the Belgrade-Skopje railway line. He surrendered to NATO peacekeepers in Kosova in December. Along with fugitive Avdil Jakupi "Jackal," who was also sentenced in connection with the Kumanovo bombing, Hiseni is believed to be one of the leaders of the clandestine Albanian National Army (AKSH) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 28 August and 15 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 12 September 2003). UB
 CROATIAN MINISTER HAILS EX-REBEL'S GUILTY PLEACroatian Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt said in Zagreb on 27 January that a recent guilty plea before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal by former Serbian rebel leader Milan Babic is the first admission of remorse by anyone accused of committing war crimes in Croatia during the 1991-95 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). PM
 CROATIAN BISHOPS OPPOSE AIDS EDUCATION PROGRAMCroatia's Roman Catholic bishops said in a statement that they oppose an AIDS education project aimed at secondary-school students because it includes recommendations on the use of condoms, dpa reported on 28 January. The program, known as Memoaids, was devised in response to studies showing that 22 percent of teenagers engage in sexual intercourse without using condoms. PM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS REHABILITATION OF FORMER MASTER SPY MUST BE UPHELDPresident Ion Iliescu told Romanian Television on 26 January that court ruling that rehabilitated communist master spy Lieutenant General Ion Mihai Pacepa must be upheld, Mediafax reported. In 1999, the Supreme Court annulled the death sentence handed down to Pacepa in August 1978 after the former chief of the Securitate's foreign-intelligence department defected to the United States. The Supreme Court also ruled that Pacepa's military rank be restored and his confiscated assets returned. Iliescu's comments came following a meeting between Pacepa's lawyer and the president's counselor on military affairs, Ioan Talpes. Romanian media on 24 January reported that Iliescu was dismissive of the possibility of restoring Pacepa's military rank, quoting the president as saying Pacepa should direct that request to the person "who made him general" -- an apparent reference to executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. On 26 January, Iliescu said he disagrees with U.S. journalists who wrote that Pacepa's defection helped precipitate the fall of communism. "In the world of espionage with which I am not acquainted," Iliescu said, "defections are standard practice and their importance must not be exaggerated." MS
 EUROPEAN COMMISSION LETS ROMANIA OFF THE HOOK ON ADOPTIONSEuropean Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 27 January in Brussels that Bucharest has not violated its moratorium on international adoptions, Mediafax reported, citing AFP. Verheugen said he has received assurances from Prime Minister Adrian Nastase that the adoption last year of 105 Romanian children by Italian parents pertained to unresolved cases dating back prior to the June 2001 moratorium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 January 2003). Meanwhile, government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe said in Bucharest on 27 January that those adoptions are the last prior to the approval by parliament of new adoption procedures based on recommendations from European experts. MS
 FORMER NATO OFFICIAL ACQUITTED OF MONEY LAUNDERING VIA ROMANIAA Dutch court on 27 January acquitted former NATO official Jan Willem Matser of charges he attempted to launder $200 million by channeling money from a Colombian bank account to Belgium via Romania, AP and AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2004). The judge said prosecutors had failed to support the money-laundering charges. Matser was found guilty of forgery and fraud on two other accounts and was sentenced to 14 months in prison, but was ordered released because he has already served two-thirds of the sentence in pretrial detention. He was given three years' probation. MS
 MOLDOVAN REINTEGRATION MINISTER HOPES NEGOTIATIONS WILL RESUME NEXT MONTHIntegration Minister Vasile Sova said on 26 January in an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service that he hopes negotiations with Transdniester under the so-called pentagonal format will be resumed next month. The five-party negotiations include Moldova and Transdniester, with the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine as mediators. Sova said the resumed negotiations should aim at elaborating a new plan for the federalization of Moldova. Meanwhile, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Brussels on 27 January that the Russian plan for Moldova's federalization is "defunct," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. "Attempts to resuscitate that plan might be tactically useful [for Russia], but have no chance of success," Geoana said. MS
 NEW MANAGER APPOINTED FOR MOLDOVAN TELEVISIONThe Council of Observers that oversees Teleradio Moldova on 27 January appointed Victor Moraru as the new executive director of Moldovan Television, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The 40-year-old Moraru reportedly has no experience in television, having worked only in print media. Following his appointment, Moraru said he intends to "radically reform" state television, transforming it into a dynamic and politically impartial station. MS
 BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS DENY RECEIVING PAYMENTS FROM IRAQOpposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev and his predecessor, President Georgi Parvanov, have denied an Iraqi newspaper report that the BSP received large payments in oil from Iraq in 1998, mediapool.bg reported. Bulgarian media cited the Baghdad daily "Al-Mada" as reporting that the payments, which were allegedly intended to ensure political support for the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, were worth approximately $150 million. Stanishev told a news conference that the BSP "has not received a single cent" from Iraq, vsekiden.com reported. Parvanov, who headed the BSP from 1996 until his election as president in 2001, said on 27 January that the report appears to be a failed attempt at "black humor." However, Parvanov ordered the National Intelligence Service and the National Investigation Service to investigate. UB
 BULGARIAN TURKISH LEADER OPPOSES EU REFERENDUMAhmed Dogan, who heads the governing ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), on 27 January rebuffed President Parvanov's recent proposal to hold a referendum on Bulgaria's EU membership as "populism," mediapool.bg reported. Dogan said Bulgarian society lacks the maturity needed to hold such a referendum. Dogan added that although he has no doubt that such a referendum would favor EU membership, this would not be the case if parties linked other issues -- such as the future of the controversial Kozloduy nuclear-power plant -- to the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 January 2004). UB
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 NORTHERN AFGHAN MILITARY CORPS PLEDGES TO COMPLY WITH KABUL'S PLANS FOR DISARMAMENTAt a meeting held in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan on 25 January, a number of commanders of Afghanistan's 8th Army Corps expressed their readiness to abide by the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) plans put forth by the Afghan Transitional Administration, Jowjzan Television reported. According to the report, sections of the 8th Army Corps have already handed over 240 heavy and armored weapons to the DDR commission. The 8th Army Corps is the armed wing of the Jumbish-e Melli party led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum, who is nominally Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's security adviser, has reportedly been reluctant to hand over much of his heavy weaponry. An Afghan law on political parties forbids any political organization from having military units. AT
 ONE BRITISH SOLDIER KILLED, THREE INJURED IN KABUL BLAST...A British member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed and three others were injured on 28 January in an apparent suicide attack in Kabul, international news agencies reported. According to Lieutenant General Baba Jan, security commander of Kabul Province, a driver rammed a taxi into an ISAF vehicle immediately before the explosion, the official Afghan Bakhtar Information Agency reported on 28 January. The killing of the British solider followed a suicide attack on ISAF in Kabul on 27 January in which a Canadian soldier and an Afghan civilian lost their lives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). AT
 ...AND NEO-TALIBAN CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITYAbdul Samad, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the fatal attack on British ISAF troops on 28 January, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 28 January. According to that report, the neo-Taliban has pledged to carry out similar attacks in other Afghan provinces. AT
 GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER PROPOSES THAT EUROCORPS ASSUME COMMAND OF ISAFPeter Struck has said that Eurocorps might assume command of ISAF sometime during 2004, "Hamburg Financial Times Deutschland" reported on 27 January. The German defense minister said he has already discussed the proposal with his French counterpart Michelle Alliot-Marie. He reportedly said that if the idea is approved by Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain, an offer will be made to NATO, which currently commands ISAF. Struck is planning to discuss his proposal with other Eurocorps member states during the Munich Security Conference in early February. "I do not doubt that the willingness in principle exists," Struck said. Germany and France established the Eurocorps in 1992 (for more on NATO's role in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). AT
 IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CONTRADICTS PRESIDENT, SAYS SOUND ELECTIONS IMPOSSIBLEAbdolvahed Musavi-Lari, whose Interior Ministry is in charge of holding elections, said on 27 January that there is no possibility of holding "free, healthy, and competitive elections," IRNA reported. He described the Guardians Council's rejection of approximately 45 percent of the 8,200 prospective candidates for the 20 February parliamentary elections as unacceptable and said that hidden hands are trying to eliminate their political rivals. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said earlier the same day that "the government's plan is to hold healthy, free, and competitive elections and we will definitely hold such an election" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). BS
 IRANIAN SPEAKER FORETELLS GOOD NEWS ON PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONSGuardians Council spokesman Ebrahim Azizi announced late on 27 January that the candidacies of 650 disqualified individuals have been reinstated, IRNA reported on 28 January. The names of 461 reinstated candidates have already been provided to the Interior Ministry, Azizi said. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 27 January that good news regarding eligible candidates will come by close of business on 30 January (the deadline for the Guardians Council to inform the Interior Ministry about prospective candidates' appeals), state television and IRNA reported the same day. Karrubi described this as the outcome of his 25 January meeting with Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and the 26 January meeting of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Karrubi also said a presidentially appointed committee -- consisting of Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri, Commerce Minister Hussein Shariatmadari, and Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh -- is investigating the vetting process. BS
 IRAN'S PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SAYS ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS BY-ELECTIONS ARE MEANINGLESSSpeaker of Parliament Karrubi on 28 January said the Assembly of Experts by-elections, which are being held in four provinces concurrently with the 20 February parliamentary elections, are essentially meaningless because only one candidate has been approved in each constituency, IRNA reported. Nevertheless, Karrubi urged political groups to participate actively in the elections and expressed confidence that such problems will be overcome. The council approved only five candidates for the races in Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, and Zanjan provinces, ILNA reported on 26 January, citing the Interior Ministry's website. Of 19 prospective candidates, the Guardians Council rejected nine applicants and another five withdrew. The Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, and Zanjan races are uncontested, and there are only two candidates in Hormozgan Province. BS
 IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MEETING WITH U.S. SENATOR A CHANCE ENCOUNTER...Kamal Kharrazi said in a 27 January press conference that his 23 January meeting with Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware) on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, was "just a chance encounter," state television reported. "He came up to me and wished to speak to me," Kharrazi explained. "We just talked to him unofficially." Kharrazi expressed his admiration of Biden, saying: "Of course, he is among the critics of the American administration. In view of his vast experience in foreign affairs, he has a more realistic view of this region and Iran.... However, well, [Biden] is not in a position to do anything." BS
 ...AND DISCUSSES RELATIONS WITH UNITED STATESDuring his 27 January press conference, Foreign Minister Kharrazi also discussed the circumstances under which Tehran would engage in some sort of dialogue with Washington. "We welcome the cooperation of those countries that are ready to cooperate with Iran, keeping in mind bilateral respect and adherence [to] the dignity and independence of our country," he said. "We have no objections if American companies would like to come to Iran and contribute to the development of this country." In discussing the oil and gas sector, Kharrazi said, "American companies...have been deprived of taking part in this active market and they should ask the U.S. government to lift this embargo." BS
 CAR BOMB DETONATES OUTSIDE BAGHDAD HOTELA car bomb detonated outside the Shaheen Hotel in central Baghdad on 28 January, international media reported. The hotel is frequented by Westerners and Iraqi officials. According to AP, as many as four people were killed in the explosion and 17 wounded. Karadah district police chief Kadhim Khalas said it is unclear whether the vehicle carrying the explosives was moving or stationary. Residents and relatives of hotel employees told AP that the hotel has received anonymous threats demanding that the management evict foreigners. The hotel is located near the former U.S. Embassy, the Belarusian Embassy, and a police station. Three U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded in an improvised-explosive-device (IED) attack in Khalidiyah, just east of Al-Ramadi on 27 January. In a separate incident the same day, three soldiers were killed and three were wounded when their vehicle struck an IED near Iskandariyah. KR
 GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT SAYS FUTURE OF COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ TO BE DETERMINEDIraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi told LBC satellite television on 28 January that the future of coalition forces in Iraq will be determined by an agreement between "sovereign countries." "After gaining independence, sovereignty, and power, the status of forces will be determined according to agreement between sovereign countries," Pachachi said. "This [agreement] would be implemented as long as we would need foreign forces to help us confront any external threat and to [achieve] security and restore order in the short run." KR
 FINANCE MINISTER SAYS IRAQ WILL OVERSEE RECONSTRUCTION FUNDSIraqi Finance Minister Kamil al-Kaylani has said that Iraqi officials will soon begin operating a regulatory body to oversee the disbursement of Iraqi reconstruction funds, including the $18.6 billion in U.S. funds for Iraq, ft.com reported on 28 January. "All donor projects will be reviewed by the Iraqi Strategic Review Board to ensure that it corresponds to our assessment of Iraq's needs. It's an Iraqi decision," al-Kaylani said. He added that the review board will begin operating in two weeks, and will report to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. The board will include representatives from the Iraqi central bank, and the Planning and Finance ministries. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced the establishment of the Iraqi-led coordination mechanism on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 18 December 2003). KR
 U.S. GENERAL SAYS 3,000-5,000 MILITANTS OPERATING IN IRAQBrigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a 27 January press conference in Baghdad (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) that intelligence indicates that between 3,000 and 5,000 anti-coalition militants are currently operating in Iraq. Kimmitt added that 5-10 percent of the militants are foreign fighters. "The vast majority of them we still believe are homegrown anti-coalition elements, possibly former regime elements, possibly disenfranchised youth," he said. KR
 INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS GIVE CONFLICTING ASSESSMENT ON SECURITY, ELECTIONSOfficials from the Iraqi Interior Ministry have made contradictory statements this week over the viability of holding national elections in Iraq given the current security environment. AP reported on 27 January that Interior Minister Nuri Badran told reporters at a Baghdad press conference the previous day that the current security situation in Iraq does not allow for holding direct national elections. Meanwhile, Baghdad's Voice of Iraq radio reported on 24 January that the Interior Ministry's undersecretary for security affairs, Samir al-Wa'li, has said it is possible for the ministry and Iraqi police to control the security situation and oversee elections. He added that the ministry could tighten the security cordon on election centers to ensure that security is not breached. KR
 RIFTS EMERGE AMONG UKRAINE'S RULING ELITEBy Taras Kuzio
Despite the Ukrainian Constitutional Court's 30 December decision clearing the way for President Leonid Kuchma to run in the October presidential elections, Kuchma is unlikely to contest that ballot. The most convincing explanation for the Constitutional Court's decision -- on the grounds that he is in his first term under a new constitution -- arguably lies in the executive branch's fear that the pro-presidential elite might split into rival factions in the course of the election campaign.
Socialist opposition leader Oleksandr Moroz and Russian-speaking liberal Volodymyr Malynkovych expressed that argument in "Ukrayinska pravda" on 2 January. Both men said they believe the threat of a Kuchma candidacy will serve to deter any pro-presidential groups from "jumping ship." A second way of accomplishing that goal is to undo or prevent bridges being built between the more moderate opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who consistently leads in the polls, and eastern Ukrainian oligarchs. The standoff that emerged during Yushchenko's visit to Donetsk on 31 October was an attempt by the presidential administration, whose secret instructions to that effect were leaked to opposition media, to pit Yushchenko against the Donbas clan.
Presidential-administration head and Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) leader Viktor Medvedchuk is as opposed to Yushchenko becoming president as he is to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukevych, who heads the Donbas party of power, Party of Regions, becoming president. The real power behind the Donbas clan is Renat Ahkmetov, Ukraine's wealthiest oligarch, who is reported to have held secret meetings with Yushchenko.
The same holds true for Viktor Pinchuk, the wealthiest oligarch in the Dnipropetrovsk clan's party of power, Labor Ukraine. Medvedchuk must tread more carefully with Pinchuk, however, as he is Kuchma's son-in-law.
The Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk group of oligarchs are striving to achieve respectability as capitalist entrepreneurs after reaching the conclusion that the "robber-baron" capitalism of the 1990s will end when the Kuchma era is over. Becoming "respectable" will provide insurance, they believe, against the likely redivision of assets among the elite after Kuchma leaves office. Some members of the Ukrainian elite therefore understand that times are changing; parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn called in September for Medvedchuk and Akhmetov to return their overseas assets to Ukraine.
This realization of the need to move with the times, which also took place in Russia in the transition from the Boris Yeltsin era to that of Vladimir Putin, is not shared by those oligarchs aligned with the SDPU-o, who prefer to continue to play by the old rules. Medvedchuk plays a similar role to Russia's former "gray cardinal" under Yeltsin -- Boris Berezovskii. It is no coincidence that Medvedchuk and the SDPU-o have been at the forefront in constitutional changes as they see Kuchma continuing in power as the best guarantee of their continued influence and power.
The oligarchs ready to change are not necessarily hostile to a Yushchenko victory, as he has ruled out reopening privatizations from the 1990s. If Yushchenko is elected president the SDPU-o will lose the most from any re-division of assets because of their unwillingness to play by the new rules and because of deep animosity between Yushchenko-Medvedchuk and the SDPU-o and Our Ukraine.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, the former deputy head of the SDPU-o, holds similar views to Pinchuk. Both understand that the transition from oligarchy to gentrification requires a divorce of politics from economics. This is a step that Medvedchuk categorically rejects because he believes that economic power can only be maintained by remaining at the hub of politics. Only the Zinchenko-Pinchuk view is not threatened by a Yushchenko victory and leaves open the possibility of future progress toward Ukraine's democratization.
Tension among the pro-presidential elite is as severe as that between Medvedchuk and the opposition. On 19 December, "The New York Times" published a full-page advertisement attacking Medvedchuk. Payment for the $125,000 advertisement came from the little-known Friends of Ukraine (FOU), who are clients of the Washington-based lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers. The mid-December advertisement defended Russian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin, who refused in 2002 to transfer his assets in Ukrainian regional electricity suppliers to Medvedchuk. Grigorishin was subsequently arrested on seemingly trumped up charges but was supported by Pinchuk, who intervened to get him released. Grigorishin is thought to be behind the creation of the FOU. The FOU is promising further advertisements during the course of the election campaign.
Grigorishin and Pinchuk have lobbied Kuchma on behalf of Unified Energy Systems (EES) Chairman Anatolii Chubais's business plans in Ukraine. Chubais, whose company controls half of Georgia's and 80 percent of Armenia's electricity sector, purchased majority shares in 10 of 27 regional electricity companies in Ukraine in December. The move was backed by Pinchuk and Grigorishin, but strongly opposed by Medvedchuk.
The "Young Turks" within the pro-presidential camp are also restless. In September, the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Economics and European Integration voiced opposition to Ukraine's admission to the CIS Single Economic Space. Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych deliberately distanced himself from proposed constitutional reforms in late January, telling visiting Council of Europe rapporteurs that he had nothing to do with them. The West regards those changes, which Medvedchuk supports, with suspicion.
This month saw the resignations of both Economics and European Integration Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy and Inna Bohoslovska, who headed of the State Committee for Regulatory Policy and Enterprise. Both are Pinchuk proteges; he funded their failed 2002 electoral bloc, the Winter Crop Generation. Khoroshkovskyy and Bohoslovska cited deep disagreements with First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov. The deputy head of the Party of Regions, Azarov is Ukraine's main lobbyist for participation in the CIS Single Economic Space.
Khoroshkovskyy is the son-in-law of People's Democratic Party (NDP) leader Valeriy Pustovoytenko and was a member of Pustovoytenko's 1997-99 government. The NDP, Ukraine's first unsuccessful attempt at creating a party of power under that government, has just 14 deputies, the minimum required for a faction.
In late 2003, Pustovoytenko complained in numerous interviews that the presidential administration was pressuring the NDP because of a cooperation agreement that the party had signed with Our Ukraine in June. That same month, the NDP protested at the removal of NDP member and Vasyl Shevchuk from the post of environment minister. Parliamentary speaker Lytvyn came to the NDP's defense, expressing support for Pustovoytenko's claim that unnamed political forces were trying to remove the NDP from parliament by forcibly co-opting its members.
By forcing through the controversial constitutional changes and pressuring the Constitutional Court to rule that Kuchma may run for a further presidential term, Medvedchuk has created tension not only with the opposition and within pro-presidential ranks, but also within his own SDPU-o. Zinchenko was expelled from the SDPU-o in September. Parliamentary deputy Volodymyr Nechyporuk resigned from the SDPU-o in December, the same month that Zinchenko dropped his membership of the pro-presidential majority to protest the 24 December controversial parliamentary vote for constitutional charges. One hundred members have resigned from the Mukachevo branch of the SDPU-o, citing a standoff between the SDPU-o and Our Ukraine over who won mayoral elections last June. In the Crimea, too, the SDPU-o is severely divided; many of its branches have called on the SDPU-o leadership over the past two months to support Yushchenko in the 2004 elections.
Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European studies and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.