|Tuesday, 12 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-09-16
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIAN GOVERNMENTAL COMMISSION FINISHES INVESTIGATION OF DOUBLE AIR CRASH IN AUGUST...Transportation Minister Igor Levitin, the head of the state commission investigating the simultaneous crashes of two Russian passenger aircraft on 24 August, announced that experts have established that both planes exploded as a result of terrorist acts, RTR and ORT reported. According to information from the flight-data recorders, before the explosions on board the jets there were no attacks on the crew or attempts to take control of the airliners. Levitin said that the investigation established that the explosions occurred in the seats occupied by Aminat Nagaeva and Satsita Dzhebirkhanova (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 27 and 31 August, and 1 and 2 September 2004). According to Levitin, the explosives were on or inside the bodies of the women. Meanwhile, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said that both women bought their flight tickets just before departure from a ticket profiteer, Armen Arutyunov, who in exchange for a bribe paid to a Sibir Airlines official helped one woman board without inspection. Arutyunov has been arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004). Ustinov also said that both women arrived earlier the same day from Daghestan and were briefly detained by the airport police as suspicious persons. The police brought them to an Interior Ministry officer responsible for counterterrorism at the airport, but he released them without examination. The officer, whose name was not revealed, has also been arrested. VY
 ...AS NEW DETAILS ON BESLAN EVENTS RELEASEDSpeaking at the same press conference, Prosecutor-General Ustinov said the investigation of the Beslan school hostage taking will look into all details of the incident and make them public, and that all those responsible who are found guilty will be punished, Russian media reported. Ustinov said that in the school there were at least 1,156 hostages and that investigators still have 84 unidentified bodies and many fragments of bodies. He also said that investigators have identified 14 bodies of gunmen, included their supposed leader, "the Colonel," but that relatives of the gunmen are refusing to cooperate with the identification process. He said that there were 32 gunmen and all of the them, except for Nur-Pasha Kulaev, were killed. Asked by journalists whether any of the hostage takers may have escaped, Ustinov said: "I don't think so. He could have escaped from the [special forces], but not from the people of Beslan." There have been numerous media reports that a number of the hostage takers were killed by enraged local residents who had not been cordoned away from the area. VY
 FORMER HEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION SAYS PUTIN REFORM IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL...Sergei Filatov, who during the first term of former President Boris Yeltsin was the head of his administration and is an author of the present Russian Constitution, said the political reforms proposed by President Putin are unconstitutional, TV-Tsentr reported on 15 September. "According to the constitution, we are a federal state and Putin is proposing to transform it into a unitarian one." He added that he has mixed feelings about Putin's reforms. "To realize them we need to adopt at least one or two constitutional amendments," Filatov said. VY
 ...AS TV ANALYST SAYS AUTHORITARIAN LIBERALISM IS INEVITABLEInfluential TV-Tsentr political commentator Aleksei Pushkov said that economic progress in Russia may require some authoritarianism, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 37, reported on 14 September. "Under President Boris Yeltsin, we had neither real democracy nor economic progress," he said. "Some say that the present course is dictated by the siloviki, but we have in the government many liberal figures like [presidential economic adviser] Andrei Illarionov, [Deputy Prime Minister] Aleksandr Zhukov, [Finance Minister] Aleksei Kudrin, and [Economic Development and Trade Minister] German Gref, who continue to define a liberal economic course." Meanwhile, "in politics, Putin cut off the left and right extremes and is creating a very crippled, but stable and powerful political center" in Unified Russia, Pushkov concluded. VY
 U.S. PRESIDENT URGES PUTIN TO UPHOLD DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIAIn his reaction of President Putin's planned political reforms, U.S. President George W. Bush said on 15 September that he is "concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia," AP and Reuters quoted him as saying. Bush also noted a need for a balance of power "within central governments, between the executive branch and the legislative branch and the judicial branch." "As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy," Bush concluded. Meanwhile, in response to U.S. State Secretary Colin Powell's remarks that Putin's proposals might be a deviation from the course of reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2004), a TV-Tsentr commentator said on 15 September: "Many Russians might welcome Powell's words, but not for the reason he might have expected. For them the expression 'democratic reforms' has come to be seen as a curse word." VY
 PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RAISES ALARM ABOUT CORRUPTION, PROMISING MORE HIGH-PROFILE PROSECUTIONS...Prosecutor-General Ustinov said on 16 September that corruption in Russia is reaching "dangerous dimensions," Interfax reported. According to Ustinov, a check of how regional government bodies are enforcing anticorruption laws revealed that "almost all government officials are engaged in commercial activities and the management of various organizations." Ustinov added that his office has launched a number of "high-profile economic cases" and tax collection as a result has increased by 70 percent "by some estimates." However, "we still believe that it should increase several times," he said. JAC
 ...AND REPLACES PROSECUTOR IN SOUTHERN DISTRICTProsecutor-General Ustinov announced on 16 September that his deputy, Vladimir Kolesnikov, will replace Deputy Prosecutor-General for the Southern Federal District Sergei Fridinskii, who is being transferred back to Moscow, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported. Earlier this month, President Putin replaced Vladimir Yakovlev as presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District with Dmitrii Kozak, his long-time aide and government-apparatus head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2004). JAC
 SUPREME COURT DELAYS DECISION ON REGIONAL ELECTION...The Supreme Court postponed on 15 September examination of the Central Election Commission's (TsIK) case against a Samara Oblast court that set 19 September as the date for the oblast's next gubernatorial election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). According to the daily, potential candidates in the race believe that the election will not take place, and instead the region's head will be elected by the regional parliament under the new election system recently proposed by President Putin. The decision was postponed because of the ill health of a TsIK representative, which also caused a previous delay. One potential candidate, State Duma Deputy Vladimir Mokryi (Unified Russia), told the daily that "considering the situation developing in the country over the past two to three days, it is possible to suggest that the TsIK is intentionally taking a pause to consider and reach a decision about which election system that it will support." JAC
 ...AS DECEMBER ELECTIONS PREDICTED TO BE THE LASTMeanwhile, "Izvestiya" concluded on 15 September that the gubernatorial elections scheduled for December "may be the very last." By the end of this year, regional executive races are supposed to be held in 13 regions, although only five have officially set dates. Seven more races were expected to be held in the first quarter of 2005. According to the daily, unidentified Kremlin sources made it clear that the Kremlin desires that only a few incumbents win reelection, because those who were elected during the Yeltsin era "are no longer required." The daily also noted that despite the fact that many regional leaders joined the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, few of them are loyal, and the presidential administration needs loyal regional leaders for the 2007 parliamentary elections and the 2008 presidential race. An unidentified senior Kremlin official told the daily that "the president only outlined the new system. It will be changed and improved, but the main principles will be the same. The point is to remove regional leaders from the influence of regional circumstances and private businesses." JAC
 ANOTHER SENATOR RECALLEDNizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev has recalled his representative to the Federation Council, Yevgenii Bushmin, Ekho Moskvy reported on 15 September. Khodyrev complained that Bushmin cut all ties with the region after assuming his position and has tried to secure a post with the Audit Chamber. Bushmin is a former deputy finance minister. The Federation Council earlier rejected his nomination to the Audit Chamber. JAC
 RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS HEAD REELECTEDYevgenii Satanovskii has been reelected as head of the Russian Jewish Congress, newsru.com reported on 15 September. Congress members also voted to create a rapid-reaction group whose goal will be to provide emergency assistance to victims of future terrorist attacks. Satanovskii told Interfax, "This is not the first year that Russia has been in a state of war with international terrorism, and the task of the Jewish community in Russia is to provide healing to overcome the consequences of terror." JAC
 RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CALL FOR CHECHEN TALKSProminent Russian human rights activists issued an appeal in Moscow on 15 September calling on the Russian leadership to embark on negotiations with representatives of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other "reasonable" Chechen forces, Interfax reported. The statement cast doubts on the effectiveness of the new measures proposed by the Kremlin to contain the Chechen conflict and argued that official peace talks would create an opportunity for "moderate and reasonable" Chechens to distance themselves from the extremist wing of the resistance and contribute to the foundation of a coalition of moderate forces. It called on Maskhadov personally "to confirm clearly, unambiguously, and officially his earlier statements of readiness for peace negotiations with no preconditions." LF
 IS MOSCOW PLANNING TO KILL SUSPECTED ISLAMISTS IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA?Federal Security Service (FSB) and Military Intelligence Service (GRU) "death squads" have been dispatched to Kabardino-Balkaria with orders to kill no less than 500 people who openly practice Islam or who are suspected of sympathizing with the Chechen resistance, according to the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr (http://www.kavkazcenter.com) on 16 September. That website cited as its source a member of the Adyge national movement Adyge Khase, who said that residents of Kabardino-Balkaria had informed him that local FSB officials had warned village elders of the imminent punitive action. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 NATO NAMES SPECIAL ENVOY FOR CAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIANATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has appointed a U.S. diplomat, Robert F. Simmons, as his special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to a statement posted on 15 September on the NATO website (http://www.nato.int/docu/pr/2004/p04-123e.htm). Simmons will retain his current position as deputy assistant secretary-general for political affairs and security policy. His primary task as envoy to the Caucasus and Central Asia will be to establish high-level working contacts with regional leaders to support NATO's objectives, and to offer advice on enhancing the individual states' cooperation with NATO within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program. Simmons told an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels on 15 September that he will also focus on military reform and will "consult" with the eight countries on issues of concern. He stressed in that context that such consultations do not imply a NATO commitment to defend the countries involved. LF
 OSCE CHAIRMAN RESPONDS TO CIS CRITICISMIn a 16 September address, posted on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) website (http://www.osce.org/news/shownews.php?id=4364) to the participants of the CIS summit in Astana, Bulgarian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi acknowledged criticism of the OSCE contained in a statement signed by nine CIS presidents in early July (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). Pasi solicited suggestions from the CIS as to how that body and the OSCE could cooperate more effectively to combat international terrorism and other threats to stability and security. He suggested several initiatives for which he seeks CIS support, including convening future meetings of the CIS Economic Forum in Central Asia; convening the annual Human Dimension Implementation meeting in the Caucasus; strengthening the political role of the OSCE chairman in office; and increasing budgetary resources for activities in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Pasi also invited more active participation by CIS member states in shaping the future of the OSCE. LF
 ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEETRobert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev met on 15 September on the eve of the CIS summit in Astana to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Russian media reported. The two presidents also met the same day with the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, and with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin urged Aliyev and Kocharian to continue their dialogue, "despite the complex nature" of the problem it is intended to solve. Turan on 15 September quoted Kocharian as describing his meeting with Aliyev as "interesting," and as saying that they discussed "many issues." Aliyev, too, termed the meeting "constructive," according to Turan, and he thanked Putin for Russia's "commitment" and "important role" in seeking to mediate a solution to the conflict. LF
 GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS SUBORDINATED TO DEFENSE MINISTRYGeorgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has issued a decree transferring the Interior Ministry troops to the Defense Ministry and subordinating them to the armed forces chief of staff, Georgian media and Interfax reported on 15 September. That decision, which is to be implemented by 1 November, is intended to enhance the effectiveness of the armed forces; Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze explained that it will contribute to Georgia's further integration into NATO. "The Interior Ministry is becoming a nonmilitary institution, while the country will have a single army," Interfax quoted Baramidze as telling journalists. On 13 September, Interfax had quoted Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili as saying that the Interior Ministry troops are to be strengthened, and will soon receive new barracks, uniforms, and weapons. LF
 TWO GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES MERGEParliament deputies Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri told journalists in Tbilisi on 15 September that their respective political parties, the Union for Georgia's Unity and the Union of National Forces, will unite to create a new opposition party, Georgian media and Interfax reported. Its name will be selected at a founding congress to be held later this month, at which the party's leadership will be elected. Davitashvili, who quit President Saakashvili's National Movement in February to join the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004), said that the new right-of-center party will oppose both the domestic and foreign policy of the present authorities, Interfax reported. He said that lawlessness is flourishing and measures are being taken to turn Georgia into an authoritarian state. LF
 SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER CALLS FOR MERGER OF SOUTH, NORTH OSSETIAIn a 15 September interview with Ekho Moskvy summarized by Interfax and Caucasus Press, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity argued that "South Ossetia is a part of Russia whether you like it or not." "It is time to abandon such terms as South and North Ossetia. There is only one Ossetia. The tragedy that took place in Beslan has once again underscored the need for our soonest possible unification," he continued. Kokoity added that North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov should serve as president of the unified Ossetian republic. Also on 15 September, Kokoity told Interfax that South Ossetian special services have determined that "several hundred international terrorists," including some Arabs, are currently in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. He said such information serves to substantiate suspicions of a link between Georgia and international terrorism. LF
 SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE PRESIDENTS INK TAX AGREEMENT...The presidents of the Single Economic Space (SES) member states (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine) met in Astana on 15 September, agencies reported. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed an agreement to levy the value-added tax (VAT) on a destination-country principle starting on 1 January 2005, Kazinform reported. The presidents also charged the SES High-Level Group with developing documents by the end of 2004 to ease border-crossings for citizens of member states, ITAR-TASS reported. They affirmed a list of 29 basic documents for the SES legal structure to be readied for signing by 1 July 2005. President Putin said that the VAT agreement was a difficult decision, as it will cost the Russian budget $800 million, RBC reported. But he said that it will increase trade volume and benefit all four countries. DK
 ...AND TO BUILD NEW SPACE SHUTTLE...At the same meeting, the four presidents signed an agreement on the creation of a joint aerospace corporation, Russian media reported. The corporation will work on the creation of a new multifunctional space ship, the Kliper-Zenit, which will replace the Soviet-built Soyuz. The Kliper-Zenit will be able to carry up to six astronauts and will be designed both for servicing orbital space stations and for autonomous flights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). VY
 ...AS CIS PREMIERS APPROVE ECONOMIC, CRIME-FIGHTING AGREEMENTS...Prime ministers from CIS member states met in Astana on 15 September, RIA-Novosti reported. They signed a number of economic-cooperation and crime-fighting documents previously approved by various CIS organs, Regnum reported. These included agreements on border cooperation, financial controls, transport policy, natural-resources reserves, a program of crime-fighting measures for 2005-07, and a working group to develop a program for combating illegal migration. Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, who chaired the meeting, said in his opening remarks that the CIS has not yet become an effective mechanism for ensuring mutually beneficial cooperation, but he expressed the hope that the current summit will "provide a positive impulse to energize the activities of the CIS," Expert-Center reported.
 ...AND CIS FOREIGN MINISTERS ADDRESS APPEAL TO OSCEThe Council of CIS foreign ministers met in Astana on 15 September, addressing an appeal to the OSCE that was published on the website of Russia's Foreign Ministry. The appeal calls on the OSCE to strengthen its antiterrorism efforts, exploit its full potential in the military-political sphere, strive for greater balance in its humanitarian work, develop cooperation with other organizations, and achieve increased budgetary transparency. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko stressed that "this is not about the CIS member states in any way criticizing the organization as a whole.... The suggestions are intended to highlight issues that are extremely important for all of us today," RIA-Novosti reported. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, "Eight [CIS] countries are in favor of reforming the CIS," ITAR-TASS reported. It was not immediately clear which four remaining countries declined to sign the appeal, although Bilik Dunyasi reported that Azerbaijan did not sign. In July, Russia led nine CIS countries in a statement criticizing the OSCE for an excessive focus on human rights. DK
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY PETITIONS FOR LEADER'S RELEASEDemocratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) presented on 15 September a petition with 1 million signatures demanding the release of imprisoned party co-founder Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, Kazakh TV reported. Marat Tazhin, first deputy head of the presidential administration, met with DVK representatives. Zhaqiyanov is currently under a form of house arrest serving a seven-year sentence on charges his supporters believe were politically motivated. DK
 KAZAKH TV CHANNELS PULL OPPOSITION BLOC'S ADSNational television channels stopped showing advertisements for the opposition bloc of the DVK and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan on 14 September, "Kazakhstan Today" reported the next day. DVK spokesman Vladimir Kozlov told a news conference on 15 September that the decision came at the urging of the Central Election Commission (CEC) after representatives of the pro-presidential AIST bloc (Civic and Agrarian parties) complained about the ads on 14 September. AIST objected to advertisements that refer to the bloc's leaders, calling it the "bloc of Abdildin and Zhaqiyanov." The appellation differs from the bloc's officially registered name. Kozlov said that Khabar, KTK, and Channel 31 pulled the bloc's ads on 14 September after receiving a letter from the CEC, an action Kozlov termed illegal. CEC Secretary Vladimir Foos sent the letter suggesting that TV stations suspend the ads, the newspaper reported. DK
 KAZAKH SECURITY FORCES DETAIN HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBERS IN NORTHOfficers from Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) have detained 12 members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Aqmola, northern Kazakhstan, Kazakh TV reported on 15 September. KNB officers kept the men under surveillance for a year before bringing them in for possessing and distributing extremist literature. Two of them face criminal charges. Hizb ut-Tahrir advocates the reestablishment of the caliphate and the imposition of Islamic law. DK
 KYRGYZ BORDER GUARDS DENY POLISH RIGHTS ACTIVIST ENTRYKyrgyz border guards prevented Pawel Kazanecki, president of Poland's East European Democratic Center, from entering Kyrgyzstan on 15 September, Kyrgyzinfo reported. A press release from Kyrgyzstan's Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society noted that Belarus blacklisted Kazanecki after expelling him in 2002 for his harsh criticism of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In a letter to the head of Kyrgyzstan's Border Service, coalition President Edil Baisalov said that border guards based their decision not to admit the democracy activist on a stamp in Kazanecki's passport denying him entry to Belarus. Noting that Kyrgyzstan should maintain an "open-door" policy and avoid using the "blacklists of authoritarian states," the letter asked Border Service head Kalmurat Sadiev to examine the details of the case and issue appropriate instructions to border guards. DK
 TAJIK GAS COMPANY MANAGERS ARRESTED FOR FRAUDThe Prosecutor-General's Office has opened 18 criminal cases against 25 people in connection with fraud at state-owned gas concern Tojikgaz, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 September. Twelve of the accused are managers and 10 are representatives of commercial organizations. An Energy Ministry inspection had revealed that Tojikgaz incurred losses of $440,000 as a result of the individuals' actions. DK
 UZBEK COURT SENTENCES 12 FOR TERROR ROLEA court in Namangan handed down prison sentences of six to seven years on 15 September to 12 people convicted of involvement in March-April violence in Tashkent and Bukhara, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The individuals had been charged with undermining the constitutional system and belonging to illegal religious groups. Abdulatif Turaev and Yusufjon Siddiqov were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment; the other 10 defendants received six years. Relatives of the accused said that the judge ignored defense lawyers' objections; they pledged to appeal the sentences in Uzbekistan's Supreme Court. DK
 BELARUSIAN NGO APPEALS TO SUPREME COURT OVER PRESIDENTIAL REFERENDUMThe Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BKhK) has filed a suit with the Supreme Court of Belarus, maintaining that the constitutional amendment proposed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a referendum on 17 October is illegal, Belapan reported on 15 September. Last week, Lukashenka announced a referendum on whether the constitutionally imposed two-term limit should be lifted to allow him to seek the presidency again (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 9 and 15 September 2004). The BKhK argues that Article 78 of the constitution stipulates that issues that are not open a referendum must be specified by law, and that questions concerning the presidency are subject to the country's Electoral Code. The code's Article 11, the BKhK notes, explicitly bans "questions concerning the election and removal of the President of the Republic of Belarus" from being submitted to a referendum. Thus, the BKhK concludes, Lukashenka's decree to hold a nationwide plebiscite on lifting the two-term presidential limit violates the Belarusian Constitution and Election Code. JM
 BELARUS INVITES OSCE TO MONITOR REFERENDUMThe Belarusian Foreign Ministry has suggested that the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) authorize its experts, who are deployed in Minsk to monitor the campaign for the 17 October parliamentary elections, to observe the constitutional referendum to be held on the same day, Belapan reported on 15 September. "This step is aimed at ensuring that both the elections and the referendum are held in an open and democratic manner," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told the news agency. ODIHR spokesperson Urdur Gunnarsdottir told Belapan that the office has not yet received an official confirmation of the ministry's proposal. ODIHR has already deployed 11 international monitors in the Belarusian capital and 22 in the provinces. The office also plans to send 300 short-term observers who are scheduled to arrive in Belarus on 13 October. JM
 TWO JAILED BELARUSIAN VENDORS DECLARED PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCEThe global human rights watchdog Amnesty International has given "prisoner of conscience" status to Vasil Levaneuski and Alyaksandr Vasilyeu, leaders of a market vendors' strike committee in Hrodna who were sentenced on 7 September to two years in prison each on charges of insulting President Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004), Belapan reported on 15 September. Amnesty International condemned the sentences passed on the two men and demanded their immediate release. JM
 MEDIA WATCHDOG CALLS FOR PUBLIC TRIAL IN GONGADZE CASEThe Paris-based media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a 15 September press release called on the Ukrainian authorities to hold a public trial on the case of Heorhiy Gongadze. The journalist disappeared four years ago, on 16 September 2000, and his headless corpse was discovered on 2 November 2000. "Now, with the Gongadze case a major political issue in the run-up to the presidential election, new facts have been revealed by both the press and the prosecutor's office," RSF wrote in a letter to Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev. "This new information is of capital importance, and if you think it is credible, it is time for the judicial process to move on to the next stage -- a public and fair trial." RSF was referring to new information published in "The Independent" in June based on documents that said Gongadze was being shadowed by police officers at the time of his disappearance, and to the Prosecutor-General's Office's announcement the same month that the Ukrainian investigators were holding in custody a "Mr. K" who reportedly confessed to murdering Gongadze and described the circumstances of his death in detail. JM
 UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS SEEKING TO SUMMON OPPOSITION LEADER FOR RUSSIAN PROBEThe Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office has so far not succeeded in delivering a notice from the Russian Military Prosecutor's Office to Ukrainian opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko requesting that she appear in Moscow by 16 September for a criminal investigation, Interfax reported on 15 September, quoting Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Serhiy Rudenko. Russian prosecutors reportedly suspect Tymoshenko of bribing Russian Defense Ministry officials when she headed Ukraine's Unified Energy Systems in 1995-97. Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party said in a statement on 16 September that the Russian prosecutors' move is "yet another provocation," organized with encouragement from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin, against Tymoshenko for her support to the presidential bid of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko instead of that of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. JM
 OPPOSITION TV CHANNEL SWITCHED OFF IN KHARKIV DUE TO 'TECHNICAL REASONS'The Alpha-Communications operator of cable television network in Kharkiv has suspended the transmission of the Channel 5 television, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 15 September. Channel 5, which is owned by lawmaker and businessman Petro Poroshenko, supports the presidential bid of opposition Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko. An Alpha-Communications official told Interfax on 15 September that Channel 5 was excluded from the network "temporarily" and due to "technical reasons," but did not elaborate. Channel 5 was repeatedly removed from cable-television networks in different Ukrainian cities over the past two months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2004). JM
 PACE CALLS ON KYIV TO AMEND PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION LAWThe Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in a press release on 15 September that the ongoing presidential campaign in Ukraine fails to meet democratic election standards and is a "cause of great concern" for PACE. This assessment was based on a recent fact-finding mission by PACE rapporteurs Hanne Severinsen and Renate Wohlwend in Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk. The PACE Monitoring Committee called on the Ukrainian authorities to urgently amend the presidential election law in order to grant domestic nonpartisan organizations whose statutory aim is election observation the right to observe the elections with status equal to that of international observers. The committee appealed to Kyiv to stop the practice of employing civil servants in the campaign and using public resources for the purpose of campaigning. The committee also said it is concerned by the small number of international observers to be sent by various international organizations and foreign states for the 31 October elections in Ukraine (some 800 for the country's 33,000 polling stations). JM
 ALBANIAN MIG EXPLODES IN FLIGHTA fully armed Chinese-built Albanian MiG-19 jet fighter exploded shortly after takeoff from Mother Teresa Airport at Rinas near Tirana on 16 September, Reuters and dpa reported. The explosion of the aircraft, which was carrying 41 shells to a shooting range, killed the pilot and destroyed the MiG. All civilian flights to and from the airport were briefly suspended. Defense Ministry officials said that a "technical fault" was the most likely cause of the accident. The first MiG-19 flew in the Soviet Union in 1953, but Moscow phased the aircraft out in favor of the MiG-21 in the early 1960s. Several other countries continued to build and use the MiG-19 for many more years. PM
 EU WARNS ALBANIA OVER REFORMSThe government of the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement on 14 September that Albania must do more to fight crime and reform its electoral process if it intends to pursue a EU Stabilization and Association agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May and 10 September 2004). The statement noted that "it is of great concern to note that insufficient progress is being made in reform implementation, and particularly in areas that are vital for Albania's future and its successful integration" into the EU, such as crime, corruption, and trafficking in drugs and human beings. The Dutch government also pointed to problems in guarding minority rights and pursuing electoral reform, adding that "all Albanian politicians have shared responsibility to properly prepare and conduct these elections. Failure in this crucial respect would be a serious setback for the development of relations between Albania and the EU." PM
 KOSOVA'S POLITICIANS DECLARE THEIR ASSETSPrishtina's dailies reported at length on 15 September about the result of personal financial data supplied by leading Kosovar politicians to the OSCE in preparation for the 23 October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The wealthiest politician, according to the data, is publisher Veton Surroi of the new ORA party, whose funds and assets are valued at almost $49 million. Next on the list is Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) with almost $2.7 million. Parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci lists three different salaries, while Minister of Public Services Jakup Krasniqi has managed to save $18,000 in the last three years. President Ibrahim Rugova reportedly did not include the house he owns among his assets. The poorest major politician is Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), whose declared annual income is just under $6,500. Surroi's daily "Koha Ditore" said that many of the politicians' data are not convincing and even "ridiculous." In related news, Daci said that if the new parliament does not declare independence, it has no reason to exist. PM
 UN CHARGES ETHNIC ALBANIANS WITH ANTI-SERB VIOLENCEA spokesman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) said in Prishtina on 15 September that international prosecutors have charged Labinot Gashi and an unnamed minor with the 5 June murder of a Serbian teenager in Gracanica, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). The spokesman told reporters that "the murder was premeditated and motivated by ethnic hatred." In addition, prosecutors charged three other ethnic Albanians -- Bekim Moskov, Ibrahim Buleci, and Talat Pula -- with allegedly torching and damaging the interior of the 14th-century Bogorodica Ljeviska Serbian Orthodox church in Prizren during the ethnically motivated violence on 17-18 March (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). PM
 HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES SUPPORT FOR SERBIA AND MONTENEGROHungarian President Ferenc Madl said in Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina, on 15 September that the recent anti-Hungarian incidents there are a fact but will not be allowed to influence the course of bilateral relations any further, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He later said in Podgorica that Hungary will support Serbia and Montenegro's efforts for European integration regardless of whether its citizens choose to maintain the joint state or opt for independence. PM
 SERBIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS EXPECTED TO CONFIRM RECENT TRENDSA recent poll by the Marten Board International polling firm suggests that Serbian voters in the 19 September local elections are likely to give the most support to President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party and Tomislav Nikolic's Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which topped this year's presidential vote and continue to dominate in the polls, dpa reported on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July and 8 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) will place a distant third, according to the survey. A poor showing by the DSS and its smaller coalition partners could increase pressure for new elections. PM
 SERBIA'S 'MEDIEVAL MINISTER' QUITSSerbian Education Minister Ljiljana Colic, who was dubbed "the medieval minister" for her ill-fated attempt to ban Charles Darwin's theory of evolution from Serbian classrooms, resigned on 16 September, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 September 2004). She reportedly also opposed mandatory foreign-language classes as too expensive and obligatory computer education as detrimental to children's health because of alleged exposure to radiation from monitor screens. PM
 MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION LEGISLATORS MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTETwenty-four legislators belonging to the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the Liberal Party, and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) moved a vote of no confidence on 15 September, MIA news agency reported. Gjorgji Trendafilov of the VMRO-DPMNE said a no-confidence motion is the only way to raise some questions regarding the governing Social Democratic Union's (SDSM) poor record. The news agency noted that only those VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers who are regarded as followers of former Prime Minister and former VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Ljubco Georgievski supported the motion, while the followers of Nikola Gruevski, who is the current party chairman, refrained from endorsing the motion (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 July 2004). The debate on the no-confidence motion is slated for 18 September. Given that the governing coalition of the SDSM, Liberal Democrats, and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) holds more than 75 of the 120 parliamentary seats, the motion is unlikely to succeed. UB
 TRADE-UNION PROTESTS KICK OFF ROMANIAN SCHOOL YEARMany schools remained closed on the first day of the school year on 15 September due to trade-union boycotts and teachers' strikes, Romanian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). Late on 14 September, three of the country's four teachers' unions signed an agreement with the government under which educators' would receive 30 percent raises as of 1 October. The raises would reportedly cost the state an additional 600 billion lei ($17.7 million) per month. The largest union, the Federation of Education Free Trade Unions, rejected the government's offer. ZsM
 EUROPEAN COMMISSION REPRESENTATIVE CAUTIOUS ON ROMANIAN ECONOMIC PROGRESSThe deputy head of the European Commission's delegation in Romania, Onno Simons, said during a 15 September conference in Bucharest on Romania's economic prospects that while the country has made progress in this regard, it still has the highest inflation rate among prospective EU members, Mediafax reported. Simmons also noted that the economic criteria for joining the union includes achieving the status of a functioning market economy and the ability to face competition from the common European market, adding that no candidate country seeking to join the union has ever met both criteria in the same year. The European Commission is to release a country report on Romania next month in which it is expected to grant Romania status as a functioning market economy. Speaking at the same conference, Romania's deputy chief negotiator with the EU, Leonard Orban, expressed his belief that Romania will be able to complete its accession negotiations with the EU this year, noting that the country has closed 25 of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire. ZsM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS UKRAINIAN CANAL CLAIMSPresident Ion Iliescu on 14 September dismissed claims by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry that Romania has built three canals that have harmed the Danube Delta's ecosystem, characterizing the accusations as "aberrations" and "fiction," Mediafax reported on 15 September. Iliescu said on Romania 1 public television that the country has only built one shipping canal, the Danube-Black Sea canal, and that has nothing to do with the delta. Earlier the same day, Natalia Zarudna, a high-ranking official in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, had accused Romania of seriously harming the delta, warning that Romanian actions could cause by 2010 "an Aral Sea in Central Europe." Zarudna said Romania built a network of three canals in the delta and is working on a fourth, adding that the canals affect the Ukrainian part of the delta. ZsM
 RUSSIA RECOGNIZES EXPORT CERTIFICATES FOR TRANSDNIESTER GOODSThe deputy chairman of Russia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Boris Pastuhov, announced in Moscow following his recent visit to Transdniester that Russia will recognize and accept certificates of origin for Transdniester goods, the BBC reported on 15 September. Moldova recently banned the traffic of commodities via all border checkpoints along the Transdniester border with Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004). Pastuhov added that Russia is ready to participate in the privatization process in Transdniester and plans to invest in companies in the region. Pastuhov warned that the Moldovan economic blockade against Transdniester will only harm people from both Moldova and Transdniester. In response, Moldovan Reintegration Deputy Minister Victor Postolachi said Chisinau will "insist through all international structures" that all illegal trade be halted in the region. ZsM
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 ROCKET ATTACK FORCES KARZAI TO CANCEL VISIT TO SOUTHEAST AFGHANISTANAfghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's planned visit to southeast Afghanistan was canceled on 16 September when a rocket landed two kilometers from a school in Gardayz on 16 September, just minutes before a helicopter carrying Karzai was about to land in the Paktiya Province capital, AFP reported. Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin said the rocket was fired from Ghazni Province, west of Paktiya. Karzai, who rarely ventures out of Kabul, was scheduled to inaugurate a road and deliver a speech in at a local high school. It is not clear whether the trip was part of Karzai's campaign for the 9 October presidential campaign in Afghanistan. AT
 U.S. CITIZENS AND THEIR AFGHAN COHORTS SENTENCED FOR RUNNING PRIVATE PRISONAn Afghan court has sentenced three U.S. citizens and four Afghans to various jail terms for running a private prison in Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported on 15 September, citing the official Bakhtar News Agency. Jonathan Idema, the ringleader of the group, and Brent Bennett each received 10-year sentences for "running a private jail, forming an illegal group, illegally detaining people, torture," and violating Afghan law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). Edward Caraballo, the third U.S. citizen charged, was handed an eight-year prison sentence. The group's Afghan translator, Abdul Wahid received a five-year jail term, while two men who worked with Idema, Zemaray and Sohail, were given two-year jail terms each for "concealing information about the crime." Idema's servant, Sherzai, was sentenced to a one-year jail term. "Justice was not served today. I blame the U.S. government...and the Afghan legal system," said Idema's lawyer, John Edwards Tiffany, the BBC reported on 15 September. Idema's group has claimed that they were working for U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Lieutenant General William Boykin -- a charge the U.S. government has denied, "The New York Times" reported on 16 September. Caraballo said the trial could only have been "staged by the U.S. government -- we were an embarrassment." According to the New York daily, a videotape allegedly connecting the group with U.S. authorities was "barely" watched by Abdul Baset Bakhtiari, the lead judge in the case. AT
 SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS SITUATION 'IS NORMAL' IN WESTERN AFGHAN CITYThe security situation in the city and province of Herat has returned to "normal" following the appointment of Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwah as provincial governor, Mohammad Amin, chief of security for the Security Command of Herat Province, said on 15 September, Radio Afghanistan reported. On 12 September, a mob attacked offices of UN and nongovernmental organizations in Herat after Chairman Karzai fired Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan a day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 15 September). AT
 IRAN VIEWS HERAT PROVINCE DEVELOPMENTS POSITIVELYIranian Ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Reza Bahrami told reporters on 13 September that it is natural for his government to be concerned about the situation along Iran's eastern border, Iranian state radio reported on 14 September. Bahrami said that former Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan had important roles in the struggles against the Soviet invaders and then the Taliban, but now there is an Afghan central government that is responsible for the entire country. Bahrami added that Iran supports the Afghan government's promotion of domestic security. Iran has traditionally had a close relationship with Ismail Khan, who spent time in Iran after fleeing a Taliban jail. A U.S. intelligence officer once described him as an Iranian intelligence asset, and after 2001 he traveled to Iran several times and reportedly was the beneficiary of Iranian arms and money (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 December 2001; 28 January, 11 February 2002; 10 March, 15 December 2003; and 6 September 2004). New Herat Province Governor Khairkhwah served as an ambassador to Iran until March 2002. BS
 NUCLEAR WATCHDOG DISCUSSES RESOLUTION ON IRANRepresentatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors met behind closed doors on 15 September in order to discuss the wording of a resolution on the Iranian nuclear program, csmonitor.com reported. U.S. officials reportedly seek tough language and a 31 October deadline to "remedy all failures identified to date" by the IAEA, according to the website, and they also want the removal of any references to a state's right to peacefully pursue nuclear energy. Hussein Musavian, spokesman for the Iranian delegation to the IAEA meeting, described the U.S. draft resolution by saying, "The Americans have put forward a draft which is, relative to the one put forward by the Europeans, extraordinarily harsher against Iran," Iranian state television reported. BS
 TEHRAN DISMISSES ALLEGATIONS OF NEW NUCLEAR SITEIranian official Hussein Musavian on 16 September again dismissed allegations that the Parchin military facility is a site for nuclear research, Reuters reported. "This is a new lie, like the last 13 lies based on news reports that have been proved to be lies," he said. David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security on 15 September released satellite imagery of the site and told Reuters that UN inspectors should determine what is going on there (for the ISIS imagery and analysis, see http://www.isis-online.org/publications/iran/parchin.html). According to the analysis, the site is "a logical candidate for a nuclear weapons-related site, particularly one involved in researching and developing high explosive components for an implosion-type nuclear weapon." BS
 ANOTHER POSSIBLE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE EMERGESUrumiyeh parliamentary representative Abed Fatahi has mentioned Expediency Council secretary and former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Mohsen Rezai as a possible candidate in the upcoming presidential election, the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 9 September. "Channels and sources close to Mohsen Rezai are propounding the likelihood of his presence in the presidential election, which in some respects is a source of delight." Among Rezai's advantages over other possible candidates, Fatahi mentioned "his youth and the fact that he was a fighter and an expert in economic, political, and military affairs." BS
 IRAN WORKING ON NATIONAL INTRANETMajid Zaherivash, managing director of Sorush Media -- which is affiliated with the state broadcasting agency -- said in a 15 September call-in show on the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network that the Iranian government is working on a national intranet so people can communicate and obtain information without accessing the Internet. The Communication and Information Technology Ministry is behind this project, which is intended to protect families, and fiber-optic cables linking the major cities are being laid. He added that the Iranian government should do more to protect Iranian websites from hackers. Zaherivash also expressed concern about computer games, which he said are produced by major powers and are intended to secure the interests of the Americans and "the Zionists." BS
 TWO AMERICANS, ONE BRITON KIDNAPPED IN IRAQOne British and two American contractors were kidnapped from their home in the upscale Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad at dawn on 16 September, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The satellite news channel cited Interior Ministry sources as calling the kidnapping a "quality operation," meaning that it was carried out by an organized group. An Al-Arabiyah correspondent said that no special security measures were in place at the residence. Reuters cited Colonel Adnan Abd al-Rahman as saying that witnesses saw the men bundled into a minivan and driven away. He added that all three are employed by a Middle East-based construction firm, Gulf Services Company. The news agency also cited the U.S. Embassy as saying that it had no independent information to confirm the abduction of its nationals. The U.K. Embassy said it was investigating the matter. KR
 AL-FALLUJAH MAY BE EXCLUDED FROM ELECTIONS IF VIOLENCE CONTINUESInterim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has reportedly said that Al-Fallujah will be banned from participating in January elections unless the city is brought under control and purged of terrorists, Baghdad's Al-Diyar television reported on 15 September. Allawi said that the U.S. military operations in Al-Najaf and Al-Fallujah were sanctioned by the interim government, adding that the government requested the United States to take action in Tal Afar after it became clear that Iraqi police and National Guard forces could not bring the situation under control. KR
 U.S. RELEASES DETAINEES FROM ABU GHURAYBU.S. forces released 57 Iraqis detained at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison on 15 September, Al-Sharqiyah reported. The report notes that some of those released are minors. The detainees were reportedly released following a two-month study of their files by a four-way committee of representatives from the ministries of Justice, Interior, and Human Rights, as well as multinational forces. Meanwhile, nytimes.com reported that some 300 detainees were released on 15 September. The website reported that dozens of changes have been implemented at Abu Ghurayb in recent months, particularly with interrogation practices. The new protocol requires that before an interrogation takes place, an interrogator and analyst decide on techniques and focus, and a lawyer must approve the plan. A report is written after the interrogation and made immediately available to a national intelligence data network. The military is also using retinal scanners to identify detainees. The scans help the military determine quickly whether new detainees are repeat offenders. Some 7,500 detainees have been released from Abu Ghurayb since January; another 2,800 remain there. The prison held some 10,000 detainees -- far surpassing its space limit -- last year. KR
 NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE GIVES PESSIMISTIC OUTLOOKThe U.S. National Intelligence Council prepared in July a classified National Intelligence Estimate on prospects for Iraq through 2005 that paints a grim picture of the prospects for stability, nytimes.com reported on 16 September. The estimate gives three possibilities for Iraq over the next year and a half, according to those who have seen the 50-page document. The grimmest outcome would be civil war; the most favorable outcome is an Iraq that remains fragile politically, economically, and security-wise. The intelligence estimate is the first to be prepared on Iraq since October 2002. Critics declined to discuss the conclusions of the report, but one unnamed government official said, "There's a significant amount of pessimism" in it. KR
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT MANEUVERS AHEAD OF PRESIDENTIAL BALLOTBy Jan Maksymiuk
Last week, nearly 50 lawmakers from three groups in the Verkhovna Rada -- Center, Democratic Initiatives-People's Power, and the Popular Agrarian Party -- announced that they were quitting the pro-government coalition in the Ukrainian legislature.
The move appears to have dealt an unexpected blow to the position of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is also a leading presidential candidate. Yanukovych and Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko are generally tipped to fare best in the 31 October presidential ballot and fight for the presidency in a runoff three weeks later. "It is not pleasant for me to speak about, but I must say that the parliament is becoming an unreliable partner," Yanukovych commented on the parliamentary desertions on 11 September.
The parliamentary desertions from the pro-government camp also seem to have cast further doubt on the successful outcome of the constitutional reform devised by the presidential administration in cooperation with the Communist Party and the Socialist Party in order to shift the center of political power from the president toward the government and the parliament. The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc believe that the constitutional reform is a ploy by incumbent President Leonid Kuchma intended to secure the current regime's control over the country in the event that Yushchenko wins the presidential elections. The Verkhovna Rada approved preliminarily a constitutional-reform bill in June. Now, during the current parliamentary session, 300 lawmakers must back the bill for it to become law. The desertions make such a vote problematic, if not impossible.
On 13 September, President Kuchma met with leaders of caucuses of the pro-government coalition to discuss the situation in the legislature. The meeting was not attended by Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, the leader of the Popular Agrarian Party, whose lawmakers left the pro-government coalition. "[Kuchma] regrets when people do not understand that the [parliamentary] majority and the [constitutional] reform are necessary not for the president, but for Ukraine," Social Democratic Party-united parliamentary caucus head Leonid Kravchuk commented after the meeting. Kravchuk also expressed regret that the Ukrainian president has no constitutional power to dissolve the legislature in the event that it is incapable of forming a viable coalition to support the government.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Stepan Havrysh told journalists after the meeting with Kuchma that the pro-government coalition in the parliament "formally" consists of 230 lawmakers; that is, it still has a majority in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. "Lowering your trousers does not mean taking them off completely," Havrysh added in an apparent reference to the fact that 11 lawmakers from the Center group left the pro-government coalition for good, while 36 legislators from the Democratic Initiatives-People's Power caucus and the Popular Agrarian Party announced their "suspension" of participation in the alliance. It seems that only a parliamentary vote on some government-proposed bill might eventually clarify the situation in the Verkhovna Rada and show whether or not the notions of "withdrawal and "suspension" are essentially different for Ukrainian lawmakers.
The breakup of the pro-government parliamentary majority plays directly into the hands of Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the opposition alliance that sees Yushchenko as a likely winner of presidential elections in 2004 and is currently uninterested in any political reform curbing presidential prerogatives. But it is not unlikely that Prime Minister Yanukovych also opposes pursuing the constitutional reform in the hope that he, not Yushchenko, will grab the highest political post in Ukraine. It is noteworthy that television channels controlled by the presidential administration -- UT-1, 1+1, and Inter -- kept silent last week about the split in the parliamentary majority, while the Donetsk-based Ukrayina television station controlled by oligarch Rynat Akhmetov, Yanukovych's closest ally, reported extensively on the event. Thus it appears that a likely failure of political reform in Ukraine in 2004 is the most unwelcome prospect primarily for Kuchma and his chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, who might find it hard to secure significant political roles under a new president.
Some Ukrainian commentators have argued that the main reason for the coalition split was economic rather than political. Lawmakers from the Democratic Initiatives-People's Power caucus suspended their participation in the pro-Kuchma majority citing a lack of coordination and communication between the government and people's deputies regarding privatization processes in Ukraine. Last week, Yanukovych's cabinet decided to pool state stakes in the Halychyna and Ukrtatnafta oil refineries with the basic capital of state-controlled oil company Ukrnafta. The move reportedly benefited the Pryvat business group -- whose interests are lobbied by the Labor Ukraine caucus in the Verkhovna Rada -- to the detriment of the so-called Kharkiv Group of deputies united in Democratic Initiatives-People's Power. Thus, in this context, the pullout of Democratic Initiatives-People's Power from the pro-Yanukovych parliamentary coalition might have been intended as a sort of blackmail applied to Yanukovych in particular and his cabinet in general.
On the other hand, the withdrawal of Lytvyn's agrarians from the pro-government coalition can be seen as an attempt by the Ukrainian parliamentary speaker -- who was previously head of the presidential administration -- to find a more distinct political role for himself in a post-Kuchma era. Opening the fall parliamentary session on 8 September, Lytvyn suggested that irrespective of who wins the presidential election, the winner will treat the Verkhovna Rada like his predecessors did -- that is, like a body expected to follow the political will of the head of state. Lytvyn expressed his indignation over "provocative disregard for constitutional norms" in the election campaign and said Ukraine suffers from "criminal" privatization and "total corruption." He also proposed creating a special parliamentary commission to monitor how election laws are observed in the presidential campaign. The commission was set up with votes from the opposition and lawmakers of the three factions that deserted the pro-government coalition.
It is hard to say whether the seeming disintegration of the pro-government coalition in the Verkhovna Rada might seriously impair Yanukovych's presidential bid. The executive machine in Ukraine and the government-controlled electronic media seem to work uninterruptedly to promote him as Kuchma's only possible successor. But last week's manifestation of defiance by some 50 lawmakers with regard to Kuchma and Yanukovych suggest that -- at a minimum -- Ukraine's political class perceives Kuchma's political legacy and Yanukovych's possible succession as neither unquestionable nor secure.