The ISCIP Analyst
Behind the Breaking News
Union Treaty signed
President Boris Yel'tsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met in Moscow on 8 December, the eighth anniversary of the creation of the CIS, to sign, finally, the new Russian-Belarusian Union Treaty. In a speech to mark the ceremony, Yel'tsin praised the treaty as a means "to create a unified economic, customs, defence and humanitarian space." (ITAR-TASS, 1342 GMT, 8 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
While each country's parliament still needs to ratify the treaty for it to take effect, questions of its potential usefulness have already been raised by the inability of its Higher Council, or even the two presidents themselves, to reach a decision on who will chair the State Council, created under the agreement.
Yel'tsin plays nuclear card
President Yel'tsin, who was only recently discharged from the hospital after suffering a bout of pneumonia, has been remarkably active in the past two weeks. In addition to the meeting with Lukashenka, Yel'tsin made his way to China for a series of meetings with Jiang Zemin. While in China, Yel'tsin responded to Western, and more specifically American, criticism of Russia's tactics in the war on Chechnya by brandishing Russia's nuclear arsenal. "[Clinton] evidently forgot ... that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons." (INTERFAX, 9 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
Reaction to Yel'tsin's comments seems to follow two very different paths. The first, and more prevalent in the West, is that Yel'tsin's remarks were a result of his diminished capacity and ill health. This position was most blatantly laid out by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who claimed that Yel'tsin "is not someone in full possession of all his faculties." (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 1600 PST, 14 Dec 99; via C-afp@Clari.net)
This interpretation is bolstered by reports that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials are attempting to do "damage control" in follow-up comments on Yel'tsin's remarks. Hence Putin's characterization of the Russian-US relationship as "very good" is seen as a move to distance himself from the president. What these reports fail to point out, however, is the strong support Yel'tsin received from the Russian media, where his use of the "nuclear card" was both applauded (as in Nezavisimaya gazeta's coverage, which stated that "The president was right") and accepted as a choreographed move meant to warn the West that further criticism would cement a Moscow-Beijing alliance. (REUTERS, 10 Dec 99; via Johnson's Russia List)
The Russian reaction suggests a different interpretation of Yel'tsin's comments. The prime minister's recent criticism of Western interference in Russian affairs, which also reiterated the president's nuclear reminder, does imply that the initial comments were not simply another example of Yel'tsin's blustering buffoonery or incapacitation. At a time when international concern over Russia's actions in Chechnya seems to be headed towards some actual consequences for Russia in international organizations and financing, the president and prime minister have chosen to remind Western leaders of the rationale for engagement that underpins their policy on Russia: It's a nuclear power that is just too large to be allowed to fail.
The quest for immunity
Several members of the Kremlin inner circle have apparently decided that whatever happens in next year's presidential elections, it might be prudent to have a backup plan to provide legal protection for them. Political immunity, it appears, just fits the bill. Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich are standing for seats in the new Duma, and Pavel Borodin is running for Moscow mayor. Berezovsky, who is seeking a seat from Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and Abramovich, who is running from Chukotka, have apparently chosen rather remote areas in order to dim the glare of the Moscow press. Television journalist Aleksandr Nevzorov, who is campaigning for Abramovich, has a great pitch to the electorate: "He gets something out of you, and you get something out of him." (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 0740 PST, 15 Dec 99; via C-afp@Clari.net)
Hurdles to negotiations
On 10 December, PM Putin listed four preconditions for negotiations with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Putin, who no longer recognizes Maskhadov as Chechnya's legitimate president, is demanding: 1) a denunciation of all terrorism; 2) the release of all hostages; 3) the extradition of the organizers of the bombings in Moscow and other regions; 4) the extradition of the leaders of the assault on Dagestan. (ITAR-TASS, 1707 GMT, 10 Dec 99; via World News Connection) These terms would seem to represent a settlement proposal, rather than a precondition for talks, but in any event, the extradition of Basaev, with whom Maskhadov formed an alliance in the wake of the Russian advance into Chechnya, is likely too high a hurdle for Maskhadov to overcome. These unrealistic terms provide further proof that Russia is not interested in pursuing a political solution to the Chechen situation.
Constitutional changes possible?
With the approach of the Duma elections, the concerns that the new Duma would interfere with the government appear to be growing, and it seems the preferred approach to resolving any conflicts will be a revision of the constitutionally enshrined relationship between the parliament and government. While no detail of the substance or manner in which the constitution will be altered has been published, it appears clear after President Yel'tsin's Constitution Day remarks regarding a "dialogue on perfecting the constitution," that change is in the offing. (ITAR-TASS, 1015 GMT, 12 Dec 99; via World News Connection) Earlier remarks by Putin identify part of the problem: "the mechanism between the Duma and the government must be carefully worked out." Putin is also advocating systemic changes in the apparat throughout the Kremlin, government and regions. (ITAR-TASS, 1340 GMT, 3 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
by Susan J. Cavan
The thin multipolar line
Russia's multipolar policy envisions good relations with non-Western countries, but lately Russia's domestic policy has put relations with Islamic countries in a tight spot. Concerned about the fate of its Muslim "brethren" in the Caucasus since the fighting began last August, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) sought to visit Moscow and the Caucasus. Proving that Russia's multipolar policy can be tricky at times, this was the first delegation welcomed by Moscow to monitor its "strictly internal" campaign. Not surprisingly, the OIC delegation, led by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Khazzari, gave a balanced response in Moscow following talks with Prime Minister Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. The delegation voiced support for Russia's sovereignty in the region, calling the Russian "measures" in Chechnya "adequate," but found the military operation "not proportional." (INTERFAX, 1332 GMT, 6 Dec 99; via World News Connection) The issue is a tricky one for both sides. Many Muslim countries are traditional allies of Russia and gain from maintaining friendly bilateral ties. Likewise, Russia benefits from its Muslim "non-Western" partners to sustain the multipolar policy, especially while under fierce Western criticism for the operation in Chechnya. For now, the OIC seems content to supply humanitarian assistance to the refugees and urge Russia to find a peaceful political solution quickly, beginning with a cease-fire. In order to keep OIC criticism at bay, Russia will have to accept humanitarian advances by the OIC countries and possibly some level of OIC involvement in the dispute.
Rip van Yel'tsin wakes up in Beijing
Awakening from a "therapeutic sleep" administered by his physicians during the long plane ride to Beijing (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 7 Dec 99), President Yel'tsin finally met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin on 9-10 December. The visit comes at a time when Moscow needs all the good diplomacy it can make. Despite its traditional rivalry and mistrust of China, in the face of criticism from the West over Chechnya Russia has used its "strategic cooperative partnership" with China to diplomatic advantage. In effect, the trip was a chance for the ailing Yel'tsin to play statesman and, despite some fumbles, he made it through in one piece.
Yel'tsin and Jiang signed several documents during the visit and voiced their common stance on a variety of issues, including Russia's sovereignty over Chechnya, the importance of upholding the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the inadvisability of US National Missile Defense plans, and the importance of continuing to build Russian-Chinese economic ties, especially through arms sales. (ITAR-TASS, 1422 GMT, 7 Dec 99; via World News Connection) All of the agreements have been long in the making and the trip was more of a diplomatic show than a substantive meeting. Diplomatically, the visit was clearly intended to draw attention to Russia's close relationship with China and to Russia's imperviousness to Western criticism. By far, the most important message to come out of the meeting concerned the state of human rights; both presidents have faced criticism from the West on this topic, and in response they issued a joint statement saying that human rights are second to national sovereignty. However, this important message was somewhat overshadowed by Yel'tsin's explosive message to US President Bill Clinton in which he defiantly reminded Clinton of Russia's nuclear capability.
by Sarah K. Miller
DOMESTIC AFFAIRS & LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
Liberal Democrats' registration again repealed upon appeal
The story continues. Just after restoring the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's (LDPR) registration, thereby allowing it to run for seats in the next Duma, the presidium of the Supreme Court ruled that the court was in error and again revoked the LDPR's registration. (INTERFAX, 1542 GMT, 8 Dec 99; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, via lexis-nexis)
The presidium ruled that, when the CEC removed Vladimir Zhirinovsky's name from the restored LDPR list, it simultaneously rendered the entire LDPR list invalid. Current law states that if one of the top three members on the party list is disqualified, the entire list is invalidated.
Because of this latest reversal of the previous reversal, the original electoral ballots already printed no longer need to be amended, although the ultra-rightist Spas (Salvation) party, which also had its registration revoked by a court in Moscow, remains on the ballot. CEC Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said something will be done to remedy this.
In addition to the LDPR, the restored registration of the Russian Conservative Party of Businessmen was similarly revoked. This left 27 blocs and parties running for office on 19 December. (ITAR-TASS, 0713 GMT, 9 Dec 99; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, via lexis-nexis)
Rising fortunes for Unity, declining ones for Fatherland-All Russia
According to a Moscow Times poll conducted during the first 10 days of December, the Communists and the Unity bloc would both receive 19 percent of the vote. Fatherland-All Russia, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov's bloc, would receive only 9.2 percent of the vote. The poll, in which 1,278 people across the country were interviewed, was conducted for the newspaper by the Institute for Comparative Social Research, or CESSI.
These results are rather surprising considering the fact that the Unity bloc is generally considered to be a Kremlin creation organized to support Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's presidential candidacy should he decide to run. Primakov and Luzhkov's bloc, on the other hand, was considered by most observers to be far stronger. Unity's amazing fortunes can be partly attributed to Putin's broad popularity, given his association with the bloc. But the Kremlin has also been hammering away at Fatherland-All Russia for weeks now in the media, especially on ORT, so a slip in support might be expected.
The poll also suggests 6.5 percent support for Grigory Yavlinsky's YABLOKO, 6.4 percent for former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's Union of Right Forces, and 5.9 percent to the Zhirinovsky Bloc. (THE MOSCOW TIMES, 15 Dec 99; www.moscowtimes.ru)
Duma plans to grant amnesty for combatants in Chechnya
As if the Russian brutality in Chechnya were not enough, the Duma in its wisdom has passed a resolution providing amnesty for "those involved in the armed conflict in the Chechen Republic." At first blush the resolution looks like it might be an attempt to reintegrate Chechnya and its people back into the federation, but upon closer reading the bill expressly excludes "those guilty of committing acts of terror, murder of civilians, and persons regarded as dangerous recidivists." Whom the act covers, therefore, is left unclear. Presumably it does not include the Russians themselves, although it certainly describes their recent actions.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the resolution, and also its most chilling part, states that no criminal charges will be filed against servicemen "who committed crimes in the North Caucasus in the course of the conflict." This looks like an open invitation to pillage and plunder, and it will most likely be interpreted by Russian soldiers in the field as such. (INTERFAX, 1553 GMT, 3 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
by Michael Thurman
Russian Cold War espionage alive and well
Diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States endured another setback recently over the issue of espionage. On 29 November, the media reported the arrest of Navy cryptologist Daniel King for sending information in 1994 to Russian officials concerning US submarines' eavesdropping efforts on Russian undersea cables. Investigators believe King's efforts were a one-time affair and the security breaches allegedly made were not as serious as other recent naval espionage cases. One day later, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) abruptly reacted by arresting Cheri Leberknight, a secretary in the US Moscow embassy, after catching her "red-handed attempting to receive state secrets." (Jamestown Foundation MONITOR, 1 Dec 99) The FSB detained Ms. Leberknight, declared her persona non grata, and then asked her leave Russia forever. Leberknight left Russia on 10 December.
Finally, on 9 December the FBI detained Russian embassy employee Stanislav Gusev for conducting espionage activities outside the State Department building in Washington, DC. Gusev was allegedly receiving information from a listening device secretly placed in the building's seventh floor conference room where sensitive meetings were held. Security personnel became suspicious while observing Gusev's habit of carefully feeding parking meters to avoid receiving parking tickets. Washington area diplomats typically plead diplomatic immunity when fined for parking violations. An FSB spokesman was quick to call reports of the listening device "implausible" and said the arrest was probably in retaliation for Leberknight's expulsion. (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 10 Dec 99)
Due to the listening device's sophistication and location, US officials believe the bug was installed by Russian agents who took advantage of the building's lax security. Until last fall, the State Department allowed visitors to have unescorted access. FBI officials last summer commenced a building sweep for bugs after noting Gusev's suspicious activities. However, the seventh floor, believed to be the most secure in the building, was not swept until early fall. After detecting the bug at that time, the State Department fed disinformation until Gusev's arrest. Although Secretary of State Madeleine Albright downplayed the incident, other department officials called the security breach serious. FBI Assistant Director Neil Gallagher even said, "This is not only a story of effective counterintelligence ... it's also a very important story of the aggressive activity of Russian intelligence presence inside the United States." (THE WASHINGTON POST, 10 Dec 99)
Moscow's bold espionage efforts lead to the conclusion that, despite the end of the Cold War, Russia's political leaders view the US as their primary adversary. Clinton administration officials even complained this year to Moscow that too many spies were operating in the Russian embassy. On the other hand, the CIA significantly scaled back operations in Moscow in the 1990s and opened stations in many of the newly independent states. (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Dec 99) Russia uses information from its robust espionage efforts to develop strategy to counter the pre-eminence of the US and further a more "multipolar" world. The Russian intelligence community's rising force in the security and policymaking arena was highlighted with the appointment of the hard-line FSB head Vladimir Putin to prime minister, the third successive former KGB agent appointed to the position. The ascendant political fortunes of hard-liners, aided by the war in Chechnya and tensions with the West, may contribute to a resurgence of Russian imperialism and additional strategic headaches for the US.
by LCDR James J. Duke Jr.
* * * * *
Politics is alive and well in the military
For the Western, particularly the American, mind, the overt involvement of federal military forces in national elections is a "foreign" (no pun intended) and awkward concept. Not so in today's Russia. Last week the Kremlin ordered the defense ministry leadership to organize military support for the pro-Putin Unity political bloc headed by Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu in the December parliamentary elections. According to a Military News Agency source, a recommendation for holding the final stage of the election campaign was disseminated among Russia's military districts. Major General Anatoly Shatalov, chief of the defense ministry's press service and defense minister's press secretary, sent the following instructions to the military districts: "In order to better inform the Armed Forces' personnel about the upcoming elections, it would be expedient to reprint the article "Our Force is Unity" published by the Krasnaya Zvezda Daily on 26 Nov, 1999 in all district and fleet newspapers." The phrase "Our Force is Unity" is an election slogan used by the Unity political bloc. (DEFENSE AND SECURITY, 13 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
That the military has been openly courted and aligned with government-sponsored political parties is not unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia. That the military represents a strong political voice and individual members can, in fact, run as candidates in local elections while still in uniform is a right granted under the Russian constitution. For instance, under Part IV, Chapter 13, Article 100, "meetings of servicemen in their military units" have the right to nominate candidates for people's deputy. Moreover, "citizens and public organizations" (the inclusion of military units is implied) are guaranteed the right to free and all-round discussion of the political and personal qualities and competence of candidates, and the right to campaign for them at meetings, in the press, and on television and radio.
The potential political clout wielded by the military is a nightmarish scenario in the back of the mind of every disciple of military history and strategy. Blasphemous images related to "military coup," "military dictator," and "martial law" chill the bones of political and military leaders. A 1994 survey of Russia's military elite by the Friederich Ebert Foundation -- one of Europe's leading research centers -- highlighted the desire the military had for a "firm hand" in politics combined with a conviction of the need to develop democracy. But even more adamant was the military elite's absolute insistence that a military dictatorship was not possible in Russia, as if by stating it so emphatically it could never possibly be considered. (IZVESTIA, 22 Oct 94; via World News Connection)
What will be interesting to watch over the next few years is how the military may or may not apply its largely untapped political power, especially in the aftermath of Chechnya, to address its serious deficits in defense spending, personnel and readiness -- areas which are shaking the core of military effectiveness and morale, and creating increasing frustration on the part of senior military leaders. An indication that the military is beginning to test this power can be seen in the unprecedented move last November when senior field commanders in Chechnya warned Russian leaders that they would react unfavorably to any premature halt in military operations. The leading spokesman, General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the western grouping of forces in Chechnya, stated on 4 November that "there will be a powerful exodus of officers of various ranks, including generals from the armed forces, because the officer's corps may not survive another slap in the face." (THE NIS OBSERVED, 15 Nov 99) And the results of this first overt test? The military was placated with overwhelming support from the political leadership. The power test -- a success.
NEWLY INDEPENDENT STATES
Russia's Chechnya operation takes a toll on the CIS
The fallout from Russia's Chechen operation is affecting the CIS. As the conflict rages in the North Caucasus, "stray" bombs and ill-conceived Russian initiatives have hit Russia's fellow CIS members. In early November, concurrent with Russian claims that Georgia and Azerbaijan were hosting terrorists and allowing Chechnya-bound supplies to transit their territory, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested new visa requirements for travel to Georgia and Azerbaijan, much to the consternation of those countries. (ITAR-TASS, 1719 GMT, 4 Nov 99; via World News Connection) Since then, the Azeri president apparently managed to assuage Moscow's stated concerns. The Georgians, on the other hand, have yet to discuss the issue with Russia at all.
This threat to institute travel regulations, whether realized or not, strikes at the heart of both the commonwealth's founding documents and the treaty regarding visa-free movement among CIS states. Regardless of Prime Minister Putin's motivation -- which officially remains halting "terrorists" -- the mere suggestion that Russia would abrogate these agreements further undermines any semblance of stability among CIS member states. CIS Executive Secretary Yuri Yarov called Putin's suggestion "not the best solution," pointing out that the matter would be better solved in an "interstate" or bilateral forum. (INTERFAX, 1702 GMT, 7 Dec 99; via World News Connection) However, Russia and Georgia have yet to discuss the issue. As of 7 December, Moscow had only announced that it might recall Russian diplomats and their families from the Georgian capital for "security reasons." (INTERFAX, 1902 GMT, 7 Dec 99; via World News Connection) In response, the Georgian foreign ministry said that it believes a visa regime could "cause the end of the CIS." (ITAR-TASS, 1700 GMT, 10 Dec 99; via World News Connection) Russia has few supporters in the CIS regarding the matter. Even Yarov has said that he will be forced to side with the Georgians if the issue is placed on the CIS agenda.
Since Putin's comments in November, Russia has called in the legal experts to reword the statement, emphasizing that, if such a decision were made, the visa regime would only last as long as the "federal anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya," according to the head of the International Legal Department of the Russian Federation Border Service. Furthermore, Russia would reconsider if "some countries" took measures to ensure the security of their CIS borders. (INTERFAX, 0906 GMT, 9 Dec 99; via World News Connection) Already over three months long, the war for Chechnya seems far from over; the longer it rages, the greater the damage will be to CIS relations.
by Sarah K. Miller
Look both ways before you step off that curb...
Imagine that you wake up, the sun is shining, your clothes fit perfectly, you get complimented on your appearance, the birds are singing, and then a speeding car skids onto the sidewalk, hits you and drags you along the street.
This must have been what Leonid Kuchma felt like on 10 December, as he was blindsided by both Russian demands over energy arrears and a blockade of his government by the Ukrainian parliament. It was on this day that his post-election honeymoon, complete with a victory lap in the US to pick up congratulations from President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, came to an abrupt end. Of course, Kuchma had to endure expected criticism from the US over his actions during the election campaign. And of course, he had to endure the normal rejection from the European Union, but for a few blissful weeks, he did not have to endure a barrage of attacks from the parliament. For a few blissful weeks, he had the national and international stage to himself, and used it to his advantage. For a few blissful weeks, there was no overt pressure from Russia over gas arrears and Slavic unions. But now the honeymoon is over. Very over.
On 10 December, Russia announced that it had "suspended the export of oil and electricity to Ukraine," as the result of Ukraine "stealing" 150-200 cubic meters of gas a day as it was transported through the country on the way to Ankara. (INTERFAX, 1434 GMT, 10 Dec 99; via World News Connection) It quickly became clear, however, that this statement made by Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny may have been an exaggeration, particularly since Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh denied that any supplies had been cut. "Deliveries of oil and oil products are handled by commercial firms, so there's nothing [for the state] to halt," he said. (REUTERS, 14 Dec 99; via Russia Today) The confusions was worsened when Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko told ITAR-TASS that Ukraine would attempt to convince Russia to "reconnect the Ukrainian and Russian power grids," but also that Kalyuzhny's statement was only a threat and that no decisions will be taken on the Russian side" prior to talks between the governments. (ITAR-TASS, 2121 GMT, 10 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
There is no question, though, that Ukraine is enduring a decrease in electricity supplies. According to Izvestia, however, the culprit is not Russian sanctions because of Ukrainian gas theft, but rather a technical problem with the joint Russian/Ukrainian electrical grids. Izvestia reported recently that joint operation of the electrical grids stopped on 27 November "because of some technical problems. According to Russian electrical engineers, the disconnection might have been caused by the instability of the necessary current frequency in the Ukrainian electricity supply network." (IZVESTIA, 14 Dec 99; What the Papers Say, via lexis-nexis) So, while Russia may be trying its best to use these technical problems to its advantage, it appears that Kalyuzhny's recent statements were threats, disguised as action. No gas or oil exports were cut -- nor will they be now that Kalyuzhny has announced a "restoration" of oil exports -- and the electrical grids are experiencing the same technical problems that they have experienced in the past. The threats, however, are yet another reminder of Ukraine's dependence on Russia for one of its most important resources, and must be an immense source of agitation for Kuchma's administration, especially since the West continues to delay its promised funding for construction of two nuclear reactors.
This agitation was undoubtedly multiplied tenfold just a few days after Kalyuzhny's announcement, when the Ukrainian parliament once again chose politics and revenge over fiscal responsibility. On 14 December, MPs refused to reconfirm Pustovoytenko as prime minister. The decision played a part in making the hryvnia continue its downward spiral, and caused the IMF, World Bank, and EU to refuse to commit to releasing the latest tranches of their respective loans. All of this happened when things had seemed, for one brief, slightly shining moment, to be on the upswing. Kuchma's inaugural speech and his statements during a three-country foreign tour were well received, and both he and Pustovoytenko seemed committed to speeding up reform efforts. Despite energy and grain shortages, and despite a less than resounding show of support for Kuchma the man during the election, it seemed as if Kuchma the president had garnered some momentum from his win at the polls.
Kuchma's administration seemed finally to have a grasp on what was necessary to secure the next tranches of Ukraine's loans from various international lenders and, with Pustovoytenko, Kuchma set about to do just that. Since his election, Kuchma has issued a decree that would remake the agricultural system, largely abolishing collective farms by April of 2000. He has decreed tax changes requested by the IMF, and announced a government restructuring. On 14 December, Kuchma signed a decree cutting the number of ministries, departments and committees to 35 from 89. There will now be 15 ministries instead of 21. In addition, each minister will be limited to four deputies, instead of the 15 that many have had. Kuchma also recently disbanded the National Guard, which reported only to the president and members of parliament, saving approximately $10 million. (ITAR-TASS, 15 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
Until the president and parliament can agree on a new government, however, this momentum will be stalled. On 17 December, Kuchma moved to end the government crisis by nominating National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko as the next prime minister. (REUTERS, 17 Dec 99; via America Online) Yushchenko's appointment is supported by Western organizations, and while it is likely that he will be approved by the parliament, there is a chance that his critics there -- who have criticized him vigorously in the past -- will attempt to block his confirmation. It will be an interesting test to see just how much of a price the parliament will make Kuchma pay for his election victory. Will parliament members agree on a new government, or will they drag out the situation, bringing the country down with them?
Please, if we ask nicely, will you talk to us?
Representatives of the OSCE have yet again returned to Belarus to "insist" that Alyaksandr Lukashenka begin a dialogue with the opposition regarding "free and fair" elections next year. (INTERFAX, 1504 GMT, 15 Dec 99; via World News Connection) Alas, this is familiar terrain for the OSCE. Unfortunately, the organization has had little success in the past with such requests, and will undoubtedly have little success this time. Yet, its members keep on trying.
In early October of this year, Belarusian authorities agreed to take the OSCE up on its first mediation offer, and to begin talks with opposition representatives. Just days after this announcement, the Belarusian Freedom March resulted in almost 200 arrests and a number of injuries as police clashed with 20,000 protesters. As reported previously in The NIS Observed, neither this fact, nor the disappearance and/or arrest of several prominent opposition members deterred the OSCE from its mission, and negotiated talks began later that month. The European Union welcomed this news, saying that this dialogue would help move the country out of its political crisis. (INTERFAX, 1340 GMT, 2 Nov 99; via World News Connection)
Shortly thereafter, less than two weeks before Lukashenka was to travel to the OSCE summit in Istanbul, the Belarusian government and the OSCE reported a major breakthrough. On 9 November, the government and opposition signed an agreement giving opposition parties access to the media at specific times and in specific publications. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 1702 GMT, 9 Nov 99; via lexis-nexis) Unfortunately, Lukashenka failed to sign the agreement, making it moot. This fact was successfully concealed, however, until after the OSCE summit, where criticism of Lukashenka was much more limited than anticipated.
Shortly after the summit, Lukashenka made a goodwill gesture to the OSCE, perhaps attempting to mitigate the lack of his signature on the media access agreement. He released opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir from prison after six months in custody. The decision was hailed by the OSCE, the US, and the EU, among others.
Since then, however, there have been no further goodwill gestures on Lukashenka's part. Two major opposition figures, Yury Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar, remain missing. Tamara Vinnikova, former Central Bank chairwoman, however, phoned an opposition newspaper in Minsk to say that she has escaped out of the country after being missing for over five months. She accused the authorities of trying to kill her, and said, "I am determined to do what the authorities fear most -- I will engage in politics." (REUTERS, 14 Dec 99; via Russia Today)
International organizations have remained quiet about Vinnikova's statements. The OSCE has, however, criticized the government for recently subjecting opposition leader Andrei Klimov "to brutal treatment after refusal to move from custody at Minsk preliminary investigation center Number one to the court ...," and demanded that Klimov be given the medical attention which he reportedly is being denied. (INTERFAX, 1107 GMT, 14 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
Just one day later, on 15 December, the OSCE was back to insisting that Lukashenka talk to the opposition, however. "The policy of the Belarusian leadership of taking one step forward and two steps back cannot serve democratic purposes," said OSCE representative Adrian Severin. (INTERFAX, 1504 GMT, 15 Dec 99; via World News Connection) Really? Well, that's all right. I'm sure if we give them another chance, they'll do the right thing this time. Won't they?
One step back from the brink
President Petru Lucinschi stepped back from an opportunity to dissolve parliament this week, when he named Dumitri Bragis as his choice to be the next prime minister of Moldova. Bragis, deputy minister for economics and reform in Ion Sturza's dismissed cabinet, is the third prime ministerial candidate offered by Lucinschi since Sturza's government lost a parliamentary vote of confidence on 9 November. Since that time, Moldova's government has been paralyzed, and faces the probability of defaulting on its foreign debt in the near future. Under Moldova's constitution, after the parliament rejects two choices for prime minister, the president has the right to disband parliament. It appeared for a short time that Lucinschi, who has been actively campaigning for increased powers, would use that opportunity. As the country slides closer to foreign debt default, however, and as food and energy shortages increase, Lucinschi appears to have realized that early parliamentary elections would serve no one.
Bragis now has 15 days to form a cabinet, but Lucinschi told reporters that the government will be announced much sooner. Then it will be left to parliament to accept or reject the cabinet, for the third time. Let us hope that the parliament has become as enlightened on the topic of new elections as the president has recently.
by Tammy Lynch
Eeny, meeny, miney, mo
As relations between the United States and Russia deteriorate, Armenia's position, balanced between East and West, becomes increasingly untenable. How will Armenian statesmen resolve their current predicament? By forging even closer ties with Russia and Iran? Or can Armenia shed its old security arrangements in favor of a new Caucasian security system?
Some have commented that the security arrangements between Armenia and Russia have more substance than anything envisioned in the Russia-Belarus Union. Armenian politicians are well aware of the depth and import of such contacts. "Relations with Russia have always been of strategic importance to Armenia and will remain as such. This is [Armenia's] top priority. Armenia intends to broaden these relations in all spheres and on all levels." So spoke Ara Papian, the press secretary of the Armenian foreign ministry, on the eve of Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian's visit to Moscow. (INTERFAX, 12 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
For his part, Oskanian indicated that it is increasingly difficult for his country to avoid making a choice between the US and Russia. A new security system in the region could replace the precarious balancing act. He intends to discuss this possibility with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia at the next meeting of the NATO Euroatlantic Council. (INTERFAX, 13 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Heydar Aliev of Azerbaijan proposed such security systems at the November OSCE summit. The Azerbaijani version called for removing all foreign bases from the region and eliminating aggression, ethnic cleansing and separatism. In addition to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, the pact would include Russia, Turkey, the US, the EU and other interested members of the OSCE. The Armenian version envisioned participation of "all interested states" including Iran, which would have virtually excluded US involvement. (SNARK, 1340 GMT, 19 Nov 99; via World News Connection)
How the gulf between the positions can be breached is unclear at present. However, the choice of venue for the next discussion, a NATO conference, is an encouraging sign nonetheless.
OSCE to send observers to Chechen border segment
Georgia's Sakinform agency reported recently that the OSCE has decided to send an observer mission to monitor the Chechen section of the Georgian-Russian border. (ITAR-TASS, 16 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis) This news follows the 10 December official request for such a mission from the Georgian government. On that occasion, the Georgian government spokesman, Avtandil Napetvaridze, also indicated that the United Nations was informed about the request. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 10 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
Few details about this mission are available at the present writing. However, an international presence that monitored the activities on the border could prove very useful in shielding Georgia from a possible Russian incursion into its territory. It could also provide independent insight into the bellicose charges Russia has made of late.
Georgia has been subject to an unremitting barrage of unsubstantiated accusations from Russian media as well as military and political leaders. The most frequent charge is that Georgia aids in the transport of fighters and weapons from points outside the CIS to Chechnya. Other imaginative claims include reports that former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister (?) Movladi Udugov making contacts with Osama bin Laden through Georgian territory, that a Chechen government in exile was being formed in Georgia, that the abducted Russian MVD General Gennady Shpigun was being held in the Georgian border village Shatili. Last week an OSCE mission visited Shatili but refrained from making a formal statement about its findings.
Russia has leveraged such claims to press for taking control of the Georgian border and threatened to impose a visa regime and other economic sanctions. The presence of the international mission could verify or dispel such charges, easing the strain on the Russian-Georgian relationship. In particular, the OSCE could take it upon itself to verify that Chechen fighters are not crossing into Georgia, easing Georgia's position vis-à-vis Russia and improving the lot of Chechen male refugees, all of whom have been denied entrance into Georgia in recent weeks.
It's unclear whether the OSCE mission will serve in a narrow observer role or help the Georgian authorities to manage the checkpoints. The commander of the Georgian border guards, Valeri Chkheidze, told a meeting of CIS border troop officials that his country has already increased the number of guards on the Shatili crossing into Chechnya from 30-60 to 120 and envisions opening more checkpoints and increasing the number of guards to 200 when the snow begins to melt in March. While Georgia does not require joint protection of the border, it had requested material and technical assistance from Russia in early November. (PRIME NEWS, 10 Dec 99; BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, via lexis-nexis) Perhaps the OSCE can play a role in supplying the needed resources and training without impinging on Georgia's control of the checkpoints.
The OSCE decision indicates that the growing chorus of criticism over Moscow's brutal campaign in Chechnya, joined now by the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union, may engender a policy to restrain at least some of the fallout from the war. The US State Department has also reiterated its concerns about the possibility of the conflict widening. State Department Spokesman James P. Rubin told reporters "I think it's fair to say that one of the profound concerns that we have about the conflict in the north Caucasus is the potential of it spilling over into Azerbaijan and Georgia, and the instability that could create in the region." (STATE DEPARTMENT BRIEFING, 3 Dec 99; via www.state.gov)
by Miriam Lanskoy
Uzbek-Kyrgyz dispute over power supply causes more gas cutoffs
Much of Kyrgyzstan's population was forced to do without heat or cooking fuel for approximately two weeks when Uzbek natural gas providers once again decided to stop supplying their neighbors with power on 24 November. The Kyrgyz government owes over $4 million in back payments for Uzbek gas supplies, only $800,000 of which it is required to pay in cash, according to an earlier agreement. The rest of the debt is to be paid in kind, including a number of flour shipments. Apparently the Uzbek side was no longer satisfied with this arrangement and demanded additional cash payments. (KYRGYZ RADIO FIRST PROGRAMME, 1400 GMT, 24 Nov 99; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, via lexis-nexis) This seems to have been at least one of the causes for the most recent cut in power supplies. The Uzbek president also charged Kyrgyzstan with defaulting on its flour shipments and said Kyrgyz citizens would have to do without Uzbek fuel until the final trainload of flour arrived in Uzbekistan. (ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 7 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
After week-long negotiations in Tashkent, the Kyrgyz government reportedly agreed to settle its entire $280,000 cash debt immediately and the two sides were also able to reach a new arrangement on flour shipments. Uztransgaz (the Uzbek Gas Transport Company) officials consented to resume supplying Kyrgyzstan with natural gas by 12 December. (KYRGYZ RADIO FIRST PROGRAMME, 1200 GMT, 12 Dec 99; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, via lexis-nexis)
Some doubt has been cast on whether the Uzbek government's primary reason for cutting off gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan was purely economic. An Iranian radio broadcast suggested that Uzbekistan's main objective in halting the gas deliveries may have been to exert political pressure on the Kyrgyz government, particularly in the area of border control. In mid-November a group of armed men staged an ambush on Uzbek law enforcement officials in Yangiobod District (located in the eastern part of Tashkent Oblast'), killing a number of them. The Uzbek government claims to have proof that the men crossed into Tashkent Oblast' from Kyrgyzstan and has accused Kyrgyz leaders of exercising so little control over their country's borders that armed criminals are able to enter and exit at will. (VOICE OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, 1500 GMT, 26 Nov 99; BBC Worldwide Monitoring, via lexis-nexis) Uzbek President Karimov has implied on more than one occasion that, if his neighbors are unable to supervise cross-border traffic into and out of their countries adequately, then perhaps his military forces should undertake the task. Thus, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that President Karimov's regime decided to resort to economic measures once again in order to persuade the Kyrgyz government to accept Uzbek border patrols on Kyrgyz territory.
Uzbek parliamentary elections fall far short of Western standards
1,218 candidates representing five political parties (the People's Democratic Party -- President Karimov's former party, the Party of Self-Sacrificers -- President Karimov's current party, the Justice Party, the Homeland Progress Party, and the National Renaissance Party) competed for 250 parliamentary seats in Uzbekistan on 5 December. Taken at face value, this would seem to reflect a fairly intense competition for parliamentary positions. However, all of the parties which participated in the elections support the current government's policies. Uzbekistan's two opposition parties, Birlik (Unity) and Erk (Freedom or Free Will), were barred from taking part in the elections because they could not meet President Karimov's strict registration requirements. (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, 3 Dec 99; via Turkestan Newsletter) This is hardly surprising, as many of the opposition's leaders are still wanted on criminal charges in connection with the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, many more of their supporters are languishing in Uzbekistan's prisons, and the parties themselves are not legally recognized by the Uzbek government.
The OSCE refused to send a full monitoring team to Uzbekistan for the elections, precisely because of the lack of genuine competition, but the international organization did permit a few of its observers to be present during the polling process. One of those observers, OSCE Ambassador to Uzbekistan Madeleine Wilkens, gave a press conference the day following the elections, during which she listed numerous instances of campaign violations and voter fraud. Local administrative officials exerted an undue amount of influence not only on the voting process itself, but also on which parties' candidates were permitted to register in which districts. Finally, OSCE officials expressed skepticism at the high voter turnout figures reported by Uzbek election officials (93% of the population is supposed to have participated in the elections). (RFE/RL NEWSLINE, 6 Dec 99)
According to one American eyewitness, the election itself received a great deal of publicity. Those candidates who were permitted to register conducted very public campaigns, which included door-to-door visits with potential supporters, leaflet distribution, televised debates and television commercials. The participation of the two main opposition parties in this process could have moved Uzbek society significantly closer to a participatory democracy, and provided a peaceful way for voters to air their concerns and complaints. Economic and social pressures are mounting in Uzbek society. Many families that were once able to live comfortably on government salaries are now struggling to make ends meet and can no longer afford basic medical care and other such necessities. It is this type of pressure which often drives people to search for alternative political solutions; unfortunately, many political leaders who offer alternative solutions have been branded traitors and/or terrorists by the current Uzbek regime. As the Uzbek government continues to eliminate opportunities for people to express their anxieties peacefully, violent protest may become ever more attractive for many, especially for those who feel that they have little to lose in the first place.
by Monika Shepherd
Fat hits the fire as pork wars resume
What started this past summer as a temporary protection measure for Latvia's pork producers has been extended into 2001, igniting a Baltic-wide pork war with neighbors crying foul and threatening economic sanctions. On 7 December the Latvian government voted to continue protecting the domestic pork market by establishing a minimum valuation for customs taxes against all pork imports (1.05 lats/US$1.79 per kilogram), effective from 18 December 1999 through 17 December 2001. These measures were meant to pick up the slack created by the end of earlier protectionist legislation, effective from 1 June 1999 to 17 December, which provided for an extra customs tax on pork imports at the rate of 70 percent. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 7 Dec 99) The new rates did not appease Latvian pig-breeders, however, who claimed the valuation was too low, "barely above the cost-price," according to representative Lidija Jende. On the other side, meat packagers claim the valuation is too high. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 7 Dec 99)
Ironically, this action immediately followed statements by the head of Latvia's delegation to the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle. "Latvia supports further market liberalization and wants the talks to deal not only with agricultural products and access to service markets, but also with trade, competition and investments," according to Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1400 GMT, 30 Nov 99) Clearly, the only liberalization supported is that of other markets.
While producers and packers quibbled over rates, Latvia's Baltic partners were furious about the whole scheme. Even before the bill was passed, a spokesman for the Estonian government was quoted as saying the proposed duties on imported pork violate the Baltic free trade treaty and can endanger talks on accession to the European Union. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1400 GMT, 3 Dec 99) Latvian Agriculture Minister Aigars Kalvitis tried to calm the situation by issuing assurances that the pork trade between European Union (EU) member countries and the Baltic states would not be affected and explaining that the minimum customs valuation proposed would not differ from the actual customs tax on imports. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 7 Dec 99) What he failed to discuss, however, was that should the price of pork fall below the newly established minimum valuation level, the customs tax applied would be for the higher amount.
A spokesman for the Estonian meatpacking company Rakvere LK said the new protection measures are more lenient than the previous system, although the effects would be similar. "This is better than a 70 percent customs duty, but worse than Latvians observing terms of the free trade agreement," according to Andrit Heidov. The company representative continued to see the Latvian government's stance as obstructionist. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 8 Dec 99) The Lithuanian foreign ministry summoned the Latvian ambassador for talks and presented him with a note protesting Latvia's move. A negative response also was received from the European Union. (LATVIAN RADIO, 1000 GMT, 15 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis) The Estonian government threatened to lodge a complaint with the WTO. And Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, in a meeting with his Latvian counterpart in Helsinki, said Estonia intends to demand that Latvia compensate any damages incurred by the protective duties and to suspend talks with Latvia on a number of economic matters. (INTERFAX, 15 Dec 99; via lexis-nexis)
Alas, even if the protective measures were rescinded, the Saeima also managed to sour other relations: According to another recently passed amendment to the customs law, private individuals will be allowed to bring no more than three kilograms of sugar into the country. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 9 Dec 99)
Speak softly, and carry a translation dictionary
Another action taken recently by the Latvian government was a lot less inflammatory: After years of discussion, vocal domestic opposition, and often heavy-handed international involvement, the Saeima passed an amended state language law. Predictably, the leadup to the final parliamentary debate did not proceed smoothly, as the nationalist Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK faction continued to voice its objections to any loosening of proposed regulations on the use of the Latvian language. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 6 Dec 99) In the end, however, three parliamentary factions -- Latvia's Way, People's Party and the New Party -- agreed to support the amended draft, guaranteeing a majority of votes. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 8 Dec 99) On 9 December, the law was passed with 52 votes against 26, with 2 abstentions. The law regulates the use and protection of the state language in the state sector as well as the private sphere if such use would affect the interests of society, such as public safety, health and health care, morals, the protection of consumer and labor rights, workplace security and public administration. The law does not refer to the use of language in informal communications, the issue that constituted the major stumbling block to international acceptance of previous versions. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 9 Dec 99)
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who had sent an earlier version back for further parliamentary discussion and revision, was pleased with the end result. "Nobody will be able to find anything to object to in the wording now upheld. [The law] fully complies with our international legal obligations," she said. While less exuberant, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel did say that the adopted law is "essentially in conformity" with Latvia's international obligations. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenther Verheugen also approved. "My first evaluation is positive. The result of today represents an important step towards striking the right balance between protecting Latvia's national and cultural heritage and aspiring to the high standards prevailing in the European family of nations," he said. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1700 GMT, 9 Dec 99)
Despite Vike-Freiberga's optimism, there was one party expressing dissatisfaction: Russia. To no one's great surprise, the Russian foreign ministry sharply criticized the law, calling it "unacceptable" and "discriminatory." Apparently seeing no irony considering the treatment of Caucasian peoples in the Russian Federation, Moscow declared that Latvia's language law was "a sign of a humanitarian catastrophe that almost a million people [sic] without citizenship are deprived of basic rights including the right for a dignified life, that they are treated as pariahs in a country which they consider their native home, that they are in effect pushed out and labeled 'occupants and murderers' and a hysteria of historic vengeance is escalated around them." (INTERFAX, 1156 GMT, 10 Dec 99; via World News Connection) In response, Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele joked that, due to a Y2K bug, the Russian foreign ministry computer system was inadvertently printing out 10-year-old documents. (BNS, 1005 GMT, 13 Dec 99; via World News Connection)
Meanwhile, the Dutch government offered practical assistance to cope with a lack of Latvian fluency by agreeing to provide financial support for a Latvian language teaching program. On 1 December, Dutch Minister for European Affairs Dick Benschop and Jan Sorenson, the representative of the UN Development Program to Latvia, signed an agreement, which will provide 400,000 guilders (approximately US$173,000) toward a teaching program. (BALTIC NEWS SERVICE DAILY REPORT, 1900 GMT, 1 Dec 99)
by Kate Martin