[America,] it is the only place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time. - Thomas Wolfe
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 16, Part II, 25 January 1999


________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 16, Part II, 25 January 1999

A daily report of developments in Eastern and
Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central
Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty.

This is Part II, a compilation of news concerning
Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe.  Part I
covers Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia and is
distributed simultaneously as a second document.  Back
issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are
online at RFE/RL's Web site:
http://www.rferl.org/newsline

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Headlines, Part II

* UKRAINE TO DEFAULT ON FOREIGN DEBT?

* DIPLOMATIC 'OFFENSIVE' UNDER WAY FOR KOSOVA

* STRIKE, VIOLENCE ENDS AFTER ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS
MINERS

End Note: MESSAGES SENT, MESSAGES RECEIVED
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

UKRAINE TO DEFAULT ON FOREIGN DEBT? Ukraine may default
on its foreign debt payments in 1999 unless foreign
donors resume their aid to the country, AP quoted the
Foreign Ministry as saying in a statement on 22 January.
According to that statement, Ukraine must pay $1.17
billion to foreign creditors in 1999, but the government
is asking for new loans because it will not be able to
raise the money on its own. In addition, the National
Bank, which has $1 billion in reserves, owes the IMF
$700 million in loan payments. Ukrainian Television
reported the next day that last year Ukraine's foreign
debt increased by $2 billion to $11.5 billion, which is
equal to 40 percent of the country's GDP or 70 percent
of its annual exports. According to the Finance
Ministry, Ukraine needs $2.2 billion in foreign loans
this year. JM

LAZARENKO NOMINATED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. A congress
of the opposition Hromada party on 22 January nominated
former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko as its
candidate for the October presidential elections.
Lazarenko is currently under investigation by Swiss
police on money laundering charges. He was arrested in
Switzerland in December and released on a $3 million
bail. The Prosecutor-General's Office has asked the
parliament to lift Lazarenko's deputy immunity so that
he can be arrested and tried on charges of embezzling
government funds and siphoning some $4 million abroad.
Lazarenko told the Hromada congress that the corruption
charges against him are aimed at removing him as
President Leonid Kuchma's potential rival in the
presidential race. JM

UKRAINIAN MINER IMMOLATES HIMSELF OVER UNPAID WAGES.
Anatoliy Konarev, a 37-year-old miner from Luhansk, set
himself alight on 22 January after the director of the
local mine had refused to discuss with him his wage
arrears. Konarev died in the hospital several hours
later. The mine owed him 600 hryvni ($175). JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS 'RUSSIAN OCCUPATION.'
Some 4,000 people participated in a march organized by
the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) in Minsk on 22
January to protest the Belarusian-Russian union,
RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "We are launching
the second stage of actions of the Belarusian people in
defense of our state. For the time being, we do not
need to resort to arms to advance toward civilized
Europe," BNF acting chairman Lyavon Barshcheuski told
the crowd. "We are not fighting against the Russian
worker nor against the Russian peasant, but against the
Russian-Asiatic mafia that needs a transport corridor
through Belarus," AP quoted Aleh Trusau, another
opposition leader, as saying. The protesters adopted a
one-phrase resolution reading "No to Russian
Occupation!" Some 70 protests against the union took
place around the country the next day, Belapan reported.
JM

BELARUSIAN WORKERS FORM NATIONAL STRIKE COMMITTEE.
Workers from a dozen regions have set up a national
strike committee headed by independent trade union
activist Syarhey Antonchyk, Belapan reported on 23
January. The committee demands that the authorities
guarantee free access to state-controlled media, a
minimum monthly wage of $100, and a minimum monthly
pension of $50. If those demands are not met, the
committee threatens to launch a nationwide strike. It
also plans to hold a trade union rally in Minsk on 27
January and supports the opposition initiative to hold
presidential elections on 16 May, pledging to help
organize them. According to Antonchyk, the workers'
movement is the only force capable of radically changing
the situation in Belarus. JM

LUKASHENKA AMESTIES SOME 34,000 PRISONERS. The
Belarusian president has signed a bill setting free or
slashing the prison terms of some 34,000 prisoners, AP
reported on 22 January, citing official sources. The
bill grants amnesty to World War II veterans, minors,
pregnant women, pensioners, single parents with children
under the age of 18, victims of the Chornobyl nuclear
accident, and people suffering from tuberculosis or
cancer. The amnesty is expected to ease overcrowding in
Belarusian prisons, where 60,000 people are held in
facilities designed for 39,000. JM

ESTONIAN COURT CONVICTS EX-SECURITY OFFICER OVER 1949
DEPORTATIONS. Johannes Klaassepp, a former Soviet
security official, has been found guilty of ordering the
deportations of more than 20 people in 1949. A local
court handed down an eight-year suspended sentence to
the 77-year-old, who had pleaded innocent. In passing
that sentence, the court took into account the fact that
Klaassepp had been acting in his official capacity when
he ordered the deportations and had complied with the
authorities during their investigation into his crimes.
Klaassepp is the first person to be convicted in Estonia
for involvement in deportations during the Stalinist
era. Meanwhile, the Estonian Commission for the
Investigation of Crimes against Humanity, which was set
up by President Lennart Meri last fall, convenes for the
first time on 26 January. JC

EESTI TELEKOM TENDER OPENS. From 25 January to 9
February, investors can make bids for shares in the
telecommunications company Eesti Telecom, ETA and BNS
reported. Analysts predict the sale could result in
revenues totaling nearly 3 billion kroons (some $230
million). Of that sum, nearly half a billion kroons are
intended to plug a hole in the 1999 budget while the
remainder will be channeled to the stabilization fund.
JC

LATVIAN COALITION PARTY NOT TO OBJECT TO SOCIAL
DEMOCRATIC MINISTER. At a 23 January meeting, the
council of the Fatherland and Freedom party announced
that the party does not object to the Social Democrat
Peteris Salkazanovs assuming the agriculture portfolio,
BNS reported. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans had
nominated Salkazanovs to that post last month, but the
Fatherland and Freedom party had postponed making a
final decision until the 23 January meeting. (Under the
coalition agreement, all three signatories to the
coalition agreement must agree to inviting a member of
another party to join the government.) Party chairman
Maris Grinblats said the decision not to object to
Salkazanovs's appointment will "strengthen" the
government, which, in turn, would pave the way for
adopting a "tolerable budget." At the same time, the
Fatherland and Freedom party will support increasing the
defense budget to 1 percent of GDP, something to which
the Social Democrats and other leftist forces are
opposed. JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON OMBUDSMAN VOTE.
Meeting at the presidential residence in Vilnius on 22
January, President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister
Gediminas Vagnorius agreed that "full voting procedures
should be [undertaken] by the parliament" over the
candidacy of lawyer Kestutis Lapinskas as ombudsman, BNS
reported. Earlier this month, Conservative deputies in
the parliament narrowly succeeded in blocking approval
of Lapinskas to that post, arguing that the nominee
should be not only a legal expert but also a specialist
in auditing and state assets management. Adamkus has
issued a decree re-nominating Lapinskas to that post,
but last week, the Conservatives announced that his
nomination is unacceptable and urged the president to
revoke his decree. Adamkus has refused to comply with
that demand. JC

LITHUANIA'S CONSERVATIVES, CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS RENEW
COALITION AGREEMENT. Leaders of the ruling Conservative
and Christian Democratic Parties have renewed their
coalition agreement until 2000, when general elections
are due, BNS reported on 22 January. The agreement
stipulates that the coalition functions on the basis of
the principle of "proportional participation in state
institutions in accordance with representation at the
parliament." According to that principle, the Christian
Democrats are entitled to head three ministries.
Currently, the party has only the foreign affairs and
defense portfolios. JC

POLISH FARMERS EXPAND ROAD BLOCKADE CAMPAIGN. Following
the blockade of the Swiecko border checkpoint on 22-23
January, Polish farmers have expanded their road
blockade campaign to press the government to protect
them against food imports, Reuters reported on 25
January. Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical Self-
Defense farmers' trade union, which is organizing the
campaign, said on 23 January that protesters in 300
localities in Poland are prepared to launch nationwide
road blockades, despite the government's threats to use
force against them. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT URGES RESTORATION OF DEMOCRACY IN
BELARUS... The Polish parliament on 22 January voted by
354 to seven with 49 abstentions to adopt a "message to
the Belarusian nation" affirming "moral support" for the
opposition Supreme Soviet deputies and sympathizing with
those in Belarus who are repressed because they "seek
freedom" and express their beliefs. It also stresses
that Poland is interested in continued good-neighborly
relations with Belarus as well as in the existence of an
independent Belarus. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry
responded that the message constitutes interference in
Belarus's domestic affairs, questions the "equal nature"
of mutual relations, and might lead to the
"complication" of those ties. JM

...REJECTS NO CONFIDENCE MOTION IN HEALTH MINISTER. The
same day, the parliament voted by 233 to 184 with nine
abstentions to defeat the ex-communist opposition's no
confidence motion in Health Ministry Wojciech
Maksymowicz. The vote is seen as a major step toward
overcoming the crisis within the ruling coalition (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1999). JM

CZECH PREMIER RATES HIS GOVERNMENT A SUCCESS. Milos
Zeman said on 23 January that his cabinet has had many
more successes than failures, CTK reported. Zeman,
reviewing the work of his government after six months in
office, said the cabinet has successfully accomplished
10 things, including the passage of the 1999 budget, an
increase in public sector wages, the launching of bank
privatization, the resolution of a row with the EU over
pork imports, and investment in industrial zones. Zeman
said the cabinet failed only in communicating with the
media and in "presenting itself sufficiently."
Opposition groups have criticized the government for,
among other things, its apparent mistrust of private
ownership and the increased role of the state in
society. PB

CZECHS SEEK ITALIAN HELP IN ANTI-CORRUPTION PROGRAM.
Premier Milos Zeman said on 24 January that Italy will
send experts to Prague to help kickstart its "clean
hands" anti-corruption campaign, CTK reported. Zeman
said the experts will accompany Italian Prime Minister
Massimo D'Alema on his visit to Prague next month. He
added that anti-corruption officials from the U.S. will
also help. Zeman said the first results of the campaign
will be made available in March, noting that some 350
cases of white-collar crime are being investigated. In
other news, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir
Spidla said that unemployment could reach 11 percent at
the end of 1999, up from 7.5 percent at the end of
December. PB

KUKAN PLEASED WITH U.S. TRIP, HOPES FOR INTEGRATION WITH
WEST. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in
Bratislava on 25 January that he is encouraged by his
recent visit to the U.S., TASR reported. Kukan said the
U.S. government "knows what is happening in Slovakia and
values developments positively." U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright said after meeting with Kukan in
Washington on 22 January that Slovakia is on the right
track but must "stay on target" with its reform program
and continue to improve relations with its neighbors if
it wants to join NATO and the EU. Albright said that
though a good candidate for NATO membership, Slovakia
should "not expect an invitation anytime soon."
Representatives of the European and Slovak parliaments
ended a three-day meeting in Bratislava by calling on EU
leaders to quickly reevaluate Slovakia's bid to join the
union. In a report to be sent to the European Council,
delegates to the meeting suggest that a decision on
whether to add Slovakia to the "fast track" should be
made by December. PB

U.K. INVESTING IN SLOVAKIA. The U.K. was the largest
investor in Slovakia in 1998, the Slovak Statistical
Bureau reported on 23 January. Its investments, totaling
2.9 billion crowns ($78.6 million), account for 28.7
percent of total foreign investment in 1998. As the
second biggest investor in 1998, the U.S. invested some
2.7 billion crowns. The Netherlands followed in third
place. PB

CANADA REJECTS ROMANI ASYLUM REQUESTS. A Toronto
immigration committee has rejected the asylum requests
of two Romani families from Hungary, MTI reported on 22
January. A lawyer for the committee said the families
arrived in January and May 1998 and that an
investigation into their cases determined that they face
neither persecution nor denial of their rights in
Hungary. The committee met with a Hungarian delegation
that included Florian Farkas, chairman of the National
Romani Self-Government Council, before making its
decision. Farkas said that Roma in Hungary just face
discrimination, but not persecution. He said it is
important Budapest to help Roma who are denied asylum to
return to Hungary. Hundreds of Roma are still in Canada
awaiting a decision on their requests. Dozens have been
granted asylum. PB

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

DIPLOMATIC 'OFFENSIVE' UNDER WAY FOR KOSOVA. Western
diplomats have launched a "tough new take-it-or-leave-
it" initiative, which they hope will secure Russian
backing and force the Serbs and Kosovars to comply,
Reuters reported from Brussels on 24 January. The plan
is to offer the Serbs the choice of granting autonomy to
Kosova or facing NATO air strikes, while Kosovars will
have to choose between accepting something less than
independence or risk losing Western support. Diplomats
from the international Contact Group agreed in London
late last week to press the Serbs and Kosovars to take
part in a peace conference in the near future (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1999). EU foreign
ministers will discuss the new diplomatic efforts at
their meeting in Brussels on 25 January. Kosova is also
on the agenda in talks between U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright and her Russian counterpart, Igor
Ivanov, in Moscow. The Contact Group is slated to meet
again on 30 January to finalize the plan. PM

NATO CONTINUES TO STAND BY... NATO Secretary-General
Javier Solana said in Rome on 24 January that the
alliance remains prepared to take military action "in
order to support a political solution" in Kosova. He
added that "at this very moment...there is the
determination of the international community to have a
political agreement work. For that, NATO will be
prepared to do its job. I hope very much that there
will be a new impulse, a new dynamic, that we are ready
to support." PM

...WITH GROUND TROOPS? Veton Surroi, who is Kosova's
leading journalist, wrote in "Koha Ditore" of 24 January
that "military action [by NATO] can lead to a solution"
in the troubled province. He added that ground troops
will be necessary "to ensure that violence [by Serbian
forces against civilians] is not repeated." An unnamed
senior U.S. government official told the "Washington
Post" of 23 January that "a serious discussion [on
ending the crisis in Kosova] must explore all options,
including American participation on the ground. It's
just a fact of life that our allies are reluctant to
support air power against the Serbs in the absence of a
clear strategy for what happens next on the ground."
Secretary of Defense William Cohen is strongly opposed
to sending U.S. ground troops into Kosova. PM

GERMANY PREPARED TO SEND GROUND TROOPS. Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and
Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping agreed in Bonn on 22
January that Germany is prepared to send ground troops
to Kosova to help ensure the safety of OSCE monitors,
the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Germany
has already made aircraft available for possible NATO
air strikes against Serbia. A German government
spokesman said that Belgrade must understand that "this
is not a game" and that the Atlantic alliance is serious
about ending the violence in Kosova. Scharping noted
that "we will not just sit by idly while people are
being butchered. This is not like in Bosnia, where we
sat back and watched while the most grisly kind of
massacres took place." PM

HOLBROOKE DEMANDS 'FULL COMPLIANCE' BY SERBIA. U.S.
special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated an
agreement on Kosova with Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic in October, said on 22 January in Washington
that the agreement has "eroded" because it "didn't have
teeth." He warned Belgrade that its recent decision to
suspend its expulsion order against William Walker, who
is the chief OSCE monitor in Kosova, is not sufficient
to avoid NATO air strikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22
January 1999). Holbrooke stressed that Milosevic must
show "full compliance" with the October agreement. PM

HOSTAGES FREED IN KOSOVA. Serbian forces freed nine
Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters in Likoc on 23
January as part of a secret agreement with OSCE
diplomats under which the UCK freed eight Yugoslav
soldiers 10 days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14
January 1999). Some of the freed guerrillas told AP that
their captors had beaten them and that they want to
return to the front lines. Also on 23 January, the UCK
freed five elderly Serbian civilians, whom guerrillas
captured near Vushtrri the previous day. The Serbs said
they had been well treated, but one noted that their
captors took "some money, a video recorder, and some of
[her] son's clothes..., adding that the guerrillas
warned them not to mention this," Reuters reported.
Spokesmen for the UCK said that the guerrillas had
"arrested" the five because they were armed. In
Prishtina, Walker said that "it was a very unwise and
uncivilized thing for the [UCK] to do to kidnap
civilians and I want to condemn it." PM

WALKER SAYS RECAK WAS 'MASSACRE.' Walker wrote in
"Newsweek" that he stands by his view that Serbian
forces "massacred" 45 Kosovar civilians in Recak on 15
January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24
January. He added that "neither I nor any of those who
accompanied me saw any signs of a two-sided battle."
Serbian spokesmen say that the Kosovars, who included
women, children, and pensioners, were UCK fighters who
died in battle. Belgrade recently ordered Walker's
expulsion after he charged that Serbian forces massacred
innocent civilians. On 22 January, AP in Vienna obtained
a confidential OSCE report in which monitors concluded
that armed Serbs killed the Kosovars and "mutilated some
of them." Also in the Austrian capital, "Die Presse"
quoted Sadako Ogata, who is the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees, as saying that at least three Kosovar children
recently froze to death when several hundred Kosovars
fled their homes following the Recak killings. PM

GLIGOROV VETOES AMNESTY LAW. Macedonian President Kiro
Gligorov on 22 January refused to sign a draft amnesty
law that would end the jail terms of some 800 people,
mostly ethnic Albanians, who were convicted for
violating the 1997 law on the public display of national
symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). Among
the 800 are the mayors of Gostivar and Tetovo. The bill
will be returned to the parliament, where the pro-
government majority is expected to override Gligorov's
veto without difficulty. It is the first time that
Gligorov has refused to sign a law passed by the
parliament. Observers suggested that his refusal was
intended as a snub to the government of Prime Minister
Ljubco Georgievski. Georgievski sought the amnesty in
order to guarantee the support of his ethnic Albanian
coalition partners and to reduce inter-ethnic tensions.
PM

MACEDONIA, ALBANIA AGREE ON KOSOVA. Georgievski and his
Albanian counterpart, Pandeli Majko, said in Tirana on
22 January that they support increased international
political pressure directed at ending the crisis in
Kosova. Majko added that "if the Serbs continue their
massacres in Kosova, there could be large waves of
refugees heading for both Albania and Macedonia." He and
Georgievski agreed that current relations between Skopje
and Tirana are "an example of how new relationships can
be built in the new Balkans." PM

ARMED CIVILIANS PROTEST BANDITS IN ALBANIA. More than
400 armed civilians blocked the main road linking
Gjirokaster to Greece to protest the inability of the
police to control bandits operating from the nearby
mountain village of Lazarat. The inhabitants of Lazarat,
which was a leper colony in Ottoman times, have a
tradition of behaving as a law unto themselves.
Meanwhile in Vlora, gangsters kidnapped the police chief
on 23 January and held him until police returned six
impounded speedboats belonging to the smugglers. The
incident "shocked Italy," Reuters reported the next day.
Defense Minister Carlo Scognamiglio said that Rome is
prepared to double the strength of its 630 military,
police, and customs officials in Albania. PM

STRIKE, VIOLENCE ENDS AFTER ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS
MINERS. Some 10,000 coal miners interrupted their march
to Bucharest and returned to the Jiu Valley after a deal
was reached by Premier Radu Vasile and miners' leaders
on 22 January, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported.
Vasile announced the end of the strike after four hours
of talks with Miron Cozma at an Orthodox monastery near
Ramnicu Valcea, 170 kilometers west of Bucharest. Vasile
said "neither the miners nor the government won. Only
the country won, because there will be peace." Some 170
people, mostly policemen, were injured in several
clashes as the miners overran barricades and police
cordons set up to prevent them reaching Bucharest.
Vasile agreed to increase miners' wages by 35 percent
and to allow two mines slated for closure to remain
open. Vasile added, however, that the wage hike is
dependent on miners' eliminating losses at heavily
subsidized mines over the next five years. Further
rounds of talks between the government and mining
officials are to take place in the coming weeks. Most of
the 20,000 miners in the region already make nearly
twice the national average salary. PB

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS AGREEMENT MADE PUBLIC. Both
chambers of the parliament, meeting in an extraordinary
session on 22 January, approved a declaration affirming
their support for the actions of Vasile in his defense
of "state institutions, the constitution, and all
democratic values," Rompres reported. The resolution
condemned the violent actions of the miners and called
on state officials to ensure that the crisis not be
repeated. It also urged the government to present by 15
March an economic and social program intended to stop
the economic decline in the country. In addition,
lawmakers want the government to detail how it plans to
pay for the concessions made to the miners. The leader
of the ethnic Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania,
Bela Marko, criticized the agreement between Vasile and
the miners and called for the protesters to be detained
and prosecuted. Marko, whose party is a member of the
ruling coalition, said the government will lose
credibility if it does not prosecute those involved in
violence. PB

BULGARIA NOT TO SHUT DOWN REACTORS EARLY. Bulgarian
Deputy Premier Evgenyi Bakardzhiev said on 22 January
that his government will not shut down four
controversial nuclear reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear
power plant earlier than scheduled, AP reported.
Bakardzhiev said the two oldest reactors will stop
operating in 2005, as planned, and the other two will
shut down in 2010. Bakardzhiev said Sofia has invested
some $140 million to improve safety at the plant, which
some Western organizations say is unsafe. The facility
provides about 40 percent of Bulgaria's electricity
needs. PB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR UNITY. Petar Stoyanov said
on 22 January that increased internal discord could
weaken Bulgaria's credibility, AP reported. Stoyanov, in
his annual address to the nation, urged the government
and the opposition to cooperate over reform. He said
this is the only way Bulgaria can make a "dignified
accession to the EU and NATO." Stoyanov also noted that
the country cannot secure the West's trust "unless
government and opposition guarantee that whoever comes
to power will stick to all basic rules of a market
economy." PB

END NOTE

MESSAGES SENT, MESSAGES RECEIVED

by Paul Goble

	The statements of Russian politicians
notwithstanding, the Russian military has sent a message
that suggests many in Moscow are coming to terms with
the idea that the three Baltic States will eventually
become members of NATO.
	But just as in 1990, when Moscow's military
commanders indicated that they did not expect Estonia,
Latvia, and Lithuania to be part of the USSR by the year
2000, the Russian generals are giving out signals that
some in both the region and the West appear likely to
misinterpret.
	On 29 December, Lieutenant-General Pavel Labutin,
the chief of the Leningrad Military District, told ITAR-
TASS that he has re-established a Russian army group "in
the Baltic direction" as a result of "NATO expansion to
the East and the prospect of admitting the Baltics into
this bloc."
	Labutin's remarks suggest that he and his officers
have been planning the reorganization of their forces
not so much to prevent the expansion of NATO but rather
on the assumption that the Western alliance will
sometime in the near future include the three Baltic
countries. In taking that position, General Labutin
appears to be out in front of, if not out of step with,
the Russian political elite. But precisely because his
remarks suggest such is the case, Labutin's actions have
been interpreted in a very different way not only by
some in the region but also by a few analysts in NATO
capitals.
	Not surprisingly, some Baltic officials see the
restoration of this army group in the same way as they
viewed last summer's Russian military exercise
"Operation Return" near their borders: as a direct
threat to themselves and as an effort to intimidate the
West.
	Some observers in NATO capitals have drawn a
similar conclusion. They have argued that this Leningrad
Military District reorganization is a direct challenge
to NATO and that the Western alliance must take notice
of it. Moreover, they have argued that this latest shift
may represent a potential violation of the Conventional
Forces in Europe agreement.
	Such Baltic and Western comments may lead some in
NATO capitals to draw exactly the opposite conclusion
from the one that Labutin's words and actions suggest.
And they may thus lead some in those cities to argue for
putting off the inclusion of the Baltic States into the
Western alliance.
	If that happens, there will be a repetition of
events that took place nine years ago. One day after the
Lithuanian government declared the restoration of its
independence, a Washington newspaper published a map
showing how Soviet generals perceived the security
architecture of Europe in the year 2000. That map, the
product of extensive interviews with these generals by a
U.S. Defense Department analyst, showed that the
generals did not believe that Estonia, Latvia, and
Lithuania would be part of the Soviet Union by that
time.
	But to a remarkable degree, the publication of that
map had a very different impact on U.S. thinking about
the Baltic pursuit of independence than the most obvious
reading of it would appear to have suggested. Instead of
leading more people in the West to conclude that Russian
acceptance of eventual Baltic independence could allow
the West to increase its support for the Balts, the
appearance of this map led some writers to conclude that
the West should be even more circumspect lest it
exacerbate divisions in Moscow.
	As subsequent events proved, the Soviet military's
assessment of the facts on the ground was far closer to
reality than the one given out by the Soviet political
establishment. And had that been more widely understood
at the time, all the parties might have avoided some of
the difficulties they subsequently faced.
	Labutin's action, one he almost certainly did not
undertake on his own, appears to be yet another such
message about the Russian military's understanding of
the situation. And just as in 1990, how it is received
is likely to have a major influence on the fate of the
Baltic countries over the next several years.

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Updated: 1998-11-

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