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.. "Izvestiya" wrote on 4 March that regardless of the results of the Moldovan elections, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has already agreed with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to create "an orange belt" around Russia and to reinvigorate GUUAM, the regional alliance made up of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. "Russia is unable to formulate a strategy and policy regarding Moldova because Russia has no state interest there, it only has the personal business interests of Gazprom managers and some members of its government," RosBalt commented on 5 March. VY
<p class=3DMsoNormal><font size=3D2 face=3DArial><span =
font-family:Arial'>…. "Izvestiya" wrote on 4 March that regardless of the results of the Moldovan elections, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has already agreed with Ukrainian President Viktor = Yushchenko
and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to create <b><font = color=3Dred><span
style=3D'color:red;font-weight:bold'>"an orange belt" around = Russia and
to reinvigorate GUUAM, the regional alliance made up of Georgia, = Ukraine,
Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova</span></font></b>. = "<st1:country-region
w:st=3D"on">Russia</st1:country-region> is unable to formulate a = strategy and
policy regarding <st1:country-region =
w:st=3D"on">Moldova</st1:country-region> because <st1:country-region w:st=3D"on"><st1:place = w:st=3D"on">Russia</st1:place></st1:country-region> has no state interest there, it only has the personal business interests = of
Gazprom managers and some members of its government," RosBalt = commented on
5 March. VY<o:p></o:p></span></font></p>
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PUSHES FOR EUROPEAN INTEGRATION. President Viktor Yushchenko said in Kyiv on 7 March that Europe without Ukraine will not be "complete" or "comfortable," dpa reported. Yushchenko was speaking with foreign correspondents on the eve of his two-day trip to Germany. "We are not going to try and force Europe to accept us," Yushchenko noted. "What we are going to do is make Europe ask us to join." Asked about practical reasons why Europeans should support Ukraine's EU membership bid, Yushchenko said Ukraine offers new markets and resources as well as cheap and productive labor that Europe badly needs. "This must be interesting [to foreign businessmen]," Yushchenko added. He was more circumspect as regards Ukraine's integration with NATO. "NATO has been heavily propagandized by the previous government," Yushchenko said. "As a result Ukrainians are very poorly informed about NATO; according to one survey only 2 percent of Ukrainians have a clear idea of what NATO is." JM
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ASSAILS RUSSIA, VOWS TO MOVE AHEAD ON TRANSDNIESTER. Voronin blamed his party's weak showing on an "information war" conducted by Russia against Moldova, and on Moscow's refusal to remove 1,200 troops from the separatist Transdniester region, Reuters reported on 8 March. Once a Russian ally, Voronin now says Moscow is trying to destabilize Moldova. In an interview published in "Le Figaro" on 8 March, Voronin said he plans to press a resolution to the conflict in Transdniester in which the region is granted autonomy and Moldova works with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to prevent cross-border smuggling. "It is clear that without Ukraine's support we will achieve nothing," Voronin told "Le Figaro," according to Reuters. BW
The editor in chief of an Azerbaijani opposition magazine, "Monitor," Elmar Huseinov, was gunned down by an unknown assailant in cold blood in front of his home in Baku on 2 March.
His magazine has been sharply critical of Azerbaijani authorities, particularly President Ilham Aliyev. The magazine has on several occasions been closed or fined by the courts.
Huseinov spoke in December about the lawsuits targeting "Monitor," accusing the authorities of harassing the publication for political purposes. "I seriously protested, because this is illegal," he said. "This is unambiguously a political order, because two days prior [to that], parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov in a speech asked the government to express its relation to 'Monitor' magazine and to take serious measures against it. Two days later, court bailiffs are seeking to deny us any profits. And this is simply a political action. What they want is to bankrupt 'Monitor.'"
Huseinov's slaying comes amid a broad government crackdown on the media and opposition activists that has followed flawed presidential elections held in October 2003, when Aliyev succeeded his father.
Rauf Arifoglu, deputy chairman of the Musavat opposition party and editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," was arrested after the election. In October 2004, Arifoglu was sentenced to five years in prison after a conviction for organizing antigovernment protests.
Alex Lupis, program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told RFE/RL that he believes the killing was part of a campaign against Azerbaijan's independent media. "Unfortunately we have also seen a number of incidents over the past years that continue to indicate that the government is cracking down on independent and opposition journalists that criticize the government," Lupis said. Analysts say "Monitor" has long angered Azerbaijan's ruling elite.
Lupis added that the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling on Western governments to take a stronger stand against such persecution.
Diana Orlova is the European coordinator at the International Press Institute in Vienna. She said the West's unwillingness to pressure Azerbaijan's political leaders is allowing them to continue applying pressure on the independent media. She said infringements on media freedom get much less attention in the West than in nearby Ukraine or Belarus, for instance.
"Definitely [there has been less attention devoted to this] than, for example [instances in] Ukraine or Belarus, where elections have recently taken place and a lot of pressure was put on the authorities about press freedom," Orlova said.
Orlova said that "Monitor" has long angered Azerbaijan's ruling elite. In February, military forces detained one of the magazine's journalists, Akrep Hasanov, and held him for five hours after he had exposed abuses and mismanagement in an Azerbaijani military unit.
The leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Kerimli, told RFE/RL yesterday in Baku that Azerbaijan's authorities should either find the killers or resign.
"Elmar [Huseinov] has been a victim of a state terror. Everyone should know that and should not be afraid to say that. We will either force them [the authorities] to bring the perpetrators to justice, or we will force them [the authorities] to resign," Kerimli said, and urged Azerbaijan's political parties and rights groups to turn Huseinov's funeral into a massive protest.
Meanwhile, senior officials appear eager to convince the public that they will do all they can to find and prosecute Huseinov's killer or killers.
Azerbaijani deputy prosecutor Remiz Rizaev told Reuters yesterday that he views the crime as a provocation against the state. "This is a horrible crime plotted against the state; it's provocation," he said. "We now have a special investigating team from the police, national security, and the prosecutor's office. This could have been a contract killing, and we will try to investigate this as quickly as possible and solve this crime."
In a joint statement issued today, Azerbaijan's Security and Interior ministries and Prosecutor-General's Office warned the opposition against using Huseinov's killing "to exacerbate the political situation and spread confrontation" and pledged to quickly solve the crime.
(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this story.)
In the run-up to Moldova's 6 March parliamentary elections, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili both met with Moldovan President and Party of Moldovan Communists Chairman Vladimir Voronin. On the face of it, the three leaders would not appear to have much in common. Voronin is a communist and an incumbent, while Saakashvili and Yushchenko were elected by opposition movements following a wave of street protests. But pressure from Moscow has created an alliance of sorts among the three: While visiting Chisinau on 2 March, Saakashvili expressed his concern about the interference of unspecified Russian forces in the Moldovan election campaign.
Even before Saakashvili's visit, analysts concluded that Russian-Moldovan relations had hit a new low during the lead-up to Moldova's elections. President Voronin complained of Russia's alleged interference in the election process in the deployment of Russian campaign consultants to help the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD). At a press conference on 23 February, Voronin called a recent declaration by Russia's State Duma calling for economic sanctions against Moldova an attempt to influence Moldova's elections and interfere in the country's domestic affairs. And according to Vasilii Botnar of RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau on 2 March, Voronin launched a counterattack on Russia's ORT state television for its negative coverage of his policy toward the separatist Transdniester region and allegations of corruption.
In a story broadcast on ORT on 27 March, "Vremya" charged that Voronin's family, specifically his son Oleg, who heads Fincombank, controls most businesses in Moldova. The report also quoted analyst Sergei Markov, who predicted that Voronin will "gag the opposition media" and use state prosecutors against his political opponents. Other stories produced by ORT didn't attack Voronin directly, but instead highlighted Voronin's anti-Russia policy, a policy that the reports implied will have negative economic consequences for Moldova. For example, a report on 2 March discussed the implication of revoking the visa-free travel arrangement between Moldova and Russia.
In a commentary for ORT on 2 March, "Odnako" program host Mikhail Leontev, who is considered close to the Kremlin, explained Moscow's policy quite simply. Leontev said that "in general, Russia does not have its 'own' candidate in Moldova." At the same time, according to Leontev, Russia "is not totally indifferent to how the situation in [Transdniester] develops. [Russia] doesn't need any pro-Moscow candidate to win in proud, independent Moldova, even though half its population works in Russia and the country only exists because of Russia. But we also don't need the orange Communist and falsifier [President Vladimir] Voronin.... That is our only interest." Leontev summed up the Kremlin's position nicely -- anyone but Voronin.
ORT's coverage did not go unnoticed by Moldovan officialdom. Moldova's Television and Radio Coordination Council warned Moldova's First Channel to stop broadcasting campaign "agitation" or it would be prohibited from rebroadcasting "Vremya." The council specifically complained about a 19 February "Vremya" segment on the congress of Moldovan citizens working abroad. The report included negative reporting about the Moldovan government and included direct speech from BMD leader Serafim Urechean, in violation of Moldovan electoral law.
But observers found not only ORT's coverage faulty. International and domestic observers also faulted domestic media outlets. For example, media experts from Coalition 2005 -- an association of 152 nongovernmental Moldovan organizations set up in May 2004 to ensure free, fair, transparent, and democratic elections -- said on 7 February in a preliminary report that electronic media in Moldova were heavily biased in favor of the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005). Moreover, Moldova's Television and Radio Coordination Council concluded on 18 February that not one of Moldova's television or radio companies was in full compliance with election norms. And the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded in an interim report for 13-22 February that many of Moldova's private television stations simply opted out of covering the elections at all because of ambiguously worded election law.
Of course, such findings are not unusual in post-Soviet space -- newly independent media rarely provide either equal access to all political parties or balanced coverage, particularly during an election when the stakes are high. In a roundtable broadcast by RFE/RL's Russian Service on 2 March, commentator Vitalii Portnikov suggested that the real puzzle of the Moldovan election coverage was why the Russian media continued to emphasize the possibility of some kind of revolution occurring in that country when the polls showed that was unlikely. A majority of opinion polls showed the only question was whether the Party of Moldovan Communists would win an absolute or only a constitutional majority in the parliament. Portnikov also asked why no one in the Russian media was asking the Russian authorities to explain their support for the opposition, when past stated policy has always been to support the powers-that-be.
"Novoe vremya" Deputy Editor in Chief Vadim Dubnov suggested that the answer lies not in any kind of articulated policy shift but in "very human" pique. The Russian press and political elite are still angry at Voronin for failing to sign the Kozak memorandum in November 2003, which proposed a solution to the Transdniester conflict. Plus, after Ukraine, according to Dubnov, Moscow understands that the same old approaches will no longer pass muster.