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News from the former Soviet Bloc


(Moscow) If any eastern European countries should cozy up to NATO and join the U.S.-led bloc, they can expect to have Russian nuclear missiles pointed at them for it, says Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. "NATO's eastward expansion is unacceptable for Russia," said the minister with "grave" concern over the prospect, adding that the Russian response could be to create its own military alliance, ignore all treaties on nuclear weapons reduction, and beef up its forces on western borders. Russia might not get so riled up if it can agree to a treaty governing how NATO can expand, said Rodionov.

(Poland) Poland's Finance Minister is suggesting that foreign investors would be wise to avoid putting their money in countries farther east than his own, without mentioning Russia by name. Grzegorz Kolodko advised a group of 200 foreign investors that more stable countries, for example -- Poland, are a better investment risk where army generals (like Alexander Lebed) are not summarily sacked.

(Tbilisi) One million people have packed their bags and moved out of Georgia over the past years -- mostly for economic reasons -- says the head of the country's parliament committee for migration and compatriots. Most of the migrants are headed for Russia Ukraine, Germany, France, Italy and the United States.

(Geneva) Let's take a quick look at how some countries of the former Soviet Bloc stand in foreign direct investment, pulling in funds from investors around the world:

  • Hungary: the most popular ex-bloc state with investors, $11.2 billion.
  • Czech Republic: $5.6 billion.
  • Poland: $4.1 billion, growing at a rate of 40.6 percent per year.
  • Ukraine: regarded as an uncertain but potential industrial and agricultural powerhouse, stands at just under $1 billion, but that's up 50 percent of the total just six months earlier.
  • Kazakhstan: President Nursaltan Nazarbayev has taken his investment pitch on the road, raking in $2.6 billion, a surge of 27 percent over the course of a year.

(Bucharest) Want to know more about the sex habits of Romanians? Well, maybe not, but the folks at the Durex condom-manufacturing company did, and conducted a poll to find out. Some results: people living in Romania's cities have sex more often than those in rural areas; the average Romanian loses virginity at 18.6 years (compared to 16.2 years in the United States); and only 24 percent of Romanians use condoms to control the spread of AIDS (surely a discouraging number for the Durex condom company).

(Kazan) Insult the president of Tatarstan, and it could cost you big -- up to $6,000. President Mentimer Shaimiyev will put up with a bit of criticism, but he has made it illegal to insult him. Citizens who do so in the oil-rich Russian republic of 3.7 million must pay $800. Newspapers and magazines that report an insult face a $6,000 fine and confiscation of the insulting publications.

(Almaty) A plague of locusts has invaded 500,000 hectares of croplands in Kazakhstan, a key exporter of grain to Russia. This is the second locust invasion the country has suffered in two years. More than $2 million has been targeted to fighting back the locust attack.

(Pervomaisk, Ukraine) Sunflowers now grow on the site of a former Soviet missile silo, celebrating Ukraine's new position as a nation without nuclear arms. Six bright yellow sunflowers were planted by top military ministers from the United States, Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine was once the third most powerful nuclear state in the world, and Pervomaisk was home to more than 700 warheads aimed at the United States. All of those have been shipped back to Russia. 

(Kiev) Ukrainian "Indian" Broken Hand and his wife, Butterfly, are packing up their feather headgear and polishing up their Sioux dance steps for a "gathering of the tribes" near St. Petersburg later this year. The couple, commonly called Sergei and Viktoria, are among some 1,000 people living in Ukraine and Russia who have assumed the lifestyles and traditions of various American Indian tribes. The Indian philosophy of close relations with the earth has caught on since Gorbachev's glasnost opened their country to new sources of spiritual solace, say the two Indian converts. Other imported tribal cultures include those of the Cheyenne, Iroquois, Chippewa, Shawnee and Crow.

(Tblisi) Doctors in Georgia have performed the nation's first sex-change operation, thanks to the help of kerosene lamps lighting the operating room due to the chronic power shortage. The former 29-year old woman was surgically transformed into a man during a 16-hour procedure. The newly-made man had a hormonal condition that left him male in most regards, despite having female sex organs. "I am very grateful. This was my last chance at a normal life," he said while recovering well in his hospital bed.

(Kishinev) The Moldovan parliament has voted unanimously to abolish the death penalty in a show of respect for human rights, honoring a pledge made when the former Soviet republic joined the Council of Europe. Moldova has conducted no executions since it declared independence in 1991, although the country had sent an unknown number of citizens to Russia and Ukraine for enforcement of a death sentence.

(Ashkhabad) Turkmenistan's President Saparmurad Niyazov is a man who commands a degree of adoration. School children learn his sayings, government officials wear tiny gold pins of his profile on their lapels and sometimes kiss his jeweled hand. The 55 year old leader has built several lavish palaces across the republic, and a new $100-million gold-domed presidential palace is now under design. His face graces every parade float, hotel, office building and park pedestal. "I don't find pleasure in it," the president says. "But the people demand it because of their mentality."

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