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Vol. 1, No. 2, Part I, 2 April 1997
Vol. 1, No. 2, Part I, 2 April 1997 This is Part I of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Newsline. Part I is a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II, covering Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN AGREEMENT SIGNED IMF TO RESUME LENDING TO RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN AGREEMENT SIGNED AFTER LAST- MINUTE CHANGES TO TEXT. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have signed the treaty on Russian-Belarusian union and initialed a union charter following last-minute talks in Minsk and Moscow, RFE/RL reports on 2 April. The final version of the treaty is much shorter than the draft approved by the joint Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly yesterday. It is mostly of a declarative nature, prompting complaints among parliamentary supporters of integration. Although the name of the Russian-Belarusian "community" has been changed to "union," Yeltsin stressed that Russia and Belarus remain sovereign states and will not hurry to form a common budget or establish a single currency. Instead, coordinating security policies and border controls will be the top priority. The treaty will be submitted to the State Duma and Federation Council for ratification after one month of public discussion. DISCORD IN YELTSIN CAMP OVER INTEGRATION. The last- minute changes to the union treaty reflect deep divisions in the Yeltsin camp over how far and how fast integration with Belarus should proceed. An RFE/RL correspondent reports that among Yeltsin's associates, the main proponents of rapid integration are Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, presidential foreign policy adviser Dmitrii Ryurikov and Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative to the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, nearly all the ministers who joined the government in last month's cabinet reshuffle have expressed concern about the economic consequences of integration with Belarus. The skeptics include First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, and State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh. EXPELLED RUSSIAN JOURNALIST SLAMS BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES. Aleksandr Stupnikov, the NTV correspondent recently expelled from Belarus for not reporting "objective" information, says the charges against him are "ludicrous" and that journalists are routinely persecuted in Belarus, RFE/RL reported on 1 April. Many Russian journalists have rallied to Stupnikov's defense. The Union of Journalists and the Glasnost Defense Foundation have issued a joint statement complaining that the Russian president, government, and parliament have not condemned censorship in Belarus. At last week's CIS summit in Moscow, Belarusian President Lukashenka complained that a "propaganda campaign" against him in the media was aimed at derailing Russian- Belarusian integration. BASAEV NOMINATED FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has proposed radical field commander Shamil Basaev as first deputy prime minister with special responsibility for industry, Russian news agencies reported on 1 April. Basaev was Maskhadov's closest challenger in the January presidential elections. Meanwhile, the Chechen Interior Ministry has demanded the extradition from Moscow of some 70 people wanted for embezzlement of public funds, according to Interfax. Among them are ministers who served under former President Doku Zavgaev. Also on 1 April, a joint Russian-Chechen commission was created in Grozny to verify claims that 11 Russian servicemen are being held prisoner in the Chechen town of Argun. KIDNAPPERS DEMAND RANSOM FOR JOURNALISTS HELD IN CHECHNYA. Chechens holding hostage three Russian reporters, one Georgian reporter, and one Italian photographer are demanding $3 million in ransom. Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Talboev, who is negotiating to secure the hostages' release, told Russian news agencies on 1 April that the journalists are being held in good conditions. ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii, the employers of the captive journalists, have said they will not pay ransom. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told ITAR-TASS that he favors transferring kidnapping cases to Sharia courts, where he said those found guilty of abduction would face execution by firing squad. Chechen authorities last week announced measures to prevent future kidnappings. Foreign journalists will be required to enter Chechnya by plane, stay at Grozny's airport hotel and travel around the republic with an armed escort at all times. KRASNOYARSK KRAI WINS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPEAL AGAINST FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. The Constitutional Court has ruled that federal taxes may be introduced only through legislation, overruling a directive issued by the federal government in April 1996, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 1 April. The government directive met with particularly strong opposition in Siberia. Among other things, it imposed an additional tax on electricity supplied to industrial enterprises. The Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature appealed to the court, claiming that federal taxes may be imposed through laws passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council. The government apparently expected to lose the case and did not even send a representative to the court hearings. LOW TURNOUT IN VOLGOGRAD, RYAZAN ELECTIONS. Candidates representing the left opposition benefited from the low turnout in legislative elections in Volgograd and Ryazan Oblasts, RFE/RL reported on 31 March. Communist candidates won 12 of the 16 seats up for grabs in the Volgograd regional legislature. The other four seats went to managers of local joint stock companies. Communists also won seven of the 36 seats in the Ryazan regional legislature, while the Agrarians won four, independents 14, and a local officers' representative one. Turnout was too low to declare a winner in the other 10 districts. Communist-backed candidates won gubernatorial elections in Volgograd and Ryazan last December. Left opposition candidates are believed to benefit from low turnout in general, as the left-leaning electorate is older and more likely to vote. PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE TRIES TO RESOLVE STALEMATE IN PRIMORE. Yevgenii Savostyanov is visiting Vladivostok in order to resolve "by peaceful means" the long- running power struggle between Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko and Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, RFE/RL reported on 1 April. Savostyanov arranged the first meeting between the two bitter enemies since Cherepkov was restored to the mayoral office by presidential decree six months ago. Savostyanov dismissed rumors that Yeltsin will sack both Nazdratenko and Cherepkov and introduce presidential rule in the krai. Elections last week to the Vladivostok city Duma--supported by Nazdratenko but opposed by Cherepkov--were declared invalid after fewer than 15% of voters turned out. IMF TO RESUME LENDING TO RUSSIA. IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus says the fund will resume issuing monthly installments of a three-year $10 billion loan to Russia. He called on Russian officials to simplify the tax system and to target the largest tax evaders in an effort to change attitudes toward non-payment of taxes, Reuters reported on 2 April. Camdessus says opportunities for corruption could be eliminated by "removing unnecessary government regulations and controls" and by "establishing an arms-length relationship between business and government." He called on the State Duma to pass key economic legislation and "to lead a responsible debate" about Russian economic policy. Duma deputies hostile to the government's economic policies and to the IMF, in particular, have a solid majority in the lower house. TRANSCAUCASIA & CENTRAL ASIA ARDZINBA'S MOSCOW VISIT POSTPONED. The Russian Foreign Ministry has abruptly postponed scheduled talks with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in order to rethink its position on Abkhazia, Interfax reported on 1 April. The move comes after the CIS summit's decision to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz parliament has passed a resolution rejecting the summit decision. Ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1993 hostilities plan a mass demonstration outside the parliament building in Tbilisi tomorrow, despite a plea from parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania not to do so, RFE/RL reported. KAZAKHSTAN CREATES NATIONAL OIL, GAS COMPANY. Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin has signed a resolution creating a national oil and gas company, Interfax reported. State shares in joint ventures currently held by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources will be handed over to the new company, called Kazakhoil. Kazhegeldin gave the ministries 15 days to complete the transfer. Under the new resolution, Kazakhoil will become a registered shareholder in the potentially lucrative Caspian Pipeline Consortium. The Kazakh government will retain the right to manage these shares, however. AKAYEV ON STATUS OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has told Yeltsin that Russian will be given the status of state language in Kyrgyzstan, alongside Kyrgyz, Russian TV reported. Yeltsin's aide Dmitrii Ryurikov said the Russian president is satisfied with the treatment of Russian-speakers in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state to receive full programming from all three major Russian TV channels. Russian currently has the status of "official" language but not "state" language, in which the affairs of government are conducted. UZBEK-GREEK RELATIONS. Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his Greek counterpart, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, have signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation, RFE/RL reported. Karimov was on an official visit to Athens. The two leaders also signed agreements on avoidance of double taxation, protection of investments, and cooperation in economics, technology, education, science, culture, and tourism. Karimov said Greece and Uzbekistan are more united than divided. Stephanopoulos called Uzbekistan a key nation in Central Asia. NEW FINDINGS IN TAJIK CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION. Law enforcement authorities in Dushanbe say four men they apprehended in late February in connection with "multiple crimes" do not belong to the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), as was previously believed. ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April that the four men are members of outlaw bands and are guilty of virtually all major crimes committed in Tajikistan since 1994, including the killings of Russian servicemen. The men, whose names are being withheld, were found in possession of pistols and materials necessary for making home-made bombs. END NOTE: Toward a More Divisive Union by Paul Goble Current efforts by the presidents of the Russian Federation and Belarus to promote a closer union between Moscow and Minsk have sharply divided both countries and exacerbated divisions within the CIS. Those efforts could also lead to tensions between Moscow and the West. The limited partnership agreement that Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka initialed today seems certain to produce something far less than the union they say they seek. Both countries have long been divided over the desirability of new and closer links. And those splits will only deepen during the 30 days' debate on the agreement that officials in both countries say will take place before any final accord is signed. In general, democratic reformers in both states have opposed that accord, while communists and extreme nationalists have embraced it. Consequently, in pushing for this "union," Yeltsin finds himself in curious company. His latest stand is enthusiastically supported by his communist and nationalist opponents; it is just as enthusiastically decried by his reformist supporters. Some of the latter, including newly appointed Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov, reportedly are concerned about both the secrecy in which the latest agreement was prepared and the speed of moves toward integration that it anticipates. Others are worried about the direct financial costs to Russia, the rock on which earlier efforts to unify the two Slavic countries foundered. Even government spokesmen suggested these costs could be high. And Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said they could be "dangerous for Russia." Yet a third group of reformers argued that unity with increasingly authoritarian Belarus could undermine Russia's still precarious democracy. Liberal Russian deputy Grigorii Yavlinskii, for instance, said that "you cannot talk about negotiating integration with a state where there is political repression." Meanwhile in Belarus, Lukashenka continues to rely on the most authoritarian institutions and groups as he promotes closer ties with Russia. At the same time, Democrats protest in Minsk's streets and increasingly find themselves in jail. The Yeltsin-Lukashenka accord is also increasing divisions among the already divided CIS countries. Many leaders of the non-Russian countries are clearly worried that Yeltsin's push for unity with Belarus presages a Russian effort to embrace them as well. They are especially likely to draw such conclusions because that is precisely the road map for Russia's future that Andrannik Migranyan and Konstantin Zatulin sketch out in a report they prepared for the Russian leadership and then published anonymously in last Wednesday's Nezavisimaya gazeta. Some officials in the CIS countries are increasingly worried by Moscow's opposition to their efforts at interstate cooperation even as Russia moves to create its own special ties within the Commonwealth states. Others are disturbed by the broader implications of Yeltsin's apparent adoption of the Russian nationalist agenda, a shift that many fear will lead Moscow to adopt a harsher line toward them. But the most fateful result of pursuing Moscow-Minsk union is likely to be the implications for relations between Moscow and the West. Such a union highlights the potential for Russian mischief in the region, which East European countries seeking to join NATO have routinely pointed to. That is because Lukashenka has insisted that uniting the two countries is the best possible response to any expansion of the Western defense alliance. For this reason, if none other, the latest moves undercut the very diplomacy that Moscow has sought to conduct. But Yeltsin's support for this accord, in the face of reformist opposition in Russia, once again raises the question of just where Yeltsin's sympathies lie. Almost the only support Russian reformers have been willing to give Yeltsin for his latest move is to suggest that he has tacked to the right in order to undercut the backing that the communists and nationalists now enjoy and at the same time to enhance his own. But even they do not sound entirely convinced by their own arguments. And because Russian reformers' attitudes toward Yeltsin have often been a bellwether for those of Western governments, the latter, too, may be increasingly unconvinced that Yeltsin's latest move is only a tactic. Indeed, some Western leaders may become convinced that the Russian president, who at the recent Helsinki summit advertised himself as a newly energized reformer, is not the man they thought he was. To the extent that they conclude that Yeltsin is unreliable, they are likely to adopt a somewhat different approach toward Moscow. Precisely because such a Moscow-Minsk union would have such negative consequences all around, it is virtually certain not to take place any time soon, regardless of what the two presidents said today. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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