|Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans. - John Lennon|
Vol 1, No. 5, Part I, 7 April1997
Vol 1, No. 5, Part I, 7 April1997 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. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine are available through RFE/RL's WWW pages: http://www.rferl.org/newsline/search/ Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^= ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ YELTSIN TRIES TO CALM FEARS OVER BELARUSIAN INTEGRATION CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MORE CABINET CHANGES LIKELY AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO TURKEY RUSSIA YELTSIN SEEKS TO CALM FEARS OVER BELARUSIAN INTEGRATION. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has left for Minsk today to discuss with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Belarusian Foreign Ministry officials the union agreement signed last week. President Boris Yeltsin has promised Russians that integration with Belarus will not hurt their standard of living and that he will seek to ensure that democratic values are respected in both Russia and Belarus. In a 5 April radio address, Yeltsin also stressed that the union agreement is only the beginning of the integration process. He said the Russian-Belarusian union charter could be revised to take public opinion into account. Yeltsin's speech follows several days of generally unfavorable commentaries in the Russian media about the consequences of integration with Belarus. Meanwhile, the State Duma on 4 April passed a statement demanding gradual unification with Belarus and a resolution criticizing recent Russian media coverage of the issue, ITAR-TASS reported. CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MORE CABINET CHANGES LIKELY. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says cabinet changes in the near future will not necessarily be limited to replacing ministers who have already resigned, RFE/RL reports. Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov quit on 4 April, citing plans to work in the private sector. Rodionov is believed to oppose the government's plans to restructure Russia's "natural monopolies" in the energy sector. On 5 April, State Tax Service chief Vitalii Artyukhov also resigned, and Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Kokh announced that tax revenues for the first quarter of 1997 totaled only 58% of the planned amount in the state budget, ITAR-TASS reported. RESHUFFLE IN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES. Yeltsin has fired his foreign policy adviser, Dmitrii Ryurikov. Citing Kremlin sources, ITAR-TASS reports that the president was dissatisfied with the original document on Russian-Belarusian integration, which was prepared under Ryurikov's supervision. Yeltsin and Lukashenka signed a much shorter version of that document last week. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who was Russia's ambassador to Slovakia from 1993 until last summer, will now coordinate foreign policy for the presidential administration. Meanwhile, Yeltsin dismissed his economic adviser Sergei Ignatev on 5 April. Aleksandr Livshits, who was sacked as finance minister last month, said he will take over Ignatev's duties, AFP reported. DUMA OVERRIDES VETO ON TROPHY ART LAW. The State Duma has overridden the presidential veto on the "trophy art" law, which prohibits the transfer of cultural valuables seized by the Soviet Union during World War II. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the parliament, told an RFE/RL correspondent that the law would complicate Russian relations with several European countries, especially Germany. He added that by declaring all cultural valuables seized during the war to be federal property, the law violates the constitutional protection of private property rights. If the Federation Council also overrides the veto, Kotenkov said, Yeltsin will appeal to the Constitutional Court to block the law. DUMA FAILS TO ELECT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER. The Duma remains without a human rights commissioner following the failure of any of the seven candidates for the post to gain the necessary 300 votes to advance to the final round of balloting. Communist-backed candidate Oleg Mironov came first with 245 votes and Agrarian nominee Vladimir Isakov followed with 211. Since the other candidates lagged far behind, the Communists and Agrarians are likely to prevail in the next round of voting, provided that they can agree on a joint nominee. The Duma has had no human rights commissioner since March 1995, when deputies sacked Sergei Kovalev for his outspoken criticism of the war in Chechnya. TWO MORE JOURNALISTS KIDNAPPED IN CHECHNYA. Kidnappers have demanded ransom for two journalists from Chelyabinsk Oblast who disappeared in Chechnya last month, Interfax reported on 4 April. The journalists were searching for a soldier from their native city, who remains missing in Chechnya. It is unclear whether the journalists are being held by the same captors who have demanded $1 million in ransom for an Italian photographer and $2 million for the release of four employees of Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS. CHECHEN PILGRIMS HALTED ON HAJJ. Four buses carrying Chechen pilgrims en route to Saudi Arabia were allowed yesterday to continue their journey. On 4 April, Russian border guards had detained the pilgrims at the internal border between Dagestan and Chechnya. Many of the 148 Chechens were allegedly in possession of passports that had been reported stolen, although the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs had handed over to the Chechen leadership some 3,000 passports specifically for pilgrims wishing to make the hajj. Itar-Tass today quotes Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin as saying that the Kremlin has allowed seven charter flights to Saudi Arabia for those wishing to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as a "goodwill gesture." Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov announced that he will also undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina this year, where he intends to seek aid from Arab leaders for reconstruction in Chechnya. RYBKIN, MASKHADOV ON CHECHEN-RUSSIAN TALKS. Addressing the State Duma on 4 April, Russian Security Council Secretary Rybkin said the Chechen leadership's negotiating position is based on the premise that Chechnya is an independent state, Russian agencies reported. He added that Chechnya therefore rejects any reference to shared political, legal, economic, and currency structures. Rybkin also criticized Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov for failing to negotiate an agreement with Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, chairman of Chechnya's Southern Oil Company, on the transit of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya. Meanwhile, Maskhadov told Russian Public TV that Chechnya's military formations will not be disarmed until a formal peace treaty is signed with Russia. KULIKOV WANTS INTERPOL FOR CIS. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov wants to set up an international police organization in the CIS in order to fight organized crime. He said such an organization would be based on the model of Interpol. Kulikov recently discussed the creation of a CIS Interpol bureau with top officials at Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April. NEMTSOV OUTLINES PLANNED REFORMS OF NATURAL MONOPOLIES. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says restructuring several natural monopolies--the gas giant Gazprom, the utility Unified Energy System (EES), and the Railways Ministry--will help solve Russia's non-payments crisis. In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 4 April, Nemtsov said the government will not split up the monopolies but will carry out an audit to root out corruption and make the monopolies pay their debts both to the federal budget and the Pension Fund. Nemtsov also advocated reducing tariffs for electricity and rail transport, which, he said, were higher than corresponding tariffs in the West. The same day, the Duma passed a resolution opposing plans to restructure Gazprom, the EES, and the Railways Ministry. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO TURKEY. Heidar Aliev has postponed a three-day state visit to Turkey, scheduled to begin today, in order not to be in Ankara tomorrow when the funeral of Alparslan Turkes takes place, AFP reported. Turkes, who died on 5 April, was the leader of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, also known as the Grey Wolves. Iskender Hamidov, leader of the Azerbaijani Grey Wolves, was arrested in March 1995 on suspicion of involvement in an alleged coup attempt against Aliev. The Azerbaijani president later claimed that Turkish security service officers were also implicated in the incident. ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DENIES MEETING WITH ARFD LEADERS. A spokesman for Levon Ter-Petrossyan has clarified a 4 April report by the official news agency Armenpress suggesting that the president met with members of the suspended Dashnak party (see RFE/RL Newsline, 4 April 1997). The spokesman told journalists that Ter- Petrossyan initiated talks between the ARFD and members of the Armenian leadership, including parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan. But he stressed that the president did not participate in the discussions, RFE/RL reported. Also on 4 April, some 10,000 people attended an opposition demonstration in Yerevan to demand new presidential elections, Russian agencies reported. RUSSIA, CENTRAL ASIAN STATES VOW JOINT ACTION IN CASE OF TALIBAN ADVANCE. A Taliban spokesman has categorically denied that the movement intends to advance into CIS territory, AFP reported. Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia vowed to take 'close joint action' if the Taliban movement were to do so. The foreign ministers of the four Central Asian countries met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov in Dushanbe on 5 April. Talks focused on Afghanistan and the success there of the Taliban movement, which is approaching the southern borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Earlier, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with the ministers and called for an international forum on the problems in Afghanistan for all parties involved. Meanwhile, armed forces in Kyrgyzstan and Russian border guards held joint exercises near the Kyrgyz- Tajik border on 4-5 April. Kyrgyz acting Security Minister Pavel Verchagin said the maneuvers were in response to possible tension in the southern region. CHECHEN PRESIDENT UNDER PRESSURE by Liz Fuller Seven months after signing a cease-fire agreement with then Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and three months after the last Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov is struggling to accomplish several urgent tasks. The former Chechen chief of staff, who was elected president in January, wants to neutralize renegade armed units, create a united and effective cabinet, and hammer out two agreements formalizing Chechnya's political and economic relations with Moscow. In the past, Maskhadov has conceded the existence of bands of Chechen fighters who refuse to acknowledge his authority. (One such group is generally held responsible for the December 1996 slaying of six unarmed Red Cross workers in the Chechen village of Noviye Atagi.) In what may have been an attempt to remove this potential threat, Maskhadov issued a decree last month disbanding all informal military formations, largely composed of men in their twenties who have no hope under present economic conditions of finding alternative legal employment in Chechnya. Those men are to form the nucleus of a 2,000-strong professional army of which Maskhadov--as president and premier--will be commander-in- chief. Last week, Maskhadov offered key posts in his new government to two of the most influential field commanders. Shamil Basaev is now the most senior of three first deputy premiers, and Ruslan Gilaev is deputy prime minister responsible for construction. Basaev--who gained instant notoriety for his leading role in the June 1995 Budennovsk hostage-taking, during which more than 100 Russian civilians were killed--was one of 15 candidates who ran against Maskhadov in the January presidential elections. After coming second with 22.7% of the vote, he said he would not serve in Maskhadov's leadership. His new responsibilities as first deputy premier include the industrial sector, which in Chechnya is synonymous with oil. In other words, Basaev has been given the opportunity to make considerable amounts of money illegally, provided that he can reach a modus vivendi with former acting First Deputy Premier Khozh-Ahmed Yarikhanov, who now heads Chechnya's Southern Oil Company. And assuming that the Russian government agrees to provide at least some of the funds for reconstructing Chechnya's devastated infrastructure, Gilayev has a similar opportunity for self-enrichment. Since he is now responsible for the oil industry, Basaev could argue it is necessary to recruit some of his former comrades-in-arms as a new security force to crack down on the underground oil industry. Such a force could also be used to safeguard the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil through the northern pipeline from Baku via Grozny and Tikhoretsk to Novorossiisk. Basaev recently claimed he could offer such guarantees. (In this context, the question arises of whether Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovsky's visit to Grozny on 29 March was in some way linked to Basaev's appointment. No details of that visit have been divulged.) Predictably, Russian officials have been harshly critical of Basaev's nomination as first deputy premier. Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee, termed it "a slap in the face for Moscow" and said it demonstrates that Maskhadov, far from being in control of the situation, has to "agree to compromise with the most odious players." The Russian Prosecutor's Office is still investigating the Budennovsk hostage-taking. Basaev, along with maverick field commander Salman Raduev, is not covered by the Duma's March 1997 amnesty for those who took part in the Chechen war. Nor is the composition of the new Chechen government the only reason for tension between Moscow and Grozny. All efforts to secure the release of four journalists abducted in Chechnya in early March have failed, although Maskhadov has admitted he knows the identity of the kidnappers. More serious, Maskhadov said on 1 April that the ongoing talks with Moscow on several draft agreements regulating future relations between Grozny and Moscow are deadlocked because the Russian side is attempting to link economic and political issues. The Chechen president told Russian Public Television on 5 April that the planned disarmament of informal Chechen military units has been suspended until a formal "peace treaty" is signed. Moscow reportedly argues that use of the term "peace treaty" would be implicit recognition that Chechnya is an independent state. At this critical juncture, one of the key contributors to the peace process has decided to bow out. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss diplomat who was instrumental in bringing Maskhadov and Lebed to the negotiating table last year, has resigned as head of the OSCE mission in Grozny. Maskhadov seems to have lost an ally at a time when he can least afford to do so. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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