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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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.




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