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Vol 1, No. 6, Part I, 8 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 6, Part I, 8 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. 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/ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ HEADLINES, PART I * RESHUFFLE CONSIDERED TO STRENGTHEN CHUBAIS * SELEZNEV DECRIES "INFORMATION WAR" AGAINST UNION WITH BELARUS * NO PROGRESS, BUT NEW IMPETUS IN KARABAKH TALKS RUSSIA RESHUFFLE CONSIDERED TO STRENGTHEN CHUBAIS. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau interprets the latest government changes as strengthening First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's influence. Former presidential economic adviser Sergei Ignatev was appointed first deputy finance minister yesterday. Ignatev, who is part of Chubais's so-called St. Petersburg group, joined the presidential administration last year, when Chubais was Yeltsin's chief of staff. Meanwhile, confusion surrounds the recent resignations of State Tax Service chief Vitalii Artyukhov and Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov, who are close to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin has not accepted Artyukhov's resignation and is to meet with him today. In addition, Rodionov told reporters this morning that no final decision on his resignation has been taken. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has pledged to reform the monopolies in the energy sector, a policy Rodionov and Chernomyrdin are reported to oppose. GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO HALT SOME BUDGET SPENDING. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov says the government will propose reviewing the 1997 budget this month because of the low level of tax collection. He told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau yesterday that the government will ask the State Duma to halt some non-essential budget spending. Shatalov also said a new tax code to be submitted to the Duma in April will make the overall system more "stable and balanced" by abolishing many tax breaks. However, Aleksandr Pochinok, who chairs the Duma's subcommittee on taxes, estimated that it would take the parliament at least a year to adopt a new tax code, AFP reported. Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Kokh recently announced that tax revenues for the first quarter of 1997 reached only 58% of the budgeted figure. GOVERNMENT TO PURSUE DEBTORS TO PENSION FUND. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev says the government will impose sanctions on debtors to the Pension Fund, which is owed a total of 65-67 trillion rubles (some $12 billion). He singled out the monopolies Gazprom, Unified Energy System, and the Railways Ministry, as well as several oil companies. Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk told ITAR-TASS yesterday that 29 of Russia's 89 regions are paying pensions on time. Twenty-three regions are only a month behind on payments, but nine have a backlog of three months. Kemerovo Oblast has not paid its pensioners since December, he added. Earlier this week, a court in Kostroma Oblast gave the local branch of the Pension Fund 10 days to pay four pensioners who had sued the fund. SELEZNEV DECRIES "INFORMATION WAR" AGAINST UNION WITH BELARUS. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has called on Russian radio and TV companies to end what he described as an "information war" against Russian-Belarusian union. In an interview with Interfax yesterday, Seleznev accused the private network NTV in particular of "falsifying reports" and airing misleading footage from Minsk. Seleznev and others in the Communist Party have long objected to "slanted" news coverage on leading TV networks. Seleznev's comments follow a lengthy commentary broadcast by NTV on 6 April in which anchor Yevgenii Kiselev reproached Yeltsin for not banning the Communist Party and drew parallels between Russian Communists and the Belarusian authorities, which have used force against protesters in Minsk. PROCURATOR-GENERAL CLOSES CASE AGAINST YELTSIN CAMPAIGN AIDES. The Procurator-General's Office has announced it has closed the case against two Yeltsin campaign workers who were detained in June 1996 carrying more than $500,000 out of government headquarters. Officials said investigators found no proof that Sergei Lisovskii and Arkadii Yevstafev were carrying state funds. Hard-currency operations are no longer prohibited under the new Criminal Code, which took effect in January. The scandal forced a showdown between Anatolii Chubais and Presidential Security Service chief Aleksandr Korzhakov, whose men detained and interrogated Lisovskii and Yevstafev. Russian TV networks close to Chubais ran overnight bulletins portraying the unfolding scandal as a coup attempt by Korzhakov's men. The following morning, Yeltsin sacked Korzhakov, along with First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov. LUKOIL OFFICIALS CRITICIZE IZVESTIYA. Vagit Alekperov, president of the oil giant LUKoil, has said the company may sell its 20% stake in Izvestiya, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He criticized the paper's decision to reprint a Le Monde article alleging that Chernomyrdin has accumulated a fortune during his tenure as prime minister (see RFE/RL Newsline, 3 April 1997). LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun claimed that the Izvestiya publication was aimed primarily at weakening the gas monopoly Gazprom, which Chernomyrdin headed from 1989 to 1992. Alekperov said LUKoil is not trying to influence Izvestiya's editorial policy but is merely looking for a better investment. Meanwhile, Interfax reported yesterday that it will be LUKoil's official consultant for "publishing timely information for investors." MINERS BLOCKADE CITY ADMINISTRATION IN KEMEROVO. Angry coal miners blockaded the city administration building in Kiselevsk, Kemerovo Oblast, for three hours yesterday. An RFE/RL correspondent in Kemerovo reports that the miners have not received wages for up to seven months. Last week, about 100 teachers refused to release a local education official during negotiations in the city of Prokopevsk. The teachers, who had not been paid since last summer, released the official after 37 hours, when Prokopevsk's deputy mayor issued an order suspending classes until wage arrears were paid. The oblast has frequently seen labor unrest, particularly from Kuzbass miners. A gubernatorial election scheduled for last autumn has been postponed indefinitely, and Governor Mikhail Kislyuk, an unpopular Yeltsin appointee, remains in office. DUMA PASSES LAW ON SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM. The Duma has passed a draft law gradually raising the minimum wage and pension to the level of the subsistence minimum within five years, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April. Under the bill, the level of the subsistence minimum would be adjusted quarterly and the composition of the consumer basket (which is used to calculate the subsistence minimum) would be reviewed at least every five years. Yeltsin may veto the law if it is approved by the Federation Council, as the government has pledged to keep a tight rein on spending in order to meet its economic targets. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA NO PROGRESS, BUT NEW IMPETUS IN KARABAKH TALKS. The Minsk Group talks in Moscow last week on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict made no progress toward agreement on any key points, Interfax reported yesterday. But the Nagorno- Karabakh delegation did agree "in principle" to the repatriation of Azerbaijanis who fled during the fighting. A Western diplomat involved in the talks told RFE/RL that although Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to occupy "maximalist" positions, the meeting gave new impetus to the talks, which had been deadlocked since November 1996. The talks were attended by co-chairmen from Russia, the U.S., and France and delegations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno- Karabakh. The three co-chairmen warned that all sides in the conflict "must make an effort to achieve movement toward a real settlement." AZERI, CRIMEAN TATAR REACTION TO TURKES'S DEATH. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, and Azerbaijan Popular Front Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, and Crimean-Tatar Council Chairman Mustafa Abdulcemil have all expressed condolences on the death of right-wing Nationalist Movement Party Alparslan Turkes, Turkiye and Zaman reported. Aliev postponed a planned trip to Turkey in order to avoid being in Ankara today when Turkes's funeral took place. KAZAKSTAN ORDERS OIL COMPANIES TO SEND FUEL FOR FARMS. Western oil companies working in Kazakstan have been ordered by presidential decree to send unspecified quantities of crude oil to local refineries for Kazakstan's farms, Reuters reported yesterday. An official from the Kazak Agricultural Ministry said 350,000 tons of diesel and 100,000 tons of gasoline were urgently needed for spring planting. The two biggest Western oil companies in Kazakstan are the U.S.'s Chevron and Mobil concerns, both of which are working in the western Tengiz field. Some Western companies said the decree violated existing contracts, while others argued it could drive away potential investors. Fuel will be purchased with futures contracts based on this year's harvest. RUSSIA, PAKISTAN DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN. Officials in Islamabad say Pakistan has opened dialogue with Russia over the problems in Afghanistan, AFP reported yesterday. Pakistan will send a senior ministry official to Moscow later this week. The Pakistani daily The News reports the Russians are not against the Taliban but believe "all ethnic groups" should be represented in any future government. Russia--like Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan--has warned of the dire consequences if the Taliban captures Afghanistan's northern provinces. Meanwhile, the Taliban are engaging warlord Gen. Rashid Dostum's forces, the last buffer protecting the CIS's southern border. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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