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Vol 1, No. 7, Part I, 9 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 7, Part I, 9 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/Index.html YELTSIN CRITICIZES CHERNOMYRDIN OVER WAGE ARREARS, TAX COLLECTION PRIMAKOV SAYS CHARTER SHOULD BLOCK NATO INFRASTRUCTURE IN NEW MEMBER STATES TWO AZERIS KILLED IN CLASH ON ARMENIAN BORDER RUSSIA YELTSIN CRITICIZES CHERNOMYRDIN OVER WAGE ARREARS, TAX COLLECTION. President Boris Yeltsin yesterday assailed the government's persistent wage arrears and tax collection problems during a partly-televised meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. In a later radio address, Chernomyrdin said the government is making progress on paying wage and pension arrears. He promised that state employees would receive all back payments within two months and all pensioners would be paid by mid-July. Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS that wage arrears in the military have dropped from 1.1 trillion rubles ($192 million) and would reach 284 billion rubles ($49 million) by the end of April. He also warned that companies who are in debt to the Pension Fund would be forced into bankruptcy. YELTSIN ISSUES ANOTHER ANTI-CORRUPTION DECREE. Yeltsin has issued yet another decree to fight corruption and reduce government spending, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Under the decree, companies will be required to bid competitively for government contracts. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii praised the idea of mandating competitive bidding. However, he said the vague wording of the decree would leave a "huge loophole" for corrupt officials who wished to continue to deal only with favored companies. NEMTSOV BLASTS MANAGEMENT OF ELECTRICITY GIANT. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov sharply criticized the management of the energy monopoly Unified Energy System (EES) for charging artificially high prices and increasing the company's staff by 40% at a time when output has dropped by 22%, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Nemtsov said the government will not split the utility into regional companies but will carry out a strict audit and strengthen the government's role in managing EES, which is 51% state-owned. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reports that the government has named six representatives to the managing board of the EES, including Minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin and First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. ELECTRICITY RATES TO DROP FOR INDUSTRY, RISE FOR INDIVIDUALS. Nemtsov told reporters yesterday that by the end of this year, electricity tariffs for enterprises would be reduced by 13%. Yeltsin issued a decree yesterday that will gradually increase the cost of electricity for domestic consumers over the next three years, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yavlinskii told RFE/RL that he expects the measure to worsen the non-payments crisis in Russia. Citizens who are not receiving their wages or pensions will be unable to pay higher electricity prices, he noted. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov supported the idea of reducing energy tariffs for enterprises in an interview yesterday with ITAR-TASS. However, Luzhkov questioned the government's other economic priorities, arguing that more emphasis should be placed on increasing domestic production rather than improving tax collection. DUMA POSTPONES CHUBAIS SPEECH ON BUDGET. The State Duma Council has refused to include on today's agenda a speech by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais on budget fulfillment during the first quarter of 1997, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reports. Instead, the council invited Chernomyrdin to report on the budget on 23 April. However, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told RFE/RL that the government still intends to have Chubais deliver the budget address to the Duma. Opposition leaders in the parliament have repeatedly demanded Chubais's dismissal. Meanwhile, plans by the government to halt some non- essential spending because of revenue shortfalls are likely to meet with opposition in the lower house. First Deputy Duma Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin told ITAR-TASS yesterday that non-essential spending in some areas will have to be cut by 70-80%. YELTSIN CRITICIZES DUMA'S WORK. Yeltsin described the Duma's work as "unprofessional" during a meeting yesterday with Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported, citing presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Yastrzhembskii said the Duma routinely passes resolutions that violate constitutional norms or refer to issues beyond its area of competence. Seleznev told Yeltsin that Duma deputies have been unable to pay their assistants for three months because the Finance Ministry has not allocated funds to the lower house, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 8 April, Yeltsin vetoed the law on opposition political activities, which was passed last month. He said the law violates the constitutional separation of powers. UPDATE ON CABINET CHANGES. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev has confirmed that he will head the Labor Ministry following the resignation last week of Gennadii Melikyan, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reports today. Yeltsin has accepted the resignation of Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Rodionov told the agency he will probably become deputy head of the board of the gas giant Gazprom. Aleksandr Samusev, vice president of the Rosprom-Yukos company, has turned down the fuel and energy portfolio, citing unspecified medical problems. Following the appointment of Sergei Ignatev as first deputy finance minister, there is widespread speculation in the Russian media that First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov is next in line for dismissal. PRIMAKOV SAYS CHARTER SHOULD BLOCK NATO INFRASTRUCTURE IN NEW MEMBER STATES. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said yesterday that Moscow is concerned about "NATO infrastructure advancing toward Russia's borders," Reuters reported. He called on NATO to pledge not to build military facilities in new member countries. After meeting with his French counterpart, Herve de Charette, and Prime Minister Alain Juppe in Paris, Primakov told reporters that the main sticking point in negotiations over an agreement between Russia and NATO is Russia's demand that NATO not build facilities in new member states that would allow the deployment of the alliance's forces. Juppe expressed hope that Russia and NATO could sign a charter in May. Primakov noted that Russia remains strongly opposed to NATO expansion but believes a charter could minimize the adverse consequences of expansion for Russia. YELTSIN MEETS WITH LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER. At a meeting yesterday with Rafik al-Hariri, Yeltsin expressed concern about "flare-ups of confrontation" in southern Lebanon and about Israeli construction in Arab-inhabited East Jerusalem, according to presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii. On 7 April, Al-Hariri, the first Lebanese prime minister to visit Moscow, called on Russia to help restart the stalled Middle East peace process. Foreign Minister Primakov promised that Russia will soon advance new proposals on a Middle East settlement. Also on 7 April, Al-Hariri and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin signed accords on trade and economic and scientific cooperation, while Russian and Lebanese finance officials signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation. SPOKESMAN DENIES ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CHUBAIS. Moskovskii komsomolets and Komsomolskaya pravda have both accused First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais of misappropriating millions of dollars, but government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told ITAR-TASS yesterday that the reports are based on forged documents and other fabricated materials. Meanwhile, Izvestiya has apologized for reprinting an article from Le Monde suggesting that Chernomrydin has accumulated $5 billion while in office. Le Monde has since said its article incorrectly cited CIA and FBI officials as making the claims about Chernomyrdin's wealth. Kommersant-Daily argued yesterday that the orchestrators of an "anti-Chernomyrdin campaign" fed the material on the prime minister's alleged fortune to Le Monde because Russian media were afraid to "test the premier's strength" themselves. YELTSIN NOMINATES CANDIDATE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. For the third time, Yeltsin has nominated his legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov to the Constitutional Court, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. The Federation Council rejected Krasnov twice in late 1994. The court's former chairman, Vladimir Tumanov, stepped down in January, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Last month the Federation Council rejected Mikhail Fedotov, Russia's representative to UNESCO, who was Yeltsin's first choice to fill the vacancy. CHECHEN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH GEORGIAN DELEGATION. Aslan Maskhadov met with a Georgian parliamentary delegation yesterday to discuss bilateral relations and the ongoing conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has been pursuing closer ties with Chechnya for several months. Meanwhile, Maskhadov has named Ruslan Kutaev, leader of the Chechen National Independence Party, as his special aide with responsibility for state policy, strategic defense, and diplomacy, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Maskhadov is scheduled to leave Grozny today on the first of seven Saudi-financed flights transporting 650 Chechen pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. LARGE INCREASE IN RUSSIAN-TURKISH TRADE. Trade between Russia and Turkey in 1996 totaled $15 billion, a senior Turkish diplomat in Moscow told Interfax on 7 April. This is $11 billion more than the official figure. Tanzer Guven said that shuttle trade by Russians, construction, and tourism explain the discrepancy between the two figures. He also noted that, even based on the official $4 billion figure, Russia is Turkey's third most important trade partner, after Germany and Italy, and has "no rivals as a trade partner among Russia's neighbors." He predicted that Turkish investment in Russia would expand significantly once the political and economic situation there stabilized. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA TWO AZERIS KILLED IN CLASH ON ARMENIAN BORDER. Armenian forces opened fire on four unidentified men trying to cross the border from Azerbaijan earlier this week, AP reported yesterday. Two men were killed, while the others retreated. Although there are exchanges of fire along the Armenian- Azerbaijani border almost every month, this is the first time in over a year that casualties have been reported. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani parliament has sent a letter to the CIS Inter- Parliamentary Assembly arguing that Russia's policy of clandestinely supplying arms to Armenia shows it cannot be an impartial mediator in the Karabakh conflict, according to Interfax yesterday. Addressing a news conference in Yerevan yesterday on the OSCE-mediated Karabakh talks in Moscow last week, Armenian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the Azerbaijani negotiating position has hardened, making progress unlikely. KAZAK-KYRGYZ RELATIONS. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and his Kazak counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, have signed agreements on military cooperation, avoidance of double taxation, cooperation in attracting foreign investment, environmental protection, and agricultural reforms, RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakstan reported. The two ministers were meeting in Almaty yesterday. Of particular importance for Kyrgyzstan was a deal to receive annually 1 million tons of Kazak oil. Kazakstan has agreed to have uranium refined at the Kara-Balta plant in Kyrgyzstan, while Kazak specialists will help in the construction of a hydro-electric project in the Pamir Mountains. NEW TURKMEN ECONOMIC DREAM REVEALED. President Saparmurat Niyazov told the government on 7 April that it is has 1,000 days to make far-reaching improvements in several sectors of the economy, RFE/RL's Ashgabat bureau reports. Niyazov's program envisages 10% annual growth in GDP through increased natural gas and oil exports, the completion of pipeline projects, and an increase in cotton production, which he wants to reach 2 million tons annually by the year 2000. Several ministers were shuffled after the announcement, most notably those responsible for natural gas, oil, and pipeline construction. Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. 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