|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
Vol 1, No. 11, Part I, 15 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 11, Part I, 15 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN CALLS ON CITIZENS TO BUY RUSSIAN * IRAQ RATIFIES OIL DEAL WITH RUSSIA * NO TALKS BUT MORE DETENTIONS IN TAKJIKISTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN CALLS ON CITIZENS TO BUY RUSSIAN. President Boris Yeltsin today called on Russians to buy domestic goods in order to spur economic growth and help create jobs. In a radio address, he said, "When we buy domestic goods, we help our country, our Russian industry, we help ourselves." But he added that the government would not resort to administrative means to limit imports, saying "there must be fair competition in Russia." Yeltsin also acknowledged that the quality of some domestic products would have to improve. Today's appeal follows a recent presidential decree ordering officials to drive Russian-made cars instead of imported models. IRAQ RATIFIES OIL DEAL WITH RUSSIA. The Iraqi parliament has ratified an oil contract with Moscow allowing a Russian oil consortium headed by LUKoil to develop reserves estimated at 7-8 billion barrels in Iraq's southern Qurna oil field, Reuters and AFP reported, citing Iraqi media. Iraq and Russia signed the 23-year accord last month, but Moscow has said it will not violate the current international trade sanctions on Baghdad for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Under the agreement, Russia is to spend $200 million on activities related to the project and extend credit worth $100 million to Iraq during the sanctions, the Financial Times reported today. Baghdad hopes to reap some $70 billion from the project, while Moscow hopes to recoup some of the $7 billion it is owed by Iraq. RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN CHINA. Igor Rodionov, who is in China on an official visit, was officially welcomed yesterday by his Chinese counterpart, Chi Haotian. Chi said that China wants to move into the 21st century with Russia as "good neighbors, good partners, and good friends." Today in Beijing, Gen. Liu Shunyao, commander of the air force, said China plans to modernize its air force and is looking to purchase high-technology weapons abroad. NEMTSOV STRIKES DEAL WITH GAZPROM HEAD, PLEDGES TO PAY WAGES IN NUCLEAR SECTOR. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev have agreed on how to settle the gas monopoly's debt to the federal government, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. No details were released about the agreement. Gazprom owes about 14.8 trillion rubles ($2.6 billion) to the budget. Meanwhile, Nemtsov has signed a protocol with Minister for Atomic Energy Viktor Mikhailov and trade union leaders on wage arrears in the nuclear energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The government will pay an estimated 500 billion rubles ($87 million) in back wages to nuclear workers by 1 July. AX FALLS ON RAILWAYS MINISTER. Yeltsin has replaced Railways Minister Anatolii Zaitsev with Nikolai Aksenenko, Zaitsev's deputy, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Zaitsev's dismissal is part of the government's drive to reform the natural monopolies. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov recently criticized the Railways Ministry leadership for keeping transport fees too high. Meanwhile, Yeltsin yesterday accepted the resignation of State Tax Service chief Vitalii Artyukhov, who quit last week. He has not yet appointed Artyukhov's successor. DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OUTLINES SOCIAL REFORM GOALS. Oleg Sysuev says Russia will eventually adopt a system of means-tested benefits, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. He told a Moscow conference on social policy that adjusting levels of state support to total family income would be implemented only after the government deals with its main task of ensuring that wages and pensions are paid on time. Sysuev also estimated that reforming the pension system would take at least 20 years. Meanwhile, Yeltsin issued decrees yesterday confirming that Sysuev will also serve as labor minister and will head the trilateral commission on social and labor relations. Viktor Ilyushin was sacked as chairman of the commission during last month's cabinet reshuffle. IS RUSSIA'S ECONOMY GROWING? Figures released yesterday by the State Statistics Committee indicate that the Russian economy grew by 0.2% in the first quarter of 1997, Russian news agencies reported. Committee chairman Yurii Yurkov commented, "the great decline in the Russian economy over the last decade has practically ended." However, some analysts told Reuters that the first registered quarterly growth in the post-Soviet period was more likely a result of changing accounting methods. The committee recently increased its estimate for the shadow economy's contribution to GDP from 20% to 23%. GREENPEACE SAYS MOST OF RUSSIA CONTAMINATED BY DIOXINS. Almost three-quarters of Russian territory is contaminated by cancer-causing dioxins, according to a report released yesterday by the environmental group Greenpeace. Aleksei Kiselev, co-author of the report, said Dzerzhinsk (Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast), the site of several chemical production facilities, is Russia's most polluted city, Reuters reported. He said the average life expectancy in the city is only 50 years. The report, titled "Poisoned Cities," also said that Serpukhov (Moscow Oblast), Nizhnii Novgorod, Moscow, and St. Petersburg have particularly high levels of dioxin pollution, ITAR-TASS reported. NIKITIN RECEIVES U.S. AWARD. Retired Navy captain Aleksandr Nikitin, whom Russian authorities have accused of treason and espionage, has been awarded an annual prize by the San Francisco-based Goldman Environmental Foundation, Reuters reported yesterday. Nikitin was arrested in February 1996 for allegedly revealing state secrets to the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, which was preparing a report on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. He was released last December following an international outcry, but the case against him is still open. IZVESTIYA DECRIES "POLITICAL CENSORSHIP." Izvestiya claims today that the government sought to impose "political censorship" after the newspaper published an article from Le Monde on Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's alleged vast wealth (see RFE/RL Newsline, 3 and 8 April 1997). In the ensuing scandal, the oil giant LUKoil threatened to sell its stake in Izvestiya. The paper says government officials pressured the 36% state-owned LUKoil to act as Chernomyrdin's "censor." Izvestiya strongly supports Yeltsin and generally backs the government, but the newspaper has long been considered closer to First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais than to Chernomyrdin. DUMA PASSES LAWS ON GOVERNMENT, TAX SYSTEM. Duma Deputy Speaker Mikhail Gutseriev says the Federation Council is likely to approve the new version of the federal constitutional law on the government, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The Council rejected an earlier version in December. Under the new law, which the Duma passed on 11 April, the whole government would have to resign if the president dismissed the prime minister. Government ministers would also have to submit income and property declarations and would not be allowed to conduct business, either directly or through proxies, while in office. Last week, the Duma passed a law on the principles of the Russian tax system, which would exempt state-funded organizations from fines for non-payment of taxes if they have not received sufficient state funds to pay their employees' salaries. ANOTHER BUS HIJACKING IN DAGESTAN. Police in Russia's southern republic of Dagestan yesterday foiled a bus hijacking after a four-hour standoff. The hijacker, armed with a grenade and automatic rifle, commandeered a passenger bus carrying some 30 people from the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala to Kizlyar. He ordered the bus to drive to Makhachkala's airport and demanded $100,000 and a helicopter. However, local authorities persuaded the gunman to exchange his hostages for three officials, including a senior police officer. Shortly after the release of the hostages, police seized the gunman, later identified as an ethnic Chechen. Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, has witnessed a number of similar hostage dramas in recent years. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA REJECTS AZERBAIJAN'S CLAIM ON ZOD. An Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman has rejected as "unfounded" an Azerbaijani claim that 70% of the Zod gold deposits, located close to Armenia's frontier with Azerbaijan, are on Azerbaijani territory and that Armenian exploitation of the deposits is therefore "illegal," Armenian agencies reported on 11 April. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov reportedly made the claim early last week, and an unidentified geologist quoted by Turan on 10 April backed his statement. The U.S.-Armenian joint venture Global Gold Armenia plans to double the annual output of the Zod and Meghradzor mines to 18 metric tons by 2000, which would make Armenia the world's 13th largest gold producer. BAKU COURT SENTENCES ISLAMISTS. Following a seven- week trial, a Baku court yesterday sentenced four members of the banned Islamic Party of Azerbaijan to 10-11 years in prison on charges of treason. Public prosecutor Bahram Zahidov told Turan last week that the men have given written testimony that they collaborated with, and received funding from, Iranian intelligence "in the name of the victory of Islam in Azerbaijan." Reuters, however, quotes party leader Alikram Aliev as denying in court any involvement with the Iranian security services and claiming that the trial was "a provocation set up by the KGB." A fifth man received a two-year sentence for preparing false passports for the other accused. AZERBAIJAN CENSORS CUT ARTICLE ON DETAINED FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER. Azerbaijani parliamentary chairman Murtuz Alesqerov has threatened to revoke the mandates of deputies who signed an appeal calling for the release of former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov from solitary confinement. An article reporting that 20 deputies (both opposition and pro-government) have requested clemency for Hamidov because of his failing health was scheduled to appear in Zerkalo on 12 April but was cut by the censors, according to the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan. Hamidov, head of the nationalist Grey Wolves, was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment in 1995 for large-scale theft of state property. Although Zerkalo routinely appears with blank spaces where censors have cut material deemed inappropriate for publication, President Heidar Aliev continues to insist there is freedom of the press in Azerbaijan. NO TALKS BUT MORE DETENTIONS IN TAKJIKISTAN. RFE/RL's Dushanbe bureau have confirmed that Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov spoke on the telephone yesterday with United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Abdullo Nuri. Rakhmonov told Nuri that the government is committed to negotiations with the UTO, but he admitted that eight of its members are being detained in Moscow in connection with terrorist attacks on Russian servicemen in Tajikistan. Last week, peace talks in Tehran broke up following reports of their detention. Meanwhile, two members of the opposition were detained in southern Tajikistan on the weekend, and another two were taken into custody in the Faizabad region sometime last week. Moscow, Tehran, and Berlin by Paul Goble Moscow's warm embrace of Tehran just one day after a Berlin court held the Iranian government responsible for the assassination of exiled dissidents highlights a deep divide between East and West. On 11 April, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told visiting Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri that relations between Moscow and Tehran were "good" and would "grow." The Iranian responded on Moscow's popular TV program "Hero for a Day" by condemning what he called "the West's intrigue against the East" and by backing Russian opposition to NATO expansion. Yeltsin's decision to reaffirm Russia's ties to a country most Western governments consider a rogue state is far more than an appeal to the Russian nationalism of his domestic opponents or a direct response to Western proposals to expand the Western alliance. True, Russian communists and nationalists were enthusiastic in their support of Yeltsin's move. But so were some individuals normally associated with democratic reforms, undermining arguments that the Russian president is trying to undercut his opponents. Gennadii Seleznyov, the communist speaker of the Duma, not only received Nateq-Nouri but sharply criticized the German court's ruling. "No court in the world has the right to accuse a state of terrorism," Seleznyov said, thus dismissing a decision welcomed and supported by virtually all European countries and the United States. Another communist deputy added that Moscow "has spent decades building its relations with Iran, which is our strategic partner." He also expressed regret that relations had been allowed to deteriorate until now. But statements by Russian reformers and democrats were not that different. Galina Starovoitova, one of the leaders of the Russia's Choice party, told Western journalists that Moscow enjoyed "special relations" with Tehran and that "Iran continues to support us" as a counterweight to Turkey and on the question of oil and gas pipelines. Most Russian and Western reports suggest that Yeltsin's meeting with the Iranian deputy was more than simply "an opportunity to spite" the West over NATO, as one Moscow publication wrote. It provided Yeltsin with an opportunity to cement a relationship that has already benefited Russia--not least through sales of Russian military equipment and nuclear technology. Tehran backs Moscow's position on the status of the Caspian Sea, thus limiting the ability of Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, and Turkmenistan to export their oil and gas to the West and helping preserve Russian influence in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. Iran is also a geopolitical asset for Moscow since it counterbalances U.S. and Western power in the Middle East and limits the impact of Turkey both there and in Central Asia. But these domestic and foreign policy benefits of Moscow's ties to Tehran have an enormous price: the isolation of Russia from the West over an issue--international terrorism--that many in the West are deeply concerned about and increasingly united in opposing. The European media hailed the Berlin court ruling as both courageous and correct. The EU countries suspended their dialogue with Tehran, with many of them pulling their diplomats out of Iran. And U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said it provided support for Washington's "long-held view that Iran's sponsorship of terrorism is authorized at senior levels of the Iranian government." By taking such a pro-Iranian position, Yeltsin and his country may find that they will lose far more than they gain. Iran, after all, is not strong enough to serve as a genuine counterweight to the West, even in the Middle East; and Tehran's embrace of Moscow may actually weaken the current Iranian government and hence its value to the Russians. Abulhasan Banisadr, exiled former president of Iran, told RFE/RL last week that "what Russia is doing, in my opinion, is leading Iranian public opinion to understand that this regime has lost all support it had in the West." Banisadr suggested this would "permit the Iranian people to act to re-establish democracy." Banisadr's optimism may be premature, but Yeltsin's cozying up to Iran, especially in the wake of the Berlin court decision, will almost certainly have an impact on East- West ties. Such Russian-Iranian links will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Western leaders now seeking closer relations with Moscow to continue to do so. Those leaders are likely to find it hard to carry on portraying Russia as a country aspiring to integration with the West when its government seems so bent on pursuing an "oriental" strategy. And they may well find it even more difficult to justify to their own populations any help for a government openly supporting one that has backed international terrorism. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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