No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. - Edmund Burke
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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/

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Headlines, Part I

* YELTSIN CALLS ON CITIZENS TO BUY RUSSIAN

* IRAQ RATIFIES OIL DEAL WITH RUSSIA

* NO TALKS BUT MORE DETENTIONS IN TAKJIKISTAN
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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.

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               Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc.
                     All rights reserved.
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