|He who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. - Thomas Jefferson|
Vol 1, No. 12, Part I, 16 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 12, Part I, 16 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 * NO BREAKTHROUGH IN RUSSIAN-NATO TALKS * YELTSIN TAKING TROPHY ART TO GERMANY? * TAJIK TALKS BEGIN AGAIN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NO BREAKTHROUGH IN RUSSIAN-NATO TALKS. At three- hour talks yesterday in Moscow, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana failed to overcome differences delaying a charter between Russia and the Western alliance. The Russian Foreign Ministry later issued a brief statement saying that "positions on some issues became closer" but that "difficult questions remain," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Both sides hope to sign a charter in Paris next month ahead of the NATO summit in July, when the alliance is expected to announce which Central European countries will be NATO's first new members. In an interview with the German magazine Stern this week, President Boris Yeltsin said Moscow would meet the target date for signing the Paris charter only if that document takes Russian interests into account. In particular, Russia wants NATO to pledge not to build military facilities in new member countries. YELTSIN TAKING TROPHY ART TO GERMANY? In the same interview with Stern, Yeltsin said he would bring "something" of the cultural treasures confiscated during World War II when he flies to Germany today for a summit meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He did not specify which art works he would bring. However, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS yesterday that the ministry knows nothing about Yeltsin's plans to take cultural valuables to Germany. The Federation Council is scheduled today to debate a law that would ban the transfer of cultural treasures to foreign countries. The State Duma overrode Yeltsin's veto of that law earlier this month. If the Council also overrides the veto, the controversy over trophy art could overshadow talks on the Russia-NATO charter and on Russian-German trade, the main items on the agenda of the Yeltsin-Kohl summit. MIXED REACTION TO "BUY RUSSIAN" APPEAL. Following Yeltsin's appeal yesterday to buy Russian-made products, Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the Agrarian faction in the State Duma, told RFE/RL that the president should impose higher customs duties on foreign goods, especially food. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the state must help Russian farmers sell their products to stores in large cities. Sergei Belyaev, leader of the Duma faction of Our Home Is Russia, said he supports selective government assistance to enterprises but warned against imposing broad protectionist measures. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko suggested that the onus is on Russian producers to raise standards. "I'll buy domestic products when they become better and cheaper than foreign goods," he said. AEROFLOT TO BUY MORE BOEINGS. Just hours after Yeltsin urged citizens to buy domestic goods, Aeroflot director- general Valerii Okulov confirmed that his airline will purchase 10 Boeing 737 airplanes for $400 million, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Yeltsin appointed Okulov, his son-in-law, to head the 51% state-owned airline last month. Aeroflot signed a letter of intent on the deal last September, prompting protests among domestic manufacturers. Yevgenii Shaposhnikov, the airline's director-general at the time, argued that the government, not Aeroflot, should be responsible for saving Russia's aircraft manufacturing industry. Aeroflot acquired its first foreign planes in 1992. TULEEV SAYS RUSSIA LOSING CIS MARKETS TO WEST. CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev says Western companies have supplanted Russian ones as trading partners in CIS countries, Interfax reported on 14 April. Tuleev noted that 90% of Kazak enterprises have capital from partners outside the CIS and that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have also "become reoriented to the West or created their own customs union inside the CIS." He attributed Russian problems in trading with Azerbaijan to economic barriers erected by Moscow, which, he noted, had "pushed Azerbaijan into the arms of the West." According to Tuleev, the West has invested $30 billion in former Soviet republics, while the CIS countries' debts to Russia total $6 billion. COMPROMISE ALLOWS GAZPROM EXECUTIVES TO KEEP CONTROL OVER GOVERNMENT STAKE. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev says the gas monopoly's executives will continue to manage 35% of the company's shares under a compromise reached with First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. In exchange, Gazprom will pay half of its tax debt--about $1.2 billion--by 10 June. Nemtsov's press secretary confirmed Vyakhirev's announcement in a telephone interview with RFE/RL. Last week, Nemtsov suggested reviewing the agreement granting Gazprom managerial control over state-owned shares in the monopoly. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said yesterday he is "categorically against" restructuring Russia's monopolies and denied that he is distancing himself from forming government policy on the issue, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin was absent from a cabinet meeting last week at which relations with Gazprom were discussed. BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Stefan Sofiyanski says an agreement on constructing a new gas pipeline will double or triple the volume of Russian gas exports via Bulgaria, Interfax reports. Sofiyanski and Chernomyrdin signed the agreement in Moscow yesterday. Russia exported about 6 billion cubic meters through Bulgaria in 1996. Chernomyrdin and Sofiyanski also discussed further military- technical cooperation, including the possible sale to Bulgaria of MiG-29 fighter jets. Chernomyrdin told the Bulgarian premier that Moscow would respect Bulgaria's decision to apply for NATO membership, although it remains adamantly opposed to the expansion of the alliance, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian First Deputy Prime Minster Boris Nemtsov told Interfax yesterday after his talks with Sofiyanski that the two countries have agreed to create a joint free-trade zone. VODKA PRICES RAISED. The Economics Ministry has announced an 37.5% increase in the minimum retail price of vodka in order to curb the black market in vodka and raise government revenues, Russian and Western agencies reported yesterday. The price hike affects spirits produced in Russia or the former Soviet Union whose alcohol content exceeds 28%. Imports from other countries are not affected. Aleksei Golovkov of Our Home Is Russia, who is deputy chairman of the Duma Budget Committee, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that the measure was needed to stem the flow of low-quality imported vodka, which, he said, was causing the state "enormous" revenue losses. NIZHNII NOVGOROD ELECTIONS SET FOR JUNE. The legislature of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast will hold gubernatorial elections on 29 June, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported yesterday. Former Governor Boris Nemtsov became first deputy prime minister last month. The legislature's decision is in accordance with the oblast charter, which stipulates new elections must be held within six months of the elected governor quitting the post. Yeltsin suggested postponing the ballot until March 1998, when Nizhnii Novgorod is scheduled to hold legislative elections. Ivan Sklyarov, mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod, has already announced he will run for governor. Recent opinion polls suggest that he is the front-runner. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ PEACE TALKS TO RESUME? Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili says Tbilisi has accepted Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's offer to resume quadrilateral peace talks in which the UN and Russia will also take part, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The Abkhaz parliament, however, opposes resuming negotiations until the Russian trade embargo against Abkhazia is lifted. It also rejects the decision of the March CIS summit to broaden the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia. Menagharishvili said implementation of that decision would be "an indicator of whether or not the CIS can perform its function." But he denied that Georgia will consider leaving the CIS if the decision is not implemented. TAJIK TALKS BEGIN AGAIN. Representatives of the Tajik government and opposition have returned to the negotiating table in Tehran, ITAR-TASS reported today. The current round of talks is scheduled to decide the legal status of political parties and movements in Tajikistan. Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with both sides yesterday, telling them to forget their differences and move toward a final peace. Opposition accusations that some of its members were being held in Moscow led to the breakup of the talks last week. FEWER ORT BROADCASTS TO KYRGYZSTAN. As of today, Russian Public Television (ORT) will slash its daily programming in Kyrgyzstan's Chu Oblast from 18 to six hours, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian network's debts to Kyrgyz relay stations now total 860 million rubles. Kyrgyzstan is trying to reach an agreement with ORT over settling the debt. It is also seeking payment from Russia's RTR network and Radio Mayak, which have debts totaling some 2 billion and 895 million rubles, respectively. ORT's newscast was the most popular program of its kind in Chu Oblast, where the capital Bishkek is located. NEW GEO-POLITICAL ALLIANCES ON RUSSIA'S SOUTHERN RIM by Liz Fuller Over the five years that have elapsed since the disintegration of the USSR, two alliances among the Soviet successor states have emerged on Russia's southern borders. Both of these new groupings comprise political, economic, and military components. The Central Asian Union evolved from a January 1994 agreement between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan providing for the abolition of customs barriers to create a common economic space. Kyrgyzstan acceded to that agreement almost immediately. From its inception, the union was intended as a model for closer economic integration within the CIS. Over the past three years, it has developed supra-national coordinating structures--including an Executive Committee of Heads of State and Government and a Council of Foreign Ministers-- that are far more effective than its CIS equivalents. The leaderships of the three member states reportedly coordinate their positions on all regional issues. Moreover, the union has created a Central Asian peacekeeping battalion, which has the official benediction of the UN, and a Central Asian Bank for Cooperation and Development. Moscow apparently does not perceive the Central Asian Union as posing a major threat to Russian economic interests. There are several possible reasons for this attitude: Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbaev's support for integration within the CIS, the simultaneous membership of Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan in the customs union with Russia and Belarus, and Moscow's observer status within the Central Asian Union, granted last year. Alternatively, Russia may have other plans for safeguarding its economic interests in Central Eurasia. One Moscow policy analyst recently proposed that Russia join the Economic Cooperation Organization, whose members are Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and the five Central Asian Soviet successor states. In contrast, Moscow was swift to express disapproval of a second nascent "Union of Three," composed of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. (Kazakstan and Uzbekistan have been mentioned as possible future members.) Russian concern over the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine alignment, which was formed late last year and remains informal, may have several origins. The alliance is uncompromisingly Western in orientation, and its members may even aspire to NATO membership. They are also interested in military cooperation among themselves: Ukraine supplies arms to Azerbaijan and has offered to send peacekeeping forces to both Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, thereby undercutting Russia's jealously guarded monopoly on CIS "peacekeeping." The gravest threat to Russian interests, however, is the grandiose plan to export Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Georgia and the Black Sea to Europe--bypassing Russia altogether. What is more, the western Union of Three has the implicit backing of Western states (notably the U.S. and France), which are eager to circumscribe Russian dominance and to protect Western economic interests in the Transcaucasus. Nor is Georgia's membership in the western Union of Three the only aspect of Georgian foreign policy to ring alarm bells in Moscow. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is simultaneously cultivating ties with several of Russia's North Caucasus republics, including Chechnya. Some Russian observers suspect Shevardnadze of planning to realize the vision, shared by his late predecessor Zviad Gamsakhurdia and deceased Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev, of a broader Caucasian union. They perceive such a configuration as a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. The emergence and possible implications of the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine alignment have not gone unnoticed in Armenia, which has traditionally been Moscow's most stalwart ally in the Transcaucasus. But some Russian commentators have interpreted recent reports of Russian arms supplies to Armenia as heralding a fundamental reassessment of Russian policy in the Transcaucasus to Armenia's disadvantage. In the wake of those reports, one senior Armenian official has advocated closer bilateral relations with Ukraine. (Armenia responded to the reports of Russian arms deliveries by charging that in recent years, Azerbaijan has received comparable, if not larger, quantities of military hardware from Turkey. This suggests that the Armenian leadership has, for the moment, relinquished its hopes for rapprochement with Ankara.) The ultimate criterion for the viability, if not the survival, of both the eastern (Central Asian) and western Unions of Three is not their economic potential but how much of a threat they pose to Moscow. At last month's CIS summit, Russian President Boris Yeltsin made it clear that "integration" within the CIS should take priority over alternative alignments. CIS member states, he commented, are "free to seek friends to the West, to the South, and to the East. But what kind of friendship is it that harms your neighbors?" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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