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Vol 1, No. 15, Part I, 21 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 15, Part I, 21 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 * COMMUNIST PARTY, OUR HOME IS RUSSIA HOLD CONGRESSES * DUMA FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO OF LAW ON * CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS * FIGHTING INTENSIFIES ON ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI FRONTIER xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA COMMUNIST PARTY, OUR HOME IS RUSSIA HOLD CONGRESSES. Both the Communist Party (KPRF) and the pro-government movement Our Home Is Russia (NDR) held congresses this weekend in Moscow. KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov pledged that his party will become a "responsible and irreconcilable opposition" force, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told NDR delegates that his government plans to improve its economic policies, Russian news agencies reported on 19 April. He said closing tax loopholes and establishing "order" in the alcohol trade would help raise future revenues. Chernomyrdin also said the government plans to alter "arbitrary policies on monopoly prices and imperfections in the managing of state property," while not breaking up the natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors (see also today's "End Note"). YELTSIN ON VACATION, PRIMAKOV IN HOSPITAL. Kremlin doctor Sergei Mironov says President Boris Yeltsin's holiday in Sochi is "not linked to medical necessity," Russian news agencies reported on 18 April. Yeltsin flew to the Black Sea resort shortly after his summit at the end of last week with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. His vacation is expected to last 10-12 days, although he is scheduled to return to Moscow briefly on 22 April to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Also on 18 April, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov checked into hospital for gallstone surgery. Doctors said the operation was successful and that Primakov will be discharged from the hospital within two weeks. He is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana early next month for a fifth round of negotiations on a Russia-NATO charter. FORMER YELTSIN ADVISER ARRESTED IN POLAND. Sergei Stankevich, former adviser to President Yeltsin, has been arrested in Warsaw after a joint search operation by Russian and Polish police, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Stankevich will be detained for 30 days while a Polish court decides whether to extradite him to Russia to face bribery charges. Stankevich went into hiding last year after the Moscow prosecutor ordered his arrest on charges of taking bribes several years earlier. Stankevich is a former deputy mayor of Moscow and a former deputy in the State Duma. Meanwhile, Polish prosecutors have dropped charges against Interior Minister Leszek Miller for failing to register a handgun (see RFE/RL Newsline, 11 April 1997). A spokesman for the state prosecutor's office said on 18 April that no offense had been committed but gave no further details. CHUBAIS ON FINANCE MINISTRY REORGANIZATION. First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minster Anatolii Chubais has announced that there will be three first deputy finance ministers, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 April. Aleksei Kudrin, who was appointed last month, will manage the state debt and supervise questions on the reform of the housing and housing utilities system as well as on the gold and precious metals market. Sergei Ignatev, appointed this month, will be in charge of tax reform and budget revenues. Vladimir Petrov, the only top-ranking official in the ministry to survive the reshuffle, will supervise the budget process. Chubais said First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov will leave the ministry by 1 May but did not announce a future post for him. Until now, Vavilov has overseen the ministry's dealings with the "authorized banks," which manage state funds. LEBED SAYS CHUBAIS CONTROLS MEDIA. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says a narrow group of bankers and businessmen "loyal personally to Chubais" control the Russian media, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 April. Lebed claimed that Chubais keeps a black-list of journalists who have written on "forbidden" topics, such as privatization profits or last summer's campaign scandal in which two Chubais associates were caught carrying some $500,000 out of government headquarters. He argued that violations of those taboos are behind rumored attempts by LUKoil and Oneksimbank to force out the chief editors of Izvestiya and Komsomolskaya pravda. Media coverage of Lebed was sympathetic during last year's presidential campaign but has been generally hostile since September, shortly before he was ousted from the government. DUMA RATIFIES BORDER ACCORD WITH CHINA... By a vote of 346 to 0, the State Duma on 18 April ratified a multilateral agreement on "confidence-building measures" along the Russian border with China, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, which provides for information exchanges on troop movement and military exercises along the Chinese border, was signed in Shanghai in April 1996 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. ...AND AGREEMENTS WITH ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN. Also on 18 April, the Duma ratified the March 1995 agreement signed by Yeltsin and Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossyan permitting Russia to maintain a military base in Armenia for 25 years, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov termed the agreement an "important step toward securing stability on the southern borders of the Russian Federation," according to Turan. The Duma also ratified a May 1996 intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan on cooperation in preventing arms and drug smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists across the Azerbaijani-Russian border. Azerbaijan opposes the deployment of Russian border troops on its territory. All three agreements still have to be ratified by the Federation Council. DUMA FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO OF LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. The Duma on 18 April failed to override a presidential veto of a law outlining the constitutional amendment procedure, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the constitution, amendments must be approved by two-thirds of Duma deputies, three-quarters of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in at least two-thirds of Russia's 89 regions. However, a law specifying procedural details is needed before amendments can be adopted. Yeltsin vetoed an earlier version of the law last November and the latest version in March. Communist leaders in the Duma say they are drafting 12 constitutional amendments that would limit presidential power and increase parliamentary oversight of the executive branch. CHECHEN UPDATE. Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii and Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basaev met in the Ingush capital of Nazran on 19 April for what Berezovskii later termed "constructive" talks, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The two men discussed bilateral relations and the continued detention of four journalists from Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS who were abducted in Chechnya in early March. On 17 April, Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev handed over to ITAR-TASS video footage of his meeting with the journalists. Nikolai Zagnoiko, the captive ITAR-TASS correspondent, is seen on the video asking Tolboev "to influence the Russian leadership" and help free them. The Russian Interior Ministry has expressed its support for Tolboev's efforts to secure the journalists' release. It has also proposed that the journalists be exchanged for Chechens detained by the Interior Ministry in Dagestan, ITAR-TASS reports today. CONTROVERSY OVER ROMANOV JEWELS. Priceless jewels from the Romanov dynasty have been locked up in a vault at an unspecified location in the U.S. following Russian officials' demands that they be returned immediately for celebrations marking Moscow's 850th anniversary, AFP reported yesterday. Under an agreement signed last year by Russia's Culture Ministry, about 250 exhibits--including jewels, clothing, icons and portraits--have been shown in Washington and are scheduled to be exhibited in three other American cities. But now Russian officials are demanding the immediate return of the exhibits, which are to be kept under lock and key pending a court decision. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington yesterday to discuss foreign investment in Russia, but he made no comment on the controversy over the Romanov treasures. CRIME STATISTICS. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said 591,000 crimes were registered during the first quarter of 1997, down 12% compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported on 18 April. Addressing the Duma, Kulikov said the number of premeditated murders dropped by 5.4%, assaults by 16%, robberies by 10.2% and thefts by 13.6%. However, he admitted that 7,500 murders committed in 1996 remain unsolved. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA FIGHTING INTENSIFIES ON ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI FRONTIER. Up to 50 troops are reported killed in recent fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in two locations, Russian agencies reported. During the night from 18 to 19 April, Karabakh Armenian forces opened artillery fire on a village in Azerbaijan's Aghdjabed Raion, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry. Armenian and Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesmen each accused the other side of launching an artillery bombardment on the northern section of the border between Armenia's Tavush Raion and Azerbaijan's Kazakh Raion early on 19 April. Interfax yesterday quoted a source in Baku as saying that fighting was continuing, but the Armenian Defense Ministry denied this was the case, according to Reuters. In a 18 April telephone conversation, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents had agreed to order their respective military commands to abide strictly by the 1994 cease fire agreement, Interfax and Turan reported. ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION IN YEREVAN. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people took part in a rally organised by the Union for National Accord in Yerevan on 18 April, Western agencies reported. This was the second in a planned series of fortnightly demonstrations organised by the recently formed opposition party. Addressing the rally, defeated former presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan again called for pre-term parliamentary elections. Also on 18 April, the Armenian Central Electoral Commission rejected imprisoned Dashnak leader Vahan Oganesian's application to contest an upcoming parliamentary by-election, according to AP. STRATEGY DISAGREEMENTS TROUBLE RUSSIA'S COMMUNISTS AND "PARTY OF POWER" by Laura Belin Both the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and Our Home Is Russia (NDR) unanimously re- elected their leaders at congresses in Moscow this weekend. But the apparent unity within Russia's largest opposition party and the pro-government movement masks internal divisions in each organization over how to broaden popular support. A major fault line running through the KPRF stems from Communist strategy toward the government. Together with like-minded groups, the Communists have a near-majority in the State Duma. But since last summer's presidential election, the party's Duma faction has drawn criticism from some activists and pro-communist journalists who demand a more assertive parliamentary opposition. Communist deputies have passed non-binding resolutions attacking the government, but many also voted to confirm Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Most Communists also voted for the 1997 budget after laying down 11 conditions for their continued support of the government. Although virtually none of those conditions has been met, the KPRF Duma faction has refrained from putting a no-confidence vote on the agenda. The KPRF's reluctance to challenge the government is understandable: the constitution gives the president the right to dissolve the Duma if deputies pass two votes of no confidence within three months. The Communists would probably lose seats if new Duma elections were held. Consequently, party leaders are advocating less risky, "non-parliamentary methods of struggle," such as mass protests. At this weekend's congress, several delegates called for KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov to take a harder line. In response, Zyuganov sought to project an image of implacable opposition to the regime, saying the KPRF must become a "responsible and irreconcilable" opposition force. He called for large-scale protests on 1 and 9 May to counter the new government's "murderous" policies, as well as a nationwide signature campaign for referenda demanding constitutional amendments and Yeltsin's resignation. At the end of the first day, Zyuganov led a procession of party leaders to the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square. Resolutions adopted the next day endorsed a strategy of primarily non-parliamentary protest, although one resolution proposed--but did not demand--that the KPRF Duma faction consider holding a no-confidence vote. Whether the Communist rank and file will respond to the call for massive demonstrations will be seen next month. Turnout for the 27 March nationwide protest action fell far below Communist expectations. Meanwhile, the NDR is divided over how to build an image as a movement that is concerned about the welfare of ordinary citizens. Founded two years ago as the government's standard-bearer in parliamentary elections, the NDR recruited many regional and business elites but won fewer Duma seats than its founders expected. Even NDR leaders admit that the movement has failed to attract a broad social base, as it is still considered a mere proxy for the highly unpopular government. Chernomyrdin told delegates to this weekend's congress that he was "dissatisfied" with Russia's current economic situation. He vowed that his government would solve the budget crisis, close tax loopholes, and establish "order" in the alcohol trade. And in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the NDR is more than his personal vehicle, Chernomyrdin suggested it was too early to decide who would represent the bloc in the next presidential election. However, Chernomyrdin's promises failed to impress Sergei Belyaev, leader of the NDR's parliamentary faction, which for several months has quietly complained that government officials take its support for granted. Belyaev argued that his Duma faction has been a "hostage" to government policy and should be consulted more on policy matters. He warned that if the NDR does not change its current strategy before the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 1999, it will attract popular support on the level of the humble Beer Lovers' Party. Belyaev also said the NDR leadership should listen more to the movement's regional branches and better defend regional interests in the parliament. His comments reflect a threat to what has been considered the NDR's main strength: its support among the regional elite. Other politicians with presidential ambitions are actively courting regional leaders. Last week, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed an agreement pledging that the capital city will provide up to 20 billion rubles ($3.5 million) to develop industry in Kaluga Oblast. Former Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko has recruited several governors to join his Reforms--New Course movement. And the growing prominence of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov shows that regional leaders may compete with Chernomyrdin in a future presidential race. Although both Zyuganov and Chernomyrdin were upbeat about their prospects, this weekend's congresses did little more than paper over discord troubling both the KPRF and the "party of power." xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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