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Vol 1, No. 17, Part I, 23 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 17, Part I, 23 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 * CHINESE PRESIDENT MEETS WITH YELTSIN * NEMTSOV ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO GAZPROM * KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SUPPORTS TRASECA PROJECT, LUKASHENKA PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHINESE PRESIDENT MEETS WITH YELTSIN... Jiang Zemin and President Boris Yeltsin met today in Moscow and signed declarations on a "multipolar world" and the "formation of a new world order," ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV reported. The two leaders reached agreement on setting up a Russian-Chinese Committee on Friendship, Peace, and Development and discussed border cooperation, reduction of border forces, economic cooperation, atomic energy projects, and economic reforms in China. Talks also focused on construction of a gas pipeline from Tomsk to Shanghai and sales of equipment for Chinese hydro-electric power stations. Earlier, Jiang attended an official welcoming ceremony at the Kremlin. He met with high-level Russian government officials, including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is to visit China at the end of June. ...AND ADDRESSES STATE DUMA. Following his meeting with Yeltsin, Jiang addressed the State Duma and stressed the need for a strategic partnership between China and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. He urged the development of economic, technical, and other ties and expressed the hope that the two countries' parliaments would achieve "maximum expansion of ties." Jiang also said it was especially important for the parliaments to focus on developing friendship between the peoples of China and Russia. NEMTSOV ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO GAZPROM. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says that if the gas monopoly Gazprom does not meet five government conditions, a new director will be appointed to run the company, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Speaking to reporters in Krasnoyarsk, Nemtsov said Gazprom must provide for the growth of its stock, make its financial activities more transparent, adjust its tariffs, meet its obligations to the federal budget and the Pension Fund, and provide all companies wanting to work in the gas market with equal access to gas deposits and pipelines. Nemtsov said the government representative in Gazprom will monitor compliance with those conditions. Gazprom management are likely to balk at the last condition in particular. Nemtsov's comments indicate that the agreement he reached with Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev last week (see RFE/RL Newsline, 16 April 1997) did not shelve plans to increase the government's role in managing Gazprom. DUMA COUNCIL DEMANDS DRAFT BILL ON BUDGET CUTS. The State Duma Council has demanded that the government submit its proposed budget cuts to the lower house of parliament by the end of this month, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. According to Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov, the government was legally obliged to submit its proposed cuts by 20 April. Zadornov, a member of the Yabloko faction, complained earlier this week that the Finance Ministry was withholding details on the planned cuts in non-essential spending even from other ministries. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the lower house would be willing to adjust spending but would never agree to "bury" the 1997 budget by cutting 100 trillion rubles ($17.4 billion). First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais estimated last week that this year's budget will exceed the state's means by 100 trillion rubles. LUKOIL APPOINTS NEW IZVESTIYA BOARD OF DIRECTORS. LUKoil has appointed a new Izvestiya board of directors composed of four representatives from the oil company and three from the newspaper, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Izvestiya staff had sought to delay the shareholders' meeting. In yesterday's Nezavisimaya gazeta, journalist Yevgeniya Albats criticized the authors of an open letter asking Yeltsin to protect Izvestiya and Komsomolskaya pravda. She said the appeal sought to assign Yeltsin "the role [formerly played] by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union." Nezavisimaya gazeta editor Vitalii Tretyakov, who signed the editors' appeal to Yeltsin, argues in today's issue of that newspaper that Izvestiya is not a leader of the independent press but a "party newspaper" favoring the political line of Yegor Gaidar and Anatolii Chubais. MILITARY UPDATE. Despite the Defense Ministry's repeated appeals for additional funds, Russia's armed forces received only 53% of their budget allocation in the first quarter of 1997, ITAR-TASS reports today, citing the ministry's press service. The ministry says that the 11 trillion rubles it received during the last three months was spent on wages, foodstuffs, and fuel and that no funds remained for training exercises or equipment maintenance. Meanwhile, Admiral Igor Khmelnov, the former commander of the Pacific Fleet, was formally charged yesterday with fraud, perjury, and abuse of power, Interfax reported. Khmelnov was sacked on 11 April after being accused of illegally obtaining apartments for himself and his family in Vladivostok, the fleet's main base. CHUBAIS TELLS BANKERS TO INVEST AT HOME. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais has advised Russian bankers to invest in domestic industry rather than relying on currency speculation as their main source of revenue, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Chubais told the seventh congress of the Association of Russian Banks that their future profits can no longer be exclusively tied to the internal lending market. He said "those who understand this soonest will win, those who understand this later will lose, and those who fail to understand it will perish." Chubais added that the government plans to lower yields for short-term bonds, making it harder for banks to profit from the internal borrowing market. LENIN'S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATED QUIETLY. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov led a procession of some 1,000 supporters to Red Square yesterday to mark the 127th birthday of Vladimir Lenin, Russian news agencies reported. Participants laid wreaths at Lenin's mausoleum and filed past his embalmed body inside the building. Zyuganov yesterday denounced proposals to move Lenin's body out of the mausoleum as "blasphemous." Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Ekho Moskvy that there is no need to bury Lenin as his body is already lying two meters below ground, as required by Christian tradition. Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, Communists rallied near Smolnyi, the building that housed the Bolshevik headquarters during the 1917 revolution. TATARSTAN'S ACADEMY OF SCIENCES RECOMMENDS SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET. The Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan has recommended that the Tatar language adopt the Latin alphabet on the grounds that Cyrillic letters do not correspond well to sounds in Tatar, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The Tatar language was written in Arabic script until 1927, when a switch was made to the Latin alphabet. As in the case of other Turkic languages spoken in the USSR, the Cyrillic alphabet was imposed in 1939. RFE/RL's Tatar- Bashkir service reports this is the first official endorsement of changing back to the Latin alphabet. Previously, only Tatar civic groups had called for the change. YELTSIN REMEMBERS HIS HOMETOWN. Yeltsin has granted 1 billion rubles ($174,000) from the presidential reserve fund to his native village of Butka in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russian news agencies reported yesterday, citing the presidential press service. The money is intended to repair social facilities in the village. Yeltsin has instructed the oblast government to monitor how the funds are spent. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SUPPORTS TRASECA PROJECT, LUKASHENKA PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE. Askar Akayev and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, held talks in Tbilisi yesterday that focused on strengthening bilateral relations and cooperating in transportation, RFE/RL's bureau in the Georgian capital reported. Akayev stressed the importance to Kyrgyzstan of the TRASECA road and rail project that will link China, Central Asia, and the Transcaucasus with Europe. Kyrgyzstan has received a $140 million loan from Japan to finance its participation in the project. Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka proposed in Seoul yesterday the creation of a Beijing-Moscow-Minsk transport corridor "not only as a victory for the economy but as a response to NATO enlargement," Interfax reported. Belarusian economists say the corridor would constitute a cheaper and safer way of transporting Chinese goods to the CIS and Europe than existing routes. Lukashenka said he will discuss the project with the Chinese leadership in Beijing on 28 April. IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR CLOSER REGIONAL COOPERATON. Ali Akbar Velayati told journalists in Baku yesterday that the Transcaucasian countries should join forces to prevent the increase of U.S. influence in the region, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. He also said that the liberation of Azerbaijani territories currently occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces should take place without the intervention of external powers. Velayati refused to answer questions about Iranian economic cooperation with Armenia or about his government's failure to honor an agreement to open an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz. In response to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's request to "exert influence" on Armenia to expedite a settlement to the Karabakh conflict, Velayati said Iran will do what it can to promote "normal relations" between Azerbaijan and Armenia, according to ITAR- TASS. NORTH CAUCASIAN PRESIDENTS WANT GREATER ROLE IN MEDIATING ABKHAZ CONFLICT. The presidents of Russia's North Caucasian republics believe that, given the opportunity, they could mediate a political settlement between the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported yesterday, citing BS-Press. Unnamed North Caucasian leaders are reportedly unhappy that the mediation process is monopolized by international organizations. They say they want to play a greater role in that process. Georgia enjoys harmonious relations with North Ossetia and is expanding ties with Chechnya. Georgian First Deputy Security Minister Avtandil Ioseliani will travel to the North Caucasus next month. "YEREVANGATE" DISCLOSURES LEAVE KEY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED by Liz Fuller More than two months have passed since the allegations of large-scale clandestine arms shipments from Russia to Armenia triggered a major political scandal. On 14 February, Moskovskii komsomolets reported that Russian weaponry was being illegally supplied to conflict zones, including Chechnya, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. The one concrete example cited was the transfer to Armenia in 1995 and 1996 of 84 T-72 tanks and 50 armored combat vehicles. At a news conference the same day, Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Aman Tuleev said the transfer of tanks and armored vehicles to Armenia had taken place and that Russia had received no payment for them. He said he had alerted senior Russian officials and asked them to investigate the matter. In a letter to Tuleev released to the press in mid- March, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov confirmed the transfer of arms to Armenia, sparking denials from the Armenian Foreign Ministry, protests from Azerbaijan, and speculation in the Russian press about who sanctioned the shipments. While corroborating details have since emerged, a number of key questions remain unanswered. At a 2 April closed session of the Russian State Duma, Gen. Lev Rokhlin presented the findings of a Duma investigation, listing all the military hardware involved and specifying how, when, and with whose connivance it was transported to Armenia from various locations in the Russian Federation. Rokhlin estimated the worth of the equipment at more than $1 billion but exonerated Armenia of trying to avoid payment and suggested that huge sums of money had been misappropriated by middlemen. He also argued that the transfers could not have taken place without the knowledge of then Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and that former chief of staff Mikhail Kolesnikov could not have authorized them without consulting Grachev. He did not speculate about who could have given Grachev the green light to proceed but, revealing an implicit flaw in his argument, said the arms shipments continued after Igor Rodionov replaced Grachev as defense minister last July but without Rodionov's knowledge. Possibly on the basis of Rokhlin's testimony, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia Ramiz Rizaev told journalists on 4 April that "the main culprits" were Grachev, Kolesnikov, and Col.-Gen. Fedor Reut, who was dismissed from his post as commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus on 4 March. In mid-April, a spokesman for the presidential Main Control Directorate announced that neither Russian President Boris Yeltsin nor the Russian government had authorized the arms shipments. Vladimir Putin, the head of the directorate, told reporters that Yeltsin knew the names of those responsible and that Grachev, who had been questioned by the directorate during its investigation, was not one of them. Various hypotheses have been advanced as to why the arms transfers to Armenia were made public and for what reason, with much attention focusing on Rokhlin's perceived role. It has been suggested that the whole objective of the leak was to thwart the Duma's ratification of the 1995 agreement, signed by Yeltsin and Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossyan, permitting Russia to maintain a military presence in Armenia. (The Duma ratified that agreement last week by an overwhelming majority.) In early February, Nezavisimaya gazeta's Yerevan correspondent identified Rokhlin as one of the authors of a draft Duma resolution calling for a revision of Russia's military-strategic policy in the Transcaucasus-- but not, as some observers have argued, the closure of Russian bases in Georgia and Armenia, which Rokhlin opposes. True, there are interest groups in Moscow that advocate revising Russia's Transcaucasus policy to favor oil-rich Azerbaijan at the expense of Moscow's traditional ally, Armenia. But Yeltsin stated unequivocally at the CIS summit in March that it is he who determines Russia's policy toward the CIS member states. It is conceivable that the data cited by Moskovskii komsomolets was deliberately leaked by Defense Ministry officials angry at the continued underfunding that has weakened Russia's military potential, with the aim of embarrassing and thereby exerting pressure on Yeltsin. Rokhlin, for his part, has repeatedly stressed that his disclosures were not directed against Armenia and that his primary concern was to prevent further astronomical financial losses. The sum of $1 billion, he points out, would pay for 30,000 apartments for military personnel or three months wages for all officers and warrant officers of Russia's armed forces. Other players with other motives may also have been involved in the "Yerevangate" affair. The findings of the ongoing Russian Military Procuracy investigation may clarify the still unanswered questions--assuming they are made public. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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