|We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us. - George Eliot|
Vol 1, No. 19, Part I, 25 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 19, Part I, 25 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 * DUMA CALLS FOR DAY OF PROTEST AGAINST NATO EXPANSION * RUSSIA SAYS AGREEMENT REACHED WITH IMF * OSCE SUSPENDS MONITORING OF KARABAKH CEASE- FIRE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA CALLS FOR DAY OF PROTEST AGAINST NATO EXPANSION. The State Duma has voted 253 to 14 to pass a resolution calling for all state authorities and public organizations to hold a "day of protest against NATO expansion" on 9 May, the anniversary of the World War II victory in Europe, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. The resolution describes NATO expansion as "the greatest military threat to our country over the last 50 years." In a separate resolution, the Duma called on legislators in NATO countries to take steps to prevent Europe from "slipping toward a new confrontation." U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are to travel to Moscow next week for talks with Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov over a proposed Russia-NATO charter. Primakov is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana on 6 May. RUSSIA SAYS AGREEMENT REACHED WITH IMF. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin says IMF and Russian officials have agreed on Russia's economic program for 1997, ITAR- TASS reports today. An accord must be signed before the IMF's board of directors decides whether to issue further disbursements of a $10 billion three-year loan to Russia. ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April that the government plans to borrow $9.8 billion from abroad this year, including $3.65 billion in IMF credits, $2.95 billion in Eurobonds, and $1.5 billion in direct loans from foreign governments. Russia also plans to extend about $400 million in foreign credits this year, more than half of which will go to Bulgaria and India. RUSSIAN AIR FORCE ON CHECHEN THREAT. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax yesterday that military flights over Chechnya will continue, despite Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov's 23 April statement that aircraft violating Chechen airspace will be shot down. State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev termed the threat "absolute rubbish." Nezavisimaya gazeta today quotes an air force spokesman as claiming that the Chechen authorities do not wish to be hindered in the large-scale air transport of drugs and arms from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Cyprus. Meanwhile, a Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that Russia will take "appropriate measures" against any countries that establish ties with Chechnya beyond "economic, humanitarian, and cultural contacts," Interfax reported yesterday. RUSSIA REQUESTS EXTRADITION OF STANKEVICH. The Polish Justice Ministry has received a formal request from the Russian Procurator-General's Office to extradite former presidential adviser Sergei Stankevich, ITAR-TASS reports today. Stankevich is accused of taking a $10,000 bribe in 1992 and could face up to 10 years in prison (see RFE/RL Newsline, 21 and 22 April 1997). The extradition process could take months. Izvestiya reported on 23 April that Stankevich told a Polish court he believes he will be killed if he is returned to Russia. PROGRESS TOWARD RESOLVING ROMANOV TREASURES DISPUTE. Russian and U.S negotiators issued a statement yesterday saying "considerable progress" has been made in talks over some 250 jewels, paintings, and other artifacts from the Romanov dynasty that are currently in the U.S., Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Russia is demanding the immediate return of the collection, claiming the U.S. organizers of a Romanov exhibition violated their contractual obligations and put the security of the treasures at risk. Deputy Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi and ITAR-TASS director- general Vitalii Ignatenko flew to Washington this week to lead the negotiations. Many of the exhibits were moved to the Russian embassy on 23 April after two embassy cars had blocked the truck carrying the treasures for several days (see RFE/RL Newsline, 21 April 1997). The rest of the collection is reportedly being stored in Washington's Corcoran Art Gallery. DUMA FAILS TO PASS RESOLUTION DENOUNCING CHUBAIS. A resolution declaring First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais unfit for office gained 203 votes in the Duma- -23 short of the majority required for passage, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. The resolution was proposed by Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin of the Communist Party and Viktor Rozhkov of the Russian Regions faction. It referred to the campaign finance scandal in which two Chubais associates were caught carrying more than $500,000 out of government headquarters last June. The Procurator-General's Office recently dropped the criminal investigation of that case. Earlier this year, the Duma passed resolutions accusing Chubais of not paying his 1996 taxes on time and calling his appointment to the government a "direct challenge to Russian public opinion." DUMA ON CORRUPTION. The Duma has asked the Procurator-General's Office to request again that the Federation Council lift the immunity of Yurii Kravtsov, the chairman of the St. Petersburg legislature, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Kravtsov has been accused of misappropriating 350 million rubles ($61,000) in state funds. The upper house refused to lift his immunity from criminal prosecution last November. The Duma yesterday also instructed the state's Audit Chamber to examine the activities of the Ulyanovsk Oblast administration. Deputies cited allegations of corruption and misuse of federal funds in Ulyanovsk. PRIMORE LEGISLATURE DEFIES SUPREME COURT RULING. The Primorskii Krai Duma has extended its term until the end of this year, defying a recent Supreme Court decision, ITAR-TASS reports today. The legislature's term expired last December, but deputies voted to extend their mandates for one year rather than call new elections. The Supreme Court on 22 April approved an earlier ruling by a Primorskii Krai court saying the deputies lacked the authority to extend their term. The krai Duma is dominated by supporters of Primore governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who has repeatedly clashed with Viktor Cherepkov, the mayor of the krai's capital, Vladivostok. CENTRAL BANK LOWERS REFINANCING RATE. The Central Bank has lowered its annual refinancing rate from 42% to 36% as of 28 April, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. It is the second reduction this year and the seventh since February 1996, when the refinancing rate was 160%. Some observers believe the bank should lower the rate even further to stimulate investment. The State Statistics Committee has estimated inflation at 21.8% for 1996 and 5.3% for the first quarter of 1997. The government has set a goal of 12% annual inflation for 1997. TRANSCAUSASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OSCE SUSPENDS MONITORING OF KARABAKH CEASE- FIRE. Danish Foreign Minister and OSCE chairman Niels Helveg Petersen said yesterday that the organization has suspended its regular monitoring of the front-line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, in southern Azerbaijan, RFE/RL reported. The decision was prompted by an incident on 15 April when the car transporting an OSCE monitor was fired on near the Azerbaijani town of Horadiz. Also yesterday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov expressed concern at cease-fire violations over the past three weeks, according to Interfax. The Armenian and Azerbaijani Defense Ministries each accused the opposing side of opening fire on enemy positions. MKHEDRIONI MEMBER CONFESSES TO INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICAL ASSASSINATIONS. Gocha Tediashvili, a member of the banned paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, told the Georgian Supreme Court on 23 April that he was involved in the murders of three prominent Georgian political figures, Interfax reported yesterday. Tediashvili confessed to having taken part in the 1994 killings of Deputy Interior Minister Giorgi Gulua, Shevardnadze Fund President Soliko Khabeishvili, and Georgian National Democratic Party leader Gia Chanturia. ARMENIA REMEMBERS 1915 GENOCIDE VICTIMS. Tens of thousands of Armenians gathered yesterday at the Yerevan monument to the Armenians massacred in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Russian and Western agencies reported. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Catholicos Garegin I, former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and a visiting Syrian official were among those who paid tribute. HUMAN RIGHTS IN UZBEKISTAN. President Islam Karimov told the parliament yesterday to have "more courage" in reporting human rights violations, Interfax reported. Karimov said there are numerous cases of officials violating those rights and requested information on the identity of such officials. Meanwhile on 23 April, an Uzbek court summoned Abid Khan Nazarov to arraign him on charges of slander and inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred, Reuters and RFE/RL's Uzbek service reported. Nazarov was dismissed as mullah at Tashkent's Tokhtoboy mosque and medressa in 1995 and then evicted from his flat. He filed suit against the government when he did not receive a promised new apartment. Earlier this month, 300 people gathered to demonstrate solidarity with Nazarov outside a court at which the mullah's case against the government was being heard INFORMATION SOUGHT ON MISSING KAZAK JOURNALIST. Human rights activists and journalists from Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan are requesting more information on the disappearance of Sergei Skorokhodov, who writes for the Kazak newspaper Ekonomika Sevodnya, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. On 21 April, libel proceedings were launched against Skorokhodov in connection with an interview he had conducted with an opposition figure. The next day, Skorokhodov left Almaty by car to attend a "Journalists and Rights" conference in Bishkek but disappeared somewhere between the Kazak and Kyrgyz capitals. He remains missing. Undermining Russian Federalism by Paul Goble Western pressure on Russia to improve the collection of taxes as a precondition for future IMF loans is likely to spark new conflicts between Moscow and Russia's far-flung regions. That is because many of those regions have not been paying what they owe, and any efforts to force them to do so now will antagonize regional elites and prompt some to demand greater autonomy. Such demands could quickly escalate beyond the capacity of the central state apparatus to control. That potentially explosive cycle was set in motion earlier this week when IMF representatives told Russian officials that Moscow must reduce the country's budget deficit by improving and enforcing the tax code. As in the past, the IMF is focusing on the tax privileges that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has extended to certain large enterprises, such as LUKoil and Gazprom. The Western financial organization has demanded that all firms pay the Russian government what they owe. But Russian officials have responded that an even greater source of the tax collection shortfall may be the special relations that Yeltsin has forged with 26 of the country's 89 regions. Drawn up to calm regional protests and to win Yeltsin political support at key moments in the past, those special accords have given the signatory regions various tax breaks and in some cases even allowed them to withhold funds entirely legally. The tax breaks Yeltsin gave to Tatarstan and Sakha sparked public outrage, but the special favors he has extended--generally in secret--to other regions may be even more advantageous. Along with the general collapse of the country's tax system, the special accords have meant that only eight of the country's regions now pay more to the center than they receive. In 1994, there were 25 such regions. If Moscow attempts to reverse this situation and to collect taxes in a universal and fair way, the tax problem is likely to become a political problem as well. Over the last several years, the central government has tried to force the regions to pay what they owe by withholding governments payments to regions that do not contribute their fair share. But instead of improving tax collection, that policy has only led to ever more regions withholding taxes from the center. Consequently, an IMF-inspired campaign by the central authorities to collect more taxes from the regions is almost certain to backfire if it is implemented quickly. Those regions that have special agreements will view such efforts as yet another example of Moscow's failing to keep its promises. Those that do not have such accords will undoubtedly begin to demand them--to the extent that the Russian government will be forced to acknowledge the details of the current accords and will then be seen to have acted in bad faith by having extended privileges only to some regions. In both cases, such attitudes about taxes are likely to spill over into attitudes about relations between the center and the country's regions. Yeltsin has worked hard to buy off the regions and to prevent further decay of central authority, but if he now tries to reassert the power of the center in the area of taxes, he will likely find that he has lost much of what he gained. That is not to say that a tougher approach toward the collection of taxes will spark a new drive for secession. But it is conceivable that the IMF, in its efforts to improve Russian tax collections, may undermine Russia's first tentative moves toward federalism. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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