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Vol 1, No. 21, Part I, 29 April 1997
Vol 1, No. 21, Part I, 29 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 * RUSSIANS TO PAY MORE FOR HOUSING * YELTSIN DECREES RESTRUCTURING OF GAZPROM * ANOTHER BOMB ATTACK IN NORTH CAUCASUS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIANS TO PAY MORE FOR HOUSING. President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree shifting the costs for housing and municipal services to the public over the next six years, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said citizens currently pay an average 27% of the cost for housing and municipal services, including water and heating bills. That system costs the state 100 trillion rubles ($17 billion) a year. Nemtsov said that under the new decree, the public would pay 35% of the cost of housing and services this year, 50% by 1998, 70% by 2000, and 100% by 2003. The government would grant subsidies to low-income families rather than to cities and towns, Nemtsov said. The presidential decree was signed as the State Duma began a two-week recess. The majority of Duma deputies are likely to strongly oppose the measure. YELTSIN DECREES RESTRUCTURING OF GAZPROM... A second presidential decree signed yesterday outlines the principles of structural reform of Russia's natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors, Nemtsov told reporters. He said the state would take a more active part in managing its 40% stake in the gas giant Gazprom. He also noted that Gazprom's distribution network will not be broken up but the company will lose its monopoly on developing new gas deposits, which instead will be auctioned off. Gazprom will also be forced to publish annual reports to increase transparency of the company's finances. Like the decree on housing reform, the proposed reforms of natural monopolies will meet with sharp opposition from the government's Communist opponents. ...AND ELECTRICITY AND RAILWAY SYSTEM. Other measures outlined in Yeltsin's decree on the natural monopolies are aimed at lowering tariffs for electricity and rail transportation, Nemtsov told reporters yesterday. The government will retain its 51% stake in the electricity utility Unified Energy System (EES). The Federal Energy Commission will set rates for transmission costs over EES power lines. Power plants will be able to sell directly to large consumers. Such sales, Nemtsov said, will lower electricity bills. He added that the government hoped to attract $8 billion in foreign and domestic investment for the electricity network. He said the railways will continue to be state-owned but the government will subsidize only passenger rail transportation. In addition, commuter trains servicing major cities will be subsidized by local budgets, not the federal government. SVYAZINVEST PRIVATIZATION TO BEGIN NEXT MONTH. In a third decree signed yesterday, Yeltsin ordered the sale of a 49% stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest, Russian news agencies reported. Nemtsov told reporters that a stake of 25% plus one share will be auctioned off next month, for a minimum price of $1.2 billion. Both foreign and Russian investors will be allowed to bid for the shares. A further 24% stake in Svyazinvest will be sold later this year, but only Russian investors will be allowed to participate in that auction. According to ITAR-TASS, Svyazinvest was founded in August 1995 and has a controlling interest in 86 regional telephone companies. RYBKIN CALLS FOR NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin writes in today's Nezavisimaya gazeta that he advocates drafting a "clear conceptual document defining strategy for countering international, military-political, and economic threats to Russia's security." He says the concept would provide the ideological foundation for the construction of Russian statehood and would determine medium-term national priorities. Rybkin singled out economic stabilization as crucial to preserving the country's defense potential and preventing social unrest, tensions between Russia's regions, and the further growth of crime in society and the economic sphere. He also argued that Russia's security system should be coordinated with international and regional systems, in particular the CIS Collective Security system. NATO is not mentioned in the article. Last year, Yeltsin called for the drafting of national security policy. ANOTHER BOMB ATTACK IN NORTH CAUCASUS. Two people were killed and 17 injured when a bomb exploded yesterday at the railway station in the north Caucasus town of Pyatigorsk, Russian agencies reported. Russian Security spokesmen said that 30 people have been detained in connection with the blast, which they attributed to Chechen militants. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov has denied any Chechen involvement, according to ITAR-TASS. LUZHKOV ACCUSES OPPONENTS OF PLOTTING AGAINST UNION WITH BELARUS. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar are plotting to scuttle a Russian- Belarusian union, Interfax reported yesterday. Luzhkov argued that the majority of citizens are in favor of the union but that opponents are waging an anti-Belarusian media campaign and seeking a nationwide referendum on unification as a stalling tactic. Berezovskii dismissed Luzhkov's comments as "populism." Although Luzhkov has repeatedly denied having presidential ambitions, he is considered among the likely candidates to succeed Yeltsin. In recent months, he has made many pronouncements likely to appeal to nationalist voters, in particular claiming that the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol is Russian territory. COMPROMISE REACHED IN ROMANOV JEWELS CONTROVERSY. Jewels from the Romanov dynasty were moved from Washington's Corcoran Gallery to the Russian embassy yesterday after Russian and U.S. negotiators reached agreement over the future of the priceless collection, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. Russian officials said the jewels, along with other Romanov artifacts, would be shown in Houston, Texas, before being returned to Russia. The exhibits were originally scheduled to go on show in four U.S. cities but will now be returned in time for the celebrations of Moscow's 850th anniversary. Russian officials had demanded the immediate return of the artifacts last week, citing safety concerns. MASKHADOV WANTS ANOTHER CONTRACT ON CASPIAN OIL TRANSPORTATION. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov yesterday called for a contract to be drawn up between Chechnya, Russia, and an international consortium exploiting three Azerbaijani Caspian oil fields to regulate the export of that oil via Chechnya to Novorossiisk, Interfax reported. But under its obligations to the Azerbaijani government, the consortium is required only to transport the oil as far as the Azerbaijani-Russian frontier. The oil is then transported through Russia under a separate agreement between the Azerbaijani government and the Russian pipeline company Transneft. Segodnya on 25 April reported that the Chechen leadership will agree to the transportation of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to Novorossiisk only if Russia approves the construction of a second pipeline to transport Kazakstan's Tengiz oil through Grozny to Georgia where it will link up with the Baku-Supsa pipeline. FIRE RAVAGES FAR EAST ARMS DEPOT. Shells were still exploding yesterday after a fire broke out on 27 April at an arms depot in Bira (Jewish Autonomous Oblast), RFE/RL's correspondent in Khabarovsk reported. Traffic was brought to a halt on the Trans-Siberian Railroad for several hours and power lines to Primorskii Krai were cut. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service told ITAR-TASS that a "flagrant violation" of safety rules was to blame for the fire But Lt. Gen. Vasilii Yukashev, chief of the Far Eastern Military District headquarters, suggested that a forest fire was responsible. It was the seventh Russian arms depot fire and the fifth in the Far East since May 1994. Aleksandr Zhilin, a military analyst for Moskovskie novosti and RFE/RL, commented that some experts say the fires are caused by lax discipline, while others suggest they are set deliberately to conceal illegal arms exports. IS DUMA SEEKING TO ANNUL POWER-SHARING TREATIES? Kommersant-Daily says a law recently adopted by the Duma would scrap the bilateral power-sharing agreements signed between the federal government and 26 regions. The daily was referring to a law passed by the Duma on 25 April declaring the Russian constitution and federal legislation to be supreme on all Russian Federation territory. The legislation was reportedly in response to concerns about "legal separatism" in the regions. But Kommersant-Daily said the next day that the law would upset the "truce" between Moscow and the regions because it would suspend the power-sharing agreements until the passage of special federal laws. The newspaper predicted that the Federation Council, which is made up of executive and legislative leaders from each region, will reject the law. TURKEY TO BUY RUSSIAN NATURAL GAS. The Turkish government has signed a 25-year agreement worth $13.5 billion with Gazprom, Reuters reported yesterday, quoting Mustafa Murathan, head of the Turkish national pipeline company Botas. Under that agreement, Turkish purchases of Russian natural gas will be increased from the current annual level of 6 billion cubic meters to 30 billion cubic meters. It is unclear how much gas will be transported to Turkey by the sole existing pipeline. Gazprom and Botas are currently conducting a feasibility study for a new pipeline from Izobilnoye to Ankara. Gazprom is seeking $3 billion in funding from European banks to finance the project. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA UYGHURS DEMONSTRATE IN KAZAKSTAN. Some 35 ethnic Uyghurs demonstrated in front of the Chinese Embassy in Almaty yesterday to protest the sentencing of 30 Uyghurs in China on charges of instigating the February riots in Yining, Xinjiang Province, Interfax and Reuters reported. Three of accused had been sentenced to death, while the others received stiff jail terms. The executions were carried out the same day as sentencing. Some demonstrators in Almaty were detained by Kazak militia. KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MAKES STATEMENT ON SOROS'S LETTER. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev yesterday said he will not get involved in problems between the Kyrgyz media and the republic's branch of the Soros foundation, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that those problems are "an internal affair of the Kyrgyz media." Soros recently sent Akayev a letter protesting media allegations that Chinara Jakipova, the head of the Kyrgyz branch of this foundation, has misused funds (see RFE/RL Newsline, 28 April 1997). UZBEK UPDATE. Uzbek President Islam Karimov late last week blasted the Russian press for being "in the pocket" of Russian companies such as LUKoil and Gazprom, Interfax and Kommersant Daily reported. Karimov was speaking at a session of the parliament earlier this week devoted to human rights, access to information, and the defense of journalists. He urged deputies to adopt new legislation stipulating that not only journalists but also their sources are responsible for what is reported. At the same session, Sayera Rashidova was appointed parliamentary commissioner on human rights. When Karimov asked her what she needs to fulfill her duties, Rashidova replied she had sufficient powers and would rely on "suggestions from state organs" as to how she can best perform her functions. IS RUSSIA'S PEACEKEEPING FORCE IN ABKHAZIA A NEW CASUS BELLI? by Liz Fuller Politicians and political commentators in both Russia and Georgia predict that fighting between Georgia's central government and its breakaway Black Sea region of Abkhazia may soon break out again. The catalyst for rising tensions is the peace-keeping force deployed by Russia in June 1994 along Georgia's internal border with Abkhazia. The main task of the force--which is overwhelmingly Russian but operates under the aegis of the CIS--is to expedite the return to their homes of up to 200,000 ethnic Georgians who fled from the region during hostilities the previous year. But the planned repatriation has been obstructed by the Abkhaz authorities, which tried to limit the number of returning Georgians to 200 a month. The peacekeepers have been unable to prevent violent reprisals by Abkhaz militants against some Georgian families who succeeded in returning to their homes. Moreover, the peacekeepers themselves have sustained considerable losses. Some 40 military and medical personnel have died in terrorist incidents, which the Abkhaz claim were perpetrated by Georgian agents provocateurs with links to that country's Ministry of National Security. The modalities for the repatriation of Abkhazia's Georgian population are laid down in an April 1994 agreement between Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian, and UN representatives. But the Abkhaz authorities have sought to delay its implementation by insisting, for example, that all applications to return to Abkhazia be screened to preclude the repatriation of Georgians involved in the 1992-1993 fighting. Many displaced Georgian families chose to circumvent the official procedures and returned illegally to their homes, primarily in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, whose pre-war population was 90% Georgian. Thousands of displaced Georgians are still quartered in hotels in Tbilisi and are increasingly exerting pressure on the Georgian leadership to expedite their return--if necessary by a military reconquest of Abkhazia. Three years of talks on a political settlement defining future relations between the Georgian and Abkhaz authorities have yielded minimal results. Tbilisi has offered Sukhumi what it terms "maximum autonomy" within a federation, but the Abkhaz have insisted they will accept nothing less than equal status within a confederation. In the hope of securing Russian help in restoring its hegemony over Abkhazia, the Georgian leadership insisted that ratification of a 1995 treaty granting Russia the right to maintain military bases in Georgia be made contingent on Russian assistance in increasing the combat capability of the shambolic Georgian armed forces and in restoring Georgia's territorial integrity. Beginning in January 1996, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has repeatedly tried to persuade fellow CIS heads of state that the peacekeepers' mandate should be expanded to enable them to protect repatriated families more effectively, but he has had no success. At last month's CIS summit in Moscow, participants agreed that the area over which the peacekeepers are deployed should be extended northward to include the whole of Gali Raion and part of the neighboring Ochamchire Raion. It was also agreed that a plan to implement that decision should be drawn up by late April. The Abkhaz leadership protested that the decision violated the formal May 1994 cease-fire agreement, whereby any change in the mandate of the peacekeeping force requires the consent of both the Georgian and the Abkhaz sides. Abkhaz Minister of Defense Vladimir Mikanba recently explained that the advance of peacekeepers into Ochamchire would necessitate moving Abkhaz military detachments currently deployed there and would thus put the local Abkhaz population in danger. He said Abkhazia would insist that the peacekeepers be withdrawn altogether rather than be allowed to redeploy. He also warned that such a development would result in new fighting between Georgian and Abkhaz troops. If hostilities were to resume, it is by no means certain that the Georgians could achieve their presumed objective of a swift and decisive military victory. Mikanba claims that Abkhazia would be able to mobilize 30,000 reservists to support its regular 5,000 troops. Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze claimed last year that the Georgian armed forces number 49,000, but independent observers consider that figure inflated. Georgia is said to enjoy a numerical advantage in terms of armored vehicles, aircraft, and artillery, while Abkhazia reportedly has more naval landing craft. Those vessels could prove advantageous if the Abkhaz chose to launch an attack behind Georgian lines or to engage in judicious sabotage. The port of Poti, from where Georgia plans to export a shipment of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to Ukraine next month, is only some 25 km down the coast from the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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