Words that open our eyes to the world are always the easiest to remember. - Ryszard Kapuscinski
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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/

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Headlines, Part I

* RUSSIANS TO PAY MORE FOR HOUSING

* YELTSIN DECREES RESTRUCTURING OF GAZPROM

* ANOTHER BOMB ATTACK IN NORTH CAUCASUS
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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.

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               Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc.
                     All rights reserved.
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