|A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. - Jonathan Swift|
Vol 1, No. 26, Part I, 7 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 26, Part I, 7 May 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/ Note for readers: Newsline will not appear tomorrow, 8 May, a holiday in the Czech Republic. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * MORE PROGRESS ON RUSSIAN-NATO CHARTER * OPPOSITION DUMA DEPUTIES SLAM PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS * RUSSIA TO CHAIR NEW ROUND OF TALKS ON ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MORE PROGRESS ON RUSSIAN-NATO CHARTER. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana made progress during three-hour talks in Luxembourg yesterday but failed to reach final agreement on a charter between Russia and the alliance, Reuters reported. A joint statement said Solana and Primakov agreed to ´intensify negotiations└ on the charter but gave no further details. After yesterday┘s meeting, AFP quoted NATO diplomats as saying negotiations are ´in the final phase└ and that a charter will be ready for signing on 27 May. OPPOSITION DUMA DEPUTIES SLAM PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says his supporters in the State Duma will not approve the government┘s proposed budget sequester of 108 trillion rubles ($19 trillion), AFP reported yesterday. He vowed to force the government to stick to the budget passed in February. Nikolai Ryzhkov, leader of the Popular Power Duma faction, complained that the Duma was ´deceived└ and wasted time passing the 1997 budget. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev also criticized the budget cuts, adding that the Duma itself is facing a ´colossal budget crisis,└ Interfax reported. He blamed First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais for not transferring money to the lower house of parliament, leaving deputies unable even to photocopy bills. MIXED SIGNALS ON DEFENSE SPENDING. Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Gennadii Kulik said the proposed sequester would reduce defense spending by about 20%, from 104.3 trillion rubles ($18 billion) to 83.1 trillion ($14 billion), ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Aleksandr Zhukov, another deputy chairman of the Budget Committee, said the cuts would affect purchases of new equipment and ammunition but not soldiers┘ wages. However, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told Interfax yesterday that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has endorsed the 1997 defense order that keeps funding for new equipment at last year's levels. Government spending on defense has fallen far below budgeted levels in recent years. The military newspaper Krasnaya zvezda warned on 24 April that even if the entire defense budget were paid out, 104 trillion rubles would be enough to supply and equip the armed forces only for nine months. AIRBORNE TROOPS TO BE CUT AGAIN. Col. Gen. Georgii Shpak, the commander of the Airborne Forces, says his troops will be downsized from 48,000 to 34,000 by 1 September, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. ´There will be fewer of us, but we will be better,└ he commented. In yesterday┘s Komsomolskaya pravda., former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who was once a paratroop general, slammed plans to cut the airborne troops, which, he said, are unique for their ability to quell regional conflicts and fight in ´extreme situations.└ Last October, two days before he was sacked from the Security Council, Lebed had said Defense Minister Rodionov┘s directive to reduce the airborne troops from 64,000 to 48,000 was "criminal." Shpak┘s predecessor, Col. Gen. Yevgenii Podkolzin, officially retired that month. However, he is widely believed to have been fired for opposing the troop reductions. PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR STATE ANTI-TERRORIST SYSTEM. Chernomyrdin said yesterday that creating a state system to combat terrorism is a "top priority" and that the government should not be tight-fisted over funding such a body, ITAR-TASS and Russian Independent Television reported. Chernomyrdin was chairing the first session of the government anti-terrorism commission. Russian Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told the commission that his agency thwarted 573 planned terrorist attacks in Russia last year. LUZHKOV VS. NEMTSOV OVER HOUSING REFORM. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has once again criticized the government┘s planned housing reform, saying the public will not be able to pay higher prices for rent and municipal services, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. He added that helping domestic industry should be a higher priority for the government than housing reform. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov argued in today┘s Nezavisimaya gazeta that Luzhkov has long supported the housing reform outlined in a recent presidential decree. Nemtsov added that Moscow will benefit from reducing state spending on housing, since Moscow spends 43% of the city budget on housing and municipal services--far more than in any other Russian region. AGRARIAN LEADER SAYS SOWING CAMPAIGN REQUIRES EMERGENCY FUNDING. Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin says funding shortfalls will harm the spring sowing campaign if the government does not take emergency measures, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. He said many farmers lacked the money to buy high-quality seeds. An Agriculture Ministry official told Interfax yesterday that Russian farmers are far ahead of the sowing rate in 1996. However, Lapshin said reports of high sowing rates were misleading because spring arrived early in the Russian south. The government┘s proposed budget sequester would cut subsidies to the agrarian sector by 55%. In the first quarter of 1997, the government paid out only 11% of the funds allocated for agriculture. CARS USED BY "PASHA MERCEDES" TO BE SOLD. Two Mercedes that were used by former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev will be sold at the first auction of the government┘s foreign automobiles, scheduled to take place next month, Russian news agencies reported yesterday, citing First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov urged Yeltsin to issue a decree in March ordering all government officials to drive Russian-made cars. The popular daily Moskovskii komsomolets dubbed Grachev ´Pasha Mercedes└ in a 1994 article on alleged military corruption. CHECHEN PRESIDENT OFFERS REWARD FOR RELEASE OF JOURNALISTS. Speaking on Chechen TV yesterday, Aslan Maskhadov offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the release of four journalists from Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS who were abducted in Grozny two months ago, Russian agencies reported. Maskhadov also expressed satisfaction at the successful police operation the same day in which two abducted journalists from a Urals newspaper were released and two suspects arrested. IRAQ ENDORSES OIL DEAL WITH RUSSIA. The Iraqi government has approved an agreement whereby the Russian oil companies Zarubezhneft and Lukoil will invest $3.5 billion to develop the Qurnah oil field in southern Iraq, AFP reported yesterday, citing the Iraqi news agency INA. The Russian parliament ratified the deal on 14 April. Former Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov argued at the time that the deal does not contravene international trade sanctions against Iraq. CABINET RESHUFFLE UNDER WAY IN ST. PETERSBURG. Two of St. Petersburg's five deputy governors have recently resigned and two more are expected to step down next week, RFE/RL┘s correspondent in St. Petersburg reported yesterday. Some commentators believe the reshuffle is a ´populist step└ in response to a referendum drive against Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. Supporters of the referendum gathered 40,000 signatures on 1 May alone and seem certain to collect the required 150,000 signatures by 18 May. The referendum would ask St. Petersburg residents whether the city's social and economic policies have lowered their standard of living and whether they believe Yakovlev should step down. Valentin Metus, one of the deputy governors to resign, was responsible for implementing a highly unpopular housing reform in February. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA TO CHAIR NEW ROUND OF TALKS ON ABKHAZIA. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told journalists yesterday that Russia will chair a new round of talks between Georgia and the leadership of the breakaway Black Sea region of Abkhazia on expanding the mandate of the CIS peacekeeeping force there, ITAR-TASS reported. The decision to broaden the peacekeepers' mandate was taken at the March CIS summit. Last week, a Russian Foreign Ministry delegation held talks with the Abkhaz leadership, which rejects the proposed deployment of peacekeepers in Ochamchira Raion and argues that no changes can be made in the force's mandate without Abkhazia's consent. Meanwhile, Leni Fischer, the president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said in Tibilisi yesterday that the Abkhaz dispute is not an obstacle to Georgia's aspirations for full council membership. GEORGIA REITERATES CLAIM TO PART OF BLACK SEA FLEET. Presidential press spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze told journalists in Tbilisi yesterday that Georgia wants to participate in the ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on dividing the Black Sea fleet, Interfax reported. Abashidze said that Georgia is entitled to some 20 vessels formerly stationed at the Poti naval base because of its contribution to the creation and upkeep of the fleet. Ukraine, which supports Georgia's claims, handed over one military coastguard vessel to Tibilisi last month. NEW INFORMATION ON APRIL VIOLENCE IN TAJIKISTAN. Nezavisimaya Gazeta on 5 May reported that some 150 people died and more than 200 were wounded when police stormed a prison in Khujand where inmates had staged an insurrection (RFE/RL Newsline, 17 April 1997). Earlier reports had said some 20 people were killed and several dozen wounded. The government is reportedly still releasing the bodies of the deceased to their families ´two or three at a time└ to avoid fomenting tension. The newspaper also reported that local authorities ignored a warning from Khujand residents of the 30 April assassination attempt on President Imomali Rakhmonov. Two people were killed and more than 70 wounded in the attack. Nezavisimaya Gazeta said the one grenade thrown at Rakhmonov was not responsible for all the casualties and that the president┘s bodyguards began firing indiscriminately into the crowd. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES EXECUTION IN KAZAKSTAN. Amnesty International sent a letter to the Kazak government yesterday protesting the execution of Oleg Gorozashvili. The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by RFE/RL, claims the Kazak authorities promised not to carry out the execution until the conclusion of a full investigation into Gorozashvili's case. Amnesty International twice appealed for a stay of execution, but Gorozashvili was nonetheless executed at the end of April. Kazak authorities have not revealed what charges were brought against Gorozashvili. END NOTE OVERCOMING THE FINAL BARRIERS TO A CHECHEN PEACE AGREEMENT by Liz Fuller Over the past few days, the Chechen leadership has moved to deal with two problems that reflect negatively on Grozny and threaten to sabotage ongoing peace talks with Moscow. The first problem is posed by the so-called "Indians," who are Chechen armed fighters refusing to acknowledge loyalty to President Aslan Maskhadov or to comply with his directives to disarm all guerrilla formations that engaged in the war against Russia. Information about the identity of those militants and their leaders is sparse and contradictory. Since hostilities ceased last August, they have increasingly turned to criminal activities, such as hostage-taking. Many Russian commentators believe the "Indians" were responsible for the recent abductions of journalists and the cold-blooded killings in December of six unarmed Red Cross personnel. On 4 May, Maskhadov warned that senior Chechen Interior Ministry staff would be fired if they did not make demonstrable progress within one month toward combating crime. Maskhadov was reported to be particularly concerned that the failure to locate and secure the release of four journalists abducted in Grozny in early March showed up his leadership in poor light. He also proposed to evaluate the track record of senior police personnel, prompting charges from among those targeted that the objectivity of the commission tasked with carrying out the evaluations is questionable. Such proposals have in the past yielded minimal results. In mid- March, Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev had offered kidnappers immunity from prosecution if they released their hostages unharmed, but few took him up on his offer. Maskhadov's second headache is maverick field commander Salman Raduev, who on 4 May claimed to have ordered the recent bomb attacks in Armavir and Pyatigorsk, which killed a total of five people and injured several dozen. Raduev gained notoriety for masterminding the seizure of hostages in the Dagestani town of Kizlyar in January 1996. He was reported killed in a shootout with Russian troops in March 1996 but resurfaced in July. Since then, he has regularly threatened to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Russian cities in revenge for the killing of Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev, to whom he was related by marriage. Raduev's threats of reprisals against Russian civilians are grist to the mill of hard-line Russian political figures such as Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, who adduces those threats as evidence that Maskhadov is incapable of establishing his control over Chechnya. In addition, Raduev is said to support Grozny's annexation of regions in neighboring Dagestan inhabited by ethnic Chechens. Such a scenario could act as the catalyst for renewed hostilities in the North Caucasus. In mid-April, Raduev was reported to have been seriously injured in an assassination attempt. He was quoted by ITAR-TASS as claiming responsibility for the Armavir bombing; but just days later, he denied any involvement either in that incident or in the Pyatigorsk attack. Chechen spokesmen dismissed his claims as the product of a "sick mind." On 5 May, a warrant was issued to search for and detain, but apparently not arrest, Raduev. This measure may have been taken out of genuine exasperation or out of tactical expediency, especially since a firm agreement with Moscow now seems within reach. How easy it will prove to implement that measure is questionable: one of Raduev's advisors told RIA that the field commander presides over more than 4,000 men and that "no one will be able to hold him." (No doubt there are people in both Grozny and Moscow who are fervently hoping Raduev will be killed while forcibly resisting detention.) Meanwhile, the peace process appears to be gathering momentum. Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told Russian Independent Television on 5 May that a fundamental document on Russian-Chechen relations is near completion. He hinted that it contains some kind of acknowledgment of the sufferings inflicted on the Chechen nation by Russia over the past several centuries, including the mass deportation in 1944. Moscow is reportedly also considering meeting Grozny's demand for a share of the tariffs from oil transported through Chechnya. Also on 5 May, Russian President Boris Yeltsin instructed government officials to coordinate future statements and initiatives on Chechnya with Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin, who enjoys a constructive working relationship with Maskhadov. Among other things, Yeltsin's directive may have been intended to muzzle Kulikov. Rybkin predicted that when Maskhadov and Yeltsin meet to hammer out the final differences over the peace agreement, "there will be no shortage of goodwill." But it seems that Maskhadov will need more than his share of good luck. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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