|If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them. - Francis Bacon|
Vol 1, No. 32, Part I, 16 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 32, Part I, 16 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * REACTION TO RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD MIXED * YELTSIN ISSUES ANOTHER ANTI-CORRUPTION DECREE * NEW DEAL SIGNED ON CASPIAN PIPELINE CONSORTIUM xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA REACTION TO RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD MIXED. Russian politicians are divided in their assessment of the NATO- Russia Founding Act. Speaking in Hawaii yesterday, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov cautiously noted that the accord has not eliminated all problems in Russia's relations with the alliance, Interfax reported. Duma Security Committee Chairman and Communist Viktor Ilyukhin denounced the agreement as "another example of the betrayal of Russia's interests." But Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev welcomed the accord, saying it showed NATO was taking Russia's concerns into account. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko praised it for something it does not contain: an absolute ban on the stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of new members. Meanwhile, the U.S. government continued to play down President Boris Yeltsin's assertion that Moscow has gained a veto over NATO decisions. The White House press secretary said Yeltsin's comments were directed at the Russian people. YELTSIN ISSUES ANOTHER ANTI-CORRUPTION DECREE. Vowing to "put an end to the situation in which civil service becomes a source of enrichment," Yeltsin has signed a decree to force cabinet members, parliamentary deputies, and other federal and regional officials to release income and property declarations. In a nationwide radio address today, Yeltsin promised that both the public and the media would have access to the financial declarations and said he would begin by releasing information on his own assets. The decree encourages, but does not require, family members of state officials to declare their incomes and assets. Russian media commentaries about the measure have been skeptical. Izvestiya noted yesterday that corrupt officials have had plenty of time to transfer their ill-gotten assets to family members or foreign bank accounts. CABINET CONFIRMS LIMITS ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN GAZPROM. The government has confirmed that foreign investors will be allowed to purchase no more than 9% of the shares in the gas monopoly Gazprom, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev presented a restructuring plan at the cabinet meeting. He said the company will save 2.2 trillion rubles ($380 million) by removing about 100,000 people from its payroll. It was unclear how many workers would be fired and how many would continue to work for enterprises that will no longer be run by Gazprom. Vyakhirev indicated that the gas monopoly will spin off some of the company's social infrastructure and branches that are involved in construction, research, and agriculture. DUMA BUDGET COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS REJECTING SEQUESTER. The Duma Budget Committee has made a preliminary recommendation to reject the government's proposed sequester of 108 trillion rubles ($19 billion) from the 1997 budget, Interfax reported yesterday. The committee vote was nearly unanimous. Only Deputy Budget Committee Chairman Aleksei Golovkov of the pro- government Our Home Is Russia faction advocated supporting the budget cuts. However, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who attended the committee meeting, argued that the budget cuts could be ordered by the prime minister if the Duma did not approve the draft law on the sequester. FEDERATION COUNCIL CONCERNED ABOUT FUNDING OF AGRICULTURE. The Federation Council has passed a resolution urging the government to improve financing of the agricultural sector, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. State spending on agriculture during the first quarter of 1997 was only 11% of budgeted targets, and the government's proposed sequester would reduce spending on agriculture to 45% of budgeted levels for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Yeltsin yesterday vetoed amendments to the law on agricultural cooperatives, passed by parliament last month. In a statement, the president said the amendments would have deprived farmers wanting to leave a cooperative of the right to receive land and other property. NEW CHIEF MILITARY PROCURATOR CONFIRMED. The Federation Council on 14 May confirmed Lt. Gen. Yurii Demin as Russia's new chief military procurator, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev had argued that appointing a civilian to the post would ensure the military procurator greater independence from the Defense Ministry. But Russia's Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov dismissed that argument. In an interview with RFE/RL, Skuratov noted that the military procurator reports to the procurator-general, not to the Defense Ministry. Today's Izvestiya quotes Demin as saying he will be "merciless" in fighting corrupt generals who "disgrace" the title of Russian officer. Meanwhile, today's edition of Trud reports that investigators from the Military Procurator's Office have searched the home of Deputy Defense Minister and Army Gen. Konstantin Kobets, whom press reports have beeen linked to corruption. DUMA PASSES LAW ON WITNESS PROTECTION. The Duma on 14 May passed the first witness protection law in Russian history, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. If the law is approved by the Federation Council and the president, crime victims, eyewitnesses, and experts who testify against criminals could apply for protected status. Protected individuals could be provided with bodyguards or firearms and, in extreme cases, moved to another part of the country and given new documents, financial aid, and housing. If protected individuals were killed, their families would receive special compensation benefits. Interior Ministry officials quoted by Kommersant-Daily welcomed the law. They pointed out it would end the practice of releasing the names and addresses of all court witnesses in criminal cases, which is said to have hindered criminal investigations in the past. IZVESTIYA ATTACKS LUKOIL FOR ALLEGED CRIMINAL TIES, TAX EVASION. Izvestiya has again sharply attacked its largest shareholder, the oil company LUKoil. Yesterday's edition included an article, signed by the newspaper's "analytic center," saying some influential officials in the company have criminal ties. The article also claimed that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's personal patronage has allowed LUKoil and its subsidiaries to escape punishment for owing at least 1.2 trillion rubles ($208 million) to the federal budget. Confusion continues over how large a stake LUKoil has in Izvestiya . Its journalists deny the company's claims to hold 51% of the shares. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported earlier this week that the Sidanko oil company, in cooperation with Oneksimbank, has purchased a 20% stake in Izvestiya. SOLDIERS' MOTHERS GROUP DENOUNCES WIDESPREAD HAZING. The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers has received some 6,000 complaints from soldiers or their families about brutal hazing in the armed forces and another 1,900 requests for help, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Committee representatives Lyubov Kuznetsova and Valentina Melnikova said it is difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice, in part because Russian criminal law has no definition of torture. In addition, hazing victims are reluctant to press charges, fearing reprisals. Instead, they often desert the army. Partly as a result of the hazing problem, various soldiers' mothers groups frequently hold public meetings across Russia giving advice on how to evade the draft or secure exemptions. COURT REJECTS CHORNOBYL WORKERS' COMPENSATION CLAIMS. The Moscow City Court has rejected in part a lawsuit against the Finance Ministry filed by 80 workers who helped clean up after the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May. The workers claim that the ministry is not paying compensation for damage to their health, as stipulated by a 1995 amendment to a law on benefits for Chornobyl survivors. However, the court ruled that since the Finance Ministry was not the workers' employer when they were involved in the Chornobyl clean-up, it cannot be sued for compensation. The workers have vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. At the same time, the Moscow City Court upheld the Chornobyl workers' demand for pension payments. The Finance Ministry says it lacks the funds to pay the clean-up workers' pensions. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PREMIER RAISES POSSIBILITY OF ANNEXING NAGORNO-KARABAKH. Robert Kocharyan, former president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, told the Armenian parliament yesterday that "serious discussion" could be given to the possibility of the enclave's incorporation into Armenia if the government of the NKR made a formal request to that effect, according to Interfax. Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzoumanian, however, told the parliament that the question of Nagorno-Karabakh's future status should be resolved by the OSCE Minsk Group. Representatives of the group met in Washington yesterday, RFE/RL reported. NEW DEAL SIGNED ON CASPIAN PIPELINE CONSORTIUM. Members of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium met in Moscow today to sign a new agreement on dividing shares in the project, Interfax reported. Representatives of the governments of Russia, Kazakstan, and Oman as well the oil companies involved in the project took part in the signing ceremony. Russia owns 24% of the shares, Kazakstan 19%, Oman 7%, Chevron Oil 15%, Mobil Oil 7.5%, Oryx 1.75%, the LukArco joint venture 12.5%, Russian-British company Rosneft-Shell 7.5%, British Gas and Agip 2% each, and Kazakstan Pipeline 1.75%. NAZARBAYEV WANTS RUSSIAN PRESS TO PROMOTE RELATIONS WITH KAZAKSTAN. Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev today told visiting Russian journalists they should promote broadening cooperation between Kazakstan and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he wanted Russian media to help create a "mutually advantageous atmosphere" for the development of bilateral relations. He added they also should help "break the resistance" of certain forces in Russia who oppose Kazak-Russian cooperation on a new "equal" level. The delegation of Russian journalists is led by Russian presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii. KYRGYZSTAN ADOPTS ANTI-INFLATION MEASURES. The government has approved measures designed to cut inflation to 17% this year, according to Interfax. The prices of goods and services are to be controlled and value- added tax on utilities slashed. The government will "tightly regulate" the money supply and float the rate of the national currency. It also plans to ask Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia not to increase the price of energy supplies. In April, the EBRD predicted inflation in Kyrgyzstan would exceed 20% by year's end. END NOTE Yeltsin and Parliament Continue to Battle over Trophy Art by Jan Cleave The duel between President Boris Yeltsin and the parliament over trophy art peaked again earlier this week. Overwhelmingly rejecting a presidential veto, the Federation Council voted on 14 May to declare that cultural valuables seized by Soviet troops from Germany at the end of World War II are Russian property and "just compensation" for the losses and injustices inflicted by the Nazis. Yeltsin claims the trophy art law contravenes both the constitution and international legislation. He will now appeal to the Constitutional Court to quash the controversial bill. The trophy art law has long been a thorn in the president's flesh. An initial version was passed by the Duma at its very first session following Yeltsin's re-election as president last summer. Negotiations between post-Soviet Russia and unified Germany on the return of the artworks had deadlocked, and the communist-dominated Duma seemed intent on forcing the hand of the newly re-elected president, who, from time to time, had resorted to nationalist patriotic rhetoric during his election campaign. But the Duma's bid was foiled by the Federation Council, which rejected the bill and thereby saved Yeltsin from having to impose a veto and face the inevitable accusations of false patriotism. By the time the Duma passed a mildly revised form of the law, gubernatorial elections had increased the independence of the Council. The legislation was approved by the upper house in March and then swiftly vetoed by an unyielding Yelstin. Last month, the Federation Council spared Yeltsin another potential embarrassment -- this time abroad and on German soil, to boot. On the eve of the 17 April meeting between the Russian president and Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Baden-Baden, the upper house opted for a postal ballot on whether to override the presidential veto, thereby postponing a final decision for several weeks. Yeltsin departed for Germany secure in the knowledge that German newspapers the next morning would not run angry headlines about Russia's laying claim to the disputed treasures. It was also fortunate for Yeltsin that the official results of the mail vote were released on the same day that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana agreed on the Russia- NATO Founding Act. International media thus focused on post-Cold War detente rather than on Russian squabbling over war booty. And later that day, German media turned its attention to a trophy art issue on home turf, as reports began to emerge that a mosaic fragment from the legendary Amber Room -- dismantled and hauled away from Tsarskoe Selo by the Nazis during World War II -- had been found in northern Germany. In opposing the trophy art law, Yelstin has repeatedly raised legalistic objections echoing those of Germany, which is Russia's largest lender and perceived by many as its closest ally in the West. When he vetoed the law in mid- March, he argued that the unilateral declaration of the trophy art as Russian property breached international legislation, a position frequently stressed by German officials (who also point to the provision for the return of all war booty in the 1992 friendship treaty between Moscow and Bonn). Yeltsin also stressed the law's potential negative impact on relations not only with Germany but also with countries such as Holland and Italy, which claim some of the trophy art was removed from their territory before the Soviets carted it off to Moscow. And, in an apparent bid to somewhat appease the nationalists -- without unduly upsetting the Germans -- the Russian president noted that the law would hinder efforts to retrieve artworks seized from the Soviet Union during the war. But legalistic arguments and warnings about foreign- policy blunders have had little impact in the face of nationalist outpourings in the parliament. The law's proponents have struck a chord among Russians by frequently reminding them of the 27 million Soviet citizens claimed to have perished in the Great Patriotic War. They say that the 200,000 works of art, 2 million books, and 3 kilometers of archival material that Germany wants returned are minimal compensation for Russian loss of life and the widespread destruction of artworks and monuments. Museum curators in Moscow and St. Petersburg have reinforced this emotive pressure by organizing exhibitions of trophy art with such seemingly benign titles as "Twice Saved" (once from the Nazis and then from Soviet neglect). Yeltsin's representative at the Constitutional Court has said that the president will appeal to the court to reject the law. The same day the Federation Council overruled his veto, Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted the constitutional provision stating that in cases where international law and Russian federal law are at odds, international law will be applied. If Yeltsin wins on this and other points, he will have gained time before the parliament makes another legislative bid to secure ownership of the trophy art. He is likely to use that time to seek a solution with Germany that, in both his and Kohl's words, is fair to each side. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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