|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
Vol 1, No. 35, Part I, 21 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 35, Part I, 21 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 * CHERNOMYRDIN ADDRESSES DUMA ON BUDGET * MOSCOW APOLOGIZES FOR INTERCEPTION OF CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT'S PLANE * TAJIKISTAN WORRIED ABOUT AFGHAN BORDER xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN ADDRESSES DUMA ON BUDGET. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has defended the government's planned budget cuts in an address to the State Duma today, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reports. He insisted that the government will not fill the budget gap by printing money. Oleg Morozov of the Russian Regions faction has proposed an alternative sequestration bill that would cut spending equally across the board. Morozov told RFE/RL yesterday that such proportional cuts are in line with the law on the budget. In contrast, the government has proposed continuing to fully fund some programs while cutting others by 55% or 30%. Meanwhile, a Yabloko- sponsored motion to call a no-confidence vote fell a few signatures short of the 90 needed to put the vote on today's agenda. Yesterday, the Communist Duma faction voted to postpone consideration of a no-confidence motion against the government at least until June, Interfax reported. MOSCOW APOLOGIZES FOR INTERCEPTION OF CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT'S PLANE. Russian leaders have formally apologized for yesterday's incident in which Russian fighter planes intercepted Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov's plane shortly after it took off from Grozny en route for The Netherlands. When Arsanov refused to allow the pilot to land at Mineralnye Vody for a customs inspection, the plane was forced to return to Grozny. Russian Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin blamed the incident on "over-zealous officials," and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin issued orders that the flight be allowed to proceed unimpeded, according to AFP. Arsanov is to participate in a conference in The Hague on Russian- Chechen relations. PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN PREDICTS "BATTLE OF INTERPRETATIONS" OVER NATO. Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii says a "battle" is looming between Moscow and NATO over the interpretation and implementation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act agreed last week. In yet another indication that the "founding act" is far from the last word on the subject, Yastrzhembskii pointed out that the Russian parliament might attach "certain conditions" when it takes up the accord later this month. RUSSIAN NEGOTIATOR ON DIFFERENCES OVER RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN CHARTER. Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court and a leading negotiator on the Russian-Belarusian charter, discussed the remaining differences between Moscow and Minsk in an interview yesterday with an RFE/RL Moscow correspondent. Shakhrai said that Russia wants a federative union, to which Belarus is opposed, and thinks future decisions of a Russian-Belarusian Supreme Council should be signed by both Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The two sides also have yet to decide where the parliamentary assembly of the Russian- Belarusian union should be located. Yeltsin and Lukashenka are scheduled to discuss the charter tomorrow and sign the document on 23 May. LEBED SUPPORTS MERGER WITH BELARUS... Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said he supports a union with Belarus and believes Lukashenka will sign a union charter, despite its "drawbacks," ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Lebed recently met with Lukashenka in Minsk. He added that he agrees with charges made by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov concerning the alleged "Western patronage" of Russian opponents of the merger. Meanwhile, today's Komsomolskaya pravda argued that Yeltsin should call for a referendum on Russian-Belarusian union. Duma deputy Nikolai Gonchar, a strong supporter of integration, has called for holding a referendum on the matter. ..AS DO MANY REGIONAL LEADERS. Fourteen regional leaders have signed a letter supporting a Russian- Belarusian union, which was published yesterday by the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta. The signatories include several Communist-backed or "red" governors, such as Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, Amur Oblast Governor Anatolii Belonogov, and Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta. Others are staunch Yeltsin allies such as Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov and Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS CONTINUE TO IMPROVE. Tokyo has agreed to defer payment of Russia's $1.5 billion debt until 31 March 1999 and may extend this period until 2002. It also says it is ready to release a $90 million first installment of humanitarian aid worth $500 million that it promised Russia in 1991. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak said talks yesterday with Japan's ambassador to Moscow may soon lead to a joint venture for projects in the energy sector and the production of communications equipment. Reuters and AFP report today that Russian forces on the disputed Kuril Islands will be reduced, possibly in June. Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda is to arrive in Moscow tomorrow for an official visit. YELTSIN HALTS AIRBORNE TROOP REDUCTIONS. Yeltsin has ordered that the reorganization of the Airborne Forces be halted, Russian news agencies reported yesterday, citing presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii. In a message to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Chief of the General Staff Viktor Samsonov, and Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, Yeltsin warned that a "hasty" reduction in the airborne troops could harm their combat potential. Yeltsin is to chair a meeting of the Defense Council tomorrow. Col. Gen. Georgii Shpak, the commander of the Airborne Forces, announced the controversial planned cuts last month (see RFE/RL Newsline, 7 May 1997). CONTRACT FOR ARMY SUPPLIES AWARDED AFTER AUCTION. Four companies have been awarded contracts to supply sugar to the armed forces following an auction held yesterday, ITAR-TASS reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who has heralded open competitive bidding as an important weapon against corruption, attended yesterday's auction. Authorities publicized it as the first of its kind for army suppliers. However, today's Moskovskii komsomolets claimed that the Defense Ministry has held previous auctions before awarding contracts to suppliers. Moreover, the paper argued that the main problem afflicting the armed forces was not lack of competition for military contracts but lack of funds to pay suppliers. Moskovskii komsomolets also claimed that a new system for allocating money to the Defense Ministry, Border Troops, Interior Ministry, and Ministry for Emergency Situations would benefit selected banks that are close to the Kremlin. DEBAKEY SAYS YELTSIN "IN GOOD SHAPE." U.S. cardiologist Michael DeBakey said Yeltsin is "in good shape" following a meeting with the president yesterday, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the Kremlin press service. DeBakey, who is attending a congress of CIS cardiologists in Moscow, added that Yeltsin's recovery is proceeding "faster than expected." AFP reported that DeBakey also met with Yeltsin two or three months ago but that the Kremlin did not publicize that consultation. Although Yeltsin has made more public appearances in recent weeks, rumors that he is seriously ill continue to circulate in the Russian press. CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SAYS CUSTOMS AGENCIES CAN CONFISCATE CONTRABAND. The Constitutional Court has ruled that customs authorities have the right to confiscate illegal imports or exports, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The court said such confiscations are not a violation of private property rights. At the same time, citizens have the right to contest the confiscations in court. The Novgorod Oblast Court earlier asked the Constitutional Court to examine whether the Customs Code contradicts the constitutional guarantee that private property is inviolable. CRIMINAL CASE OPENED AGAINST ZHIRINOVSKY. The Moscow city police have opened a criminal case against Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Interfax reported yesterday. Zhirinovsky is being investigated under Article 213 of the Criminal Code, which deals with hooliganism, following an incident in which he struck two television journalists and forced one of them into his car (see RFE/RL Newsline, 9 May 1997). The State Duma would have to lift Zhirinovsky's immunity from criminal prosecution before charges could be brought against him. OECD HEAD SAYS RUSSIAN MEMBERSHIP LONG WAY OFF. Donald Johnston, the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says Russia will probably not be able to join the OECD in the near future, AFP reported yesterday. Russia requested admission to the OECD in 1996. Meanwhile, the State Statistics Committee released figures yesterday indicating that Russia's GDP during the first four months of 1997 was 810 trillion rubles ($140 billion), the same as for January-April 1996, Interfax reported. GOVERNMENT CONCERNED ABOUT REGIONAL TAX DEBTS. Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Petrov says the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Sakha (Yakutia) failed to transfer a combined total of 1 trillion rubles ($170 million) in collected taxes to the federal government during the first quarter of 1997, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. Appearing at a Duma hearing on the budget, Petrov said the government may cease to finance federal programs in those republics until it receives its share of collected taxes. All three republics have signed power-sharing agreements with the federal authorities allowing them to keep a greater portion of revenue collected on their territory than most Russian regions. Meanwhile, Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov yesterday questioned the government's economic policy priorities. According to today's Izvestiya, Rakhimov said the government should seek to revive domestic industry and pay wages and pensions before starting to reform housing and municipal services. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIKISTAN WORRIED ABOUT AFGHAN BORDER. Alarmed by reports of a mutiny in the ranks of Afghan General Rashid Dostum's forces and apparent successes by the Taliban militia in their drive northward, the Tajik government's power ministries met yesterday in Dushanbe to discuss ways to increase security along the border, RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan reported. But presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov later downplayed those concerns, saying measures on reinforcing the border with Afghanistan had already been taken when Andrei Nikolayev, the director of the Russian Federal Border Services, visited Tajikistan late last month. A "scheduled" training exercise is under way near the Tajik-Afghan border, involving Tajik border units, Security Ministry troops, the presidential guard, and other units of the Tajik army. KAZAKSTAN TO RECEIVE LOAN FROM ADB. Kazakstan will receive a $100 million loan from the Asian Development Bank, Russian media report. The funds are to be used to reform the pension system and could be augmented if Japan agrees to join the project. The loan will have an annual interest rate of 7% with a two-year grace period. Earlier this year, the ADB granted Kazakstan loans worth $85 million. KYRGYZSTAN TO STOP STATE SUBSIDIES FOR AGRICULTURE. President Askar Akayev has said that beginning next year, the state will cease to provide financial support to the agricultural sector, according to yesterday's Pravda-5 . Akayev cited misuse and non- payment of loans . He said it is time that farmers and herders sought financial aid from the country's banks. TRANS-CASPIAN PIPELINE IN THE OFFING? The presidents of Azerbaijan and Kazakstan may sign an agreement in Almaty next month on construction of a pipeline on the bed of the Caspian Sea to link up with the Baku-Supsa export pipeline, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. After meeting in Baku on 19 May with President Heidar Aliev, Nick Zana, director-general of Tengiz- Chevroil (the U.S.-Kazak company developing Kazakstan's giant Tengiz field), said his company is prepared to invest in Azerbaijan to increase oil exports. Small amounts of Tengiz oil are currently exported via Russia. Earlier this year, a trial shipment was sent by barge across the Caspian to Baku and from there by rail through Georgia to Batumi. Last month, Delovoy mir quoted Zana as saying that completion in late 1999 of the Caspian pipeline from Tengiz to Novorossiisk would resolve the transportation problem. ARMENIAN INDUSTRIALIST UNEASY ABOUT IMF PROPOSAL. One week before his death yesterday of a heart attack, Telman Ter-Petrossyan, elder brother of the Armenian president and director of one of Armenia's largest industrial plants, expressed concern at IMF representative Tanos Katsambas's proposal that Armenia seek new ways of utilizing its work force, particularly in small enterprises in the service sector, an RFE/RL correspondent in Yerevan reported. Katsambas made the proposal at a press conference last week. The IMF and the Armenian government have reached agreement on reform targets for this year, including banking reform and tax collection. The government will order firms to sell part of their assets if they are unable to pay tax arrears. This is the second year of a three-year ESAF loan to Armenia totaling approximately $138 million. NEW ARMENIAN FINANCE MINISTER APPOINTED. President Levon Ter-Petrossyan has issued decrees dismissing Levon Barkhudaryan as minister of finance and appointing former Central Bank Deputy Chairman Armen Darbinyan as his successor, ARMENPRESS reported on 19 and 20 May. Introducing Darbinyan to ministry staff, Ter- Petrossyan thanked Barkhudaryan for his contribution to Armenia's "clear and consistent" economic policy. GEORGIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH QUITS WCC. The Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Autocephalous Church voted yesterday in favor of leaving the largely protestant World Council of Churches, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. The priors of four monasteries had threatened to split from the Georgian church if it did not quit the council. The Synod dismissed the priors in question for "the most grievous sin of attempting to divide the church" and barred them from practicing as priests. GEORGIAN-CHECHEN TENSIONS. Ruslan Kutaev, special emissary of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, is currently in Georgia trying to defuse tensions among the Chechen population of Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, Nezavisimaya gazeta reports today. The tensions arose after the Georgian government established a road police checkpoint outside a village where some 1,000 ethnic Chechen families live. AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Isa Gambar and Vagif Kerimov, leaders of the Musavat and National Democratic Independence Parties, yesterday signed an agreement on regular consultations and cooperation in the forthcoming local election campaign and in combating separatism and bribery, Turan reported. The agreement is the latest of several cooperation accords between opposition parties, which have only seven seats in the parliament. END NOTE The Internet in Central Asia by Julie Moffett The five Central Asian states are only just getting onto the information superhighway, but progress is being made with the help of Western nations and organizations. Currently, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have limited computer networking capabilities. However, three of those five countries have established permanent Internet access and all have e-mail capability. Kazakstan and Uzbekistan were the first of the Central Asian states to establish a permanent Internet connection in 1994. Kyrgyzstan followed in 1995. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have not yet established permanent Internet access. However, the two nations, like all the countries of the former USSR since the early 1990s, have dial-up, non- permanent access to the Internet. Like most other countries in the region, the Central Asian states are hindered by an antiquated and technically deficient telecommunications infrastructure. There are currently no digital lines (designed to quickly exchange data) in Central Asia; all of the telephone lines are analog (designed to support voice). One Western organization actively involved in the process is the Eurasia Foundation, a U.S.-based, privately managed grant-making organization. Established in 1993 with a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the foundation has since awarded more than 70 grants totaling $1.7 million to help establish or improve Internet capability across the former Soviet Union. In 1994, the Foundation provided a substantial grant of $85,000 to the Project for Economic Reform and Development in Central Asia (PERDCA). PERDCA used the money to help establish the Silknet network, which has since provided e-mail service to subscribers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The region has also received substantial support from, among others, the Open Society Institute (OSI)--a private grant-making foundation funded by Hungarian-U.S. multi- millionaire George Soros, the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), ISAR (formerly known as the Institute on Soviet-American Relations), Chemonics International, and the Sacred Earth Network, a U.S.-based international non-profit environmental organization. However, there are still several major obstacles to improved Internet connectivity in Central Asia: poor telecommunications infrastructure; civil and political unrest in many areas, which impedes infrastructure reform and intimidates potential donors; the high cost of telephone lines; the inability of Central Asian governments to match funds with Western donors; and a dependence on international funding that makes it difficult for long-range planning. In 1995 in Kazakstan, a Soros program called the Open Society Institute -- Regional Internet Program (OSI-RIP), provided 30 secondary schools with the means to use e- mail and the Internet, purchased additional computer equipment, and supplemented the wages of local teachers participating in the project. IREX has set up four public access sites in Almaty, developed a strong user base, and trained local staff. Experts estimate Internet users in Kazakstan to total some 500, and e-mail users some 25,000. In Kyrgyzstan in 1995 and 1996, OSI-RIP provided 50 schools, one university, three medical institutions and several other organizations with computer equipment and access to e-mail. Also in 1996, the Eurasia Foundation awarded grants, intended mostly for information networking purposes and totaling nearly $61,000, to a variety of organizations. Experts estimate Internet users in Kyrgyzstan to total some 500 and e-mail users some 5,000. In 1995, OSI-RIP, in coordination with PERDCA and the Eurasia Foundation, installed the first e-mail system in Tajikistan. By July 1995, the system was fully operational with about 60 users. The following year, OSI-RIP expanded the project to about 700 users. Experts estimate the number of e-mail users at between 800 and 1,000. In Turkmenistan the Ashgabad-based Catena Ecological Club, in cooperation with Sacred Earth Network, established a network called CAT-Net. The network currently serves several environmental groups, individuals, scientists, and journalists in Turkmenistan--all of whom use the network free of charge. Experts estimate the number of e-mail users at between 200 and 500. In Uzbekistan, the government has allowed the state- owned telecommunications company Uztelekom to enter into a number of foreign joint-ventures to work toward the completion of the ambitious "Program for the Modernization and Development of the Telecommunications Networks by the Year 2010." The goal of that program is to increase the number of installed telephone lines and reach complete digitalization by the year 2010. Last November, the Uzbek Ministry of Communications named Daewoo Telecom, a South Korean firm, and Korea Telecom as partners in a project to replace 350,000 analog telephone lines in the country and add approximately 100,000 digital lines within three years. Experts estimate the number of Internet users in Uzbekistan to be between 250 and 1,000 and e-mail users at some 5,000. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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