On this shrunken globe, men can no longer live as strangers. - Adlai Stevenson
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol 1, No. 36, Part I, 22 May 1997


Vol 1, No. 36, Part I, 22 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/

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Headlines, Part I

* MAJOR PURGE OF DEFENSE MINISTRY UNDER WAY

* YELTSIN RETURNS TROPHY ART LAW TO PARLIAMENT

* DUMA DECLARES GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE "UNSATISFACTORY"

End Note : RUSSIA TO HAVE NEW NATIONWIDE TELEVISION NETWORK

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RUSSIA

MAJOR PURGE OF DEFENSE MINISTRY UNDER WAY. President Boris Yeltsin has sacked
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and First Deputy Defense Minister Viktor
Samsonov, the chief of the General Staff, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on
22 May. Chairing a meeting of the Defense Council, Yeltsin said he was not
just dissatisfied but "indignant over the state of reforms in the army and the
general state of the armed forces," according to ITAR-TASS. Rodionov and
Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin have long clashed over military
reform. Yeltsin has appointed Army Gen. Igor Sergeev, the head of the
Strategic Rocket Forces, as acting defense minister. Meanwhile, sacked Army
Gen. Konstantin Kobets has been arrested on corruption charges and taken to
Moscow's Lefortovo prison after being released from the hospital, Russian news
agencies reported on 21 May. Kobets was fired as Russia's deputy defense
minister and chief military inspector the previous day (see RFE/RL Newsline,
19 and 20 May 1997). He denies the charges against him.

YELTSIN RETURNS TROPHY ART LAW TO PARLIAMENT. Yeltsin has returned the trophy
art law to the parliament for a second time, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May,
citing the presidential press service. A statement said the law, which would
ban the return of cultural valuables seized from Germany during World War II,
was adopted "with violations of the constitutional procedure." The president's
action appears to be based on the unusual voting procedure the Federation
Council used to override Yeltsin's veto. Written ballots were distributed to
all deputies, including those who did not attend the Council's session in
Moscow. The Constitution states that a two-thirds majority in both houses of
parliament is needed to override presidential vetoes but does not specify what
kind of balloting procedure must be used. Yeltsin had been expected to appeal
to the Constitutional Court against the terms of the trophy art law (see "End
Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 16 May 1997).

DUMA DECLARES GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE "UNSATISFACTORY"... The State Duma passed
by 233 votes to 88 with one abstention a resolution declaring the performance
of the government during the first quarter of 1997 as "unsatisfactory,"
RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 May. While seeking to win the Duma's
support for the government's proposed budget sequester, First Deputy Prime
Minister Anatolii Chubais said the government is willing to compromise on the
size of the budget cuts. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised that the
government would fund a new parliamentary newspaper and allocate time for a
regular 30-minute program about parliament on state-run television, ITAR-TASS
reported. However, numerous Duma deputies criticized the government for
proposing large budget cuts but no specific measures to increase revenues. The
Duma delayed consideration of the draft law on the sequester. Deputies appear
almost certain to reject it.

...BUT NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION SET TO FAIL. Duma deputies from the Yabloko and
the left-leaning Popular Power factions have collected 96 signatures in favor
of putting a no confidence vote on the Duma's agenda soon. However, the
leaders of larger parliamentary factions have spoken out against such a vote,
RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 May. Communist Party leader Gennadii
Zyuganov called on the Duma to vote against the policies pursued by Yeltsin
and to request a government reshuffle. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky also said he would not support a vote of no
confidence, describing Chernomyrdin as the "lesser of two evils." Opposition
Duma deputies have long maintained that voting no confidence in the government
would allow Yeltsin to dissolve the Duma and replace Chernomyrdin with Chubais
or First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.

COMMUNISTS PURSUE NON-PARLIAMENTARY METHODS OF STRUGGLE. Meanwhile, Zyuganov
announced that the Communist Party is preparing to organize massive public
protests against government policies, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21
May. Zyuganov also said his party has collected 3 million signatures demanding
Yeltsin's resignation, Interfax reported. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii
says the Communists back Chernomyrdin's government because they are likely to
benefit most from the widespread popular discontent with government policies.
In an interview with RFE/RL on 21 May, Sergei Baburin, the co-leader of the
Popular Power faction, criticized the Communists for backing down from
numerous ultimatums to the government since last summer. Baburin noted that
the Duma's failure to vote no confidence has kept Chernomyrdin in office but
has not reduced Chubais's influence over economic policy.

SPOKESMAN WARNS NATO ON EXPANSION TO FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS. Presidential
spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has repeated that if NATO expands to include
former Soviet republics, Russia will review all its foreign policy priorities
and its relations with the West, "including the Founding Act," Interfax
reported on 22 May. Yeltsin's top foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, on
21 May rejected recent suggestions by U.S. officials that Russia might
eventually join NATO, Interfax reported. While admitting that Russian and
Western interpretations of the Russia-NATO Founding Act have differed
significantly, Prikhodko suggested this was "quite natural" as each side tried
to stress what it had gained from negotiations. Meanwhile, LDPR leader
Zhirinovsky on 21 May compared Russia's new security deal with NATO to the
1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany,
Reuters reported.

PRIMAKOV CALLS FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii
Primakov on 21 May called for a resumption of the Middle East peace talks on
the principle of "land for peace." Primakov was speaking to journalists after
meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Farouk-al-Sharaa, in Moscow. Yeltsin also
discussed the stalled peace negotiations with Al-Sharaa by telephone. Last
month, Russian envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk toured Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza
Strip, and Israel in an attempt to revive the peace process. Russia and the
U.S. are co-sponsors of that process.

RUSSIA TO HELP CHINA BUILD NUCLEAR POWER STATION. At the first meeting of the
Russian-Chinese Subcommittee on Nuclear Issues on 21 May, an agreement was
signed to design a nuclear power plant for China's Jiansu Province, Russian
news agencies report. The agreement was made possible through a deal reached
by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Peng, last
December in Moscow. Neither the cost nor a timeline for plant construction was
made available.

CHECHEN, INGUSH PRESIDENTS VISIT TATARSTAN. Aslan Maskhadov and his Tatar
counterpart, Mintimer Shaimiev, signed a friendship and cooperation treaty in
Kazan on 21 May, Russian media reported. Speaking to journalists, Maskhadov
expressed his gratitude to Shaimiev for his "principled support" during the
war in Chechnya. Maskhadov also met with Tatar Prime Minister Farit
Mukhametshin to discuss economic cooperation. RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reports
that a working group was set up to examine the possibility of Tatar
participation in restoring Chechnya's oil sector. Shaimiev also met with
Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, but the planned signing of a friendship and
cooperation treaty between Tatarstan and Ingushetia was postponed until early
June, when Shaimiev will visit Nazran.

CHECHEN SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS JOURNALISTS NOT IN DANGER. Chechen First Deputy
Security Minister Vakha Zakriev told journalists in Grozny on 21 May that he
is confident the reporters abducted on 4 March are still alive and will not be
harmed, Interfax reported. The kidnappers had threatened to execute the
journalists if a $2 million ransom was not paid by 21 May. The same day,
Sultan Mineev, an adviser to Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, told
ITAR-TASS that Raduev will not comply with Maskhadov's decree ordering the
disarmament of all informal military formations in Chechnya. Mineev said
Raduev would remain in Grozny but his three regiments would move from there to
the village of Novie Gordali. in Gudermes Raion.

LUZHKOV DENIES PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says he is
happy in his current job and does not plan to run for president in the year
2000, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. Luzhkov is in Krasnodar attending a
conference of mayors from large cities in southern Russia. Also on 21 May, he
signed cooperation agreements with Krasnodar Krai and the city of Krasnodar.
Luzhkov has signed similar agreements between the Moscow city government and
several other regions in recent months. Some observers have speculated that
Luzhkov is strengthening his ties with regional elites with a view toward a
future presidential bid. The Moscow city authorities are also sponsoring a new
television network, to be broadcast to many regions (see "End Note," below).

YELTSIN HONORS ROSTROPOVICH. Yeltsin has awarded the cellist Mstislav
Rostropovich Russia's highest order "for services to the fatherland," praising
his contributions to world music and defense of freedom in Russia, Reuters and
ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. Rostropovich is in Russia on a 70th birthday
tour. Yeltsin unexpectedly summoned Chernomyrdin, Chubais, and First Deputy
Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov from yesterday's State Duma session to the
Kremlin to take part in the award ceremony. Chubais and Nemtsov attended the
ceremony, but Chernomyrdin remained in the parliament to answer questions from
Duma deputies.

SOLZHENITSYN HOSPITALIZED. Writer and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
has been in Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital since 12 May with heart
problems, Reuters reported on 21 May. A doctor said that there was nothing
seriously wrong with the 78-year-old author but gave no further details about
his condition.

TVER OBLAST GOVERNOR SEEKS LEEWAY ON TAX POLICY. Vladimir Platov has asked the
federal government to allow his administration to set tax policy in the
region, Delovoi mir reported on 21 May. Tver is supposed to collect about 3
trillion rubles ($520 million) in taxes annually, of which 2.5 trillion rubles
remain in the oblast and 500 billion are transferred to the federal
authorities. However, tax collection is poor, and the governor believes that
prohibitively high taxes have deterred investment in local industry. Under
Platov's plan, Tver would pay the federal government 500 billion rubles a year
in exchange for the freedom to decide tax rates and exemptions within the
oblast. Platov argues that local authorities would be better able to implement
a "feasible" tax policy. However, Delovoi mir argued that Platov has yet to
name concrete criteria for a better tax policy.

NEW SOURCE OF CHEAP LABOR IN RUSSIA'S FAR EAST? The Washington Post reported
earlier this week that North Koreans are being used as a cheap source of labor
on farms and construction sites in Russia's Far East. The U.S. newspaper
reported that Russian companies are concluding deals with the North Korean
government for teams of workers to travel to Russia. The workers are
accompanied by North Korean security agents, who take most of the workers'
wages. But once there, they are made to work 12-15 hours daily and receive
minimum food rations. One Russian official admitted conditions were difficult
for the Koreans but said "compared to where they come from, it's like paradise
for them."

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

ABKHAZIA PROPOSES RUSSIA-CHECHEN TREATY AS MODEL FOR SETTLEMENT. Abkhaz
President Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 20 May that he
favors signing a treaty with Georgia similar to the 12 May Russian-Chechen
peace treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Ardzinba said such a treaty would contribute
to the normalization of relations between Abkhazia and the Georgian
government. Igor Akhba, Abkhazia's representative in Moscow, told Interfax on
21 May that such a treaty would preclude the use or threat of force. Akhba
said talks between Tbilisi and Sukhumi on economic cooperation and Abkhazia's
future status within Georgia can take place only after a peace treaty is
signed and Russia's economic blockade of Abkhazia lifted.

GEORGIA, TURKEY DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION. Agreements signed during the
16-20 May visit to Tbilisi by Col.-Gen. Cetin Dogan, Turkish first deputy
chief of staff, provide for the training of Georgian officers in Turkish
military academies and the participation of Georgian servicemen in
peacekeeping operations in which Turkey is involved, ITAR-TASS reported.
Turkey will train a Georgian commando unit and provide the Georgian armed
forces with non-combat material supplies. Georgian trainees will receive
Turkish-language instruction, according to BS-Press.

UZBEK PRESIDENT ENCOURAGES GREATER FAMILIARITY WITH LAW. Islam Karimov told a
group of legal experts and journalists on 20 May that there is a need in
Uzbekistan for citizens to be more familiar with the law, Interfax reported.
Karimov said "the rights and interests of the individual" are of greatest
importance but that he doubted the people "fully and deeply" realized what
their rights, both political and civil, are. He encouraged those present to
make the law accessible for everyone by using "simple and understandable
terminology." He also proposed opening legal education centers.

NEW INVESTIGATION OF KYRGYZ JOURNALIST. The judge in the trial of Yrysbek
Omurzakov ordered on 21 May a new investigation into charges against the
journalist, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek report. Omurzakov is charged with
libel for an article he wrote on alleged abuse of authority by a factory
director in Bishkek. Both Amnesty International and the Committee for the
Protection of Journalists have sent several letters to Kyrgyz President Askar
Akayev asking him to intervene in the case. Omurzakov has been in detention
since March and is to remain in custody pending the results of the new
investigation.

END NOTE

RUSSIA TO HAVE NEW NATIONWIDE TELEVISION NETWORK

by Floriana Fossato and Anna Kachkaeva

        In less than a month, a new nationwide television network, TV-Center, wi
 ll
start broadcasting in Russia. TV-Center is being sponsored by the Moscow city
authorities. Russian media observers are already calling it "Luzhkov's
television," linking it to the presidential ambitions of Moscow Mayor Yurii
Luzhkov.
        Three Russian television networks currently broadcast nationwide: fully
state-controlled RTR; partly state-owned ORT; and the commercial network NTV,
which is controlled by the financial group MOST through its media branch,
Media Most.
        During last year's presidential campaign, the Russian media--particularl
 y
television networks--played a key role in helping President Boris Yeltsin
overcome single-digit approval ratings and eventually defeat Communist party
leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Observers say this support had economic and
political dividends for NTV and for the major private shareholder of ORT. In
September 1996, NTV obtained permission to broadcast nationwide, 18-hours a
day. Previously, the network had been able to broadcast only six hours a day
to Moscow and European Russian regions. In October, the businessman Boris
Berezovskii, ORT's most influential executive, was appointed deputy secretary
of the Security Council.
        In an interview with RFE/RL, NTV President Igor Malashenko dismissed cla
 ims
that NTV's support for Yeltsin during the campaign was the only reason the
network was later licensed to broadcast nationwide. However, he did not deny
that NTV played an important role in Yeltsin's re-election bid.
        Over the last few years, but particularly after the 1996 elections, Russ
 ia's
main financial and industrial concerns have fiercely competed to buy media
outlets. Media magnates often say they are not looking for immediate financial
gains, since few Russian broadcasting stations and newspapers are profitable.
Rather, they value media branches as conduits for self-promotion and political
influence.
        Following his appointment to the Security Council, Berezovskii formally
 quit
ORT's board of directors and delegated his other business commitments. He has
told RFE/RL that "it is in the state's interests, therefore in the public's
too" for ORT to lobby for business interests and instill market reform
concepts in the viewers' minds. In Berezovskii's view, businesses are
investing in media branches mainly in order to secure the very existence and
further development of their businesses.
        When NTV was founded in 1993, many viewers and observers were pleased by
  the
independent channel's professionalism in news broadcasts and quality
international entertainment programs. However, many commentators have grown
skeptical about NTV's objectivity since last year's presidential election.
Vladimir Gusinskii, former chairman of the MOST financial group, recently gave
up his banking activities to focus on his MOST Media outlets, which include
Ekho Moskvy (one of Moscow's most popular and respected radio stations), the
daily newspaper Segodnya, the weekly political magazine Itogi, and the
entertainment weekly Sem dnei. Gusinskii was the first Russian businessman to
recognize the potential political and financial benefits of media holdings.
Other private investors have followed his lead.
        The Moscow English-language daily Moscow Times recently quoted Gusinskii
  as
saying that NTV "turns a profit, albeit a small one," thanks to recent
investments, such as a satellite cable network, NTV plus. He expressed doubt
that new channels will be successful.
        But TV-Center will start operating in June with big ambitions. The netwo
 rk
has already obtained a license to broadcast its programs on a frequency
formerly used by the Moscow city channel. It will be able to broadcast
nationwide by means of state-of-the-art digital technology. And it is reported
to have already signed agreements to distribute its signal to local stations
in 19 regions.
        The content of TV-Center broadcasts will be influenced by Luzhkov's idea
 s:
executives connected with the new network say it will support national
consolidation and patriotism. Even more important for electoral reasons, the
network will aim at differentiating Moscow and its mayor from the Kremlin and
Russia's federal government, which are widely perceived as corrupt and
inefficient.
        Moscow city authorities are heavily financing the project and already ow
 n a
67% stake in TV-Center. The remaining 33% is expected to be sold to private
investors soon. TV-Center plans eventually to have five channels, including
two satellite networks. It is expected to employ more than 1,000 people,
absorbing the news department of an existing popular local network, 2X2, which
is to be discontinued.
        Luzhkov appears to be seeking to create his own public platform because
 he
thinks neither ORT nor NTV will support him during the next presidential
campaign, scheduled for the year 2000. Those networks would also be unlikely
to help Luzhkov attract leftist and nationalist voters who are disillusioned
with Communist leaders.
        Luzhkov's broadcasting ambitions are seen in Moscow as deepening the rif
 t
between the mayor and those viewed as "reformers" in the federal government. A
second Moscow network, the nationalist-leaning Moskovia, has been granted the
right to broadcast three hours a day on TV-Center's frequency. TV-Center's
managers have expressed disappointment at that decision. They maintain that
broadcasting Moskovia's often extremist message on their frequency is an attempt
to disrupt the image TV-Center is seeking as a "network for all."




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