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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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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." xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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