|The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. - Thomas Carlyle 1975-1881|
Vol 1, No. 38, Part I, 26 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 38, Part I, 26 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 * YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV SPEAK OUT AGAINST NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS * RODIONOV BLAMES DEFENSE COUNCIL FOR HIS DISMISSAL * TALIBAN TAKES NORTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCES End Note : Integration as the Final Stage of Disintegration xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV SPEAK OUT AGAINST NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS. President Boris Yeltsin says that NATO would "fully undermine" its relations with Russia if it expanded to include former Soviet republics, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Before departing for Paris to sign the Russia-NATO Founding Act, Yeltsin restated Russia's continuing opposition to NATO enlargement. He told ITAR-TASS that he hoped a "dialogue" with the Baltic States and other countries would persuade them that joining NATO would not improve their security. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists on 24 May that Russia remains "categorically against" NATO expansion to include former Soviet republics. He expressed concern that military infrastructure built in former Soviet republics could be used against Russia. However, Primakov stressed that Russia would not intervene militarily, "as in Czechoslovakia in 1968," in response to NATO expansion. Primakov also ruled out eventual Russian membership in NATO. DUMA SAYS RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD SHOULD BE BINDING. The State Duma on 23 May passed a resolution declaring that the Russia-NATO Founding Act should be binding, Russian news agencies reported. The resolution also called on the president and government to develop a national security program. The resolution said Russia must take steps to prevent NATO's military forces from advancing closer to Russia's borders, lest the Founding Act be interpreted as a sign of Russia's "consent" to NATO enlargement. PRIMAKOV ON FIRST-STRIKE POLICY. Appearing on Russian TV on 24 May, Primakov confirmed that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first if it faced conventional attack. He noted that Russia is reducing its conventional forces and might not be able to repel aggression. However, Primakov stressed that Russia's security doctrine does not allow the possibility of launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Primakov's comments echo recent statements by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and his deputy, Boris Berezovskii. They have said Russia would use nuclear weapons first if it were "driven into a corner" and had no other option. RODIONOV BLAMES DEFENSE COUNCIL FOR HIS DISMISSAL. Former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told Russian Public TV (ORT) on 24 May that he was sacked because his planned report on military reform did not suit people "in the president's entourage." Rodionov was not allowed to deliver his report at the 22 May Defense Council meeting, at which he was sacked. He told ORT that his report recommended that there be no "additional structure"--by which he meant the Defense Council--between the president and the Defense Ministry. Rodionov welcomed the creation of the Defense Council last July, but he and its secretary, Yurii Baturin, have since been at odds over military reform plans. Baturin told the same ORT program that Rodionov angered Yeltsin at the 22 May meeting by insisting that he and Army Gen. Viktor Samsonov, then head of the General Staff, needed an hour to deliver their reports. MEDIA REACTION TO RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN CHARTER. The Russian-Belarusian charter signed on 23 May will please neither ardent supporters nor opponents of Russian-Belarusian union, Izvestiya argued on 24 May. Among other things, the charter foresees establishing common citizenship and coordinating foreign and security policies. However, Izvestiya argued that it does little to advance the economic integration of the two countries. According to Reuters, the "basic principles and main obligations" of participants as stated in the charter include ensuring press freedoms, guaranteeing free activities for political parties and opposition organizations, and the inviolability of private property. Nezavisimaya gazeta suggested on 23 May that the presidential administration may seek to change the Russian constitution in light of the charter. The current constitution limits the president to two terms in office, but the paper said Yeltsin may seek to campaign for the presidency of the Russian-Belarusian union in the year 2000. PRIMAKOV SAYS NO NUKES ON BELARUSIAN TERRITORY IN PEACETIME. Russian Foreign Minister Primakov says that despite plans to coordinate Russian and Belarusian security policies, "nuclear weapons will never and under no circumstances appear on the territory of Belarus" in peacetime, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 May. Primakov noted that Belarus has declared itself a non-nuclear state, which is unchanged by the signing of the Russian-Belarusian charter. DUMA DENOUNCES GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE. The Duma on 23 May adopted the final version of a resolution declaring the government's economic performance during the first quarter of 1997 unsatisfactory, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Deputies passed a preliminary version on 21 May. Two proposed additions to the resolution backed by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov failed to pass. One of the motions, billed as a "vote of no confidence" in the president, would have blamed Yeltsin's policies for the government's "non-execution of the federal budget." However it gained only 204 votes, 22 short of a majority, Interfax reported. The second Communist-backed motion would have urged Yeltsin to reshuffle the cabinet and form "a government of truly national interests." It was supported by 206 deputies. DUMA OVERRIDES VETO OF LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCEDURE. The Duma voted by 312 to 29 with four abstentions to override Yeltsin's veto of a law outlining the procedural details for adopting constitutional amendments, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Deputies had failed to override that veto last month. Yeltsin's representative in the parliament, Aleksandr Kotenkov, said the president might appeal the law to the Constitutional Court. Kotenkov also noted that only 179 Duma deputies were present in the chamber at the time of voting, which, he said, was unacceptable for a constitutional law. Proxy voting, whereby deputies cast ballots on behalf of colleagues in the same faction, is a common practice in the Duma. Constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of Duma deputies, three-fourths of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in two-thirds of Russia's 89 regions. YELTSIN RESTRUCTURES FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE... Yeltsin issued a decree on 22 May restructuring the Federal Security Service (FSB), ITAR-TASS reported on 24 May, citing Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the FSB's public relations center. Zdanovich said the decree did not grant the FSB any new powers or functions but would combine FSB sections that have common functions into new departments. The decree also says current FSB staff should not be removed, Zdanovich noted. Citing unnamed sources, ITAR-TASS said the FSB leadership welcomed the new presidential decree. ...ELIMINATES EIGHT PRESIDENTIAL COUNCILS. Yeltsin has also issued a decree dissolving eight presidential councils, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 May. The bodies to be eliminated include several advisory councils on legal and political questions, the Council of Heads of Administration (which was comprised of oblast and krai governors and republican presidents), the Council on Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Cossack Affairs, and the Council on the Russian Language. RUSSIA RECEIVES IMF LOAN TRANCHE. Russia has received a $697 million quarterly installment of the IMF's three-year, $10.1 billion loan, a Central Bank official told Interfax on 23 May. It was the first disbursement of the IMF loan since February (see RFE/RL Newsline, 19 May 1997). Before the next quarterly disbursement will be released, an IMF mission will come to Moscow to determine whether Russia is sticking to its economic targets for the second quarter of 1997. CIS STATES' DEBTS TO RUSSIA. CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev has proposed that Russia stop restructuring the debts of other former Soviet republics which currently amount to $6 billion, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta on 23 May. This sum is half what the Russian government owes in pensions and other benefits. The main debtors are Ukraine, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia. Tuleev advocated strict sanctions, including appropriating industrial enterprises or cutting off energy supplies, to CIS member states that are unable to repay their debts to Russia. RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS ON NEW FOOTING. During Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda's visit to Moscow on 23-24 May, the two sides agreed to open Japanese and Russian consulates in Sakhalin Oblast and Hakodate, respectively, Russian media reported. Previously, Japan had expressed its support for Russia's entry into the G-7 (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 May 1997). Russia, for its part, invited Japan to participate in offshore oil and gas projects near Sakhalin. But a Russian proposal to grant Japan fishing rights in the waters around the Kuril Islands was rejected, with the Japanese side saying that acceptance of the proposal would be tantamount to recognizing Russia's claim to the islands. The former Soviet Union occupied the four islands at the end of World War II. Talks on the islands are expected to continue when Boris Nemtsov, Russian first deputy prime minister and co-chairman of the intergovernmental Russian-Japanese commission on trade and economic cooperation, visits Japan on 9-10 June. RUSSIA, CHECHNYA SIGN AGREEMENT ON OIL TRANSIT. The Russian Fuel and Oil Ministry and the Chechen national oil company Yunko signed a cooperation agreement on 23 May whereby Grozny undertakes to "service and safeguard the oil and gasoline pipelines crossing Chechnya," Russian agencies reported. A separate agreement will be signed on reconstruction of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline, which is estimated to cost $1.2 million. Reconstruction is expected to be completed by October, which may delay yet again the export via this pipeline of the first "early" oil from Azerbaijan's Chirag field. Those exports are scheduled to begin on 28 August. CHECHEN PRESIDENT OFFERS REWARD FOR RELEASE OF ABDUCTED JOURNALISTS. On 24 May, Aslan Maskhadov again offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the safe release of journalists from the Russian media who have been abducted in Chechnya in recent months, Interfax reported. Speaking on local television the same day, Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev called on the abductors to release the journalists immediately in order to avoid incurring the death penalty. Makhashev said the Chechen leadership does not have "authentic information" about the journalists' whereabouts, but security service chief Luchi Khultygov told ITAR-TASS on 25 May that he has "trustworthy information for optimistic forecasts." SOLZHENITSYN RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL. Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has been released from Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Solzhenitsyn spent about two weeks in the hospital, where he was treated for heart problems. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TALIBAN TAKES NORTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCES. Aided by mutineers, Afghanistan's Taliban movement on 24-25 May overran the northern provinces, which previously were under the control of General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The Taliban now control some 80-90% of the country's territory. Their success prompted a quick response from neighboring countries. Uzbekistan reinforced its borders with Afghanistan, and Tajikistan said it would do the same. Kyrgyzstan sent more troops to its southern border with Tajikistan, fearing that refugees fleeing the fighting may travel north along the Khorog-Osh highway. Russian Foreign Minister Primakov said on 24 May that any incursion by Taliban forces into CIS territory would prompt "very tough and effective measures." The same day, Russia evacuated its consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, where Dostum's headquarters were located. Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani has reportedly fled to Tajikistan. And on 25 May, Pakistan became the first state to officially recognize the Taliban government. ABKHAZIA IMPOSES CURFEW. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba has issued a decree imposing a curfew between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., ITAR-TASS reported on 25 May. The restrictions were said to be necessary to prevent further violent clashes between rival clans and political groups but not to preclude terrorist activities. Ardzinba has repeatedly accused Georgian refugees from Abkhazia of perpetrating terrorist activities in southern Abkhazia with the support of the Georgian security services. GEORGIAN PREMIER IN TASHKENT. Niko Lekishvili held talks in the Uzbek capital on 23 May with President Islam Karimov and other officials on cooperation in transport, communications, and trade, Russian agencies reported. Karimov expressed interest in the TRASECA transport corridor, which will facilitate the export of Uzbek goods from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti. Georgia wants to receive natural gas from Uzbekistan. An agreement whereby Uzbekistan will supply Georgia with cotton fiber has been delayed pending the approval of the IMF. FOUR KYRGYZ JOURNALISTS FOUND GUILTY OF SLANDER, LIBEL. Four Kyrgyz journalists from the weekly newspaper Res Publica were found guilty of slander and libel by a Bishkek district court, according to RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital. Zamira Sydykova and Aleksandr Alyanchikov were sentenced to 18 months in jail and Marina Sivasheva and Bektash Shamshiev were prohibited from practicing journalism for the same period. All four were sued by Dastan Sarygulov, the head of Kyrgyzstan's state gold company, for critical articles published about him between 1993-96. END NOTE Integration as the Final Stage of Disintegration by Paul Goble The new Russian-Belarusian union charter calling for closer integration of those two countries makes the formation of a single federal state including them or other former Soviet republics significantly less, rather than more, likely. As signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 23 Ma y, the charter contains some impressive language about cooperation in a variety of spheres, including foreign policy, economic reform, energy, and transportation. It raises the possibility of a common currency and even common citizenship in the future. And it creates a Supreme Council that is supposed to increase cooperation between those two states and to prompt other former Soviet republics to sign the charter. But like all previous efforts to promote integration in the former Sovie t Union, this one does little to change the general situation. Instead, it highlights just how far apart Moscow and Minsk now are--let alone Moscow and any other former Soviet republic capital--on both the meaning or even the desirability of closer ties. Despite his reputation of seeking unity with Russia at all costs, Lukash enka himself made it very clear that there are limits to just how far even he is prepared to go. Notably, he spoke out against any arrangement that might threaten Belarusian independence or give Moscow a free hand or even an expanded voice in Belarus itself. On 21 May, two days before signing the charter, Lukashenka said that "setting up a federation with Russia would be worse for Belarus than when it entered Stalin's Soviet Union." The next day, he forced Yeltsin to drop a clause the Russian president had inserted in the charter suggesting that the two countries should ultimately merge into just such a federal state. And just prior to the signing ceremony at the Kremlin, Lukashenka dismis sed the claims of some Russians that the charter was the first step toward the re-establishment of a single, Moscow-led state on the territory of the former Soviet Union. He told Ekho Moskvy that the new charter would do nothing more than "confirm in law what has existed in fact for quite some time." Lukashenka's past statements, his transparent personal ambition for powe r in Moscow, and his increasing authoritarianism at home have combined with widespread assumptions about the supposed lack of any fundamental differences between Russians and Belarusians to conceal the broader implications of what this latest charter means. But it is precisely Lukashenka's personal approach and how close Belarus and Russia are in certain respects that provide some important clues on the more general issue of how Moscow and the non-Russian countries are likely to relate to one another in the future. If Belarus and Lukashenka are not prepared to proceed toward total reintegration with Russia, which many in Moscow want, then certainly no other country in the region is likely to be willing to go even as far Minsk has. Even less so than Belarus and Lukashenka, no other non-Russian country or leader is willing to move toward closer integration with Russia in the absence of Moscow's recognition of the independence and equality of that country and the lack of willingness by Russia to commit to a specific set of rules that will control Russian actions just as they control non-Russian actions. What is more, no Russian leader is willing to make such commitments to t he equality of those countries vis-a-vis Russia or to tie Moscow's hands in its actions toward its neighbors. Indeed, just as in the current case, Russian leaders are the ones who have rejected any move toward a more precise definition of the permissible. Such differences in understanding about what integration should mean are becoming an ever greater obstacle to any agreement that might be freely arrived at between Moscow and Minsk and between Moscow and the other former Soviet republics. That is certainly how many of the leaders in this region view the situation. As Kazak Deputy Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov commented, the Russian-Belarusian accord is likely to share "the fate of many other integration deals" within the CIS and remain "only on paper." Such an outcome, of course, would not be a tragedy for many of them. Ind eed, it would confirm the victories of 1991. But unfortunately, the failure of agreements like the one signed on 23 May could lead to another outcome. It could prompt some in the region to conclude that re-integration should be pursued by means other than democratic and voluntary ones. If that happens, it would be a tragedy not only for the countries most directly involved but for everyone else as well. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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