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Vol 1, No. 39, Part I, 27 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 39, Part I, 27 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 SIGNS FOUNDING ACT, SAYS MISSILES WILL NOT TARGET NATO * LEBED SLAMS YELTSIN FOR SIGNING ACCORD * CIS COUNTRIES MEET TO DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN End Note : Taliban Take Control in Afghanistan xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN SIGNS FOUNDING ACT, SAYS MISSILES WILL NOT TARGET NATO. President Boris Yeltsin signed the Founding Act on relations between Russia and NATO on 27 May in Paris, hailing the document as a "historic victory for reason" that will "promote stability throughout Europe." The accord, which was also signed by high-level representatives of the 16 NATO members, gives Russia a say in Europe's future security arrangements and creates a permanent joint council that will discuss policy twice a year. After the signing ceremony, Yeltsin surprised observers by announcing that Russia will no longer target its missiles at NATO countries. (The U.S. and Russia agreed not to target each other's cities in 1993.) The announcement followed tough talk on 26 May from Yeltsin and his spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who warned NATO against failing to take Russia's views into account or expanding to include former Soviet republics. LEBED SLAMS YELTSIN FOR SIGNING ACCORD... Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says that in concluding an agreement with NATO, Russia is "the losing side, signing an act on its own capitulation." Lebed argued in the 27 May issue of Izvestiya that the Founding Act is not a legally binding document but only a "high-level political assurance" through which NATO hopes to gain a "moral right to expansion in order to conceal its aggressive intentions." He said the accord "does not in any way protect our country against possible actions of NATO" and will not allow Russia to influence events in Europe. He slammed Yeltsin for putting his own personal interests "ahead of Russia's interests." Given Russia's current situation, Lebed argued, Moscow should not sign anything less than a legally binding treaty. ...WHILE LUZHKOV PRAISES AGREEMENT. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says the signing of the NATO-Russian accord is a "great result" and a "victory," as it shows NATO is assuming certain obligations with respect to Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 26 May. Luzhkov also argued that the agreement will help "contain" NATO expansion. HEAD OF U.S.A., CANADA INSTITUTE SAYS ACCORD SERVES RUSSIA'S INTERESTS. Sergei Rogov, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, argued in the 27 May issue of Izvestiya that given Russia's limited financial and military resources, Moscow's decision to sign the Russia-NATO Founding Act is its only reasonable alternative. Diplomacy is the art of the possible, Rogov noted, reminding readers that today's Russia has half the population and only a quarter of the GDP of the former Soviet Union. Under those circumstances, Moscow can protest against NATO, but that is unlikely to stop the alliance's planned expansion. Rather than a policy based on "emotions" that would lead to Russia's "isolation," Rogov said, engagement in NATO's decision-making process serves Russia's interests and will allow Moscow to shape European security into the next century. NEW DEFENSE MINISTER TO USE "UNCONVENTIONAL METHODS" FOR MILITARY REFORM. Maj.-Gen. Anatolii Shatalov, the press secretary of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, says Sergeev is looking for "unconventional methods" of military reform, Russian news agencies reported on 26 May. Shatalov gave few details but said Sergeev hopes to consolidate the work of the Defense Ministry, Security Council, and Defense Council. He did not mention the two new governmental commissions on military reform that First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov recently said Yeltsin had created (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 May 1997). Several observers, including Lebed, have speculated that Sergeev will not last long as defense minister and will ultimately be replaced by Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, a civilian. LAWYER SAYS SACKED GENERAL DENIED RIGHT TO ATTORNEY. A lawyer representing Konstantin Kobets, the sacked Army general and former deputy defense minister, says Kobets has been unable to see his attorney since his 21 May arrest. Dmitrii Shteinberg sent a telegram to Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov complaining that Kobets was being denied his right to defense and that the case against him was merely a "political stunt," Interfax reported on 26 May. Kobets is accused of corruption, abuse of office, and illegal possession of firearms. YELTSIN SIGNS ACCORDS. Yeltsin on 26 May signed treaties and agreements on Russian troops' use of bases in Armenia, cooperation between Azeri and Russian border guards, the transference of citizenship for Russians living in Kazakstan and Kazaks living in Russia, as well as accords with Venezuela and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. He also put his signature to the border agreements signed by China, Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Col.-Gen. Aleksandr Golbakh, the commander of the Far East Border Troops, said the final demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border will be completed by the end of this year. However, politicians in the Far East are still resisting the planned demarcation, claiming it will mean the loss of land vital to Russia's interests in the area. YELTSIN REJECTS LAW ON GOVERNMENT. Yeltsin has refused to sign the law on the government, citing procedural violations in the way it was adopted, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. The law would force the entire cabinet to resign if the prime minister left office. It was passed by the Federation Council using the same procedure of written ballots used for the trophy art law, which Yeltsin rejected last week. The law on the government now goes back to the parliament, and Yeltsin could still use his veto if the parliament passes the law again. Also on 26 May, Yeltsin returned the law on terrorism to the Duma, saying some of its provisions were unconstitutional or contradicted current legislation. However, the president signed the law outlining how road funds will be collected and distributed by federal authorities (see RFE/RL Newsline, 15 May 1997). SHUMEIKO, OUR HOME IS RUSSIA TO FORM NEW UNION. Reforms--New Course leader Vladimir Shumeiko says his movement and the pro-government bloc Our Home Is Russia are forming a Union of Progressive Reformist Forces, Russian news agencies reported on 26 May. Shumeiko described the new union as a "marriage of convenience and love." He said the groups that join the alliance, which is expected to include former presidential chief of staff Sergei Filatov's Union of People's Homes, would nominate common candidates in the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Shumeiko, a Yeltsin ally, is believed to have presidential ambitions. He was speaker of the Federation Council from 1994 until January 1996 and further developed contacts with the regional elite by endorsing candidates in many of last fall's gubernatorial elections. CHECHEN ROUNDUP. Combined police and army patrols have begun checking transport and searching buildings in Grozny and other Chechen towns, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Unofficial Sharia guards have also intensified anti-alcohol raids. Also on 26 May, Yakub Usmanov, who intends to run for mayor of Grozny in the 31 May elections, was released two days after being abducted. His main opponent in the mayoral race will be a comrade-in-arms of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Meanwhile in Moscow, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin chaired a meeting of the working group monitoring compliance with the 12 May economic cooperation agreement signed by Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Efforts to secure the release of seven journalists abducted in Chechnya in recent months were also discussed at the meeting, Radio Rossii reported. BAIKAL SEALS THREATENED BY POLLUTION? Russian environmental activists say waste water from a cellulose factory on Lake Baikal may be responsible for poisoning dozens of the lake's indigenous seals. The animals are the world's only freshwater seals. Russian Public TV on 26 May, showed pictures of around 50 seal carcasses washed up on the lake's southern shore. Ivan Blokov, a campaign coordinator for Greenpeace, told NTV that the seal bodies showed high concentrations of doxins. He blamed sewage from the pulp mill as the source of the pollution. Environmentalists have long pushed for the plant's closure, but local authorities say shutting the factory down would ruin the local economy. There have been two previous cases of mass deaths of Baikal seals--in the 1930s and in 1988. Scientists attributed both incidents to an infectious disease. YELTSIN REPLACES PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE IN PRIMORE. Yeltsin has replaced Vladimir Ignatenko, his representative in Primorskii Krai, with Federal Security Service Lt.-Gen. Viktor Kondratov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 26 May. While the sacked presidential representative was an old friend of krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Kondratov is known for his "cool relations" with the governor. He is charged with monitoring the activities of federal agencies in the krai. Meanwhile, the local press in Vladivostok continues to speculate that Nazdratenko may resign or be removed from office because of this month's energy crisis in Primore. It is unclear how Nazdratenko could be dismissed, since he won a gubernatorial election in December 1995. ST. PETERSBURG COMMUNISTS DIVIDED OVER REFERENDUM. Communist groups in St. Petersburg are divided over whether a referendum should be held to remove the city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 26 May. The radical Russian Communist Workers' Party and the Russian Party of Communists led the signature collection campaign and have already submitted petitions to the city's electoral commission (see RFE/RL Newsline, 20 May 1997). However, after it emerged that former Mayor Anatolii Sobchak supports the referendum, activists from the Workers' Russia movement asked to withdraw their signatures. Nina Andreeva, under whose name a famous letter defending Stalinism was published in 1988, told RFE/RL that her Communist Party of Bolsheviks was also against the referendum. She said it was "unprincipled" and "senseless" to try to remove Yakovlev from office, given that his successor would likely carry out the same policies. YASIN, KOVALEV HOSPITALIZED. Minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin, who deals with economic matters, has been hospitalized, Reuters reported on 26 May. Yasin was scheduled to address a bankers' conference the same day but did not appear. Bankers at the conference said they were informed Yasin had heart problems. Government sources told Interfax that Yasin had checked into Central Clinical Hospital for a routine examination. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 26 May that renowned human rights activist Sergei Kovalev had a successful heart bypass operation last week in Germany. Kovalev suffered a heart attack last July and had an angioplasty in the U.S. last September. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA CIS COUNTRIES MEET TO DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN. Representatives of nine CIS states meet in Moscow today to suggest options should the problems in Afghanistan spill across the border into the CIS, AFP reported. All countries represented signed the CIS collective security pact, which calls for concerted actions if one member comes under attack. The countries represented at today's meeting are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Border force commander Gen. Andrei Nikolayev said on 26 May that forces along the border with Afghanistan are sufficient to repel any attack by Taliban forces. In related news, Saudi Arabia on 26 May, became the second country to recognize the Taliban government (see "End Note" below). TAJIK AGREEMENT INITIALED... Representatives of the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition, meeting in Tehran on 26 May, initialed a protocol for implementing the accord on peace and national reconciliation agreed to in August 1995, Russian press reported. The protocol is scheduled to be signed in the Iranian capital on 28 May. Afterward, the work of the reconciliation council will begin. The council is charged with amending the Tajik Constitution so that new elections can be held next year. ...BUT OPPOSITION ACCUSES, ADVISES GOVERNMENT. The United Tajik Opposition has released a statement on the recent arrests of demonstrators in the northern Tajik city of Khojand. The statement, sent to Interfax on 25 May, claims that the Tajik government is using the 30 April assassination attempt against President Imomali Rakhmonov as grounds for persecuting those involved in the 1996-97 demonstrations in Khojand, particularly members of the UTO and National Revival Movement. The brother of Abdumalik Abdullajonov, the National Revival Movement's leader, was arrested on 23 May. In a second UTO statement, released on 26 May and obtained by RFE/RL's Tajik service, the Tajik government is urged to remember there are still many Tajik refugees living in camps in northern Afghanistan. Provocative action on the part of Dushanbe toward the Taliban could lead to the worsening of conditions for those refugees, the statement warned. UN COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES IN CENTRAL ASIA. Sadato Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is touring the CIS Central Asian states, according to ITAR-TASS. Ogata's first stop was Kazakstan, where she said the situation was not particularly alarming for the UNHCR. From Almaty, Ogata travels to Kyrgyzstan, where there are currently an estimated 40,000-45,000 refugees from Tajikistan. Kyrgyz border guards are preparing for more refugees in the wake of the Taliban's taking control of the northern regions of Afghanistan, near the Tajik border. Ogata is scheduled to visit Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan on her 10-day tour of the region. GEORGIA CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY. Some 4,000 troops from all branches of the armed forces and power ministries--escorted by 100 tanks, seven warplanes, and five military helicopters--participated in a parade in central Tbilisi on 26 May to mark the anniversary of the formation of the first independent Georgian Republic in 1918, Russian and western agencies reported. In a clear warning to the leadership of the breakaway Abkhaz republic, Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze, according to Reuters, told troops that their first obligation was to restore the country's territorial integrity, by force if necessary. President Eduard Shevardnadze affirmed that the only acceptable solution to the Abkhaz conflict is by peaceful means. One person was hospitalized after police intervened to break up an unsanctioned demonstration by several dozen supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, BS-press reported. ABKHAZ PRESIDENT DENIES IMPOSING STATE OF EMERGENCY. Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists on 26 May that Russian media reports of a state of emergency throughout the region to prevent clan warfare were untrue, ITAR-TASS reported (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997). Ardzinba said that "the situation in Abkhazia is now calm as never before." The news agency reported on 25 May that a curfew had been introduced. UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DELEGATION IN ARMENIA. A Ukrainian parliament delegation headed by speaker Aleksandr Moroz arrived in Yerevan on 26 May on a two-day visit, Armenian agencies reported. Addressing the Armenian National Assembly, Moroz said that a "certain stagnation" in bilateral relations has been overcome and that Ukraine is ready to maximize the potential for cooperation between the two countries, especially in the economic sphere. In an allusion to Armenian perceptions that the emerging Baku-Tbilisi-Kyiv axis could pose a threat to Armenia, Moroz said Ukraine rejects the concept of a "friendship with somebody aimed against a third party" and affirmed that Ukraine is ready to discuss any draft agreement proposed by Armenia, according to ITAR-TASS. Ukraine's ambassador in Yerevan, Aleksandr Bozhko, told Respublika Armeniya that bilateral trade in 1996 more than doubled to reach $30 million. END NOTE Taliban Take Control in Afghanistan by Bruce Pannier Less than a week after one of Abdul Rashid Dostum's commanders staged a revolt, the general's headquarters were overrun by both the mutineers and the Taliban. Gen. Dostum has fled to Turkey, and other forces in the anti-Taliban coalition are under attack or perhaps already defeated. It seems that the Taliban are now in control of 80-90% of the country. Reactions from Afghanistan's neighbors have ranged from alarm to unconcern. Abdul Malik launched a revolt in Faryab Province on 17 May. As it spread and Dostum turned his troops on the mutineers, the Taliban began their own offensive. By 24 May, Dostum had returned from the battlefield to his headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif to consult with his military commanders. He then left in a jeep convoy, possibly because he feared the skies were not safe following defections within his own air force. Dostum and some of his family members reached the border with Uzbekistan around midnight and were in Ankara, Turkey, by 7:00 a.m. on 25 May. By then, Mazar-i-Sharif had been under Taliban control for several hours and Dostum's four northern provinces had been overrun. Taliban forces were heading east to take the last pockets of resistance. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov had warned on 24 May that any incursion by Taliban forces into CIS territory would activate the "mechanism of the CIS Collective Security Treaty." He added that Russia would provide "very tough and effective actions." Closer to Afghanistan, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov called an emergency session of the country's border guard command, the Defense and Security Ministries, and the Security Council. Uzbekistan announced it was reinforcing its border with Afghanistan, and traffic crossing the border from the Afghan side was briefly halted. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan are now bracing for waves of refugees. Turkmenistan, which has bordered Taliban-controlled territories for some time, said it "did not expect any complications." It also stressed it has not signed any CIS military agreements. On 25 May, Pakistan became the first country to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Islamabad called on other nations to do the same. Saudi Arabia responded to that call the next day. Iran, however, declined to do so, saying it would wait until the UN passed judgment. Initial reports from Mazar-i-Sharif indicate little change. The bulk of the occupying forces are troops under Malik, who had already announced the arrival of more Taliban forces and the imposition of the Taliban's strict version of Shariat Islamic law. The Russian and Turkish consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif have been evacuated, but the UN refugee program headquarters, though ransacked, continue to function. Radio broadcasts from Islamabad claim former Afghan President Burhanuddi n Rabbani has fled to either Tajikistan or Iran. They also report that several more of the anti-Taliban coalition commanders have gone over to the Taliban and are urging Ahmed Shah Masoud, Rabbani's military chief and the last major leader to hold out against the Taliban, to do the same. Taliban forces are reported to be advancing into the eastern provinces and the central Bamiyan Province, the last areas to have evaded Taliban control. The Taliban would like to have Masoud join their cause voluntarily for several reasons. First, he has been a capable and well-known commander in Afghanistan since the Soviet occupation. Second, unlike Dostum--whom they refer to as a communist, pointing to his ties to Moscow during and after the Soviet occupation--Masoud fought against Soviet occupying forces. And, perhaps most significant, he is an ethnic Tajik. Until now, the reason most often given by countries for not recognizing the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pushtuns, as the legitimate government is the lack of representatives of other ethnic groups. When Pakistan recognized the Taliban government, it pointed out that the movement now "genuinely comprises various ethnic groups in Afghanistan," which may have been a reference to Malik's ethnic Uzbek origins. An alliance with Masoud might go far to bringing Afghanistan's 6 million or so Tajiks under Taliban control without bloodshed. The Taliban's capture of the northern provinces came as suddenly as thei r seizing control over Kabul last September. Before Malik's mutiny, it had appeared that a long bloody campaign would last at least through the summer. How control will be maintained in the northern provinces is now a major question. The Taliban, who are mainly ethnic Pushtuns, now find themselves in areas where few Pushtuns live. The majority peoples in the north are Tajiks, Uzbeks, and other ethnic groups, all of which have potentially sympathetic CIS states close at hand. Tajikistan, for example, has already expressed interest in the conditions of Tajik refugees who are now living on Taliban territory. Moreover, the peoples of the northern provinces are generally better edu cated than those in the south. The Taliban will likely take a different course in ruling there than they have in the south--possibly more liberal or, perhaps, much more authoritarian. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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