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Vol 1, No. 41, Part I, 29 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 41, Part I, 29 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 * PRESIDENTIAL DECREE LIMITS FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN GAZPROM * ANOTHER BOMB ATTACK IN DAGESTAN * RUSSIA YET TO RECOGNIZE AFGHANISTAN End Note : Will Armenia Be First to Join Russian-Belarusian Union? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRESIDENTIAL DECREE LIMITS FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN GAZPROM. President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree on 28 May barring foreigners or Russian companies that are more than 50% foreign-owned from buying shares in the gas monopoly Gazprom on the domestic market, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Some foreign investors have been using subsidiaries in Russia to circumvent rules stating that foreigners are allowed to buy only Gazprom's American Depository Shares (ADS). The ADSs cost about three times more than Gazprom shares traded in Russia. Reuters reported that current foreign holders of domestic shares in Gazprom would not be forced to sell them. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov predicted that the decree would cause the value of Gazprom stock to increase by five or six times, ITAR-TASS reported. The decree does not change the overall limit on foreign-owned shares in Gazprom, which is set at 9% of the company's stock. PROCURATOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE DRAWS UP AMNESTY BILL. The Procurator-General's Office has drafted a bill that would grant amnesty to some 440,000 people currently under investigation in prison or pre-trial detention centers, Interfax reported on 28 May. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov said he would discuss the bill with Yeltsin, after which it will be submitted to the State Duma for consideration. He did not say who would be covered under the proposed amnesty. Skuratov admitted that prison conditions in Russia "do not meet European standards in the field of human rights." In April, a report issued by Amnesty International charged that torture and inhumane conditions are widespread in Russian prisons and pre-trial detention centers (see RFE/RL Newsline, 4 April 1997). SKURATOV COMMENTS ON MILITARY CORRUPTION, HIGH-PROFILE CASES. Procurator-General Skuratov said 18 generals are being investigated for corruption and that charges will be brought soon against former Ground Forces commander Vladimir Semenov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 28 May. When Yeltsin sacked Semenov in April, officials suggested it was primarily because of Semenov's ineffective leadership of ground troops in Chechnya. Skuratov also denied that the criminal case against former Yeltsin adviser Sergei Stankevich is politically timed. He said Stankevich would have been charged with bribe-taking sooner, but the State Duma refused to lift his immunity in 1994 and 1995. In addition, Skuratov said his office was close to solving the October 1994 murder of investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov and the March 1995 murder of television journalist Vladislav Listev. Law enforcement officials have announced many times that those cases have nearly been solved. ANOTHER BOMB ATTACK IN DAGESTAN. At least two people were killed and three injured when a bomb destroyed the car of Dagestan's Deputy Prime Minister Said Amirov in Makhachkala on 28 May, Russian media reported. Amirov was not in the car at the time. It was the fourth attempt to kill him in the past few years. CHECHEN ROUNDUP. Addressing a meeting of the Dzhokhar's Way movement in Grozny on 28 May, maverick field commander Salman Raduev said he did not believe Russian leaders would abide by the Russian-Chechen peace treaty signed on 12 May, ITAR-TASS reported. He urged Chechen leaders to take a tougher stance in their talks with Moscow. Also on 28 May, Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev rejected as "nonsense" a prediction by Russian State Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin that, by the end of this year, Chechnya and Ingushetia will unite to create an independent Vainakh republic that would threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported. The former Chechen-Ingush ASSR split into two component parts in the summer of 1992. ELECTORAL LAW TO BE APPEALED TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Union of Student Councils plans to appeal to the Constitutional Court against Russia's electoral law, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 29 May. Half of the State Duma is elected using a proportional representation system, but those seats are divided only among parties that win more than 5% of the vote. The students say excluding parties that gain less than 5% is unconstitutional. However, they disagree with officials in the presidential administration who have advocated eliminating proportional representation altogether. The students believe the Communists would gain ground if the Duma were elected entirely in single-member districts. Several Duma deputies appealed against the 5% barrier to the Constitutional Court in November 1995, one month before parliamentary elections, but the court refused to hear the case. The Supreme Court recently rejected a similar appeal (see RFE/RL Newsline, 18 April 1997). RUSSIAN DEFENSE SPECIALIST CHARGED WITH TREASON. The Russian Supreme Court's Military Board has charged a former official of a military metallurgical firm with treason, Interfax reported on 28 May. Arrested in January 1994, Vadim Sintsov is accused of giving information to the British intelligence service and taking bribes from representatives of various foreign companies. If convicted, Sintsov faces at least 12 years' imprisonment. Earlier this month, Moisei Finkel, a former employee of a closed Defense Ministry research institute in St. Petersburg, was convicted of passing submarine secrets to the U.S. and given a 12-year sentence. Finkel had attempted to protect himself by approaching the Federal Security Service and offering to serve as a double agent, but he was nonetheless arrested, Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 17 May. POTANIN BACK IN CHARGE AT ONEKSIMBANK. Vladimir Potanin has been elected president of Oneksimbank by the bank's board of directors, Russian news agencies reported on 28 May. Potanin headed the bank from its creation in 1993 until he was appointed first deputy prime minister in August 1996. He returned to Oneksimbank, one of the most powerful Russian banks, after losing his post in the March cabinet reshuffle. SMOKING-RELATED DEATHS, HIV CASES INCREASING. The World Health Organization reported on 28 May that 750 people in Russia die of smoking-related illnesses every day, according to Interfax. About two-thirds of Russian men and one-third of Russian women smoke, and both percentages are rising. Meanwhile, an annual study released by the United Nations Population Fund reported that a growing number of Russians and persons from other former Soviet republics are infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Since 1994, the number of HIV-infected people in Kaliningrad Oblast has increased 18 times. (Russian health officials have estimated that 100,000 Russians could be infected with HIV by the end of this year, The New York Times reported on 17 May.) The UN report also noted that other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise across the region. JAPANESE MISUNDERSTANDING ABOUT DISPUTED TERRITORIES? Igor Farkhutdinov, the governor of Sakhalin Oblast, denied recent reports in the Japanese newspaper Hokaido Shinbun that Russian border guard units will be removed from the disputed Kuril Islands, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. Farkhutdinov said the Kurils are and will remain Russian. They are certain to be among the issues discussed when First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov visits Japan in early June. Meanwhile, Japanese companies are reconsidering an invitation to take part in oil exploration projects off the coast of Sakhalin Island. Russia has extended a similar offer to Saudi Arabia's Delta Corporation for investing in the same project. On 28 May, the oblast Duma passed laws exempting the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 projects from local and regional taxes. ELECTORAL COMMISSION APPROVES ST. PETERSBURG REFERENDUM. The St. Petersburg Electoral Commission has ruled that a referendum seeking to remove the city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, can go ahead, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. Although the commission found some 80,000 signatures on petitions invalid, supporters of the referendum submitted more than 165,000 valid signatures, enough to call the plebiscite. The city legislature must decide within 30-60 days when the referendum will be held. City residents will be asked whether the policies carried out by the governor have lowered their standard of living, and whether they think Yakovlev should step down. Yakovlev's supporters say such a referendum would not be binding, even if a majority voted for the governor's resignation. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA YET TO RECOGNIZE AFGHANISTAN. Russia has not recognized the Taliban government and says it is unlikely to do so in the near future. ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May that Pakistan is ready to arrange an official meeting between the Russian and Taliban ministers of foreign affairs. However, sources in Pakistan and Iran say Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Mohammad Ghauz was taken prisoner on 28 May by Gen. Abdul Malik in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The Taliban have suffered a major loss in battles there on 28 May and have retreated from the city. So far, besides Pakistan, only Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have recognized the Taliban government. REFUGEES READY TO CROSS AFGHAN-TAJIK BORDER. Border guards along the Tajik-Afghan border said on 28 May that the arrival of refugees is now imminent, according to RFE/RL's Tajik service. The scheduled repatriation of some Tajik refugees from Afghanistan did not take place on 28 May as had been expected. The Tajik government made no announcement about the reason for the delay. WORLD BANK GRANTS LOANS TO TURKMENISTAN. Turkmenistan is to receive World Bank loans totaling $64.5 million to develop transportation systems in Ashgabat, Mary, and Chardjoi, according to a 29 May ITAR-TASS report. Some of the money will be used for improving water supplies in the Dashkhowuz region, which is suffering from the effects of the shrinking Aral Sea. KAZAKSTAN SEEKS INCREASED INVESTMENT BY 2000, SELLS MORE ENTERPRISES. Kazak Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin said his country wants to attract $23 billion in direct investment by 2000, according to Interfax. Last year, direct investment totaled $1.2 billion. Kazakstan is continuing its sale of leading enterprises, which critics have attacked as selling out the country to foreigners. Interfax reported on 28 May that the U.S. company Excess Industries has won a tender for two power and heating plants in Pavlodar. The American company will pay $5 million in back wages and invest $60 million in the plants in the near future. ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN PEACE TALKS TO RESUME. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 28 May that he and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, agreed during a telephone conversation several days earlier to resume talks, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze said they had discussed various measures aimed at normalizing relations, not all of which could be implemented immediately. Shevardnadze again said that Georgia will call for the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia if its mandate is not broadened in accordance with the decision of the CIS heads of state at their March summit. Meeting in Tbilisi on 28 May with his Ukrainian counterpart, Aleksandr Moroz, Georgian parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania suggested that an international peacekeeping force that included a Ukrainian contingent could replace the CIS peacekeepers. IRAN OBTAINS 10% SHARE IN AZERBAIJAN'S FIFTH OIL CONSORTIUM. Natik Aliev, president of Azerbaijan's state oil company, SOCAR, signed an agreement in Baku on 27 May with representatives of Iran's OIEC oil company. According to Interfax on 28 May, the agreement finalizes OIEC's acquisition of a 10% stake in the consortium to exploit Azerbaijan's Lenkoran-Deniz and Talysh-Deniz oil deposits. The two fields are located on the Caspian shelf and have estimated combined reserves of 80-100 million metric tons. The major partners in the consortium are France's Elf-Aquitaine (40%), SOCAR (25%), and Total (10%). The German company Deminex and Belgium's Petrofina are reportedly negotiating for 10% and 5%, respectively, of the remaining undistributed share. On 28 May, SOCAR signed a preliminary agreement with Russia's LUKoil on exploring the Yalama deposit, off Dagestan. AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT SLAMS DRAFT DODGERS. Heidar Aliev called on 28 May for the abolition of concessions to students enabling them to avoid military service, according to Interfax. Addressing a meeting to mark the anniversary of the proclamation of the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, Aliev said that "defense of the Fatherland and restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is the chief task for young people in our country." Interfax quoted an unnamed member of the Azerbaijani government as saying a planned military parade to mark the anniversary was canceled the previous day because it could have been misinterpreted by foreign observers. END NOTE Will Armenia Be First to Join Russian-Belarusian Union? by Liz Fuller and Harry Tamrazian Ever since Russia and Belarus signed the Treaty on Forming a Community i n April 1996, some Russian politicians have been looking for another would-be member. The obvious potential candidate was Armenia, which has traditionally looked to Russia as its ally and protector against Turkey. That idea, however, was not taken up by the Armenian leadership, which hoped to strengthen relations with both Iran and Turkey as a counterweight to its "special relationship" with Moscow. In 1996, the only Armenian political party to advocate Armenia's joining the Russian-Belarusian alignment were the Communists. Since early April 1997, when Moscow and Minsk agreed to upgrade their alliance to the status of union, a number of high- profile Russian politicians, including Gen. Alexander Lebed and former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, have visited Yerevan to promote the idea of Armenia's integration with Russia. On 12 May, some 600 Armenian intellectuals and representatives of small left-wing parties met in Yerevan. All speakers at the meeting criticized the CIS as unworkable and incapable of achieving economic and political cooperation. They argued that joining the Russian-Belarusian union is the only alternative for Armenia, which they described as surrounded by the "newly created hostile alliance between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Turkey." Telman Gdlian, an ethnic Armenian and member of the Russia's Regions faction of the Russian State Duma, told the meeting that he had been delegated by unspecified Russian political forces interested in seeing Armenia accede to the Russian-Belarusian union. The meeting culminated in the creation of the Armenian National Initiative for Union with Russia, whose adherents are already collecting signatures in favor of a referendum on the issue. Four days later, on 16 May, the Russian State Duma passed a unanimous vo te of support for the Armenian National Initiative. Then on 21 May, just two days before Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka were scheduled to sign the charter on Russian-Belarusian union, members of five factions across the entire political spectrum within the Duma (including Russia's Regions, Our Home is Russia, and Narodovlastie) announced at a press conference that they plan to form a movement in support of Armenia's joining the Russian-Belarusian union. Gdlian predicted, somewhat unrealistically, that 90% of Armenians would vote in favor of joining the Russia-Belarus Union if a referendum were held at that time. Several articles in the Russian press have likewise exaggerated the degree of popular support enjoyed by the political parties aligned in the Armenian National Initiative movement. By contrast, all major Armenian political parties have condemned the movement. Opposition leader Vazgen Manukian described the setting up of the movement as "national treason," and several independent newspapers published editorials urging President Levon Ter-Petrossyan to take "strong action" against it. The Armenian leadership has not officially commented on the Duma's expressed support for the movement, but the Armenian official news agency Armenpress issued an unsigned commentary harshly criticizing it as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. The Armenian Foreign Ministry has pointed out that Armenia and Russia are already drafting a new treaty on friendship and cooperation that will supersede the one signed in December 1991 and enhance the level of their strategic cooperation. On 23 May, Armenian presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian told Interfax that the union demonstrated the shared desire of Russia and Belarus for closer ties and that "the strengthening of bilateral ties between CIS countries can only be welcomed." Also on 23 May, Yeltsin declared that the union is open for others to jo in but did not specifically mention Armenia. Ryzhkov had told journalists on 21 May that the Russian president reacted "rather positively" to the news of the Duma vote, held five days earlier, endorsing the Armenian National Initiative. Belarusian President Lukashenka, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev have all openly invited Armenia to join the union. It is unclear how this growing Russian pressure on Armenia to join the n ew union will impact on the domestic political situation. If Ter-Petrossyan chose to oppose a move that many Armenians perceive as threatening their country's independence, the opposition would support him and his popularity rating would soar. But a major concession by Yerevan to Moscow could mitigate the outrage engendered by the disclosures two months ago that Russia had supplied Armenia with state-of-the-art armaments worth $1 billion. Or Armenia's belated accession to the union may be the price now being demanded, or even previously agreed on, for the weaponry in question. Harry Tamrazian is deputy director of RFE/L's Armenian Service xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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