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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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/

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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?
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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





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