|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
Vol 1, No. 42, Part I, 30 May 1997
Vol 1, No. 42, Part I, 30 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 PRAISES NATO DEAL, CONFIRMS "GESTURE OF GOOD WILL" * MIXED RUSSIAN REACTION TO BLACK SEA FLEET DEAL * GEORGIA LOSES OUT OVER BLACK SEA FLEET DIVISION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN PRAISES NATO DEAL, CONFIRMS "GESTURE OF GOOD WILL." Speaking on national radio on 30 May, President Boris Yeltsin said the Russia-NATO Founding Act, signed earlier this week in Paris, will serve Russia's interests. He said the document will prevent NATO from deploying nuclear weapons in new member states or augmenting its armed forces close to Russia's borders. NATO officials have said they have no plans to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members but insist that the Founding Act does not prevent them from doing so. In his radio address, Yeltsin also said a new joint Russia-NATO council will enable Russia to "settle security issues in Europe on an equal basis" with the alliance. He confirmed that, in line with what he called his "gesture of good will," Russian missiles will no longer be aimed at NATO countries. MIXED RUSSIAN REACTION TO BLACK SEA FLEET DEAL. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov says Russia will not lose out financially from the Black Sea Fleet agreements reached with Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported on 29 May. Under the deal, Russia will compensate Ukraine for about $526 million worth of ships and will rent some port facilities in Sevastopol for 20 years at just under $100 million per year. However, the payments will be offset against Ukraine's $3 billion debt to Russia rather than paid in cash. Russia will also forgive $200 million of the Ukrainian debt in exchange for the nuclear missiles removed from Ukraine in 1992. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said the deal was tantamount to the "destruction of the Black Sea Fleet." Earlier this week, former fleet commander Eduard Baltin argued that the deal would allow Ukrainian ships to prevent Russia from using its part of the divided fleet, Interfax reported. COMMUNISTS RESPOND TO ATTACKS ON DUMA. Communist Party leader Zyuganov charged on 29 May that the authorities plan to dissolve the State Duma in order to obtain a more "obedient" lower house of the parliament, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported the next day. Zyuganov said the parliament "does not accept the demands dictated to Yeltsin and his government by the IMF." He slammed the authorities for "fighting against a legally elected Duma" through court appeals aimed at changing the law on parliamentary elections, ITAR-TASS reported (see RFE/RL Newsline, 29 May 1997). Appearing alongside Zyuganov, deputy Communist Party leader Valentin Kuptsov noted that the pro-government bloc Our Home Is Russia has formed an alliance with Reforms--New Course leader Vladimir Shumeiko, who has repeatedly called for dissolving the Duma. Zyuganov also criticized the Russia-NATO Founding Act as "an act of unconditional surrender" and a "betrayal" of Russia's interests. ICRC TO RESUME RELIEF WORK IN CHECHNYA. Following talks in Grozny with the Chechen leadership, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told ITAR-TASS on 29 May that the committee will resume humanitarian activities in Chechnya at an unspecified date. He said he has been given guarantees that the committee's personnel will be adequately protected. International relief organizations withdrew from Chechnya in December 1996 after the murder of six Red Cross medical workers in the village of Starye Atagi. The killers have not been found. Also on 29 May, Noyan Tapan reported that Medicins sans frontieres will inaugurate a new two-year aid program in Nagorno-Karabakh. MORE THAN 21,000 POLICE OFFICIALS SACKED IN "OPERATION CLEAN HANDS." The Interior Ministry fired more than 21,000 officials in 1996 for various forms of misconduct, including ties to organized crime, Maj.-Gen. Svyatoslav Golitsyn told journalists on 29 May. He added that criminal charges were brought against 404 police officials last year, which he said was a 25% increase over 1995, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. (However, Golitsyn announced in June 1996 that some 1,277 police officers had been convicted of criminal offenses in 1995.) Also on 29 May, Nikolai Borodin, deputy chief of the Main Automobile Inspectorate (GAI), said criminal cases had been opened against 598 GAI officers in 1996. Bribe-taking among traffic police is widespread in Russia. OFFICIAL GIVES MORE DETAILS ON PROPOSED AMNESTY. Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, a senior official in the Procurator-General's Office, says a proposed amnesty for some convicted criminals and suspects will not cover the most serious crimes, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov recently said his office is drafting a bill that would grant amnesty to some 440,000 persons under investigation in prison or in pre-trial detention centers. Zvyagintsev said the amnesty would apply mainly to women, invalids, pensioners, and juveniles as well as to prisoners who have tuberculosis. NEWSPAPER SLAMS IRREGULARITIES IN CASE AGAINST BANKRUPTCY OFFICIAL. The case against Petr Karpov, deputy director of the Federal Bankruptcy Administration, is "breaking all records for procedural violations," according to the 29 May Segodnya. Karpov remains in prison more than 30 days after he was arrested for allegedly taking a 5 million ruble ($870) bribe in 1994 (see RFE/RL Newsline, 12 May 1997). His custody can legally be extended only through an order from Russia's procurator-general, which has not been issued. In addition, a motion filed by Karpov's lawyer demanding his release pending trial has not been considered by Moscow municipal courts within three days, as required by law. Karpov also spent about three months in custody last year for the same alleged offense but was never prosecuted. Segodnya argued that Karpov is not being released because he is "too dangerous a witness" on how companies evade taxes. SLAIN JOURNALIST'S HUSBAND LOSES COURT APPEAL. German journalist Gisbert Mrozek, the widower of a journalist killed during the June 1995 Budennovsk hostage crisis, has lost his appeal in the military court of the North Caucasus Military District, Russian news agencies reported on 29 May. Mrozek's wife, Natalya Alyakina, was shot shortly after passing through a Russian checkpoint in Budennovsk. Private Sergei Fedotov, who fired the two fatal shots, said his foot accidentally caused his gun to fire. In July 1996, he was given a two-year suspended sentence for careless handling of firearms. Mrozek appealed against the verdict, charging that the investigation into Alyakina's death was incomplete and that Fedotov's commanding officers were never questioned. CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CLOSES CASE ON POWERS OF PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION. The Constitutional Court on 29 May closed the case on a presidential decree enumerating the functions of the presidential administration, Rossiiskie vesti reported the next day. Opposition Duma deputies lodged the appeal, charging that the October 1996 decree gave the president's chief of staff powers constitutionally assigned to the president, government, and parliament. Last month, Yeltsin amended the decree in question and the Duma deputies withdrew their appeal. However, Yeltsin's legal representatives had sought a court ruling on the case. Yeltsin's current chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, is considered far less powerful than was his predecessor, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. MORE POWERS PLANNED FOR PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES IN REGIONS. Aleksandr Kazakov, the first deputy head of the presidential administration, says the powers of presidential representatives in the regions will be increased, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. Speaking in Novosibirsk, Kazakov said the representatives will coordinate the activities of regional branches of federal agencies. The drive to increase the authority of the president's "eyes and ears" in the regions is related to his declining leverage over governors. Yeltsin can replace his regional representatives at will, but he can no longer dismiss governors, nearly all of whom have been popularly elected. RUSSIA URGED TO IMPROVE INVESTMENT CLIMATE. Speaking in Yekaterinburg to the sixth meeting of the German-Russian Cooperation Council, German Economics Minister Guenther Rexrodt called on the Russian government to overhaul its tax system, customs rules, and highly invasive inspections of corporate records, dpa reported on Thursday. Rexrodt said that "such pin-pricking" by the Russian authorities was one of the reasons that German investment in Russia had not lived up to expectations. Last year, German direct investment in Russia amounted to only DM122 million (about $71.5 million). SBERBANK LOWERS INTEREST RATES FOR INDIVIDUALS. Russia's largest saving bank Sberbank has lowered annual interest rates on ruble loans to individuals from 31% to 29%, Russian news agencies reported on 29 May. Among other things, the rate will apply to loans for buying, constructing, or renovating housing. Meanwhile, Central Bank head Sergei Dubinin predicted that Russian commercial banks will lower their lending rates to industrial firms to 20% by the end of 1997, Interfax reported on 28 May. He did not say when or by how much the Central Bank could lower its refinancing rate, at which it lends to commercial banks. That rate was lowered to 36% last month. Commercial banks currently charge businesses interest of 38% to 46% annually. Critics say the Central Bank should lower its refinancing rate further, given that government officials have predicted annual inflation of 12% in 1997. SOLZHENITSYN ELECTED TO ACADEMY OF SCIENCES. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has been elected a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. The Nobel Prize-winning author of The Gulag Archipelago and other works was among the 67 new academicians elected in 1997. Other new members include Russian Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov and Moscow State University rector Viktor Sadovnichii. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA LOSES OUT OVER BLACK SEA FLEET DIVISION. The 28 May agreement on the division of the Black Sea Fleet between Russia and Ukraine did not meet Tbilisi's demand for 32 naval vessels formerly stationed at Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti. Ukraine had supported that demand. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told a news conference in the capital on 28 May that Georgia has contributed to the creation and upkeep of the fleet and therefore has the same rights to a share in it as Russia and Ukraine, according to RIA Novosti. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said on 29 May that Georgia has no right to claim part of the fleet, Interfax reported. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said the original agreement on dividing the fleet was taken at a meeting of CIS heads of state in January 1992. Georgia was not a member of the CIS at that time. RUSSIA REJECTS GEORGIAN PRESIDENTS STATEMENT ON BILATERAL RELATIONS. Nesterushkin also criticized Shevardnadze's 27 May statement linking the future development of Georgian-Russian relations to Moscow's assistance in resolving the Abkhaz conflict and to Tbilisi's receiving a share in the Black Sea fleet, RIA Novosti reported. Georgia's ratification of a 1994 treaty on friendship and cooperation with Russia and an agreement allowing Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia is contingent on Russia's assisting in the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity. Nesterushkin argued that Russia "bears no responsibility" for the conflict between Abkhazia and the central government in Tbilisi. Meanwhile, on 29 May, security forces defused a time bomb hidden outside the Sukhumi headquarters of the CIS peacekeeping force, Interfax reported. One man was killed when a bomb exploded elsewhere in Sukhumi later the same day. LARGE DEMONSTRATION IN ALMATY. RFE/RL correspondents in the Kazak capital report that a large demonstration was held on 30 May in defiance of government orders against such a meeting. Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the parliament building, and some carried placards reading "Oust the Parliament and President" and "False Leader of Kazak Nation [President] Nursultan Nazarbayev to be blamed by Generations to Come." They demanded payment of back wages and pensions and the rescinding of recent price hikes for heat, electricity, water, and rent. The demonstrators attempted to rally in front of the mayor's office, but security forces prevented them from doing so. It was the largest demonstration in Kazakstan since that country gained its independence in 1991. KAZAK PRIME MINISTER SAYS RENT TOO HIGH. Akezhan Kazhegeldin says he is refusing to pay the rent for his flat in Almaty because the rent is too high, Izvestiya and ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. Kazhegeldin questioned why rents in the Kazak capital were so outrageous, but deputies in the lower house of the parliament laid the blame at Kazhegeldin's door, saying the prime minister had not moved to break up the housing monopoly in Almaty. Rents in Almaty have increased as much as ten times in recent months and can be the equivalent of $50 a month in a country where the average monthly salary is about $30-40. Deputies noted electricity and heating costs are additional. KAZAK POPULATION DECREASING. The Kazak population has shrunk from some 17 million to below 16 million, according to ITAR-TASS. The National Statistics Agency released the figures, saying they can be attributed to the migration abroad of ethnic Germans as well as Slavs. The ethnic German population has plummeted from 1 million in 1991 to 300,000. The number of ethnic Kazaks has increased by 1.5 million in the last seven years. They now account for 51% of the country's population, while Russians make up 32%. MORE EMIGRES BECAUSE OF LESS RUSSIAN PROGRAMMING IN KYRGYZSTAN? Fewer Russian radio and TV broadcasts are cited by an ethnic Russian association in Kyrgyzstan as the reason for ethnic Russians there to emigrate, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. The Soglasiye association has sent a letter to President Askar Akayev requesting he do everything possible to resolve this problem before the June visit of Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin. Russia's Radio Mayak broadcasts have been cut, as have Russian Public TV programs. And the Russian TV is in danger of going off the air in Kyrgyzstan because of its debts to Kyrgyz relay stations. TURKMENISTAN'S CASPIAN POLICY UNCHANGED. Turkmenistan's leadership continues to maintain that pending a new decision between the littoral states on dividing the Caspian Sea into sectors, the existing delimitation should remain in force, Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov told Nezavisimaya gazeta on 30 May. He argued that according to this delimitation, the entire Azeri and part of the Chirag fields, which are to be exploited by an international consortium that includes Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, lie in Turkmenistan's sector. In January, a leading consortium official told Segodnya that Turkmenistan was not claiming the Azeri and Chirag fields. A new Turkmen state commission has been created to organize a tender for oil exploration rights in Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian with assistance from the EU TACIS program. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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