|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
Vol 1, No. 43, Part I, 2 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 43, Part I, 2 June 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 * RUSSIAN REACTION TO TREATY WITH UKRAINE * RYBKIN, NORTH CAUCASUS LEADERS SIGN FRIENDSHIP, COOPERATION DECLARATION * VIOLATION OF TAJIK PEACE ACCORD End Note XINJIANG AND CENTRAL ASIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIAN REACTION TO TREATY WITH UKRAINE. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said 31 May would go down in history as a "great day" and expressed confidence that the Russian parliament will ratify the friendship treaty signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev also praised the treaty for allowing Russia to keep its military infrastructure in Sevastopol. By contrast, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov slammed the agreements, saying "we will be renting Sevastopol from ourselves," Interfax reported. Luzhkov added that "Sevastopol is a Russian city, and it will be Russian regardless of the decisions taken." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who had criticized the recent accords on dividing the Black Sea Fleet, neither praised nor condemned the friendship treaty. Zyuganov said he supported any steps leading to closer ties with Ukraine (see related stories in Part II of today's RFE/RL Newsline). RYBKIN, NORTH CAUCASUS LEADERS SIGN FRIENDSHIP, COOPERATION DECLARATION. Meeting in the North Caucasus spa of Kislovodsk on 31 May, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov, and the heads of eight other North Caucasus republics and regions signed a joint declaration on peace, friendship, and cooperation, Russian and Western agencies reported. The declaration is intended as a follow-up to the Russian-Chechen peace treaty signed in Moscow on 12 May. In a message to participants at the meeting, Yeltsin stressed that it is imperative to remove all obstacles to the peaceful coexistence of all peoples of the North Caucasus. Udugov told Interfax on 1 June that he has proposed the creation of an organization like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the Caucasus to guarantee stability in the region. RUSSIA, FRANCE SETTLE OLD DEBTS. The Russian government has approved an agreement with France to settle debts accrued before May 1945, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 30 May. Last November, Russian and French officials signed the agreement, under which Russia will pay $400 million over three years to holders of tsarist-era bonds issued in France. Russia will also renounce claims to Russian gold transferred to Germany in 1918, which ended up in France after World War I. According to Reuters, the deal will help Russia's bid to join the Paris Club of government creditors and will allow Russia to issue new bonds in France. Meanwhile, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson said on 30 May that Germany wants Russia to repay about DM 1 billion ($588 million) in Soviet-era debts to German businesses. He added that Russia's image in Germany has suffered because of the outstanding debt. OFFICIALS SAY NO THREAT POSED BY SINKING OF RUSSIAN SUBMARINE. Navy officials have said that a nuclear-powered submarine that sank at its mooring in Avachinskii Bay, off Kamchatka, on 29 May, poses no threat, Russian sources report. According to the navy, the submarine had already been decommissioned and had not been at sea for four years. All nuclear weapons, fuel, and storage batteries had been removed. The submarine sank when it was struck by another submarine at the mooring. Radiation checks are made every half hour and so far normal levels have been registered. An attempt will be made to raise the submarine. NEMTSOV SUPPORTS LOWER, FLEXIBLE GAS PRICES. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the natural gas monopoly Gazprom should introduce lower, more flexible prices for gas, Russian news agencies reported on 1 June. He suggested that discounts of 20-50% could be offered for cash payments on time. Nemtsov made the remarks while touring the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug with Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. About 90% of Russia's natural gas reserves are in Yamal-Nenets. Nemtsov also said an "important government decision" would be adopted following his trip to the okrug, but he gave no further details. The government is expected to sign a new management contract with Gazprom soon. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told NTV on 1 June that Gazprom has begun paying its debts to the federal budget and transferred some 2.5 trillion rubles ($430 million) last week. Government officials have said Gazprom owes some $2.5 billion to the federal authorities. NEMTSOV CAN'T GET RESIDENCE PERMIT FOR MOSCOW. Nemtsov says he is "legally homeless" because the Moscow city authorities have refused to give him a residence permit for the Russian capital, Russian news agencies reported on 30 May. Nemtsov said officials were demanding a document stating where his wife was from 1992 to 1994. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov told ITAR-TASS that no special demands were being made of Nemtsov, adding that "rules are rules." In recent weeks, Nemtsov and Luzhkov have clashed publicly over strategies for housing reform. NEMTSOV ALLY CHOSEN TO MANAGE UTILITY. Shareholders in the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems (EES) have elected Boris Brevnov chairman of the company's management, Russian news agencies reported on 30 May. Brevnov, formerly a banker in Nizhnii Novgorod, became vice president of EES shortly after Nemtsov was appointed first deputy prime minister. Nemtsov has pledged to reform Russia's "natural monopolies" in the energy and transportation sectors. Also on 30 May, EES shareholders abolished the post of company president and elected Anatolii Dyakov, who had held that post, to chair the EES board of directors. Dyakov told reporters that the utility is owed about 102 trillion rubles ($18 billion) by delinquent consumers, up from 79 trillion at the beginning of this year. Because of the cash shortage, some 80% of EES's transactions are settled by barter, Dyakov said. YELTSIN'S SON-IN-LAW CONFIRMED AS DIRECTOR OF AEROFLOT. Shareholders in Aeroflot have confirmed Valerii Okulov as director-general of Russia's largest airline, Russian news agencies reported on 30 May. Okulov is married to the president's older daughter Yelena. Yeltsin appointed him acting director-general of the airline in March. YELTSIN DECLARES INCOME, PROPERTY HOLDINGS. Yeltsin earned some 243 million rubles ($43,000) in 1996 and owns property worth 1.2 billion rubles ($210,000), according to an income and property declaration published on 31 May in the official newspaper Rossiiskie vesti. Yeltsin's 1996 income came from salary and interest on a Sberbank account. Book royalties have been deposited in the Sberbank account since 1994, the declaration said. Yeltsin also owns a 1995 BMW, estimated to be worth 70 million rubles ($12,500). In April, Yeltsin signed a decree ordering state officials to declare their income and property holdings. In a radio address, he also called on Russians to buy domestically produced goods to support Russian industry. CHERNOMYRDIN AGAINST DUMA DISSOLUTION. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says he is not in favor of dissolving the State Duma, Russian news agencies reported on 30 May. He said the Russian economy "does not need" new parliamentary elections and that the Duma should pass important legislation, including a new tax code. Chernomyrdin made the comments after signing an agreement with Reforms--New Course leader Vladimir Shumeiko and former presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov to form a Union of Progressive Forces (see RFE/RL Newsline, 27 May 1997). However, Shumeiko suggested that he supports holding early parliamentary elections. He told reporters that "it is difficult for the government to work with an irresponsible Duma." Shumeiko also argued that the electoral law should be changed before the next elections to reduce the number of Duma seats chosen by proportional representation. FAKE VODKA KILLS 22 IN KRASNOYARSK. At least 22 people have died in recent days after drinking fake vodka containing methyl alcohol in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. At least 12 others have been hospitalized. The city's mayor, Petr Pimashkov, issued an appeal describing symptoms of alcohol poisoning and warning residents not to drink vodka of dubious origin. Several people have been arrested on suspicion of selling the poison. GROUP SEEKS REFERENDUM TO REMOVE TVER GOVERNOR. The Tver Oblast Electoral Commission has registered a Communist-led initiative group seeking to remove Governor Vladimir Platov from office, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 May. Platov's opponents charge that his social and economic policies have lowered the standard of living in Tver. They must now collect 12,000 signatures within 40 days in order to force a referendum. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA VIOLATION OF TAJIK PEACE ACCORD. The first violation of the Tajik peace agreement in 1997 occurred at a bus station in the city of Kofarnikhon on 31 May, according to RFE/RL correspondents. An armed band led by Abdul Vose took hostage several members of the militia as well as two presidential guards and demanded the release of two of his band members held by the Tajik militia on rape charges. Vose also refused to permit buses to depart from the station. The two sides resolved the situation by exchanging prisoners. Representatives from the joint commission monitoring the cease-fire have been dispatched to investigate the incident. HUMANITARIAN AID FOR AFGHANISTAN. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati held phone conversations with his Kyrgyz and Kazak counterparts on 31 May, according to IRNA. The three ministers agreed foreign intervention was the worst-possible course of action but pledged to provide humanitarian aid to northern Afghanistan. Fighting in Afghanistan has moved southward, and some clashes are only 60 km north of Kabul. Radio Kabul reports that "thousands" more Taliban fighters have arrived in the capital, and the Afghan Islamic Press in Islamabad reported bombing raids by Taliban forces on the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on 31 May. Meanwhile, ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani returned to Afghanistan on 30 May. TURKMENISTAN BECOMES MEMBER OF IFC. Turkmenistan was officially admitted as a member of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) on 29 May, according to RFE/RL Washington correspondents. Membership gives Turkmenistan a chance to engage in project financing, equity investments, and technical assistance for the private sector. Turkmenistan is the 172nd member of the IFC and the last former Soviet republic to be admitted. GEORGIA CONTINUES TO DEMAND SHARE OF BLACK SEA FLEET. National Security adviser Archil Gegeshidze, presidential spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze, and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili continued on 30-31 May to insist that Georgia has a rightful claim to part of the Black Sea Fleet, Russian agencies reported. Gegeshidze told Interfax that Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov's statement on 29 May that Georgia received vessels from Ukraine's share of the fleet was incorrect. He added that Kyiv's transfer of one patrol boat to Georgia in April was merely a "goodwill gesture." Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 30 May that Russia does not recognize Georgia's claims, ITAR-TASS reported. GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ISSUES ULTIMATUM OVER PEACEKEEPERS. The parliament on 30 May passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia if the decision to broaden its mandate is not implemented by 31 July, Russian agencies reported. The Abkhaz leadership has rejected the decision taken at the CIS heads of state summit in March to redeploy the force throughout Abkhazia's Gali Raion, arguing that the force's original mandate can be amended only with the consent of the Abkhaz side. The Georgian parliamentary resolution said that Georgia may reconsider its CIS membership if that body proves incapable of implementing its own decisions. The parliament also adopted an appeal to the Abkhaz population stating that the Georgian leadership will do its best to prevent a resumption of hostilities if the peacekeeping force is withdrawn, according to Interfax. HIGH-LEVEL TALKS ON KARABAKH. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and the Russian and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group made new proposals on a solution of the Karabakh conflict during separate meetings from 31 May-1 June with the leaders of Armenia, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan, Russian agencies reported. RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau quoted sources close to the Armenian Foreign Ministry as saying that the proposals leave Karabakh within Azerbaijan but with wide-ranging autonomy. Interfax quoted French diplomat Jacques Blot as stating that the suggestions are intended as a basis for further negotiations. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev told ITAR-TASS on 1 June after meeting with the negotiators that conditions for reaching a settlement have never been as auspicious as they are now. ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP CRITICIZED FROM ALL SIDES. On 29 May, some 250 delegates attended the inaugural congress in Yerevan of former Armenian prime minister Hrant Bagratyan's new right-wing liberal political party, Azatutyun [Liberty], Armenian agencies reported. Addressing the congress, Bagratyan harshly criticized the policies of the present leadership. He argued that domestic politics could not be artificially separated from socio-economic conditions. He added that the power of the state must be circumscribed and elections laws revised in the wake of last year's disputed presidential elections. At a public rally on 29 May attended by some 3,000 people, representatives of opposition parties aligned in the National Alliance called for pre-term parliamentary elections. Also on 29 May, representatives of four groups, including the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen, issued a statement criticizing the leadership's economic policies and stating their intention to draft an alternative economic development program. END NOTE XINJIANG AND CENTRAL ASIA by Paul Goble China's crackdown on Uyghur activism in Xinjiang is likely to cast a lar ger shadow on the countries of Central Asia than will the Afghan fighting that has attracted so much attention both in that region and beyond. And that is so despite the statements and reporting attending the arriva l in Central Asia of Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. According to her aides, Ogata is there in anticipation of a flood of ref ugees from Afghanistan into Central Asia as the result of the Taliban advance into the northern part of that country. But the Taliban advance has stalled, and the fears that brought Ogata to Central Asia have somewhat ebbed for the time being, even though her press officer suggested last Tuesday that a refugee flood "could still happen." The Chinese crackdown, on the other hand, is very much in full swing. It s latest manifestation came on Thursday when the Chinese authorities in Urumqi executed eight and sentenced four others for a series of bus bombings there earlier this year. The authorities imposed these sentences less to punish specific actions than to send a message to the increasingly restive Uyghur minority that China will not tolerate any further separatist or Islamic activism. Over the past year, the Muslim Uyghurs have protested in various ways ag ainst Beijing's dispatch of ever more Han Chinese to the region, an influx that has reduced the Uyghur share of the region's population to only 47 percent. Beijing reported the latest executions not in the domestic Chinese press but only in news services directed at foreign audiences, the English-language China Daily and the Xinhua news service. By not distributing the news at home, the Beijing authorities appear to be hoping both to continue to present their own society as one without significant problems and also to contain the nationalism of the Han Chinese. The second of these may becoming a serious problem: Han Chinese official s in Xinjiang already sound more like Chinese nationalists than communist party stalwarts. And their attitudes may only exacerbate the feelings of Uyghurs and the Han Chinese there. And by distributing the news about the executions abroad, the Beijing authorities appear to be hoping to send a powerful signal to China's Central Asian neighbors that China will not tolerate any interference in what it defines as its own internal affairs. The governments of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have deferred to China on this point already. They have promised not to provide any support or sanctuary for the Uyghurs. And this latest report will give them yet another reason to continue that policy. But Beijing's message may have a very different and unintended impact on the peoples of these countries, whose populations include Uyghurs and other groups who see themselves as closely linked to the Islamic one just over the border in China. Many of these people are likely to be infuriated with the Chinese author ities for their new efforts to wipe out a movement that seeks no more than the Central Asians themselves have achieved. Even more important, at least some of these people are likely to be angr y at their own governments for going along with the Chinese crackdown. While most of the Central Asian regimes are far from perfect democracies , their leaders may decide to defer to the anger of their own populations lest that anger power political movements against themselves. And to the extent that were to happen, it could trigger a fundamental shift in the geopolitics of inner Asia, a shift that might give the Uyghur national movement a greater chance than it has had at any time since the Chinese communists seized power. And that in turn would affect both the domestic development and foreign policy outlook of the Central Asian countries far more than would any likely refugee flow into the region from Afghanistan. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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