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Vol 1, No. 44, Part I, 3 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 44, Part I, 3 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 * WILL THE DUMA RATIFY RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TREATY? * LOW TURNOUT IN CHECHEN ELECTIONS * RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES GEORGIA OF POLITICAL BLACKMAIL End Note A Victory for Ukraine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA WILL THE DUMA RATIFY RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TREATY? State Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Georgii Tikhonov of the left-leaning Popular Power faction denounced the wide-ranging Russian-Ukrainian treaty and predicted that the Duma will reject it, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3 June. Tikhonov argued that by renouncing territorial claims against Ukraine, Russia would clear the way for Ukraine to join NATO. "It is known that this military alliance does not accept countries that have territorial disputes with their neighbors," he explained. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko said many Duma deputies would object in particular to recognizing the Crimean port of Sevastopol as a Ukrainian city, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. However, Lukin predicted that the Duma would nonetheless ratify the treaty. Both State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev have said the Russian parliament will approve it. LOW TURNOUT, IRREGULARITIES IN CHECHEN ELECTIONS. The 31 May mayoral elections and by-elections in 20 constituencies where no candidate received a majority in the 27 January parliamentary ballot were marred by irregularities, Russian and Western agencies reported. The Grozny mayoral election, which was contested by 12 candidates, was pronounced invalid by Central Electoral Commission chairman Mumadi Saidayev on 2 June because less than 30% of the electorate cast votes, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Grozny. Also on 2 June, an Austrian businessman and five Chechens abducted in recent months were freed by Chechen police, Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross has refuted press reports that the organization is ready to resume operations in Chechnya, according to ITAR-TASS (see RFE/RL Newsline, 30 May, 1997). COMMUNIST WINS CONTROVERSIAL BY-ELECTION IN ROSTOV. Nikolai Kolomeitsev, the chairman of the Communist Party branch in Rostov-na-Donu, has won a 1 June by-election for a State Duma seat in Rostov Oblast, Izvestiya reported on 3 June. According to preliminary results, Kolomeitsev gained some 37% of the vote. His nearest rival, Our Home Is Russia candidate and former Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan, won just over 19%. However, unsuccessful candidate Boris Grinberg has vowed to appeal the result and demand a new by-election. He was arrested during the campaign by law enforcement officials from the Republic of Bashkortostan, where he is accused of economic crimes. Under Russian law, Grinberg should have been protected by immunity as a registered candidate for the parliament. Sergei Shakhrai gave up the Duma seat in Rostov last December, when he was appointed presidential representative in the Constitutional Court. LOW TURNOUT IN BY-ELECTION IN KHAKASSIA. The 1 June by-election for a State Duma seat in the Republic of Khakassia was declared invalid because of low turnout, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Only about 21% of the electorate went to the polls to choose a replacement for Aleksei Lebed. The minimum required level is 25%. Aleksei Lebed, who is the younger brother of former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, gave up his Duma seat after being elected head of Khakasia's government last December. WORLD BANK REPORTEDLY TO EXTEND NEW CREDITS TO RUSSIA. Officials say the World Bank has completed negotiations to extend nearly $1.7 billion in loans to Russia this year, Reuters reported on 2 June. The bank's board is expected to approve the loans in the coming weeks. The credits are to include a $600 million loan for structural reforms of the Russian economy and an $800 million loan for restructuring of social benefit programs. It was unclear whether the bank's board would consider a proposed loan of $500 million to restructure the Russian coal industry. In June 1996, the World Bank issued $250 million in credits to the Russian coal industry, but critics have said that little of the money reached miners. A World Bank mission toured coal mining regions last month to determine how money from the 1996 loan had been spent. MOSCOW EUROBOND ISSUE FINDS FAVOR WITH FOREIGN INVESTORS. Russian regions planning to issue bonds denominated in foreign currencies will be encouraged by the recent successful eurobond issue by the city of Moscow, the Financial Times reported on 2 June. Moscow issued $500 million in dollar-denominated bonds, and investors on the secondary market have since driven up prices for the bonds. First Deputy Mayor Oleg Tolkachev told Interfax on 30 May that Moscow will float another $500 million eurobond later this year. St. Petersburg and Nizhnii Novgorod are expected to issue eurobonds worth $300 million and $100 million, respectively, in June. Several other regions, most recently Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, have also expressed interest in issuing eurobonds. Only "donor" regions--those that are net contributors to the federal budget--are allowed to issue bonds denominated in foreign currencies. FAKE VODKA SHIPMENT SEIZED IN MOSCOW. Police discovered 20 train cars filled with fake vodka in a Moscow train station, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. Officials estimated that the shipment of some 240,000 bottles of undrinkable alcohol with false labels would have been worth about 12 billion rubles ($2 million) on the black market. The alcohol was reported to have originated in North Ossetia. A large part of the North Ossetian work force was made redundant after the closure of factories supplying the military-industrial complex and subsequently turned to manufacturing fake alcoholic beverages, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 31 May. Fake vodka produced in Krasnoyarsk has killed at least 22 people during the last week. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES GEORGIA OF POLITICAL BLACKMAIL. Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 2 June condemned as "political blackmail" the resolution adopted by the Georgian parliament on 30 May laying down conditions for the continued deployment of a CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, Interfax reported. The resolution calls for the peacekeepers' withdrawal unless they are redeployed throughout Abkhazia's Gali Raion by 31 July. The decision on their redeployment was taken at the March summit of the CIS heads of state. Yastrzhembskii hinted that Russia might withdraw the force, which is composed exclusively of Russian troops. Also on 2 June, in his regular Monday radio broadcast, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze proposed immediate talks with the Abkhaz leadership on guaranteeing continued compliance with the existing cease-fire, BS-Press reported. Shevardnadze said the withdrawal of the peacekeeping force would not preclude Russia's continued role in mediating a settlement of the conflict. MEMBER OF PEACEKEEPING FORCE SHOOTS COMRADES, COMMITS SUICIDE. A sergeant serving on a contract basis with the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia shot dead ten of his fellow servicemen and then committed suicide, Russian media reported. Shevardnadze issued a statement expressing his grief at the killings and extending condolences to the families of the murdered men, according to ITAR-TASS. AZERBAIJAN CONFIDENT OF SWIFT SOLUTION TO KARABAKH CONFLICT. Interfax on 2 June quoted unnamed Azerbaijani government spokesmen as predicting that a solution to the Karabakh conflict will be reached this year on the basis of compromises between Baku and Yerevan. recently proposed by the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group. Those compromises include the withdrawal of Karabakh Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory, international control of the Lachin corridor linking Karabakh and Armenia, and international control of all armaments deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh that will be considered part of Armenia's permitted CFE quota. Following talks in Ankara on 2 June with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller said that Turkey supports the OSCE Minsk Group initiative but will also continue to play its own role in seeking to resolve the conflict, TRT Television Network reported. AZERBAIJANI, GEORGIAN COMMENT ON RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD. An unnamed Azerbaijani government spokesman told Interfax on 30 May that the country's leadership welcomes the signing of the Russia-NATO agreement because "the calmer the situation in relations between Russia and NATO, the calmer it is for other countries." Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists the next day that Georgia will not raise the issue of possible NATO membership "either today or in the near future" as the country is not ready for it. But he said that Georgia welcomes cooperation with NATO within the Partnership for Peace program. Menagharishvili said that full membership in the Council of Europe is currently more advantageous to Georgia than NATO membership, given the role the council can play in guaranteeing the stability and economic development of the Transcaucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. UZBEK PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN... Before his departure for Kazakstan on 2 June, Islam Karimov told Tashkent Radio that measures were taken months ago to prepare for complications along the Uzbek border with Afghanistan. He said he believed the problems in Afghanistan would have ended long ago if other countries had not interfered. In this connection, he singled out foreign sponsors responsible for arming the various warring factions. He also stressed that when problems broke out in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Uzbekistan remained neutral. Karimov called for the UN to assume a greater role in resolving the problems in Afghanistan and for the Taliban to renounce their aim of establishing "absolute power." In addition, he blasted the anti-Taliban coalition and the "mercenaries of some field commanders who have defected to serve new masters for large amounts of money." ...MEETS WITH KAZAK PRESIDENT IN ALMATY. In Almaty later the same day, Karimov met with Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss economic relations and new strategies for boosting bilateral trade, according to RFE/RL's Almaty bureau. The volume of trade between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan dropped by about one-third ($293 million) in 1996, compared with the previous year ($423 million). But at a joint press conference following their meeting, Afghanistan was the dominant topic. Karimov again called for countries to stop supporting various armed factions in Afghanistan by supplying them with arms. Nazarbayev was supportive but emphasized he did not want his country to get enmeshed in Afghanistan's problems. BISHKEK DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST COURT DECISION. Some 300 people assembled outside the government building in the Kyrgyz capital on 3 June to protest the 23 May decision to imprison two journalists from the weekly independent newspaper Res Publica for 18 months and bar two others from practicing journalism for the same period (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. The demonstrators are demanding a meeting with government officials. Three have announced they will stage a hunger strike in support of the journalists. PRIVATIZATION IN KYRGYZSTAN. Shortly before the third wave of privatization, Security Minister Felix Kulov voiced alarm at moves by finance and investment companies to gain control of the country's leading enterprises, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. Among the enterprises to be privatized in the third wave are Kyrgyzenergoholding, Kyrgyztelekom, Kyrgyzgaz, and the state airline Kyrgyzstan Aba Zholdoru. Kulov said some finance and investment companies have been buying privatization coupons from citizens who received those coupons as compensation for unpaid wages. Nearly a quarter of all coupons are unaccounted for. Kulov says this is because private citizens sold them to the companies, which will now reap in big profits. TURKMEN ECONOMIC NEWS. A state interbank council was set up on 2 June to oversee the reorganization of the banking system, according to ITAR-TASS. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said the move was necessary to continue to push ahead with economic reforms. Also on 2 June, Niyazov signed a decree requiring some Turkmen industries to be licensed by the government. Those affected are the meat, dairy, beer and soft drinks, and candy industries. All companies involved in the production of those goods will need licenses, regardless of whether they are privately owned or a joint venture using foreign capital. The aim of the new measure is to ensure quality control. END NOTE A Victory for Ukraine by Paul Goble The Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty and the agreement on the fate of the Black Sea Fleet are a major diplomatic victory for Kyiv, just as they meet several of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's most immediate political needs. For Yeltsin, the accords are politically useful on several counts. Becau se the Ukrainians had long wanted a visit by the Russian leader, the agreements-- which were signed in the Ukrainian capital on 31 May--gave him the opportunity to reassert in public that Russia has a special relationship with Ukraine, even if Kyiv is less than wholly interested in it. Since those agreements suggest that neither party can reach an accord with a third party that would threaten the other, they gave him the opportunity to take some of the sting out of Ukraine's ever closer relationship with the West, which was consolidated with the recent initialing of a special Ukrainian-NATO charter. And because the accords give Russia the right to use the naval base at Sevastopol for many years, they provide the Russian president with some political protection against those in Moscow who want the Russian government to press for sovereignty over Sevastopol or even Crimea as a whole. Many observers both in the region and elsewhere tend to see the accords as a victory for Moscow in its efforts to maintain or even increase its influence in Kyiv--because of their political usefulness for Yeltsin and because his press spokesman declared they were the Russian president's "most important foreign policy move in 1997." But such an interpretation fails to take into account the far greater political benefits that the accords give to Ukraine as a whole and to its president, Leonid Kuchma. Beyond the specifics that Yeltsin and others have suggested benefit Russia, the accords provide three important, even critical, benefits to Ukraine. First, they undermine the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. Kyiv has been unwilling to sign any CIS defense arrangement with Russia. But Moscow obviously wanted this "friendship" pact badly enough to be willing to forgive Kyiv some of its debt for energy supplies. This will not be lost either on other Commonwealth countries, which will likely chart an increasingly independent course as a result, or on Ukraine, whose government has just seen a demonstration of the value of its own efforts to move closer to the West. Second, both the friendship treaty and, to an even greater extent, the a ccord on the Black Sea fleet provide a more precise definition of Ukrainian-Russian relations and give Kyiv a freer hand. Since the end of the USSR, the Russian government has sought to maintain enough ambiguity in its relations with the former Soviet republics to give it a freer hand in dealing with them. While the accord gives Russia the right to keep its fleet in Sevastopol, it specifies that Russia is there only on the basis of a lease for a specific time agreed to by Kyiv. Yeltsin did stress that the "Slavic" unity of the two countries was beyond challenge; but at the same time, he said that Ukraine's border was beyond question. Third, these latest accords further reduce the differences between Ukrai ne and any other East European country. Despite his occasionally flamboyant rhetoric, Yeltsin tended to treat th e Ukrainian president and Ukraine in a way he would treat any other national leader or country. Given the pretensions of some Russian officials, that is indeed progress. Just two days after the signing of the accords with Russia, Ukraine made more progress toward that kind of status when Kuchma signed an agreement with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu that put an end to one of the most neuralgic border disputes in the region. In a way that the Russian president probably did not intend, his signatu re on the Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty will only expand the possibilities for Ukraine to make more friends elsewhere. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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