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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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/

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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

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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.

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