|A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. - Jonathan Swift|
Vol 1, No. 48, Part I, 9 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 48, Part I, 9 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 * YELTSIN PROMISES TO DEFEND RUSSIAN LANGUAGE, CULTURE * GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA "ON BRINK OF WAR" * TURKMENISTAN NOT READY TO RECOGNIZE TALIBAN GOVERNMENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN PROMISES TO DEFEND RUSSIAN LANGUAGE, CULTURE. During a one-day visit to St. Petersburg, President Boris Yeltsin called for a "fight for the Russian language," Russian and Western news agencies reported on 6 June. The president said Russian should be cleansed of many foreign words and added he was considering a nationwide ban on foreign-language advertising. A similar ban imposed by the Moscow city government has not been enforced in the capital. Yeltsin also met with local cultural figures and advocated turning St. Petersburg TV Channel 5, which broadcasts largely in European Russia, into a nationwide educational and cultural network. In addition, Yeltsin called for holding a referendum on whether Vladimir Lenin's body should be removed from the mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square and buried in St. Petersburg. Yeltsin recently issued a decree declaring 6 June, the birthday of the 19th-century poet Aleksandr Pushkin, a national holiday. RUSSIA TO BUILD NEW CARGO TERMINALS ON GULF OF FINLAND. Also in St. Petersburg, Yeltsin signed a decree to build three new cargo terminals on the Gulf of Finland, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. The facilities will handle crude oil, petroleum products, and dry cargo. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the new terminals will reduce Russia's need to use ports in the Baltic States and added that "the Baltic countries should think hard about their policy toward Russia." Also on 6 June, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told reporters in Kaliningrad Oblast that Russia plans to increase its "defense capability" in the Baltic region, but he gave no details. MIXED SIGNALS ON PENSION REFORM. Yeltsin announced in St. Petersburg that state benefits for working pensioners would soon be cut by 50%, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said the planned reductions would save some 4.5 trillion rubles ($780 million) annually. Sysuev explained that benefits to working pensioners receiving the maximum benefit would be cut more than payments for those receiving smaller pensions. Both Yeltsin and Sysuev insisted the government will pay all pension arrears by 1 July. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov recently denied that the government plans to cut the income of working pensioners (see RFE/RL Newsline, 5 June 1997). Meanwhile, the government approved plans to have the Pension Fund audited, Interfax reported on 6 June. The audit is a condition of a proposed $800 million World Bank loan, which is expected to be approved in late June. NEMTSOV IN JAPAN. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov arrived in Tokyo on 9 June and met with Japanese Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, Russian agencies reported. Nemtsov said Russian would welcome Japanese investment in the timber and food industries. He also said that he would provide his personal phone number and "direct support" to Japanese businessmen who decide to invest at least $100 million in Russia. Nemtsov later met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda to sign a 15-point memorandum on boosting bilateral trade and an agreement on a $95 million loan to Russia to finance projects in that country's Far East. Nemtsov is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on 10 June before departing the next day. CHECHEN ROUNDUP. Following talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Nazran on 6 June, Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told Interfax that the normalization of the situation in Chechnya would be a protracted process and that the top priority is currently restoring the region's oil complex. Berezovskii endorsed the proposed creation of organization for the Caucasus modeled on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also on 6 June, Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov accused his Chechen counterpart, Kazbek Makhashev, of seeking to avoid cooperation in combating crime, including abductions. Two days later, ITAR-TASS cited Maskhadov's press spokesman Kazbek Khadzhiev as saying that an Islamic banking and court system will be established in Chechnya. PRIMORE GOVERNOR UNDER PRESSURE. Federal officials are stepping up pressure on Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, whom they blame for persistent energy crises in the krai. Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Yevgenii Savostyanov arrived in Vladivostok on 6 June to present krai authorities with a recent presidential decree transferring extensive powers to Yeltsin's representative in Primore, Viktor Kondratov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Kondratov, who heads the krai branch of the Federal Security Service, is now charged with implementing presidential decrees and instructions, overseeing the distribution of federal funds in the krai, and supervising Primore's energy, timber, and fishing industries. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov rejected Nazdratenko's request to join a government delegation visiting Japan, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazdratenko has vowed not to step down, although he admitted that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais recently gave him two weeks to resign voluntarily. VORKUTA MINERS CONTINUE STRIKE. Coal miners in Vorkuta (Komi Republic) have voted to continue the strike they began on 1 June, despite promised government assistance to meet some of their demands, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 June. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais pledged an emergency aid package of 150 billion rubles ($26 million) to Vorkuta on 4 June and raised the promised aid to 250 billion rubles the next day. However, Viktor Semenov, the chairman of Komi's Independent Trade Union of Miners, told ITAR-TASS that the miners are demanding broader, "strategic measures" to solve the problems of the Pechora coal basin. Semenov noted that a May 1996 presidential decree on "stabilizing the situation in the Pechora coal basin" has never been implemented. Yeltsin issued that decree during a campaign swing through Vorkuta (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 May 1996). YABLOKO SAYS RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN TREATY RESTS ON "ILLEGITIMATE PARLIAMENT" IN BELARUS. Of the seven registered factions in the State Duma, only Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko opposed ratification of the Russian-Belarusian union treaty and charter on 6 June. The Duma ratified the documents by a vote of 363 to two with 19 abstentions. Yabloko deputies who were present abstained. Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko explained that while Yabloko is not opposed to closer ties with Belarus in principle, integration should not be "built on the basis of an illegitimate parliament" in Belarus. The lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament unanimously ratified the documents on 30 May. Yabloko members have repeatedly criticized Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies toward opposition politicians and the media. DUMA ROUNDUP. The Duma has passed by a vote of 265 to 15 with two abstentions a law on the "development budget," ITAR-TASS reported on 6 June. The development budget seeks to augment federal budget spending by channeling private investment into targeted projects. Communist Duma deputies have long supported the project. Revenue shortfalls have left the government unable to meet spending targets outlined in the 1997 budget, let alone attract additional funds for a development budget. Also on 6 June, the Duma passed draft amendments to the Criminal Code to ban power cuts to facilities "of strategic importance to the country's national security," such as military units and nuclear centers. The same day, the Duma passed by 229 to 10 a preliminary version of a Communist-sponsored resolution declaring there are no "objective reasons or preconditions" for dissolving the lower house of the parliament. LEBED PREDICTS CHERNOMYRDIN WILL BE DISMISSED. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will soon be sacked from the government and made a "scapegoat" for all Russia's problems, Interfax reported on 8 June. Chernomyrdin left Moscow on 30 May for a three-week vacation, fueling speculation in the Russian media that he may soon be forced out of office. However, spokesmen for the government and presidential administration, along with other high cabinet officials, have vigorously denied the rumors. On 5 June, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais described reports of Chernomyrdin's imminent ouster as "absurd," while Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said such rumors are "a ridiculous provocation." Other observers have argued that the prime minister's vacation was timed to force Duma deputies to deal with Chubais, who is chairing the government in Chernomyrdin's absence. "LUZHKOV-TV" BEGINS BROADCASTING. The new television network TV-Center began broadcasting on 9 June on Channel 3. TV-Center is informally known as "Luzhkov-TV" because it is being financed largely by the Moscow city government. Commentators have viewed its appearance as a sign that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is seeking media support in preparation for a presidential bid (See "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997). TV-Center is currently broadcasting only to Moscow and Ryazan but reportedly will soon be relayed to 19 other Russian cities. RUSSIAN MEN LESS LIKELY TO REACH 60 THAN 100 YEARS AGO. In Russia, only 54% of men over 16 are likely to live to the age of 60, according to data released by the State Statistics Committee, Interfax and Reuters reported on 8 June. At the end of the 19th century, the corresponding figure was 56%. The data indicate that Russian men aged 16-60 are most likely to die of accidents or alcohol poisoning. Meanwhile, a nationwide doctors' congress in Moscow on 7 June passed a resolution warning that because the country's death rate continues to exceed its birth rate, "Russia is losing its main asset: its citizens." FORMER TULA GOVERNOR ARRESTED. Nikolai Sevryugin, who was governor of Tula Oblast from October 1991 to March 1997, has been arrested on corruption charges, Russian news agencies reported on 6 June. He is accused of taking $100,000 in bribes. Sevryugin's son and an unnamed representative of a Moscow-based bank were also arrested. Prominent opposition figure and Agrarian Vasilii Starodubtsev defeated Sevryugin in a March gubernatorial election. On 6 June, Yeltsin warned in a radio address that regional leaders would not be exempt from the government's anti-corruption campaign. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA "ON BRINK OF WAR"... Participants at a conference in Tbilisi on 6 June expressed concern that failure to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia will result in the renewal of hostilities, a spokesman for Britain's NGO Vertic, which organized the conference, told RFE/RL Newsline on 8 June. "We are balancing on the brink of war," according to Zurab Erkvania, chairman of the Abkhaz government in exile. Georgian Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Vakhtang Kolbaia said Tbilisi is ready to start negotiations with Sukhumi at all levels and in any form. Kolbaia reiterated Georgia's offer to give Abkhazia the broadest possible autonomy within a unified Georgian state. Meanwhile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, accused Russia of making its assistance in resolving the conflict contingent on Georgian help "to rebuild the Soviet Union." ...DESPITE HIGH-LEVEL TALKS IN MOSCOW. On 5-6 June, separate talks took place in Moscow between Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba and Russian Foreign Ministry officials and between Georgian ambassador Vazha Lortkipanizde and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov. Following his arrival in the Russian capital on 8 June, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba said again that he is prepared to sign a peace treaty with Georgia, similar to that concluded between Russia and Chechnya on 12 May, "if the Georgian side has goodwill," Interfax reported. He warned that the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force could lead to a resumption of hostilities. Addressing the Abkhaz parliament the previous day, Ardzinba had ruled out talks with Georgia on Abkhaz autonomy and reiterated his demand that Abkhazia and Georgia have equal status. GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR BRINGS CHARGES IN CONNECTION WITH SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Dzhamlet Babilashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 June that four men have been charged with treason in connection with the bomb attack on Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. Babilashvili said that the assassination attempt was planned by former Georgian security service chief Igor Giorgadze and Mkhedrioni leader Dzhaba Ioseliani, who had worked with Russian intelligence agents to eliminate Shevardnadze and install Giorgadze as Georgia's leader. FIVE ARMENIANS RELEASED IN "25 SEPTEMBER" TRIAL. The charges against five Armenians in connection with the attack on the parliament building shortly after the September 1996 presidential elections have been changed from inciting mass public disturbances to disturbing public order, Armenian agencies reported on 5 June. The five were subsequently sentenced to prison terms of between 18 and 30 months but were released under the terms of an amnesty proclaimed earlier this year. Dashnaktsutyun party member Kim Balayan still faces charges in connection with the incident. ARMENIAN DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DOES NOT RULE OUT JOINING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION. Ara Sahakyan told journalists in St. Petersburg on 8 June that "our society demands that we take more effective steps for rapprochement with Russia," Interfax reported. He added that for this reason, the possibility of Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union "deserves attention and an analysis of all possible consequences." Sahakyan is the first Armenian leader to comment publicly on the campaign launched to this end by the Armenian Communist Party and endorsed by the Russian State Duma (see "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 29 May 1997). TURKMENISTAN NOT READY TO RECOGNIZE TALIBAN GOVERNMENT. Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said during an official visit to Pakistan on 8 June that his country will not recognize the government of Afghanistan's Taliban movement until the UN does, international press reported. The previous day, Shikhmuradov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan to discuss the Afghan situation. Pakistan's The Nation reported that Posuvalyuk was interested in meeting with Taliban officials in Islamabad. According to unconfirmed reports, the meeting took place, but neither Russia or Pakistan have made an official statement about it. Foreign Minister Khan is scheduled to visit Moscow on 7 July. TAJIK PEACE AGREEMENT TO BE SIGNED ON 27 JUNE. The Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition have agreed to sign a final peace agreement on 27 June in Moscow, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Bureau. The accord was due to be signed on 13 June but was postponed for "technical reasons." NEW BOOK BY UZBEK PRESIDENT. Islam Karimov's new book went on sale in Tashkent on 6 June, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Titled Uzbekistan on the Threshold of the 21st Century, the book describes Uzbekistan as a "front-line state with hotbeds of tension in Afghanistan and Tajikistan close to its borders." Karimov blames this tension on "religious extremism and fanaticism." However, he argues that Islam and Islamic culture should not be viewed as the "new evil empire." Such a view could lead to "a tragic mistake" on the part of Western industrial countries in evaluating the Central Asian states in particular, according to Karimov. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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