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Vol 1, No. 53, Part I, 16 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 53, Part I, 16 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 ISSUES DECREE ON PENSIONS * DUMA DEMANDS YELTSIN SIGN LAWS ON TROPHY ART, GOVERNMENT * MINSK GROUP'S KARABAKH PEACE PROPOSALS REVIEWED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN ISSUES DECREE ON PENSIONS. President Boris Yeltsin has issued a decree, effective 1 January 1998, stipulating that the minimum pension be at least 80% of the subsistence level for pensioners, Russian news agencies reported on 14 June. Yeltsin has vetoed several attempts by the State Duma to raise the subsistence level. In a 15 June interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff and former Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits again said that all debts to pensioners will be paid off by 1 July. Government officials estimated in May that pension arrears total 10.5 trillion rubles ($1.8 billion). DUMA APPROVES TAX ON FOREIGN-CURRENCY PURCHASES. The Duma has approved an amendment to the law on fundamental principles of the Russian tax system that would impose a 0.5% tax on foreign-currency purchases by individuals and companies, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. Withdrawals of cash from foreign-currency bank deposits would not be taxed, nor would foreign-currency purchases from the Central Bank by commercial banks. Revenues from the tax would be divided 60:40 between federal and regional budgets. Also on 13 June, the Duma failed to overturn a presidential veto of another amendment to the law on principles of the tax system, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. That amendment would have exempted enterprises from fines for not paying taxes if they lacked the funds to pay workers' wages. DUMA PASSES BUDGET CODE IN FIRST READING. The Duma on 13 June unanimously approved in its first reading the draft budget code, which defines the procedure for drafting, adopting, and revising the budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Yabloko member Oksana Dmitrieva, who chairs the Duma's subcommittee on the budget system, the new code would prohibit a sequester of more than 10% of budget spending, regardless of the size of revenue shortfalls. The code will not be applied to the 1997 budget and will be considered in the second reading in late September at the earliest. The government has proposed cuts in 1997 budget expenditures amounting to some 20% of planned spending. DUMA DEMANDS YELTSIN SIGN LAWS ON TROPHY ART, GOVERNMENT. The Duma has approved an appeal to Yeltsin demanding that he sign the trophy art law and the law on the government, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. The appeal passed by a vote of 351 to one with one abstention. Both the Duma and the Federation Council overturned presidential vetoes on the laws. But Yeltsin returned the laws to parliament a second time, charging they were passed with procedural violations. The Federation Council recently voted to send both bills back to Yeltsin for signing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 1997). The Duma's appeal says Yeltsin exceeded his constitutional authority by not signing the laws. It also defends the use of mailed ballots in the Federation Council and the practice of proxy voting in the Duma. DUMA SEEKS CLOSER COOPERATION WITH LIBYA. The Duma on 13 June passed by a vote of 266 to six with one abstention a draft law on cooperation with Libya, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The law was proposed by Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Under the law, Russian companies would be allowed sell any products to Libya other than weapons. Libyans would be entitled to have accounts in Russian banks. In addition, the Russian government would be prohibited from spending state funds on maintaining international economic sanctions against Libya. On 4 June, the Duma passed a similar draft law calling for closer ties with Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 1997). Yeltsin is almost certain to veto both laws if they are approved by the Federation Council. CONSULAR AGREEMENTS WITH TURKMENISTAN, AZERBAIJAN RATIFIED. The Duma on 13 June ratified separate consular conventions with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the agreements, diplomats and their families will have full diplomatic immunity and persons wanted on criminal charges will be extradited immediately. According to ITAR-TASS, the agreements are broader in scope than the provisions of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. UPDATE ON RUSSIAN-CHECHEN AGREEMENTS. The 13 June Russian-Chechen memorandum stipulates the conclusion of an agreement between the Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry, the Chechen State Oil Company Yunko, and the Azerbaijan International Operating Committee on the transit from Baku to Novorossiisk via Grozny of oil from three offshore Caspian deposits, Russian and Western agencies reported. The memorandum was signed by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Sochi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). Yunko President Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov warned on 15 June that Chechnya will continue to insist on being an equal partner in oil transportation, according to Interfax. Following talks the previous day with Chernomyrdin and head of the Russian Customs Service Anatolii Kruglov, Maskhadov signed an agreement on customs cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. That accord confers international status on Grozny's Sheikh Mansour airport. BEREZOVSKII ASSESSES CHECHEN SITUATION. Speaking at a press conference at Interfax headquarters on 14 June, Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii reiterated that Chechnya is an "unalienable part of the Russian Federation" and that a final settlement of the conflict could take more than "one generation." Berezovskii excluded a resumption of hostilities while Yeltsin remains president but said this could not be ruled out if "brainless people" come to power in Russia. He expressed support for Chechen President Maskhadov, implicitly corroborating speculation in the Russian press that Maskhadov is under pressure from rival political groups in Chechnya. Berezovskii also criticized Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov for blocking implementation of an agreed exchange of Russian and Chechen prisoners, according to Reuters. KULIKOV ON ORGANIZED CRIME... Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has warned that Russia has at least 9,000 criminal groups with an estimated 100,000 members, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. Kulikov briefed journalists after a cabinet meeting to discuss anti-crime measures. The number of registered crimes by organized groups rose by almost 95% during the last five years, Kulikov said. He argued that law-enforcement agencies are solving more crimes than in the past but acknowledged that at least 3,700 murders committed so far in 1997 remain unsolved. Also on 13 June, the U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris announced that it has flown two of its executives and their families out of Russia after receiving threats. On 15 June, assailants gunned down Larisa Nechaeva, the commercial director of the Spartak Moscow soccer club, in an apparent contract killing. ...AND CURBING ILLEGAL ALCOHOL TRADE. Kulikov announced that in the future, only the federal government will issue licenses to produce alcoholic beverages, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. The move is intended to curb the illegal trade in low-quality or fake alcohol. Kulikov said that in 1996, law-enforcement agencies inspected some 6,000 alcohol-producing enterprises and seized about 10 million liters of alcohol worth an estimated 15 billion rubles ($2.6 million). Kulikov added that law-enforcement agencies have shut down about 700 unlicensed alcohol producers and revoked the sales licenses of about 2,000 enterprises. Meanwhile, fake vodka containing methyl alcohol killed nine people and caused another 10 to be hospitalized in Kurgan, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. A similar incident recently killed 22 people in Krasnoyarsk. FORMER ST. PETERSBURG MAYOR UNDER INVESTIGATION? Kulikov also told reporters that former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak is among the prominent figures currently being investigated for corruption, Interfax reported on 13 June. Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, a co-leader of the Democratic Russia movement, has charged that trumped-up corruption charges are being used to attack prominent "democratic" politicians in Russia, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported the same day. Sobchak has so far denied that he is under investigation. POLISH JUSTICE MINISTER SEES "PROBLEMS" WITH STANKEVICH EXTRADITION. Leszek Kubicki says there are "problems" with the extradition of former Yeltsin adviser Sergei Stankevich, RFE/RL's correspondent in Warsaw reported on 13 June. Kubicki will have the final say on whether Stankevich is extradited to Russia, where he is accused of taking a $10,000 bribe in 1992. Kubicki argued that a person should be extradited only if the crime with which he is charged is prohibited in Poland as well as in the country requesting extradition. It is unclear whether a bribe taken in Russia can be considered a crime under Polish law, Kubicki added. He also said no efforts through "diplomatic channels" could influence the decision on the Stankevich case. Some Russian officials have charged that Poland is unnecessarily delaying Stankevich's extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 11 June 1997). YELTSIN AIDE SAYS PRESIDENT CAN FIRE ELECTED GOVERNORS. Mikhail Krasnov, Yeltsin's legal affairs adviser, says the president has the authority to sack governors or presidents of Russian republics if the regional leaders break federal laws or ignore presidential decrees, Interfax reported on 13 June. Krasnov argued that under Article 77 of the constitution, Russia has a "single system" of executive power. He also pointed out that Article 80 names the president as the guarantor of the constitution. In recent weeks, speculation has increased that Yeltsin plans to fire Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Such a move would be strongly opposed by other regional leaders. RESIDENTS SEEK TO BLOCK NUCLEAR PROCESSING PLANT IN PRIMORE. Local residents are seeking to prevent a floating nuclear waste processing plant from being docked near the coastal town of Bolshoi Kamen (Primorskii Krai), Reuters reported on 13 June. City officials said 94% of those who took part in a recent non-binding poll voted against allowing the plant to be docked nearby. Turnout for the poll was about 44%. The plant processes nuclear waste taken from Russian submarines. According to Reuters, Primore governor Nazdratenko has said the waste might be dumped in the Sea of Japan if no other way of processing it can be found. Efforts to hold a referendum to halt further construction of a nuclear processing plant in Krasnoyarsk-26 have so far been rejected by the Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1997). CENTRAL BANK LOWERS REFINANCING RATE. The Central Bank has lowered the rate at which it lends to banks from 36% to 24% beginning 16 June, Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. It is the third such reduction this year. The rate was lowered from 48% to 42% in February and cut to 36% in April. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MINSK GROUP'S KARABAKH PEACE PROPOSALS REVIEWED. The U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group visited Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Baku from 12-14 June, Russian and Western agencies reported. Leaders in all three cities informed the co-chairmen of their responses to the new Karabakh peace plan proposed two weeks earlier, but there are no details either of the proposals or of the involved parties' responses. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 June quoted the Russian and French ambassadors in Yerevan as stressing the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of the negotiating process. Commenting on information leaked to Interfax by Azerbaijani sources, Russian ambassador Andrei Urnov said that the composition of a proposed Karabakh peacekeeping force is not being discussed at present. DEMONSTRATIONS IN YEREVAN. Some15,000 people took part in a demonstration on 13 June in Yerevan to demand new presidential, parliamentary, and local elections and the adoption of a new constitution, Western agencies reported. Thousands more demonstrators attended similar protests in 16 other towns. Meanwhile, Babken Ararktsyan has canceled all official meetings following his resignation as parliamentary speaker on 11 June, according to Interfax. GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES PROPOSED ABKHAZIA CONFERENCE. Eduard Shevardnadze has approved the proposal by his Ingush counterpart, Ruslan Aushev, to convene a UN-sponsored conference on Abkhazia chaired by Russian President Yeltsin, according to Interfax on 13 June. Presidential press spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze said Shevardnadze is ready to discuss this idea personally with Aushev, who advocated the participation at the peace conference of other North Caucasus leaders. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on14 June that his recent talks in Moscow with Russian leaders focused on the text of a Georgian-Abkhaz protocol on restoring official relations, but not on Abkhazia's future status. Ardzinba greeted the proposed creation of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Caucasus and expressed the hope that the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia will be extended beyond 31 July. GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES VOTE THEMSELVES RIGHT TO CARRY WEAPONS. The Georgian parliament on 13 June passed a law giving deputies the life-long right to carry handguns, Western agencies reported. Shevardnadze criticized the law, saying that as president he should therefore be entitled to carry a more substantial weapon, such as a grenade-launcher. TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTER ON AFGHANISTAN. Boris Shikhmuradov said on returning from talks in Iran with his counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, that the countries share many views on Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. Shikhmuradov said the two governments would help the Afghan people form a coalition government there. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is scheduled to visit Tehran on 16 June to join Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk and Iranian officials for talks on the Afghan situation. KYRGYZ WATER NO LONGER TO BE FREE FOR NEIGHBORS. The Kyrgyz parliament on 13 June formed a special commission to draw up legislation on charging neighboring Kazakstan and Uzbekistan for water from Kyrgyz reservoirs, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service reported. Kyrgyzstan has informed those states of the forthcoming change in policy, and an agreement signed by the three states in February 1992 will be amended. Kyrgyzstan spends some $4 million annually for maintenance of the reservoirs. HIGH-LEVEL CAR THEFTS IN KAZAKSTAN. Militia are currently engaged in a special operation against car thieves, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 June. The operation was launched following the theft of a jeep belonging to Procurator-General Stepan Shutkin. The search for the jeep was unsuccessful, but the militia found instead vehicles belonging to the interior minister and the prime minister. Authorities say the operation will continue and that 11 known criminal groups are being targeted. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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