|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
Vol 1, No. 54, Part I, 17 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 54, Part I, 17 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 * GOVERNMENT SEEKS DUMA APPROVAL FOR SOCIAL SPENDING REDUCTIONS * RUMORS OF SECRET DEAL BETWEEN RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION DENIED *AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL DIVULGES DETAILS OF NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA GOVERNMENT SEEKS DUMA APPROVAL FOR SOCIAL SPENDING REDUCTIONS... Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev submitted several draft laws on reforming the social benefits system to the State Duma on 17 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The proposals would reduce benefits to workers in law-enforcement agencies, who are currently entitled to free public transport and subsidies for housing and utilities. Sysuev said the measures would allow scarce resources to be reallocated to poor families and would save Russia 30 trillion rubles ($5.2 billion) annually. He noted that some 200 categories of citizens are currently entitled to social support and that the cost of those benefits has risen from 25.7 trillion rubles in 1992 to 45 trillion rubles this year. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who also supports a means-tested system for social benefits, recently pointed out that even he receives housing subsidies because his father fought in World War II. ...AND FEWER PRIVILEGES FOR DUMA DEPUTIES. Sysuev said the government is also requesting amendments to the law on the status of State Duma deputies, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 June. One proposed change would limit deputies to 12 state-funded trips to the districts they represent per calendar year. The government also wants to revoke the right of deputies' assistants to free travel on inter-city trains or buses. Some Duma deputies have dozens or hundreds of staff workers. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is said to have more than 200 assistants. PARLIAMENT, GOVERNMENT NEAR COMPROMISE ON BUDGET CUTS? A conciliatory commission of representatives from the government and both houses of parliament met on 16 June to discuss proposed cuts in 1997 budget spending, but there are conflicting reports on whether progress was made at the meeting. First Deputy Duma Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin of Our Home Is Russia told Interfax that the two sides are close to reaching a compromise that would call for spending cuts of some 34 trillion rubles ($5.9 billion) this year. The government originally requested 108 trillion rubles in spending reductions. However, ITAR-TASS quoted First Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Petrov as saying that there was "no movement forward" at the conciliatory commission meeting. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov of Yabloko also said no compromise was reached. The commission is scheduled to submit its recommendations to the Duma by 18 June. PROSPECTS FOR TAX CODE PASSAGE UNCERTAIN. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 16 June that he expects the Duma to approve a new tax code this year, perhaps as early as September. However, Reuters reported that on 16 June the Duma's Budget Committee issued a non-binding recommendation asking deputies to reject the draft code in favor of less sweeping measures to change the tax system. The Duma is scheduled to consider the code in the first reading on 19 June. Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov of the Russian Regions faction told Interfax on 14 June that there is a "good chance" that the parliament will approve the code in time for it to come into effect in January 1998. However, Zhukov called on government officials to be less "stubborn" and more willing to compromise on the code's provisions. RUMORS OF SECRET DEAL BETWEEN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION DENIED. Representatives from the government and the Communist-led opposition have vehemently denied a report by the AiF-Novosti news agency saying government and opposition leaders have struck a secret deal, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 16 June. The report alleged that following secret negotiations, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Duma deputy Nikolai Ryzhkov, head of the Popular Power faction, agreed that the Duma will approve the new tax code, spending cuts, and reforms of the social benefits system. In return, government representatives allegedly promised that wage and pension arrears would be paid, Yeltsin would not dissolve the Duma, Russia's electoral system would not be changed, and Vladimir Lenin's body would not be removed from the mausoleum on Red Square. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading Communist, called the report "disinformation." PRIMAKOV DEFENDS SALE OF RUSSIAN MISSILES TO CYPRUS. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 16 June that Russia will proceed with the sale of S-300 air defense missiles to Greek-controlled Cyprus, despite Turkish and Western objections, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. He said Moscow will consider canceling the deal only if Cyprus is demilitarized. Primakov was speaking to journalists in Moscow following a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart, Yiannakis Cassoulidis. The deal, agreed in January, was immediately criticized by Turkey, the U.S., and Britain. Russian officials rejected that criticism as an attempt to squeeze Russia out of the world arms market. MASKHADOV ORDERS TWO CHECHEN REGIMENTS TO DISBAND. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov signed decrees on 15 June ordering that the Borz [Wolf] regiment and the General Dudaev army, headed by maverick field commander Salman Raduev, be disbanded, Russian media reported. Members of those formations will be offered the opportunity to serve in the Chechen National Guard. A spokesman for Raduev told NTV, however, that the army's 4,500 men would execute Raduev if he tried to comply with Maskhadov's decree. On 16 June, Maskhadov mobilized 3,000 police in operation called "Shield of Law and Order," which succeeded in securing the release of six hostages but not that of the five kidnapped Russian journalists YELTSIN SAYS RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN HYMN CANNOT BE ADOPTED WITHOUT HIS APPROVAL. Yeltsin says the Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly lacks the authority to adopt the music of the former Soviet national anthem as the hymn of the Russian-Belarusian union, Russian news agencies reported on 16 June. The parliamentary assembly voted to adopt the anthem's music at a recent meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). According to a statement released by the presidential press service, Yeltsin said endorsing a hymn for the union would require his approval. Also on 16 June, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Sochi, where both are vacationing. No details were released about their meeting. YELTSIN SUPPORTS EARLY ELECTIONS IN PRIMORE. During a meeting with First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin said he supports holding early gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai, Russian news agencies reported on 16 June. Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko easily won election in December 1995 and has expressed confidence that he would be re-elected if early elections were called. Nemtsov, who recently visited Primore, was asked during a 15 June interview with Russian TV how federal authorities would respond if Nazdratenko won a new election. Nemtsov replied that the government would respect the will of the people and work with whoever won the race. In a 17 June interview with "Sovetskaya Rossiya," Communist Party leader Zyuganov slammed the authorities for using Nazdratenko as an example in order to frighten "inconvenient" governors, although he said he was not defending Nazdratenko personally. ZYUGANOV, ZHIRINOVSKY CAMPAIGNING IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD. Communist Party leader Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Zhirinovsky are campaigning in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast on behalf of Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev, who is contesting the 29 June gubernatorial election, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 16 June. Khodyrev is the closest challenger to Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov in the battle to succeed Boris Nemtsov. During the Soviet period, Khodyrev was first secretary of the oblast party committee. In an interview published in the 17 June "Sovetskaya Rossiya," Zyuganov explained that success in the Nizhnii Novgorod election is "important for us on principle." He noted that the Russian media have hailed Nemtsov and the reforms he implemented in the oblast and that foreign leaders, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, have visited Nizhnii Novgorod. BACKGROUND ON CLOSURE OF GOVERNMENT-FUNDED MAGAZINE. Many Russian journalists are worried by the fate of the state-funded magazine "Rossiiskaya Federatsiya," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 June. The government recently announced plans to cease publication of the magazine, citing budgetary constraints (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said the conflict between the magazine and the government was sparked by an article published in the monthly's March issue. That article criticized the IMF and said the public is dissatisfied with current economic policies. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais reportedly asked the magazine's editor, Yurii Khrenov, to resign. When Khrenov refused, Chubais, who is also finance minister, allegedly instructed the Finance Ministry to audit the magazine. The Glasnost Defense Foundation, a watchdog group, recently issued a statement charging that Chubais is trying to suppress media outlets that criticize the government. MILITARY CORRUPTION UPDATE. Criminal charges have officially been filed against Admiral Igor Khmelnov, former chief of staff of the Russian Navy, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 June. Maj.-Gen. Valerii Suchkov, the military procurator of the Pacific Fleet, said Khmelnov is charged with abusing his authority. Suchkov has said that beginning in August 1994, when Khmelnov was commander of the Pacific Fleet, two aircraft carriers were sold to South Korea, and the $9 million in proceeds were used to build new housing for officers in Khmelnov's entourage. Proceeds from the sale of another 64 warships to India and South Korea were also allegedly used to build housing for favored officers. Khmelnov was sacked by presidential decree in April. Former Deputy Defense Minister Konstantin Kobets was arrested the following month and charged with corruption, abuse of office, and illegal possession of firearms TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL DIVULGES DETAILS OF NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN. Azerbaijani State Adviser Vafa Guluzade has summarized the draft peace plan that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group submitted to the leaderships of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in late May, Noyan Tapan reported on 16 June, quoting Azerbaijani media. The plan gives Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous status within Azerbaijan and the right to its own constitution but stipulates the downsizing of the Karabakh armed forces. It calls for the withdrawal of Karabakh Armenian forces from five raions in Azerbaijan, the town of Shusha, and the Lachin corridor, which would be leased and policed by the OSCE. In addition, Nagorno-Karabakh would be granted the status of a free economic zone. Interfax reported on 16 June that the Minsk Group co-chairmen may submit a report on Karabakh to the G-7 summit in Denver. MODEST PROGRESS IN ABKHAZ TALKS? In his weekly radio address, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 16 June that the ongoing talks in Moscow between Russian, Abkhaz, and Georgian representatives are no longer at a "standstill" and that his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, is "seeking compromise solutions," Interfax reported. Shevardnadze reaffirmed his readiness to meet personally with Ardzinba. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 June similarly quoted Russian Foreign Ministry special envoy Gennadii Ilichev as saying a "certain" progress has been made. Russia rejects the Abkhaz argument that economic difficulties preclude the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgians who fled the region in 1992-3. But it supports the Abkhaz refusal to condone the deployment of CIS peacekeepers throughout Gali Raion to which the Georgians wish to return. ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY CRISIS DEFUSED. Babken Ararktsyan resumed his duties as parliamentary speaker on 16 June after lengthy discussions with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, Armenian agencies reported. On 11 June, Ararktsyan had offered his resignation to protest the rejection of a draft law he had proposed that would allow students to continue to defer conscription (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997). The parliament, however, voted not to accept his resignation. Discussion of an alternative draft law, which abolishes the deferment provision, is to be postponed until the fall. If adopted, that bill will take effect only in 1998. Eduard Yegoryan, the chairman of the parliamentary Commission on State and Legal Affairs, condemned the mentality whereby the "first thought that comes to parents when a son is born is how to exempt him from military service," Noyan Tapan reported. CONSORTIUM ASSESSES EXPORT PIPELINES. Representatives of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company [AIOC] told journalists in Baku that the choice of the export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil will be decided on economic rather than political grounds, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 June. AIOC vice president Gregory Rich said the Baku-Ceyhan route favored by Turkey is the most expensive and would be economically disadvantageous to Azerbaijan. He added that the export of Azerbaijan's oil via Ukraine, although technically feasible, may be economically disadvantageous since the AIOC plans to sell the oil in question to southern European countries. Rich said he doubted that either Turkey or Ukraine could afford to pay world prices for Azerbaijan's oil for domestic consumption. On 13 June, Azerbaijan's parliament ratified an agreement between the state oil company SOCAR and a consortium of European and Iranian companies to develop the Lenkoran-Deniz and Talysh-Deniz deposits, Interfax reported. TAJIK ARMY LEADER ON TROOP MOVEMENT. Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, the commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, told "ASIA PLUS" that units from his brigade moved from their base in Kurgan-Teppe to the Yavon district as part of military maneuvers scheduled to finish on 18 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). Khudaberdiyev denied he would seek to prevent fighters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) from returning to Kurgan-Teppe following the signing of the Peace and National Accord Treaty on 27 June in Moscow. But he added that they must be disarmed when they arrive, saying he would not tolerate people who would "destabilize" the area. Khudaberdiyev also noted there are 48,000 refugees in Kurgan-Teppe and that all of them have been given jobs. CHANGES IN KAZAK GOVERNMENT. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed Deputy Prime Minister Dyusenbay Duysenov as minister of energy and natural resources, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty. Duysenov replaces Viktor Khrapunov, who now becomes mayor of Almaty. Shalbay Kulmakhanov, until now mayor of Almaty, becomes the head of the State Committee for Emergency Situations, replacing Nikolai Makiyevskii. BELGIAN COMPANY AWARDED CONCESSION FOR KAZAK GAS NETWORK. The Belgian company Tractabel has been awarded a 15-year concession for natural gas transport networks in western and southern Kazakstan, Interfax reported on 16 June. Tractabel will pay Kazakstan $30 million for the network and will invest $600 into it. Tariffs and transportation rates will be set by Kazakstan's anti-monopoly committee. Last year, Tractabel was awarded a contract to develop a power grid for Almaty. KAZAK MINERS DEMONSTRATE. Some 500 miners in the northern Karaganda region held a one-hour rally on 16 June to protest the country's pension system, according to RFE/RL corespondents and ITAR-TASS. They also drew up a petition to President Nazarbayev asking him to reconsider changes made to that system last year, when the eligible age to receive pensions was raised from 60 to 63 for men and 55 to 58 for women. The miners point out that the career expectancy of a miner is 20-25 years. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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