|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
Vol 1, No. 56, Part I, 19 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 56, Part I, 19 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 *DUMA REJECTS MORE CUTS IN SOCIAL BENEFITS *GAZPROM TO PAY DEBTS *NAGORNO-KARABAKH TO HOLD EARLY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS End Note THE INTERNET IN ARMENIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA REJECTS MORE CUTS IN SOCIAL BENEFITS. The State Duma has voted by 226 to 70 with two abstentions to reject another government-backed package of measures to reduce social benefits, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 June. Among other things, the proposals would have reduced sick pay and limited maternity benefits. Our Home Is Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia supported the government's proposals, while Yabloko and the Communists opposed them. On 17 June, the Duma rejected measures to reduce allowances for children older than three years and cut benefits for state officials, families of veterans, and State Duma staff. A commission of government and parliamentary representatives will now seek a compromise on the social reforms. TAX CODE SUBMITTED FOR DUMA VOTE. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov addressed the Duma on 19 June and called on deputies to approve the draft tax code in its first reading, ITAR-TASS reported. Shatalov argued that Russia needs "radical," not "cosmetic," changes to its tax system. By reducing the total number of taxes, the new code will help the development of Russian industry and small businesses, he added. Shatalov also said many regional leaders have been consulted while the code was being drafted and that almost all had supported it. DUMA DEMANDS AUDIT OF NEMTSOV'S TRIP TO JAPAN. The Duma voted by 246 to 38 with one abstention to ask the Audit Chamber to examine First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's recent trip to Japan and announce its conclusions within one week, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June. More than 80 people were on the delegation Nemtsov took to Japan. Nemtsov has said that he supports demands for an audit of his trip and has called for audits of foreign trips by parliamentary deputies as well. GAZPROM TO PAY DEBTS... Petr Rodionov, deputy director of the board of Gazprom, says the gas monopoly will pay all its debts to the federal budget by 30 June, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 June. He said Gazprom has already reduced its debt to the government, estimated earlier this year at more than 14 trillion rubles ($2.5 billion), to 6.6 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" claimed on 19 June that "young members of the government" (meaning First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov) are pushing Gazprom along a "path toward self-destruction." The paper claimed that Gazprom is being forced to take out massive loans from foreign banks, which the company is likely have trouble repaying. Gazprom representatives have said the company is owed some $12 billion by delinquent domestic consumers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 1997). ...AND LOWER RATES FOR INDUSTRY. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov says Yeltsin will soon issue a decree ordering Gazprom to cut its gas charges for industrial consumers by 40%, Russian news agencies reported on 18 June. The Railways Ministry recently decided to reduce freight charges by up to 50% beginning on 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 June. Nemtsov is leading the government's drive to reform the "natural monopolies" in the energy and transportation sectors. He has repeatedly called on the monopolies to reduce the rates they charge industrial enterprises. YELTSIN NOT TO ATTEND NATO SUMMIT IN MADRID? ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June that Yeltsin will not attend the NATO summit in Madrid in July. However, Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii refused to confirm or deny the report, saying Yeltsin will announce his decision soon, according to Interfax. Yeltsin is to depart for Denver, Colorado, on 19 June, where he will attend the summit of G-7 industrialized nations. Russian officials have repeatedly said Russia will participate in the Denver summit as an "equal partner." RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY REJECTS MASKHADOV ACCUSATIONS. The Russian Interior Ministry has released a statement rejecting Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's accusations that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov is sabotaging the peace process in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"18 June 1997), ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the charges did not "correspond to reality." Kulikov claimed that some Chechen leaders are opposed to the stricter controls along the Russian-Chechen border imposed by the ministry. He also said that, as a result of those measures, the crime level in adjacent Stavropol Krai has "dramatically dropped," according to Interfax. The Russian Interior Ministry will not open the border to allow "tens of thousands" of Chechen gunmen to cross it, Kulikov added. RUSSIAN OFFICER KIDNAPPED ON CHECHEN BORDER. Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped Lt.-Col. Andrei Denisov, an officer of the Russian Interior Ministry troops, at a checkpoint on the Russian-Chechen border, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June. Denisov was seized as he tried to mediate a dispute between his soldiers and the gunmen, following an incident in which gunshots were fired at the car of an ethnic Chechen living in Dagestan. Denisov's whereabouts are still unknown. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov said the kidnappers belong neither to Chechnya's army nor its police force. MILITARY REFORM UPDATE. Air Force Commander Petr Deinikin says the Air Force will be downsized by about one-third by 2001, with some 30,000 servicemen dismissed annually, Interfax reported on 18 June. The same day, after meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Sochi, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters that the armed forces would use money saved through streamlining to purchase the most up-to-date new equipment. Chernomyrdin will soon convene another meeting of the government commission he chairs on military reform. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais heads a separate commission on financing the armed forces and privatizing some military property. Meanwhile, a Defense Ministry press release published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 19 June described plans to create a military police force to deal with rising crime rates among Russian servicemen. A law on military police must be adopted before the force can be established. RUSSIA NOT TO BUY BOMBERS STATIONED IN UKRAINE. Deinekin also confirmed on 18 June that Russia has no plans to buy some 45 strategic bombers stationed in Ukraine, Interfax reported. He said Russia had "begged" Ukraine years ago to agree to transfer the Tu-160 and Tu-95 MS aircraft, noting that the two sides had not been able to agree on terms. Now the bombers are in "extremely poor condition," Deinikin added, making their purchase undesirable. Deinekin also said Russia is developing a new long-range bomber, to be introduced sometime after 2005. NEWSPAPER CLAIMS RUSSIA ESTABLISHING CIVILIAN CONTROL OVER MILITARY. "Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration, argued on 19 June that the Russian armed forces are in effect under civilian control. The paper said that rather than making a "decorative change from an officers' uniform on the defense minister to a civilian's jacket," Russia had created "civilian structures vested with broad powers" to supervise the military. In May, Yeltsin created commissions on military reform headed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 May 1997). Furthermore, the paper noted, the authority of Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, also a civilian, has recently increased. Former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, whom Yeltsin fired in May, retired from the army in December 1996 after turning 60. However, many observers argued that as a career officer, Rodionov could not truly be considered a civilian defense minister. RUSSIAN EXTENDS CREDIT TO BELARUS. Russia will loan Belarus 500 billion rubles ($86 million) this year under an agreement signed on 18 June in St. Petersburg by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov and Mikhail Myasnikovich, head of the Belarusian presidential administration, Russian news agencies reported. Serov told journalists that the loan will be used mainly for projects to manufacture cars and agricultural equipment in Belarus. He added that if the credits were used efficiently, Russia might loan another 500 billion rubles to Belarus later this year. KORZHAKOV LOSES LAWSUIT AGAINST YELTSIN. The Supreme Court has rejected Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov's lawsuit against Yeltsin and ordered the former presidential bodyguard to pay 8 million rubles ($1400) in court costs, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 June. Yeltsin fired Korzhakov as head of the Presidential Security Service in June 1996 but issued a decree ordering that he be stripped of his military rank only in October, after Korzhakov gave interviews to the British newspaper "The Guardian" and the German magazine "Der Spiegel" (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 23 and 29 October 1996). Among other things, Korzhakov said then-presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko were keeping the president in an "information blockade." Officials accused Korzhakov of slandering the president's family and disclosing confidential information he had acquired as Yeltsin's bodyguard. Korzhakov then filed suit, claiming he had been slandered and fired without cause. YELTSIN CONTINUES PHONE DIPLOMACY WITH REGIONAL LEADERS. During a telephone conversation with Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Yeltsin promised to transfer to Saratov funds to acquire 500 new grain-harvesting combines, Ayatskov told ITAR-TASS on 19 June. Ayatskov did not specify how much the new combines would cost. The top legislative and executive leaders in Russia's regions are also members of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. The presidential administration has courted the support of the Council as a counterweight to the State Duma, in which opposition groups have a majority. In addition, Yeltsin has recently had a series of telephone conversations with mayors of large Russian cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997). OKUDZHAVA MOURNED, KOPELEV DIES. Thousands of mourners lined Moscow's Arbat street on 18 June to pay their last respects to the poet, novelist, and songwriter Bulat Okudzhava. Okudzhava described the Arbat as his "religion" and his "fatherland" in one of his most famous songs. Poets Bella Akhmadulina, Andrei Voznesenskii, and Yevgenii Yevtushenko, as well as prose writers such as Vasilii Aksenov and Vladimir Voinovich attended a memorial ceremony in a local theater. First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov, along with Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, also laid flowers by Okudzhava's coffin. Okudzhava, who died recently in France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997), is to be buried on 19 June in Moscow's Vagankovskoe cemetery, not far from the grave of poet and songwriter Vladimir Vysotskii. On 18 June, former Soviet dissident writer Lev Kopelev died in Cologne. He had lived in Germany since 1980. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NAGORNO-KARABAKH TO HOLD EARLY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. The parliament of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has announced early presidential elections will be held in September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 18 June. The disputed region's presidency has been vacant since March 1997, when Robert Kocharyan left that post to become Armenian prime minister. The November 1996 presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh -- the first to be held there -- were condemned by the international community. ALIEV TO DISCUSS OIL TRANSIT PROBLEMS IN MOSCOW. Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev has suggested that he and Russian leaders will resolve all "problems" related to the transit of early Azerbaijani oil when they meet in Moscow on 3 July. Aliev, however, added that there is no need to sign a new agreement on the pipeline from Azerbaijan to Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiisk because Moscow did not implement the previous one, signed in 1996. The 153-km sector of the pipeline runs through Chechnya. Aliev argued that "we cannot transport our oil along that route, given the current relations between Russia and Chechnya," according to Interfax. Russian and Chechen leaders recently signed a memorandum paving the way for the export of Azerbaijani oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). But despite Moscow's opposition, Grozny insists that a similar three-party agreement be signed by Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Russia. GEORGIA'S SECURITY MINISTRY ACCUSED OF PHONE-TAPPING. Irina Sarishvili, the leader of the National Democratic Party, has accused the State Security Ministry of tapping telephone conversations of Nodar Grigalashvili, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Sakartvelo," Interfax reported on 18 June. Sarishvili submitted to a Georgian parliamentary committee what she called transcripts of the editor's telephone conversations, signed by State Security Minister Shota Kviraya. Grigalashvili confirmed that the "transcripts" were authentic. Earlier, Sarishvili had accused Kviraya of collaborating with the Russian security services. TAJIK UPDATE. One soldier from the Defense Ministry was killed on 18 June near the Fakhrabad Pass, 30 kilometers south of Dushanbe, according to RFE/RL's Tajik service and Interfax. Forces of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, commanded by Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, are reported to have abducted two Tajik army officers and taken them to the First Brigade's headquarters in Kurgan-Teppe. However, Kasym Boboyev, the deputy governor of Khatlon Oblast, said soldiers manning checkpoints have voluntarily gone over to Khudaberdiyev's side. He also denied that a coup has taken place in the Yavon area or in Kurgan-Teppe. The Tajik government has reportedly sent officials to negotiate with Khudaberdiyev but has still not issued a statement on the situation in the country. KAZAK CURRENCY TO BE DEVALUED. The government has announced it will readjust budget indicators for June and allow the exchange rate of the tenge to drop from 73 to 77.4 to the dollar, Interfax Kazakstan reported. Deputy Finance Minister Zhanat Yertlesova said on 18 June that this decision was based on a revised forecast that puts inflation at 17.5% by year's end. Yertlesova added that the payment of pension arrears is not expected to fuel inflation in the second half of the year. PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER BEGINS CENTRAL ASIAN TOUR. Gohar Ayub Khan arrived in Almaty on 18 June on the first leg of a tour of four Central Asian states, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Khan met with his Kazak counterpart, Kazimjomart Tokayev, to discuss bilateral economic and political relations. Afghanistan was also high on the agenda of their talks. Tokayev said his country favors a coalition government in Afghanistan. Khan is scheduled to travel to Kyrgyzstan on 19 June. He will also visit Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. CHINESE DEFENSE MINISTER IN KYRGYZSTAN. Chi Haotian received support on a number of issues during his 16-18 June visit to Bishkek, according to RFE/RL correspondents and AFP. Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov said his country supports the Chinese position on reunification with Taiwan . A spokesman for the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry noted that Kyrgyzstan's "positions against separatism and religious extremism are identical" to China's. Kazakstan had given Chi similar assurances during his visit there before arriving in Kyrgyzstan. Uyghur exile groups in Kazakstan have responded by saying they can no longer count on Almaty and Bishkek for "support in the fight for the independence of Xinjiang." On 16 June, it was announced that Bishkek's Lenin Avenue will be renamed after Deng Xiao Peng. END NOTE THE INTERNET IN ARMENIA by Julie Moffett Armenia is making slow but consistent progress along the information superhighway, owing largely to the enthusiastic efforts of Armenian scientists, researchers, and computer experts as well as the technical and financial assistance of foreign organizations. It established a permanent Internet link in March 1994 and has had non-permanent, dial-up Internet access since 1992. However, the country faces several daunting tasks in improving its Internet connectivity, primarily because the telecommunications infrastructure in the country is so poor. There are currently no digital lines (designed to quickly exchange data) , and all of the telephone lines are analog (designed to support voice). Moreover, many of the telephone lines currently in use are substandard and antiquated . There is also an insufficient number of telephone lines for residential use and inadequate connections to rural locations. The situation is so dire that according to Armen Gyulkhasyan, deputy director of the Yerevan Physics Institute and an Internet expert, it is "almost impossible to call next door" in Armenia. Recognizing the importance of improving the telecommunication infrastruc ture in the country, the Armenian government is taking steps to make substantial changes. It has formed a new telecommunications company called Armentel, which is a joint venture between the Ministry of Communications of Armenia and Transworld Corporation of the U.S. The company is installing a modern fiber optic cable and modern phone switches in Yerevan. According to Gregor Saghyan, technical director of Arminco -- a commercial Internet service provider in Armenia -- Armentel will operate as a monopoly, owning all of the long distance lines into and out of Armenia. The new system is expected to be fully operational by September 1997. In addition to government efforts, Armenian scientists and computer expe rts are also taking an active role in improving Internet connectivity in the country. For example, Gyulkhasyan was instrumental role in staging a NATO advanced networking conference in Yerevan in May. The conference, titled "Internet Development in Armenia and Region: Means, Aims, and Prospects," covered Internet technology, information services, network management, Internet in education, and Internet security. According to Gyulkhasyan, the purpose of the conference was to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and to exchange experience between qualified network mangers from different environments and backgrounds. Attendees included representatives from Armenia, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Also playing a major role in promoting Internet use in Armenia is the Armenian Internet Users' Group (AmIUG), a public organization that unites major Internet users around the country. With the assistance of two Internet experts -- Igor Mkrtoumian, the director of computer services at the American University of Armenia, and Edgar Der-Danieliantz, who is responsible for installing and running Armenia's first permanent Internet link -- AmIUG established the Armenian Network Information Center (AmNIC), the country's official network information center. AmNIC collects and stores all information on domain names, Internet addresses, name servers, contact persons, and network providers in Armenia in its database. Mkrtoumian and Der-Danieliantz have also been quite active in contributi ng to a greater international understanding of Internet capabilities and needs in Armenia. In an article titled "Internet in Armenia, 1996" (published in the AmIUG Bulletin, a local electronic publication of the Armenian Internet Users' Group), Mkrtoumian and Der-Danieliantz outlined the current technical capabilities and shortcomings of the Internet in Armenia. They also provided useful information on the cost of using the Internet and electronic mail in Armenia and listed Armenian Internet domain names and World Wide Web servers. Among foreign organizations providing financial assistance to Armenia to improve Internet connectivity is the Eurasia Foundation. The Foundation is a U.S.-based, privately-managed grantmaking organization that began its activities in Armenia in 1995. Since then, it has made several important Internet-related grants. Some of the more notable grants includes a $23,400 award to an Armenian business called the Gandzasar Center in part to support a web version of a bi-monthly informational bulletin on Armenian computer hardware and software companies. A $12,800 grant to the Information-Analytical Center will support the development of a regularly updated web site that will contain information on wholesale and retail prices of foodstuffs, fuel, real estate, construction materials, hotel and tourism, taxes and custom tariffs in Armenia. And the Armenian Internet Users' Group has received $19,500 in support of a linkage and sustainability program involving the creation of a home page on the Internet to provide specifics on Eurasia Foundation awards and invite organizations worldwide to establish contacts and pursue Internet-related collaboration with Armenia. However, there are still several major obstacles in the way of improved Internet connectivity in Armenia:. These include poor telecommunications infrastructure; expensive telephone lines; the high cost of computer equipment relative to an average worker's salary; political unrest in some regions of the country, which impedes infrastructure reform and intimidates potential sponsors and donors, and a heavy dependence on international funding, making long-range planning difficult. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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