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Vol 1, No. 61, Part I, 26 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 61, Part I, 26 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 *MOST SERIOUS ACCIDENT TO DATE ON SPACE STATION "MIR" *RUSSIAN SHIP FIRES ON JAPANESE FISHING BOAT *ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN GREET DENVER SUMMIT STATEMENT ON KARABAKH xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MOST SERIOUS ACCIDENT TO DATE ON SPACE STATION "MIR." A cargo supply craft crashed into the space station "Mir" on 25 June, puncturing one of the station's modules and knocking out half of its power supply. Russian space officials said the three astronauts on board the station--two from Russia and one from the U.S.--are not in danger but that a space walk might be needed to fully assess the damage, according to Interfax. A launch of another resupply ship to "Mir," scheduled for 27 June, has been postponed, Reuters reported. The station has been reoriented toward the sun so that its functioning panels can absorb more solar energy. Experts are now consulting on how to maximize the craft's reduced energy supplies. Since February, astronauts on "Mir" have had to put out a small fire and repair systems for generating oxygen, removing carbon dioxide, and cooling the station. RUSSIAN BORDERS GUARDS FIRE ON JAPANESE FISHING BOAT. Two Japanese fishermen were injured on 26 June when their vessel came under fire from a Russian border guard patrol boat. The fishermen were near one of the disputed southern Kuril Islands, which are claimed by both Russia and Japan. The boat returned to Japan, and the two injured men were taken to the hospital. Japan has already filed a protest with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo asking for an immediate investigation. Japanese-Russian relations had been improving recently. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, commenting on the recent Summit of Eight in Denver, Colorado, said on 25 June that the meeting has "opened a new chapter in Japanese-Russian relations," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. YASTRZHEMBSKII UNHAPPY WITH MEDIA COVERAGE OF SUMMIT. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii says the Russian media underestimated Boris Yeltsin's achievements at the recent Summit of Eight in Denver, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 June. In particular, he criticized an article published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 June that argued that Russia changed its position on UN sanctions toward Iraq after being admitted to the group of industrialized nations. Yastrzhembskii disputed the paper's claim, saying Yeltsin had made clear in Denver that Russia does not support additional sanctions against Iraq. He also said journalists "would perform a very useful service for Russia, Russia's prestige, and the consolidation of society" if they better understood foreign policy issues. "In no other country in the world have I come across a press that so mercilessly and incorrectly" reports on the foreign policy successes of the country's leadership, Yastrzhembskii added. CHERNOMYRDIN ARRIVES IN CHINA. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Shenzhen, in southern China's Guangdong Province, on 26 June for a three-day visit to discuss military and economic ties, Russian media reported. Shenzhen is a so-called special zone that borders on Hong-Kong and that China has often used as an example of its economic successes. "We intend to do this back home," Chernomyrdin told reporters. He later flew to Beijing where he is to meet with top Chinese officials. WORLD BANK APPROVES ANOTHER LOAN TO RUSSIA. The World Bank has approved an $800 million loan to restructure Russia's social welfare system, Interfax reported on 25 June, citing Andrei Bugrov, a World Bank official in Moscow. Bugrov said the first installment of the loan--$300 million--is due on 26 June and will be used toward paying pension arrears and developing non-governmental pension funds. The next installment of $250 million is scheduled to be issued in the fall, and the last will follow in spring 1998. The World Bank on 5 June approved six loans to Russia worth a total of nearly $885 million. Johannes Linn, the bank's Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, said at the time that the bank plans to extend up to $12-13 billion in credits to Russia by the year 2000. CHUBAIS CLAIMS GOVERNMENT HAS PAID ALL PENSION ARREARS. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told a government meeting on 26 June that the government has kept its promise to pay all pension arrears by 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais said some 2.75 trillion rubles ($477 million) have been transferred to Russian regions to pay back pensions. He called on Pension Fund officials and regional leaders to make sure that the money reaches pensioners by the evening of 30 June. Federal officials have frequently complained that regional authorities misappropriate federal funds earmarked for paying pensions or wages for state workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1997). Meanwhile, State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh told ITAR-TASS on 25 June that the government may consider raising the pension age (currently 55 for women and 60 for men). VYAKHIREV CLAIMS GAZPROM HAS PAID ALL DEBTS. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev told Interfax on 25 June that the gas monopoly has paid its debt to the state in full. He said the company transferred 14.5 trillion rubles ($2.5 billion) to the state budget in May and June. Russian media reported earlier this month that Gazprom did not fulfill its promise to pay 5 trillion rubles to the state by 10 June. OFFICIAL SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL NOT BACK DOWN ON SOCIAL POLICIES. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on 25 June repeated that the government will impose some reductions in social benefits without parliamentary approval, although he did not specify which benefits would be cut by executive order, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Duma recently voted down almost all the government's proposals to limit eligibility for social support. Sysuev urged a conciliatory commission of government and parliamentary representatives to continue meeting during the summer recess to try to reach a compromise on the benefits reductions. But he accused the Communist-led opposition in the State Duma of seeking to force changes in government policies by creating a "very tense situation" by the fall. Sysuev warned that although he does not favor early parliamentary elections, the executive may consider disbanding the Duma in the fall if the situation worsens. YELTSIN SUSPENDS JUSTICE MINISTER. Yeltsin issued a decree on 25 June suspending Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev until an investigation into media reports discrediting him has been conducted, Russian news agencies reported. "Sovershenno sekretno" recently published frames from a videotape allegedly showing Kovalev with nude women at a Moscow club said to be frequented by gangsters. Kovalev has said the videotape was fabricated. However, Interfax reported that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has confirmed the authenticity of the video and said at least five copies of it exist. Interior Ministry officials have denied that sources within the ministry leaked the video to "Sovershenno sekretno." COMMITTEE BEGINS DRAFTING LAW ON NATIONALIZATION. State Property Committee Chairman Kokh says his committee has begun drafting a law on nationalization, Russian news agencies reported on 25 June. Kokh noted that in accordance with Russia's Civil Code, nationalization can take place only if property owners are compensated. However, "Kommersant-Daily" and Interfax on 25 June both quoted Kokh as welcoming the privatization law recently approved by the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). If passed by the Federation Council and signed by Yeltsin, that law would give the state the right to appropriate privatized property without compensating new owners if they had failed to meet either investment commitments or obligations to employees. Kokh did not comment on that provision of the law. REACTION TO ROKHLIN'S APPEAL TO YELTSIN. The political council of Our Home Is Russia (NDR) will decide on 30 June whether State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin will remain in the pro-government movement, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 June, citing NDR Duma deputy Roman Popkovich. Rokhlin recently issued an appeal blaming Yeltsin for the war in Chechnya and disastrous conditions in the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). Even if the NDR expels Rokhlin, he will not be removed as Defense Committee chairman unless a majority of Duma deputies approves such a move. Yeltsin has not yet responded to Rokhlin's appeal, but an unnamed senior Defense Ministry official told Interfax that the appeal was aimed at "disrupting [military] reforms and pushing the army toward havoc." Rokhlin strongly supported the July 1996 appointment of Igor Rodionov as defense minister. Yeltsin sacked Rodionov in May. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN GREET DENVER SUMMIT STATEMENT ON KARABAKH. Officials in Baku and Yerevan have expressed support for the statement on Nagorno-Karabakh released by the US, Russian, and French presidents during the recent Summit of Eight in Denver. The statement calls for a swift negotiated settlement of the conflict "taking into consideration the interests and concerns of all parties." Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade said the statement was "very important and timely" and conducive to "a just and peaceful solution," according to RIA Novosti and Turan. Armenian presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian said on 25 June that Armenia agrees with the Denver statement and that both Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have already given a formal response to the most recent peace proposals advanced by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Minsk Group, according to the Yerevan News Service on 25 June. The U.S., Russia, and France are co-chairmen of the group. IMF LOAN TO ARMENIA. The IMF on 23 June approved the second annual tranche of a three-year loan to Armenia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The first half of the $47 million tranche will be released on 30 June. The IMF noted Armenia's success in cutting inflation to below 6% in 1996. At the same time, it noted that "relaxed" fiscal policies during the presidential election campaign contributed to raising the budget deficit to 9.35% of GDP and that the situation this year remains "fragile." The IMF said Armenia needs to improve the targeting of social benefits in order to help the poorest strata of the population. EBRD LOAN TO AZERBAIJAN. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has approved a loan of more than $21 million to upgrade Azerbaijan's hydro-electric capacity, RFE/RL reported. The loan is for a project, co-financed by the Islamic Development Bank and the EU, to replace three generators at the Mingechaur Hydroelectric plant and rebuild a back-up high voltage transmission line from the plant to Baku. GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE IN AZERBAIJAN. President Heidar Aliev issued a decree on 25 June merging the Ministries of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations into a new Ministry of Trade, Interfax and Western agencies reported. A state-owned company producing consumer goods was also abolished, and its director, Rafig Khalafov, promoted to the position of deputy prime minister, according to Reuters. Addressing a televised government session, Aliev said the reshuffle is part of an ongoing process intended to expedite the "lagging" economic reform process. Aliev also issued a second decree calling on the National Bank to draft a program for the reform of state commercial banks. CHECHNYA CRITICIZES AZERBAIJAN OVER OIL TRANSIT. Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, head of the Chechen national oil company Yunko, has harshly criticized unnamed forces in Azerbaijan who, he said, are trying to exclude Chechnya from negotiations on the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya, Interfax reported on 25 June. Yarikhanov said the Azerbaijani leadership wants a bilateral agreement with Russia but that this would lead to an "impasse." Both Azerbaijani President Aliev and Natik Aliev (no relation), the head of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), have said there is no need for a new agreement. Natik Aliev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 June that it is up to Russia to settle its differences with Chechnya. He said he told Chechen officials who visited Baku that "there is nothing to discuss." He stressed that it is "very important politically" for Azerbaijan to export oil via Russia. BUBONIC PLAGUE REPORTED IN KAZAKSTAN. A man in western Kazakstan has been diagnosed with bubonic plague, according to AFP. Health authorities in Kazakstan said on 25 June that both the man and his family have been quarantined, along with the doctors and nurses treating him. Faizullah Bismildin, the head of the Kazak Health Ministry's epidemiology department, said the man had probably been bitten by a flea carried by a rat and that he was likely to die from the disease. He added that the country is infested with rats. HEROIN FOUND IN CAR FROM TAJIK EMBASSY IN KAZAKSTAN. RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty report that the Procurator General's office released a statement on 26 June saying a large amount of heroin has been found in a car belonging to the Tajik Embassy in Kazakstan. The value of the haul was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Law-enforcement officials are investigating the driver. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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