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Vol 1, No. 62, Part I, 27 June 1997
Vol 1, No. 62, Part I, 27 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 * CHERNOMYRDIN MEETS WITH CHINESE LEADERS * RUSSIAN WARSHIP CALLS AT JAPANESE PORT * TAJIK PEACE AGREEMENT SIGNED End Note : Peace in Tajikistan or a New Stage in the Conflict? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN MEETS WITH CHINESE LEADERS. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Peng, met in Beijing on 27 June to discuss bilateral relations and sign several agreements. The most important of those agreements was on Siberian oil and gas deliveries to China. Other accords dealt with the construction of factories in China with Russian assistance, boosting bilateral trade, and the opening of a Russian consulate in Hong Kong. Chernomyrdin also met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The unexpected arrival of Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii to Beijing on 26 June has still not been explained. YELTSIN TO VISIT CHINA THIS YEAR. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin said in Beijing on 26 June that President Boris Yeltsin is planning to visit China before the end of 1997, according to Russian media. Karasin said Prime Ministers Chernomyrdin and Li Peng would discuss dates for the visit during their meetings in the Chinese capital. RUSSIAN WARSHIP CALLS AT JAPANESE PORT. For the first time in 103 years, a Russian warship has docked in a Japanese port, Russian and Japanese media reported on 27 June. The destroyer "Admiral Vinogradov" will remain in a Tokyo harbor for three days. Also on 27 June, an agreement was reached to begin trans-Siberian flights between European cities and Japan. Both developments are seen as further signs of improving relations between Russia and Japan. However, the 26 June incident in which two Japanese fishermen were injured by gun fire from a Russian border guard patrol boat has elicited criticism from both countries. The Japanese questioned the necessity of firing upon a fishing vessel, while the Russians argued that the Japanese government should take more precautions to ensure that fishermen cannot by-pass Japanese patrol boats and illegally enter Russian waters. CHECHNYA CANCELS CUSTOMS AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA. The Chechen leadership has annulled the 14 June customs agreement with Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported on 26 June. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax that President Aslan Maskhadov telephoned Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin to inform him of the decision. Among other things, the agreement bestowed international status on Grozny airport. Udugov said the agreement had been cancelled because Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin had not yet signed it. Rybkin told NTV that the Chechen move should not be regarded as "a tragedy" and that a new Russian-Chechen customs agreement is being drafted and will be signed soon. ASTRONAUT QUOTED AS SAYING SITUATION ON "MIR" STABILIZED. A spokeswoman for Russian Mission Control on 27 June quoted Vasilii Tsibliev, the commander of the orbiting space station "Mir," as saying that the situation on "Mir" had "stabilized" following a 25 June collision with a cargo craft, Reuters reported. Air pressure on the station is said to be normal, although the temperature and humidity is somewhat higher than normal. According to AFP, the station still has only 30%-50% of the electricity required for normal functioning. Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev said a shuttle with relief supplies will be sent to "Mir" on 4 or 5 July. YELTSIN ADDRESSES PENSIONERS. In a 27 June nationwide radio address, Yeltsin said the government has made a "titanic" effort to pay pension arrears, transferring more than 17 trillion rubles ($2.9 billion) to the Pension Fund since February. Yeltsin vowed to punish regional leaders "mercilessly" if they try to "solve their local problems by using the pension funds" rather than distributing the money to pensioners. He also criticized the State Duma for rejecting a package of social benefits reductions, which he said are needed to ensure that the government will have the means to pay pensions on time in the future. Duma deputies were afraid to accept responsibility for "painful, but vitally important measures," Yeltsin argued. In addition, the president promised that pension payments would gradually be increased. Yeltsin recently issued a decree on raising some pension payments as of January 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 June 1997). OFFICIAL SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL GET TOUGHER ON DEBTORS TO PENSION FUND. Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk says the government is working out a "whole gamut" of "tough" methods to recover payments owed to the Pension Fund, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 June. He said that during the second half of 1997, the government will not allow any organizations to be exempt from such payments. Barchuk noted that the fund is currently owed 70 trillion rubles ($12 billion). Of that sum, state-funded organizations owe some 8 trillion rubles, the Railroads Ministry 3 trillion rubles, and the electricity giant Unified Energy System 1.9 trillion. Barchuk confirmed that the gas monopoly Gazprom has paid its debts to the fund. Meanwhile, Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Livshits told journalists on 26 June that the government was able to pay pension arrears largely because of payments this month from Gazprom, Interfax reported. DEFENSE MINISTER SLAMS APPEAL BY ROKHLIN. Igor Sergeev has denounced the hard-hitting appeal issued recently by State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin as "completely unacceptable." Rokhlin sharply criticized Yeltsin's leadership and said the armed forces are on the verge of ruin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). In an interview published in the official military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" on 27 June, Sergeev said Rokhlin violated Russian laws aimed at preventing "political agitation" in the armed forces and compared the appeal to Bolshevik agitation in the Russian army in 1917. On 26 June, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin had also criticized Rokhlin's statement as "unacceptable," and Duma deputy Sergei Belyaev, leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction, had said his group does not agree with Rokhlin's views, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko distanced himself from Rokhlin's appeal. COUNCIL OF EUROPE'S PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY POSTPONES ELECTION OF RUSSIAN DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly has postponed the election of a deputy chairman of the assembly from Russia until January 1998 and has urged the Russian delegation to agree on a single candidate for the post, Russian news agencies reported on 26 June. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Lukin was deputy chairman of the Council of Europe's assembly until his term expired in January 1997. The Russian delegation has proposed three candidates to replace Lukin: Duma deputy Aleksandr Dzasokhov of the Popular Power faction (supported by the Communists and their allies), human rights defender and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev (supported by Yabloko), and Federation Council Deputy Chairman Vasilii Likhachev (supported by members of the upper house of the Russian parliament). Likhachev also chairs the Republic of Tatarstan's legislature. DUMA TO MONITOR IMPLEMENTATION OF RUSSIA-CIS AGREEMENTS? Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev advocates tasking the Duma with monitoring the implementation of agreements and treaties signed by Russia and other CIS member states, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 June. Seleznev said that in September, the Duma will set up special groups on relations with other CIS parliaments that will draw up the requisite monitoring procedures. POLL ON RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION. According to a poll conducted in Russia in May by the respected Public Opinion Foundation, 75% of Russians view the Russia-Belarus union as the first step toward the restoration of the USSR, Interfax reported on 26 June. Asked which other former Soviet republics they would like to see accede to that union, 64% of the 1,500 respondents named Ukraine, 40% Kazakstan, and 14 % Moldova. Georgia and Uzbekistan each received 8%, Latvia and Lithuania 5%, Tajikistan and Armenia 4%, Estonia and Kyrgyzstan 3%, and Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan 2%. HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CRITICIZE MOSCOW AUTHORITIES. Prominent human rights defenders, including Yelena Bonner and Sergei Kovalev, say that the Moscow city authorities are stepping up their campaign against minority ethnic groups in preparation for the city's 850th anniversary celebrations, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 26 June. In a message to Yeltsin, the activists charged that refugees from the Caucasus region are being illegally evicted from their housing, even though they have lived in the Moscow area for years and are legally entitled to Russian citizenship. Furthermore, the activists charge that the refugees routinely suffer police harassment and brutality: "[The police] don't know how to catch criminals, so they catch dark-haired people." The activists urged Yeltsin to instruct Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to curb the abuses. However, Yeltsin has not responded to the appeal, and the activists say they have been refused a meeting with presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev. KORZHAKOV DENOUNCES YELTSIN. Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov, longtime head of the Presidential Security Service, told the British newspaper "The Guardian" on 27 June that Yeltsin is a "helpless, quivering old man" who is more interested in protecting his "family clan" than in serving Russia. Korzhakov said this clan includes Security Council Deputy Secretary Berezovskii and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais and is "leading the country over the edge." He also claimed that Yeltsin attempted to commit suicide several times before suffering his first heart attack in July 1995. Korzhakov was sacked as top presidential bodyguard in June 1996, shortly after the first round of the presidential election. He recently lost a Supreme Court appeal against an October 1996 presidential decree whereby he was stripped of his military rank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 1997). SLIGHT DECLINE IN FOREIGN TRADE. Russia's foreign trade turnover in the first five months of this year decreased by 1%, compared with the same period for 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 June, citing preliminary figures released by the State Statistics Committee. The total volume of foreign trade was $62.4 billion. Exports fell by 0.1% to $35 billion and imports by 2% to $27.4 billion. Trade with other CIS member states fell by 10% to $14.6 billion, primarily because of the 18 % decline in Russian imports from the CIS. Russian trade with other foreign countries grew by 2% to $47.8 billion. NEW FIGURES ON INCOME RELEASED. From January to May 1997, the monthly income of an estimated 31.5 million people fell below the subsistence level, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 June, citing figures released by the State Statistics Committee. That figure is down 9.7% from the number of people earning less than the subsistence level during the same period in 1996. The committee calculated the monthly subsistence level for January-May 1997 at 407,000 rubles ($70). During the first five months of 1997, the wealthiest 10% of the population as a group earned an estimated 32.3% of total income in Russia, while the poorest 10% earned about 2.6% of total income. JOURNALISTS' ACCESS TO RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE RESTRICTED. Lt.-Gen. Vladimir Andreev, the commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus, has issued a directive requiring both Russian and Georgian journalists to apply in advance to the Russian defense minister or the chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff for permission to visit units of the group, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 27 June. The same day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published further details of clandestine Russian arms shipments to Armenia via Georgia between September 1994 and February 1996, based on directives from the Russian Armed Forces General Staff. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK PEACE AGREEMENT SIGNED... Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed the Peace and National Reconciliation Accord in Moscow on 27 June in the presence of representatives from observer nations and organizations, RFE/RL correspondents in Moscow reported. Russian President Yeltsin, who also attended the signing ceremony, said the accord was a "bright, memorable page" in Tajik history. In addition to officially ending the five-year conflict, the accord provides for the return of opposition supporters and refugees to Tajikistan, legalizes the political parties that make up the UTO, and calls for the integration of the armed forces of both the government and UTO. It also grants the UTO 30% of government posts and establishes a 26-member reconciliation commission made up of an equal number of representatives of the current government and the UTO. ...FOLLOWING ELEVENTH-HOUR NEGOTIATIONS. Shortly before the agreement was signed, chief UTO negotiator Ali Akbar Turajonzoda threatened the UTO would not put its signature to the document, citing the failure to carry out prisoner exchanges and the lack of clarity over which seats in the Tajik government would be turned over to the UTO, RFE/RL correspondents in Moscow reported. Closed-door talks and a late-night meeting between Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri followed. As a result, a new protocol was drawn up whereby 50 prisoners from each side would be set free by 15 July. Also, the reconciliation commission is scheduled to meet for the first time on 7 July in Moscow to decide which Tajik government positions will be allocated to the UTO (see also "End Note" below). END NOTE Peace in Tajikistan or a New Stage in the Conflict? Umed Babakhanov and Bruce Pannier Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition leaders signed a long-await ed peace agreement in the Kremlin on 27 June. Witnessed by ranking officials from the UN and observer countries as well as President Boris Yeltsin, the signing could bring an end to five years of internal unrest. On the other hand, it could merely mean a new stage in that conflict. Several factors made the signing possible. Among the most important is war-weariness on the part of the public and the warring sides. The apparent determination of Russia and Iran to stabilize Tajikistan in the face of the fundamentalist Taliban threat in Afghanistan is also another major factor. But while the parties involved seem intent on consolidating peace in Tajikistan, it is likely that the signing ceremony in the Kremlin will be followed by all manner of political intrigues. The country's new battlefields are likely to become the lobbies of the government buildings in Dushanbe, as both sides begin to tackle the question of question of dividing power. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov faces the extremely difficult task of selecting 30% of the leading government posts and handing them over to his enemies of yesterday. That selection process is bound to incite tension within the presidential camp. And the question remains whether Rakhmonov will be able to accomplish that task. Even minor Dushanbe officials have their own "protection" in the form of small military units with which government institutions neither want nor are able to compete. Another bone of contention will be the redistribution of property. Under pressure from international financial organizations, the government has proceeded with property privatization over the past few years. But, numerous members of the opposition and the thousands of Tajiks who fled to other countries to avoid the fighting were unable to participate in that process. Opposition leaders, their supporters and many citizens are likely to want a share of the pie, and it will be up to the government to make sure they get it. There is also the likelihood that isolated events will spark local armed confrontations. A strong and stable central government is needed to try to prevent such conflicts and to deal with them if and when they arise. But it is debatable whether such a government can be formed when, under the peace agreement, government institutions are to be composed of members of the forces loyal to Rakhmonov, on the one hand, and the opposition, on the other. Finally, there remains the need to take into account a wide range of political, regional, financial, and others interests. Recent experience in Tajikistan suggests that ignoring those interests will foster tension and separatist tendencies, which, in turn, could provoke armed conflicts. Such a scenario could turn Tajikistan into another Afghanistan. Umed Babakhanov is a journalist for Tajikistan's Asia Plus news agency based in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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