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Vol 1, No. 68, Part I, 8 July 1997
Vol 1, No. 68, Part I, 8 July 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 * INVESTIGATION OPENED INTO EXPLOSIVES PLANTED AT MOSCOW MONUMENT * YELTSIN SUGGESTS LIMITING APPLICATION OF DEATH PENALTY * ABKHAZIA CLAIMS GEORGIA IS PREPARING NEW OFFENSIVE End Note Council of Europe's 'Soft' Standards for East European Members xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA INVESTIGATION OPENED INTO EXPLOSIVES PLANTED AT MOSCOW MONUMENT. The Moscow branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has opened a terrorism investigation into the alleged attempted bombing of the monument to Peter the Great in Moscow, Interfax reported on 7 July. FSB operatives defused seven explosive devices the previous day after a formerly unknown group calling itself the Revolutionary Military Council sent a warning to Interfax. The message reportedly said the bombs were a warning to those who wish to remove Vladimir Lenin's body from the mausoleum on Red Square. However, State Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading member of the Communist Party, denounced the bomb attempt as a "provocation by the authorities," which, he said, are looking for a "pretext to crack down on the opposition." Ilyukhin added that his party has no contacts with the group that allegedly claimed responsibility for planting the explosives. YELTSIN SUGGESTS LIMITING APPLICATION OF DEATH PENALTY. President Boris Yeltsin has sent the State Duma proposed amendments to the criminal code to limit the application of the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 July. Under the amendments, a person sentenced to death could not be executed until both the procurator-general and the chairman of the Supreme Court had reviewed the sentence and confirmed there were no grounds for appeal. Russia agreed to abolish the death penalty within three years of joining the Council of Europe in February 1996. Earlier this year, Russian officials signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws capital punishment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 1997). However, the Duma is considered unlikely to ratify that measure, since deputies voted down a proposed moratorium on the death penalty in March. GREENPEACE TO ASK YELTSIN TO SAVE RUSSIA'S FORESTS. Russian environmental activists hope to enlist the president's help in saving centuries-old forests in the Republic of Karelia, where Yeltsin is currently on vacation, Russian news agencies and RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 7 July. Greenpeace activists have recently marked 15,000 cubic meters of old-growth forest in Karelia. The coordinator of the campaign, Sergei Tsyplenkov, said the action was aimed at halting any encroachment by timber companies. Two large Finnish companies have agreed to stop logging in the forests, but environmental campaigners say smaller logging firms are still active there. The weekly "Kommersant" reported in its 17 June issue that Karelian officials routinely blame Greenpeace activists for allegedly lowering both the republic's budget revenues and the living standards of local residents. CHERNOMYRDIN CALLS FOR BROADENING ROLE OF JUSTICE MINISTRY. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says the Justice Ministry should play a greater role in drafting laws that the government submits to the parliament, Russian news agencies reported on 7 July. Introducing new Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin to the ministry staff, Chernomyrdin said Russian laws must be brought into line with requirements imposed by membership in the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1997). He also pledged that the government will take steps to provide adequate financing for the Justice Ministry. NEMTSOV CRITICIZES SLOW SALE OF IMPORTED OFFICIAL CARS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has criticized the State Customs Committee and Defense Ministry over the sale of imported cars previously used by civil servants, NTV reported on 7 July. Speaking at a government meeting, Nemtsov said the results of the first car auction were "completely inadequate" and served to "discredit the decisions of the president and the government." Only five cars were sold in the first auction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 1997). Nemtsov said the other cars offered for sale were suitable only for scrap metal. Some 56 cars, including a Mercedes used by former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, are to be auctioned in September. FEDERATION COUNCIL SUPPORTS NAZDRATENKO. The Federation Council on 4 July adopted an appeal asking Yeltsin to review two recent presidential decrees limiting the authority of Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Yeltsin recently transferred many of Nazdratenko's powers to Viktor Kondratov, the presidential representative in Primore. Council deputies protested that the decrees sought to limit the rights of Russian regions. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily," Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel suggested that by bolstering the powers of appointed presidential representatives, Moscow is trying to set up parallel executive structures in the regions in preparation for the presidential election in 2000. Meanwhile, Nazdratenko has continued to request a personal meeting with Yeltsin, who, he says, has been misinformed by his advisers and government officials about the situation in Primore. LAWS ON ARMS TRADE, STATUS OF SERVICEMEN APPROVED. The Federation Council on 4 July voted by 115 to three to approve the law "on military-technological cooperation with foreign countries," which declares a state monopoly on the arms trade, Russian news agencies reported. According to Reuters, Murmansk Oblast legislature head Pavel Sazhinov, a member of the Council's Defense Committee, urged deputies to support the law, saying that the state had lost income in recent years as arms manufacturers sold weapons abroad directly "at dumping prices." Also on 4 July, the Council approved by 123 to three a law on the status of persons serving in the armed forces or in troops subordinate to various federal agencies, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 1997). The Council's Budget Committee had recommended rejecting the law, saying Russia lacks the means to fund wage increases for servicemen. LAWS ON SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM, INDEXING PENSIONS REJECTED. The Federation Council on 3 July rejected a law outlining the procedure for calculating the subsistence level on a quarterly basis, ITAR-TASS reported. The government had opposed the Duma-backed law. The same day, the Council rejected legislation raising the minimum pension by 20 percent, from 69,575 rubles ($12) to 83,490 rubles, effective 1 July. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev had appealed to the Council to reject the increase, saying neither the federal budget nor the Pension Fund has the means to pay an additional 1.7 trillion rubles per month. Meanwhile, the Council on 3 July approved a separate law on the procedure for calculating and raising pensions for non-working pensioners. Supporters say that law--which, if signed, is to go into effect on 1 February 1998--would improve living standards for many elderly people. FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES TAX ON FOREIGN CURRENCY, REGIONAL TAX EXPERIMENT. The Federation Council on 3 July approved a 0.5 percent tax on foreign currency purchases by individuals and companies, Russian news agencies reported. The tax would not be levied on withdrawals of cash from foreign-currency bank deposits or foreign-currency purchases from the Central Bank by commercial banks. Revenues from the tax would be divided 60:40 between federal and regional budgets. The same day, the Council passed a law allowing a tax experiment to be conducted in Tver and Novgorod. The legislation would allow those cities to introduce a real estate tax in place of three current taxes: on property belonging to individuals, on property belonging to legal entities, and the land tax. The revenues from the real estate tax will go entirely to the cities' budgets. UPPER HOUSE APPROVES LAW ON MANAGING ELECTRICITY GIANT. The Federation Council on 4 July approved a law on management of the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems (EES), "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. That law would require the state to retain 51 percent of EES shares. An 18 percent stake would be managed by the federal government, while 33 percent of EES shares would be divided among regional governments. Yeltsin is expected to veto the law, which is not consistent with the current plans of EES management (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997). SEVERAL LAWS AFFECTING REGIONS CONSIDERED. The Federation Council on 3 July approved a law on relations between autonomous okrugs and the oblasts or krais of which they are part, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the law, okrugs would sign agreements with krais and oblasts without interference from federal authorities. Tyumen Oblast authorities have long disputed with the resource-rich Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets autonomous okrugs, which are seeking to secede from Tyumen. The Council also approved a law to create ecological zones on and around Lake Baikal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). However, deputies rejected a bill on local self-government that would have forced regional leaders to share authority on financial matters with city mayors in their regions, "Segodnya" reported on 5 July. The Council also rejected a law on citizens' electoral rights, which, among other things, would have canceled residency requirements included in regional electoral laws. MORE POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS SIGNED. Yeltsin signed treaties with governors from five oblasts on 4 July, bringing to 31 the number of Russian regions that have signed bilateral power-sharing agreements with the federal authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition to signing agreements with the leaders of Vologda and Saratov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1997), Yeltsin signed treaties with the governors of Bryansk, Chelyabinsk, and Magadan oblasts. The treaties are part of the presidential administration's strategy to secure the support of new governors. Magadan Governor Valentin Tsvetkov was elected as an independent in November 1996, while Bryansk Governor Yurii Lodkin and Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin won with the backing of the Communist opposition in December. Lodkin and Sumin had been staunch opponents of Yeltsin, who fired Lodkin as Bryansk governor in September 1993 and who supported the annulment of a Chelyabinsk gubernatorial election won by Sumin the same year. AGAPOV PROTESTS DECISION TO ABOLISH INGUSHETIA'S FREE ECONOMIC ZONE. Former Ingushetian Vice President Boris Agapov, who in June was appointed deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, told ITAR-TASS on 7 July that the Russian government's recent abolition of Ingushetia's status as a free economic zone is "incomprehensible." He argued that the republic's economy was only just beginning to gather momentum and that the favored economic status granted in 1994 had provided for the construction of an airport, a flour mill, and gas and water mains. Agapov warned that both the economic and the social situations in Ingushetia are likely to deteriorate as a result of the Russian government's decision, the official reason for which was the loss of federal and regional budget revenues. Of Ingushetia's 350,000 population, more than 70,000 are refugees whose livelihood is now in jeopardy, he added. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ABKHAZIA CLAIMS GEORGIA IS PREPARING NEW OFFENSIVE. The Abkhaz Security service issued a statement on 7 July claiming that Georgia is concentrating armed units and heavy weaponry in the Kodori Gorge in preparation for a new offensive, Interfax reported. Georgia has not commented on the allegations. In his weekly radio broadcast, President Eduard Shevardnadze said that Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii recently made "non-standard, interesting, and useful" proposals for resolving the conflict, according to Russian Public Television (ORT). Spokesmen for the ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1992-3 believe, however, that Russia is motivated solely by the desire to prolong the presence of its peacekeeping forces on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, "Kavkasioni" reported on 4 July. Talks on resolving the conflict are to resume when Shevardnadze returns from the NATO summit in Madrid. AZERBAIJANI-TURKMEN OIL ROW CONTINUES. Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov on 7 July proposed creating a Turkmen-Azerbaijani commission to delineate the dividing line between the two countries' sectors of the Caspian Sea, ITAR-TASS reported. Two days earlier, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry had protested the signing of an agreement between Azerbaijani and Russia oil companies on the joint development of the Kyapaz deposit, which Turkmenistan claims is located in its sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997). Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minister Yolbas Kepbanov said on 7 July that Ashgabat may appeal to an international court over two other Caspian oil fields claimed by Azerbaijan and currently being developed by a major international consortium. Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Halan Halafov and Khoshbakht Yusif-Zade, the deputy chairman of the state oil company SOCAR, both told TURAN on 7 July that they have not received any official protest from Ashgabat. TAJIKS ASK FOR INTERNATIONAL HELP. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 7 July requesting that an international conference of donor nations be held to assist in the rebuilding of Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. The two Tajik leaders confirmed their commitment to the Peace and National Reconciliation Accord signed in Moscow on 27 June but said "UN assistance and support will be absolutely indispensable during the transition period." The letter emphasized the need for humanitarian aid to the Tajik people. KAZAK PRESIDENT ELIGIBLE TO RUN FOR TWO MORE TERMS? Vitalii Voronov, a former opposition parliamentary deputy, has claimed that since Nursultan Nazarbayev was elected as "president of the Kazak Republic of the USSR" in 1991 and since his term was extended in a 1995 referendum, he could be considered a first-time candidate for president of the Republic of Kazakstan in the scheduled 2001 presidential elections, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 8 July. Under such an interpretation, Nazarbayev could run for another two five-year terms in office. Meanwhile, the newspaper also reported that "mountain climbers" who scaled a 4,376 meter peak once known as "Komsomol Peak" have erected a placard renaming it "Nazarbayev Peak." Nazarbayev, who celebrated his 57th birthday on 6 July, was reported to have expressed surprise at hearing the news. TOXIC MATERIAL STOLEN FROM KAZAK PLANT. Authorities in Kazakstan are searching for the last containers stolen from the warehouse of the Ulbinsky steel plant's warehouse in Ust-Kamenogorsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 July. Thieves stole aluminum containers with Beryllium dioxide, which is used in synthesizing the rare earth metal beryllium. They dumped the contents near the plant and then sold the containers at the market in Ust-Kamenogorsk. The material is described as "highly toxic" and warnings have been issued to the local population not to use the containers for storing water or milk. Police have recovered 28 of the containers. According to ITAR-TASS, more than 100 kilograms of uranium fuel for nuclear power plants, radioactive thorium, indium, and thallium have been stolen from the Ulbinsky plant so far this year. END NOTE Council of Europe's `Soft' Standards for East European Members by Joel Blocker Controversy has erupted in some Central and East European circles follow ing the recent publication of an interview in an Alsatian newspaper ("Les dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace," 26 June 1997) with the Council of Europe's outgoing number-two man. Deputy Secretary-General Peter Leuprecht told the daily he was taking early retirement this month in protest at what he called a lowering of the Council's human-rights standards for its new Central and East European members. Leuprecht characterized those once rigid Council standards as "soft" for Eastern members. Leuprecht is the first Council official to say in public what many in th e Council of Europe Secretariat have said in private for years. The majority of Council officials clearly believe that, under pressure from West European member states like France and Germany, the 40-state organization has granted membership too fast and uncritically to many of the 16 former communist nations that have joined over the past seven years. Leuprecht told the Alsatian newspaper that he has always considered the Council of Europe to be a "community of democratic values." But he argued that in recent years, Council officials' references to democracy and human rights have become a "ritual." The organization, he continued, enlarged too fast and paid the price in the dilution of its values. "Some admissions [to the Council] stick in my throat," he remarked. Leuprecht mentioned only one such admission by name: Croatia, the newest Council member state, having joined some eight months ago. He described a recent meeting of the Council's Committee of Ministers (the body's chief policy- and decision-making organ) at which Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic argued at length that his country is a model democracy that fully respects human and minority rights. Leuprecht recounted: "None of the ministers present said a word. Not even one said, 'What do you take us for, idiots?' There was only a soft, soggy consensus." But in a second interview, which he gave to Bosnia's independent TV-International station one day later, Leuprecht did name other Eastern European member states, notably Romania and Russia. He said that the Council began "to go soft" four years ago, when it admitted Romania, which, he said, was still far from meeting the organization's human-rights standards at that time. He was careful to add, however, that Romania has made significant democratic progress since it became a member. As for Russia, which was admitted in early 1996, Leuprecht dismissed that country's human-rights record as even further removed from Council standards. Those standards were established nearly a half-century ago when, in 1949 , the Council of Europe was created to promote democracy, the rule of law, and human rights across the continent. Until the collapse of European communism in 1989, the organization largely languished in Strasbourg without much clout. But soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Council--then with only 21 members, all from Western Europe--began to expand its membership to include Central and Eastern European countries. Eventually, it became the only multilateral body on the Continent with what it calls a "pan-European vocation." Now that he has bared his soul in public, the Austrian-born Leuprecht ha s become the object of controversy--not so much in the Secretariat, which largely agrees with him, as in Central and East European member states. According to one Council official who requested anonymity, Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin--himself a long-time human-rights activist and former member of the Council's Parliamentary Assembly--telephoned Secretary-General Daniel Tarschys to complain about Leuprecht's candor. The official said Severin was worried that Romania's candidacy for both NATO and the EU might be affected by Leuprecht's remarks. Tarschys reportedly replied that Leuprecht was no longer a Council of Europe staff member and therefore could say whatever he liked to whomever he liked. According to some diplomats in Strasbourg, both Russian and Croatian officials have also made known to the Council their countries' displeasure over Leuprecht's remarks. Neither Tarschys nor any other high Council official has yet commented publicly on the controversy. But within the Secretariat, there is reported to be real pleasure that Leuprecht has voiced many staffers' views. A high official of the Council's human-rights division told RFE/RL that the Council "was simply overwhelmed by human- and minority-rights violations in several Eastern member states." The official mentioned Slovakia and Ukraine as well as Russia and Croatia as among the regular violators of Council standards. As for Albania, the official added, "it's impossible to keep track of anarchy." Now that Leuprecht has spoken out, the Council of Europe can expect a lo t more criticism from outside observers. By letting the wind out of the Council's human-rights sails, he has paved the way for what will doubtless be a very public and heated debate. The author is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who regularly reports on developments at the Council of Europe. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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