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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 70, Part I, 10 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * MORE RUSSIAN REACTION TO NATO ENLARGEMENT * HIGH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE BELARUSIAN SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIAN TV JOURNALIST * ABKHAZ TROOPS, GEORGIAN PARTISAN FORMATIONS CLASH End Note SOLUTION TO ABKHAZ CONFLICT CONTINUES TO PROVE ELUSIVE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MORE RUSSIAN REACTION TO NATO ENLARGEMENT. Russian officials continue to express skepticism over NATO's decision to invite the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to join, Russian media reported on 9 July. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said in Moscow that Russia does not wish to lose the "close ties it has had for many years" with the new NATO members. He added that he did not believe expansion would create a "truly stable and secure Europe for the future century." Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, who was in Madrid for the inaugural session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, said the alliance's enlargement was an "errant step which creates more problems than it solves." State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, commenting on the possible admission of Baltic countries in 1999, said such a move would require Russia to review the NATO- Russia Founding Act and possibly break the agreement. A delegation from the Duma, which is opposed to NATO enlargement, is due to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels on 13 July. HIGH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE BELARUSIAN SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIAN TV JOURNALIST. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov have sharply criticized the Belarusian authorities for stripping Russian Public Television (ORT) Minsk bureau chief Pavel Sheremet of his accreditation, Russian media reported on 9 July. Chernomyrdin called the decision "outrageous," while Nemtsov said it was a "flagrant violation of the Russian-Belarusian Union Charter." Nemtsov added that the government will defend Russian journalists "wherever they work, be it Belarus, North Korea, or Cuba." The same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tarasov said the sanctions applied to Sheremet have caused "deep regret and serious concern in Moscow," ITAR- TASS reported. Ivan Pashkevich, deputy chief of staff to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, responded that the word "outrageous" should be applied to ORT's "biased" coverage of events in Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 1997). INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS COMMANDER RESIGNS. Colonel-General Anatolii Shkirko announced on 9 July that he is resigning "for health reasons", Russian media reported. Although Shkirko implacably opposed any talks with Chechen opposition representatives in 1996, he said that he advocates settling conflicts, including the one in Chechnya, by peaceful means rather than war. He also noted that he condemns terrorism. Shkirko declined to speculate on who might be appointed as his successor. NEMTSOV EXPLAINS HOW GOVERNMENT PLANS TO PAY WAGE ARREARS. Speaking in Moscow, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 9 July explained how the government plans to pay all its debts to state employees by 1 January 1998, Russian media reported. Nemtsov said the government owes 25 trillion rubles ($4.3 billion) to state employees, half in wage arrears and half in contributions to so- called non-budgetary funds. (Those include the Obligatory Medical Insurance Fund, the Social Security Fund, and the Employment Fund.) Nemtsov said that 12.5 trillion rubles will come from the federal budget and the rest from regional budgets. Of the money to be raised by the federal government, 5 trillion rubles will result from selling convertible bonds in the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems, 3 trillion rubles from oil-exporting companies, and 1 trillion rubles from privatizing more than 100 military construction enterprises. SELEZNEV SKEPTICAL ABOUT GOVERNMENT'S SOLUTION TO ARREARS CRISIS. Duma Speaker Seleznev argued that wage and pension arrears will again accumulate in the future despite recent government pledges to solve the problem, Interfax reported on 9 July. He argued that the government is likely to freeze spending on other state programs in the coming months in order to pay debts to the armed forces and state employees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1997). But he predicted that irregular tax payments from enterprises would eventually cause government debts to pile up again. Seleznev added that the government should not present the payment of back wages as a "glorious action. This must be normal routine." Seleznev also suggested that additional money be printed to fund "serious investment projects," which, he said, would revive industry and help enterprises pay their workers, ITAR-TASS reported. PRESIDENTIAL DECREE ON OIL EXPORTS TO ENCOURAGE PRODUCERS TO SETTLE DEBTS. Under a new presidential decree, only companies that extract oil will be allowed to export oil via pipelines of the state- owned company Transneft as of 1 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 July. Currently, some companies earn huge profits by buying oil from producers and selling it abroad. Under the new decree, oil producers that owe money to the state will have to use part of the proceeds from oil sales abroad to settle their debts. As further incentive, those producers that keep to a schedule for paying their debts and agree to pay all current taxes to the federal budget and contributions to the state's non-budgetary funds on time may receive permission to export more oil. NEMTSOV CAMPAIGNS FOR NIZHNII NOVGOROD MAYOR. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 9 July flew to his native Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast to meet with regional journalists, political and business leaders, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported. Nemtsov warned that if Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov loses a runoff gubernatorial election on 13 July to Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev, the region will effectively be governed from Moscow by "Comrade [Gennadii] Zyuganov," leader of the Communist Party. Nemtsov also argued that if Khodyrev wins, Nizhnii will have a governor who clashes with both the federal authorities and the mayor of the region's largest city-- just like Primorskii Krai. Before the first round of the gubernatorial election, in which Sklyarov edged out Khodyrev by 42 percent to 38 percent, Nemtsov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that Sklyarov could win without high federal officials campaigning on his behalf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997). LABOR UNREST INTENSIFIES IN PRIMORE. Workers at the Zvezda submarine repair factory and the Progress aviation enterprise in Primorskii Krai have pledged not to end their strike until all wage arrears are paid, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 9 July. The navy owes the Zvezda factory some 300 billion rubles ($52 million), of which 60 billion rubles is due in unpaid wages. A federal government commission to examine the crisis at the defense enterprises has delayed coming to Primore by at least one week. The strikers have called on the Duma to impeach President Boris Yeltsin for treason and have asked the Procurator-General's Office to open a criminal case against him. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 July that the Vladivostok city authorities have declared an emergency health situation on the 10th day of a strike by garbage collectors. Many doctors and teachers are also on strike in Primore. YELTSIN URGED TO VETO LAW ON RELIGIOUS GROUPS. Several prominent public figures have addressed an open letter to Yeltsin asking him to veto the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 9 July. The controversial law grants more rights to approved, traditional "religious organizations" than to more recently-established "religious groups" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July, 24, and 30 June 1997). The letter's authors, including Duma deputy Valerii Borshchev of the Yabloko faction and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, argued that the law is discriminatory and violates Article 14 of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law for all religious groups. Also on 9 July, a group of representatives in the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Yeltsin urging him to veto the religion law, which, they said, would "create a chilling atmosphere," Reuters reported. CENTRAL BANK ASKS COMMERCIAL BANKS TO HELP FIGHT MONEY LAUNDERING. The Central Bank has issued new recommendations for commercial banks to help fight money laundering, Russian news agencies reported on 9 July. Central Bank Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Turbanov said banks had been asked to inform law enforcement agencies about suspicious financial transactions. Operations by individuals involving sums of more than 1,000 times the minimum wage (about 80 million rubles or $14,000) or deals by legal entities involving more than 10,000 times the minimum wage (800 million rubles or $140,000) could qualify as suspicious, Turbanov suggested. LEBED CALLS FOR PROTECTING RUSSIAN CULTURE. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed met with prominent cultural figures in Moscow on 9 July and called on them to help develop a strategy for protecting Russian culture, art, and science, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He promised that he and his Russian People's Republican Party would work to implement such a strategy. Lebed argued that more state funds should be spent on culture and criticized the prevalence of foreign films and advertisements in foreign languages. Also on 9 July, a Moscow district court ordered Lebed to publicly retract his statement that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov is the "godfather" of Russian organized crime, NTV reported. The court also ordered Lebed to pay Kulikov 5 million rubles ($860) in damages for making that accusation against the interior minister in late 1996. "IZVESTIYA" JOURNALISTS UNIONIZING. "Izvestiya" reported on 10 July that the paper's employees are forming a trade union after not being unionized for the last five years. The "Izvestiya" board of directors, on which shareholders LUKoil and Oneksimbank have a majority, recently fired the paper's editor-in-chief and voted to choose his successor through a procedure that will limit the influence of journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997). Also on 10 July, "Izvestiya" reported on the creation of the MFK-Renaissance Capital bank, a merger of the International Financial Corporation (MFK), an Oneksimbank affiliate, and the investment firm Renaissance Capital. The paper said MFK-Renaissance Capital, whose board of directors will be chaired by Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin, will be a "new star" and a "super-heavyweight" on the Russian capital markets. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ABKHAZ TROOPS, GEORGIAN PARTISAN FORMATIONS CLASH. Up to 20 fighters were killed on 9 July in a clash between members of Georgia's White Legion guerrilla formation and Abkhaz troops in the Kodori gorge, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. Interfax cited a spokesman for Georgia's Border Defense Department as claiming that the Abkhaz landed in an unmarked helicopter. However, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia said no unidentified aircraft has been sighted in the region. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 July quoted a local Georgian official as saying that Abkhaz militants regularly use helicopters belonging to the Russian peacekeeping contingent (see also "End Note" below). AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AT MADRID NATO SUMMIT. Addressing the inaugural session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Madrid on 9 July, Heidar Aliev argued that NATO and the council "should not be indifferent observers to the conflicts in the Caucasus," which he termed a "serious threat to common European security", RFE/RL reported. Aliev again accused Armenia of adopting "a non- constructive" position toward the ongoing efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group to mediate a settlement of the conflict. He also repeated the erroneous, exaggerated claim that 1 million Azerbaijanis have been driven from their homes and that Armenian forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's total territory. (More accurate estimates are 780,000 displaced persons and 10-15 percent.] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ADVOCATES GREATER INVOLVEMENT IN REGIONAL SECURITY. Alexander Arzoumanian told representatives of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council that the new body should serve as a framework for defusing regional tensions, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Madrid. He said that among other things, the council should promote openness and implement a regional disarmament policy, adding that such an approach would contribute to consolidating the existing cease-fire in Nagorno- Karabakh. In separate meetings, Arzoumanian also discussed the Karabakh issue with French President Jacques Chirac and bilateral relations with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. MUTINOUS TAJIK COLONEL PROMISES SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT. Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, told RFE/RL's Tajik service on 9 July that he has contacted President Imomali Rakhmonov to offer the support of his unit in cleaning up crime in and around Dushanbe. Khudaberdiyev, who on several occasions has ignored presidential orders, told Rakhmonov that Dushanbe should be a de-militarized zone. He said there are currently more than 30 armed outlaw bands working in the area of the capital and that their presence threatens the work of the Tajik president and the leader of the United Tajik Opposition, Said Abdullo Nuri. Khudaberdiyev claimed he supports both the president and the peace efforts but added that all parties and movements must be represented in the newly formed Tajik Reconciliation Commission, not just the ruling party and the UTO, if peace is to hold in Tajikistan. TURKMEN PRESIDENT BLASTS LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS. Saparmurat Niyazov on 8 July summoned leading prosecutors and accused them of involvement in criminal activities, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. Niyazov said both the prosecutors and members of the militia have links to crime, including the drug trade. He added that they would soon be dismissed. Niyazov also noted that from now on, no official at the prosecutor's office will be allowed to serve more than two years in a bid to combat corruption among state officials. END NOTE SOLUTION TO ABKHAZ CONFLICT CONTINUES TO PROVE ELUSIVE by Liz Fuller Up to 20 people were killed on 9 July in fighting on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The incident underscores that some Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities are ready to launch a new offensive to bring the separatist region back under the control of the central government in Tbilisi. It could also negate recent progress in negotiations aimed at achieving a political settlement of the conflict. Over the past month, high-level Russian officials have engaged in intensive mediation in an effort to expedite the signing of a seven- point "interim protocol," drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, that would formally end the conflict. This concentrated diplomacy came in response to an ultimatum by the Georgian parliament, which intends to demand the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia when the force's mandate expires on 31 July if a decision taken at the March CIS heads of state summit is not implemented. According to that decision, the force is to be redeployed throughout Abkhazia's Gali Raion, located in the southernmost part of the breakaway region. The Abkhaz leadership has opposed such redeployment, arguing that no change can be made to the peacekeepers' mandate without its consent. From 8 to 19 June, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba discussed the draft protocol at meetings in Moscow with presidential chief of staff Valentin Yumashev, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. (Ardzinba worked under Primakov in the early 1980s when the latter was director of Moscow's Oriental Institute.) Ardzinba also held talks with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, who met separately with Russian officials. On 16 June, both Russian diplomat Gennadii Ilichev and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze noted "progress" and a "certain rapprochement" between the two sides. Three days later, however, Primakov departed for the Summit of the Eight in Denver and the talks were adjourned. According to subsequent Russian press reports, expressions of cautious official optimism proved premature. Accounts differ, however, as to what derailed the negotiations. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 20 June quoted Ardzinba as saying that by 13 or 14 June the two sides had virtually reached agreement on the final text of the protocol, which reflected major concessions by the Abkhaz over their republic's future status vis-a-vis Tbilisi. Menagharishvili had flown back to Tbilisi to submit the draft to the Georgian leadership, but legal experts in Tbilisi had insisted on such substantive amendments that the Abkhaz side had refused to continue the talks. A different explanation, however, was given by Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliament commission on security and defense issues and Shevardnadze's personal envoy to Ardzinba, who told Nezavisimaya gazeta of 4 July that the sticking point was not Abkhazia's future status but the timetable for the repatriation of ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities. The issue of the displaced persons is highly controversial. Estimates of the number of Georgians who fled from Abkhazia vary widely. Georgian officials routinely give the number as up to 300,000, although at the time of the 1989 Soviet census the total Georgian population of Abkhazia was only 240,000. The Georgian leadership insists that only a few thousand of those Georgians who fled Abkhazia have returned, while the Abkhaz say that some 60,000 of the 80,000 Georgians who lived in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, have already gone back. (A spokesman for the UNHCR told "RFE/RL Newsline" that an estimated 40,000 Georgians have returned permanently.) Abkhaz objections that allowing too many Georgians to return too fast could destabilize the internal situation may mask suspicions that the Georgian leadership wishes to tilt the ethnic balance in its favor. In 1989, Georgians accounted for 45.7 percent of Abkhazia's total population of 538,000. If the Georgian government insists on resettling 300,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia, this would raise the Georgians' total share of the region's population to well over 50 percent, leaving the Abkhaz, who number less than 100,000, a minority. In early July, Berezovskii spent three days shuttling between Tbilisi and the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, in the hope of breaking the deadlock. Again, Georgian spokesmen claimed that progress was made but declined to divulge any details. Members of Berezovskii's entourage, however, told Kommersant Daily of 4 July that Ardzinba is insisting that Abkhazia and Georgia have equal status within a "federative union." Even if there is no truth to Russian media claims that Ardzinba is under serious pressure from hard-liners, the 9 July fighting is likely to have outraged public opinion and thus made it more difficult for either Ardzinba or Shevardnadze to propose--or accept--any further compromise. In short, a formal settlement of the conflict seems as elusive as ever. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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