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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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/

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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

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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.





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