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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 77, Part I, 21 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 * NATO-RUSSIA JOINT COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST MEETING * CHECHEN FIGHTERS RALLY TO DEMAND HOSTAGES' RELEASE * GEORGIAN PRESIDENT IN U.S. End Note MORE THAN A VOICE BUT LESS THAN A VETO xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NATO-RUSSIA JOINT COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST MEETING. The NATO- Russia Joint Council held its inaugural meeting on 18 July in Brussels. The session took place at the ambassadorial level. According to an unnamed participant quoted by AFP, no contentious issues were discussed. The Joint Council is scheduled to meet again at ambassadorial level on 11 September and at ministerial level in New York later that month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 1997 and "End Note" below). CHECHEN FIGHTERS RALLY TO DEMAND HOSTAGES' RELEASE. Several thousand Chechen fighters gathered at a sports stadium in Grozny on 20 July to demand military intervention to secure the release of two Chechens taken hostage in North Ossetia on 8 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1997). Deputy President Vakha Arsanov expressed support for such a move, but President Aslan Maskhadov warned against using force lest Chechnya be drawn into a new conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, according to Reuters. Maskhadov again denied the existence of any rifts within the Chechen leadership. CHECHEN SECURITY MINISTER RESIGNS, ANTI-DUDAEV LEADER RESURFACES. Abu Movsaev has resigned "at his own request" as head of the Chechen security service, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 July. Movsaev told his staff he remains a "loyal supporter" of Maskhadov, who named Movsaev's deputy, Apti Batalov, to succeed him. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 July reported that Movsaev and field commander Shamil Basaev, who recently resigned as first deputy premier, have founded the new private organization Patriot, which aims to expedite reconstruction in Chechnya and to combat crime. Interfax reported on 18 July that Umar Avturkhanov, who in late 1994 headed the Russian-backed Provisional Council that tried unsuccessfully to topple then President Dzhokhar Dudaev, is trying to set up a center of resistance to Maskhadov. But in an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 July, Avturkhanov pledges his support for Maskhadov as Chechnya's legally elected president. CHERNOMYRDIN IN BRUSSELS. Speaking to reporters after meeting with European Commission President Jacques Santer in Brussels on 18 June, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced that Russia seeks eventually to become a member of the EU and expressed hope that Russia will be admitted to the World Trade Organization in 1998, which, he said, would "confirm the status of the Russian economy as a market economy." Chernomyrdin and Santer discussed the 14 anti- dumping measures the EU has imposed against Russian goods. Those measures have drawn protests from Russian government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1997). Chernomyrdin's visit was the first to the European Commission by a Russian prime minister. FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES U.S. SENATE RESPONSE TO RELIGION LAW. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 18 July criticized the U.S. Senate's reaction to a controversial religion law passed by the Russian parliament, Russian news agencies reported. The Senate recently passed an amendment that would cut aid to Russia in 1998 if Yeltsin signs the religion law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 1997). But a Foreign Ministry statement said both Russia and the U.S. have an interest in "mutually beneficial" and "cooperative relations, without attempts at imposing one's own vision of the world as a kind of standard." Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said on 18 July that the administration of President Bill Clinton believes that "it is not in the U.S. national interest to totally cut off, curtail American assistance to Russia because of one bill," Reuters reported. FINANCE MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS BANKING ALLEGATIONS WERE "PREMATURE." First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin on 18 July described as "premature" the recent allegations of fraudulent use of budget funds by commercial banks, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. On 14 July Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin charged that former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, the International Financial Corporation bank, and Unikombank were involved in the misuse of more than $500 million in budget funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14-16 and 18 July 1997). Kudrin said a Finance Ministry examination of the banking deals cited by Dubinin had produced evidence of "administrative violations" but not of any crimes. Although the Procurator-General's Office recently announced that it will investigate the banking deals, Kudrin's remarks indicate that what threatened to become Russia's largest-ever banking scandal has been swept under the rug. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued on 19 July that Dubinin is now in an "unenviable" position. GOVERNMENT TO HELP SOME REGIONS PAY WAGE ARREARS. First Deputy Finance Minister Kudrin announced on 18 July that while 15 Russian regions have the means to pay their wage arrears to state employees by the end of the year, the federal government will provide 12.5 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion) to help other regions pay their wage debts, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 July. Kudrin noted that the federal government owes some 7.7 trillion rubles to state employees, while regional governments owe 25.6 trillion rubles in back wages. Kudrin said privatization sales will raise some 5 trillion rubles toward paying the wage arrears. He added that the electricity giant Unified Energy System will soon settle 5 trillion rubles in tax debts, and changes in oil exporting rules will bring in an additional 3 trillion rubles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 July 1997). OFFICIAL OUTLINES TAX COLLECTION TARGETS. Also on 18 July, First Deputy Finance Minister Kudrin predicted that the federal government will collect 30 to 34 trillion rubles ($5.2 to $5.9 billion) a month in taxes by the end of 1997, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 July. Taxes collected in January totaled just 14.5 trillion rubles. Some 30 trillion rubles were collected in June, but that figure was boosted by payments from a few large tax debtors, such as the gas monopoly Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 1997). Meanwhile, in accordance with a 14 July government directive, licenses for retail trade in alcoholic beverages are to be granted only to enterprises that owe no taxes or contributions to the government's non-budgetary funds, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. Those include the Pension Fund, the Obligatory Medical Insurance Fund, the Social Security Fund, and the Employment Fund. PROTEST MARCH BLOCKED FROM PROCEEDING TO MOSCOW CITY CENTER. Interior Ministry troops on 18 July halted some 500 protesters near Moscow's Prazhskaya metro station and prevented them from marching to the city center, Russian media reported. The demonstrators belonged to Viktor Anpilov's radical communist movement Workers' Russia and Stanislav Terekhov's extremist Officers' Union. They had begun protest marches on 12 July in the cities of Tula and Ryazan and had planned to demonstrate near Red Square on 18 July. However, the Moscow city government refused to grant permission to demonstrate in the city center. On 16 and 17 July, several hundred unpaid workers from nuclear power stations were allowed to march through Moscow and to demonstrate outside government headquarters. However, the nuclear workers were advancing purely economic demands, while Anpilov's supporters called for the resignation of the government and far-reaching changes in government policies. NEW "IZVESTIYA" EDITOR SELECTED. The "Izvestiya" board of directors on 18 July appointed Vasilii Zakharko as the paper's new editor in chief, Russian news agencies reported. Zakharko had served as deputy editor of "Izvestiya" since February 1996 and had been acting editor in chief since Igor Golembiovskii was forced out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 7 and 10 July 1997). The board's decision followed an election among "Izvestiya" staff, who voted on 10 candidates for editor and sent the names of the top three vote- getters to the board for consideration. Although the board was not obliged to appoint the journalists' first choice, Zakharko received the most votes from "Izvestiya" staff. Shortly before Zakharko's appointment was announced, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that most "Izvestiya" journalists were discouraged by the selection process and have little hope that the new editor will be independent of the paper's major shareholders, LUKoil and Oneksimbank. PLANS CHANGE FOR RUSSIAN SPACE STATION REPAIRS. The heads of the Russian space program have decided to allow the next crew scheduled to arrive at the Russian space station "Mir" to do necessary repair work, Russian media reported on 21 July. Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Anatolii Solovev will lift off on 5 August. They have received training at Russia's underwater simulation chamber in Star City in order to carry out the repairs. French astronaut Leopold Eyharts will not be on board as Russian space command says extra room for repair equipment will be needed. The two Russian cosmonauts currently on "Mir" will return after the new crew arrives. But NASA astronaut Michael Foale will stay until September, when a U.S. space shuttle will bring him back to Earth. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT IN U.S. Eduard Shevardnadze met with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington on 18 July and discussed Georgia's role in the transportation of Caspian oil. Clinton expressed support for routing a major export pipeline from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan via Georgia, according to the "Financial Times" on 21 July. U.S. officials told Shevardnadze they want part of the oil transported to the Georgian port of Supsa to be shipped to Ukraine for pumping to Western Europe. Clinton praised Shevardnadze's role in furthering democratization and market reform in Georgia and the country's commitment to the defense of human rights. The two presidents issued a written statement pledging "to work together actively to expand cooperation throughout the foreign policy, security, economic and commercial spheres." NEW PROPOSAL TO RESOLVE ABKHAZ CONFLICT. Also at their 18 July meeting, Shevardnadze and Clinton called for the resumption of talks on Abkhazia under the aegis of the UN and with the participation of Russia and the Western states that constitute the "Friends of Georgia" group, Reuters reported. Shevardnadze told journalists the next day that he believes Russia has "exhausted its potential" for mediating a solution to the conflict but should continue to participate in negotiations. He added that Russian troops could also participate in a new peacekeeping force under UN auspices, according to ITAR-TASS. At a press conference on 19 July, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev argued that the Russian peacekeepers should remain in Abkhazia after their mandate expires on 31 July. Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh rejected the proposed replacement of Russian peacekeepers by a UN force, which, he said, Tbilisi would try to use to enforce a Bosnian-type settlement of the conflict, Interfax reported. AZERBAIJAN PROPOSES AMENDMENTS TO KARABAKH PEACE PLAN. Azerbaijan has proposed additions to the latest peace plan submitted by the co-chairmen of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe's Minsk Group to the leaderships of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh in May, Russian agencies reported. The co- chairmen met in Baku on 18 July with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev. Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-zade said Azerbaijan will never give up the towns of Lachin (located outside Karabakh but currently under Armenian control) and Shusha but that it will agree to the continued use of the Lachin transit corridor, which is the sole overland link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Aliev expressed optimism that a solution to the conflict will be reached this year, while the U.S. co-chairman said the impetus for resolving the conflict must come from the involved parties and that the mediators can only contribute to the process. SPLIT IN ARMENIAN RULING PARTY IMMINENT? Eduard Yegoryan, chairman of the parliamentary commission on state and legal affairs, told journalists in Yerevan on 18 July that he intends to form a new parliamentary faction, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yegoryan said he has resigned from the ruling board of the Armenian Pan- National Movement, to which he was elected on 13 July, and that he no longer considers himself a member of the movement. He said he is ready to cooperate with any opposition party, and will do everything in his power to prevent the movement from winning the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Yegoryan said that more than one-third of the APNM's members support him, Noyan Tapan reported. TAJIKS EXCHANGE PRISONERS... The Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) began exchanging war prisoners on 18 July, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan. But while each side was supposed to exchange 50 men, the government handed over only 48 prisoners and the UTO 49. Unspecified "technical reasons" were cited for the deficit. The two sides plan more exchanges soon, but a group called the Parents Committee of War Prisoners from the Leninabad Region is also negotiating for the release of government soldiers held by opposition field commanders. A spokesperson for the committee told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that they have already negotiated the release of more than 100 POWs and reunited them with their parents in northern Tajikistan. ...BUT SOME PROBLEMS REMAIN. According to RFE/RL corespondents in Tajikistan, a bomb went off in Dushanbe near the State Opera House on 17 July. Slight damage was reported to the theater, but no one was injured. The following day, Russian border guards wounded and then detained two men who tried to smuggle more than 36 kg of opium across the Afghan border into Tajikistan. The two smugglers were given covering fire from the Afghan side of the border. Border guards have seized more than 800 kg of drugs along the Tajik- Afghan border so far this year. UZBEK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES KARAKALPAK OFFICIALS. Islam Karimov visited the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in Uzbekistan on 17 July, Interfax reported. Karimov told an extraordinary session of the local parliament that the region's leadership is responsible for a "gigantic cash deficit." Karimov pointed out that gross income in Karakalpak fell by 16 percent and agricultural output by 22 percent during the past three years. He added that targets for cotton and rice production have not been met. Karakalpak parliamentary speaker Ubaniez Ashirbekov was sacked and replaced by an official recommended by Karimov. Karakalpakia is likely the poorest region in Uzbekistan and suffers considerably from the ecological effects of the shrinking Aral Sea. KYRGYZ PARTIES ADVOCATE JOINING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION. Eleven political parties and movements issued a statement on 18 July calling for Kyrgyzstan to join the union between Russia and Belarus, Interfax reported. "The Union of Russia and Belarus has become a reality, despite the titanic resistance mounted by those who worked for the destruction of the USSR," the statement said. It also noted that such a union is the only way to avoid "further economic and political disintegration in the sovereign republics." Among the statement's signatories are the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Agrarian Labor Party, the Popular Movement for Union and Brotherhood of Peoples, and the Slavic Fund. Usen Sydykov, the leader of the Agrarian Labor Party, said the head of the new union should be Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, whom he described as a "man of strong will and firm hand." TURKISH PRESIDENT IN KYRGYZSTAN. Suleyman Demirel on 18 July wrapped up his two-day official visit to Kyrgyzstan, Turkish media and RFE/RL correspondents reported. Demirel told the Issyk-Kul 97 Forum that the revival of the silk route will link "spiritual values" between Europe and Asia. He also stressed the important geopolitical role Central Asia has played but said only "constitutional democracy" can ensure that all ethnic groups in the region have equal rights or the "guarantee of the right to be different." Demirel also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and discussed bilateral relations. END NOTE MORE THAN A VOICE BUT LESS THAN A VETO by Paul Goble. The first organizational meeting of the NATO-Russia Joint Council suggests that Moscow is likely to have more than a voice but less than a veto in future decisions by the Western alliance. The 18 July session seems certain to exacerbate rather than end the debate between those like U.S. President Bill Clinton who argue that the council gives Russia a say but not a veto in NATO affairs and others, like former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who believe Moscow has gained an effective, if not explicit, veto. The body's inaugural session had to be delayed by one day because the Western alliance refused to give into a Russian demand for a modification of the 27 May Founding Act that established the council. That accord calls for body to have three co-chairmen--the NATO secretary-general, a representative of Russia, and a representative of NATO member countries selected on a rotating basis. Russian ambassador Vitalii Churkin argued that there should be only two co-chairmen, one representing the alliance and another representing Russia. NATO members refused to comply, lending support to the claim that Russia will not have a veto in the council. But at the same time, the alliance did concede that the chairmanship would rotate among the three chairmen from one session to the next. As a result of that concession to Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana chaired the first part of the meeting, the NATO member representative (in this case, the Belgian ambassador) the second, and the Russian ambassador the third. Critics who argue that the NATO-Russia Founding Act gives Moscow a veto over the alliance's actions are likely to see this diplomatic arrangement as a confirmation of their position. But the outcome of the 18 July meeting fails to fully vindicate the position of either side. Rather, it suggests the new council will give Russia more than simply a voice but not a genuine veto if NATO leaders are prepared to stand their ground. There are three reasons for drawing this intermediate conclusion. First, the NATO countries are very publicly committed to making the council work. Confident that NATO members will not want to be blamed for any breakdown in the talks, Russia will seek to expand its influence by making demands. Second, the likelihood that NATO will seek to adapt its position so as to avoid antagonizing Russia will extend not only to those issues that NATO agrees to include on the agenda of the council but also to those that NATO leaders may feel should not be discussed there. At the next meeting of the council on 11 September, NATO and Russia are scheduled to discuss Bosnia. When talking about that issue with Moscow, NATO countries will find it hard to exclude military issues that they have said will not be discussed by the joint council. As a result, Russia will gain influence over matters in which, according to the Founding Act, it has no say. Moreover, Moscow will be able to extend its voice on issues NATO might refuse to discuss in the joint council by linking agreement on something discussed there to a NATO concession on matters that the council had never had before it. And the expectation that the Russian government will do that is likely to become an implicit part of the calculations of NATO planners. That too will mean that Russia's voice will only grow with time. Third, as the procedural debate makes clear, NATO can block or simply ignore Russian demands if the alliance is united and if its most important members indicate they are prepared to stand up to Moscow on any issue--large or small. This last point illustrates that Russia does not have the simple veto that President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov have claimed. But the certainty that Russia will exploit divisions within the alliance and the desire of many of NATO members to reach agreement almost certainly means that the council will give Russia a much larger and more influential voice than the text of the Founding Act suggested. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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