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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 78, Part I, 22 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 *YELTSIN VOWS TO SACK 500 GENERALS *MORE APPEALS FOR VETO OF RUSSIA'S RELIGION LAW *MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN TRAVEL TO STEPANAKERT, YEREVAN End Note POLITICAL COMBAT INSTEAD OF BLOODLETTING IN TAJIKISTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN VOWS TO SACK 500 GENERALS. Meeting on 21 July with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev to discuss the implementation of his decrees on downsizing the armed forces, President Boris Yeltsin said that the number of generals will be cut by some 500 to a maximum of 2,300, Russian media reported. Yeltsin later told journalists that the reform is aimed at creating a "mobile army equipped with advanced weaponry" and that the greatest consideration would be shown toward demobilized officers, for whom approximately 100,000 apartments will be built. Alluding to bitter opposition to the reform plans within the Defense Ministry, Yeltsin vowed that "we shall sweep aside the Rokhlins with their counterproductive actions... We do not need such assistants," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 July. Four days earlier, State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin had told Interfax that the proposed reforms will lead to "the destruction" of the armed forces. SERGEEV SAYS HE WILL RESIGN IF MILITARY REFORM FAILS. "Izvestiya" on 22 July quoted Sergeev as saying he intends to enlist the support of middle-ranking officers to counter opposition to the reform from the upper echelons of the Defense Ministry. He added that if he is unable to implement the proposed reform, he will resign. Four days earlier, Sergeev had told journalists that Yeltsin supports the Defense Ministry's proposal that social benefits military personnel who lose their jobs constitute a separate article in the 1998 budget, Interfax reported. Sergeev said that servicemen's wages would double before 2001. On 19 July, Sergeev noted that the final draft of the seven-point concept for reforming the armed forces will be submitted to Yeltsin in late September. The previous day, former Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed told Interfax he doubted that the reform concept was workable, saying it was unclear how it could be implemented or funded. MORE APPEALS FOR VETO OF RELIGION LAW. Representatives of several minority religious groups have appealed to Yeltsin to veto the controversial law on religion, which they consider "undemocratic" and "unconstitutional," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 July. Yeltsin is to consider the religion law on 22 July and is expected either to sign or veto it during the next few days, according to Interfax. Opponents are likely to appeal to the Constitutional Court if Yeltsin signs the law. Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, recently predicted that outside pressure on Yeltsin to veto the law, in particular from the U.S. Senate, will most likely encourage the president to sign it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 July 1997). Shakhrai added that support for the religion law is probably strong enough in both houses of the Russian parliament to override a presidential veto. INGUSH, NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTS ADDRESS RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL. Ruslan Aushev and Akhsarbek Galazov addressed a 21 July meeting of the Security Council on the deteriorating situation in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, Russian media reported. Aushev again argued that the only solution is to impose presidential rule on the district, but Galazov rejected this option, arguing it would lead to further violence. Galazov said it was time to stop "unilateral" attempts at destabilization and to "bury once and for all" territorial claims on Prigorodnyi Raion, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 July. Galazov later told journalists that if presidential rule is imposed in Prigorodnyi Raion, North Ossetia may quit the Russian Federation. Security Council First Deputy Secretary Mikhail Mityukov, who chaired the session, told Ekho Moskvy that the council opposed presidential rule and will submit to President Yeltsin alternative, unspecified proposals for resolving the tensions, Reuters reported. CHECHEN OFFICIAL PROPOSES CAUCASIAN PEACE-KEEPING BATTALION. Commenting on the tensions between neighboring Ingushetia and North Ossetia, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov suggested on 21 July creating a pan-Caucasian security organization modeled on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that would serve as a forum for resolving regional conflicts, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. Specifically, Udugov proposed the formation of a Caucasian peacekeeping battalion that would be sent to Prigirodnyi Raion. Udugov denied that a Caucasian security organization would have an anti-Russian orientation, arguing that Russia has a vested interest in the creation of such an organization. SHOTS FIRED AT APARTMENT OF CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN. Shots were fired at the Moscow apartment of Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin on the evening of 21 July, Interfax reported, citing the Moscow police. An unnamed Central Bank official told the agency that the incident was most likely "a warning and a means of exerting psychological pressure" on Dubinin rather than an assassination attempt. Dubinin recently charged that more than $500 million of government funds have been misused in fraudulent banking deals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14-16, 18 and 21 July). An unnamed Central Bank official told Interfax on 21 July that the banking supervision committee of the Central Bank is seeking the dismissal of several top executives at Unikombank, which was at the center of Dubinin's allegations. Dubinin's apartment was fired on in March 1996. DECREE PAVES WAY FOR DIAMOND EXPORT AGREEMENT WITH DE BEERS. Yeltsin has issued a decree on diamond exporting procedures in accordance with a government recommendation that the Russian diamond monopoly Almazy Rossiya-Sakha continue to cooperate with the South African-based multinational company De Beers, Russian news agencies reported on 21 July. The decree paves the way for Almazy Rossiya-Sakha to sign a new agreement with De Beers, which controls some three-quarters of the world's diamond market. A five- year agreement between the two companies expired at the end of 1995. A framework agreement signed in February 1996 expired on 31 December, after which diamond exports were halted pending a new accord. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 July, the presidential decree revokes the right of the Republic of Sakha to sell abroad 20 percent of the diamonds mined on its territory. Russia extracts about 26 percent of the world's diamonds, mostly in Sakha. CONTROVERSIAL NORILSK NICKEL AUCTION PROCESS BEGINS. The Russian Federal Property Fund on 22 July began accepting applications to participate in an upcoming sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel, ITAR-TASS reported. The shares were acquired by Oneksimbank in November 1995 in exchange for a $170 million loan to the government. The acquisition was one of the most controversial loans-for-shares deals, which were said to have benefited commercial banks with close ties to the Kremlin. The London-based Trans-World Metals group recently appealed to the Russian government to postpone the Norilsk Nickel auction for at least a year, arguing that the planned sale is rigged in favor of Oneksimbank, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 July. Trans-World Metals is itself a controversial player in the Russian aluminum industry (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 7 and 11 March 1997). GOVERNMENT PLANS PENSION INCREASES. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev says the government is drafting a law that would increase pensions by 10 percent beginning on 1 October and another 10 percent as of 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. He said the law will be submitted to the parliament before the start of the State Duma's fall session. Sysuev added that the proposed increases will not lead to new delays in pension payments. As wage arrears to state employees are paid, he explained, the resulting contributions to the Pension Fund will provide funds to pay higher pensions. A recent presidential decree ordered all wage arrears to state workers to be paid by 1 January 1998. The Federation Council recently rejected a law passed by the Duma that would have raised pensions by 20 percent beginning on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1997). NOVGOROD, TVER GET FINAL APPROVAL TO CONDUCT TAX EXPERIMENT. Yeltsin on 21 July signed a law to allow the cities of Novgorod and Tver to introduce a real estate tax, ITAR-TASS reported. The tax experiment was approved by the Duma in June and the Federation Council on 3 July. Novgorod and Tver will replace three current taxes--on property belonging to individuals, on property owned by enterprises, and the land tax--with a real estate tax. All of the revenues from the new tax will go to the cities' budgets. LENINGRAD OBLAST USES TAX POLICY TO COMPETE WITH ST. PETERSBURG. In order to deter enterprises from moving to St. Petersburg, the Leningrad Oblast legislature has passed a law granting large tax breaks to investors in local industry, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 July. Enterprises that are the site of new investment projects will be exempted from regional property taxes for two years. During the same period, profit taxes on such enterprises will be cut by 30 percent, 50 percent, or 100 percent, depending on the size of the investment. In June, the Leningrad legislature created more incentives for enterprises to stay in the oblast, cutting regional taxes on profits, property and road use by 50 percent for enterprises. Former Leningrad Governor Aleksandr Belyakov advocated merging the oblast with St. Petersburg, but "Kommersant-Daily" noted that there is now little talk of such a merger. Belyakov lost a gubernatorial election to Vadim Gustov in September 1996. FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER SUES NEWSPAPER. Valentin Kovalev has filed a 5 billion ruble ($864,000) lawsuit against the tabloid weekly "Sovershenno sekretno," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 July. Kovalev was fired shortly after "Sovershenno sekretno" published an article and frames from a videotape allegedly showing Kovalev in a sauna in a Moscow club reportedly frequented by the mafia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June and 2 July 1997). However, Kovalev is suing the tabloid only for the material printed on the cover rather than for the content of the article, which was printed on inside pages. Frames from the video published on the cover showed Kovalev with a towel around his waist in the company of nude women. The accompanying headlines read, "The Minister Has No Clothes" and "The Secret Mischief of Justice Minister Kovalev." Kovalev's lawyer, Anatolii Kucherena, said the trial is only the "first step" in defending his client's honor and dignity. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN TRAVEL TO STEPANAKERT, YEREVAN. The three co-chairmen of the Organization for Cooperation and Europe's Minsk Group met in Stepanakert on 19 July with leading Karabakh Armenian officials, Noyan Tapan reported. The talks centered on the need to strengthen the existing cease-fire regime and to open a direct dialogue between Stepanakert and the Azerbaijani leadership in the hope of finding a mutually acceptable compromise solution to the conflict. The co-chairmen then traveled to Yerevan the same day, where they discussed with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan organizational issues related to the negotiating process. GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WANTS UN PEACEKEEPERS FOR ABKHAZIA. Meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the UN Security Council in New York on 21 July, Eduard Shevardnadze again advocated the deployment in Abkhazia of a UN peacekeeping force to supplement the existing UN observer mission there. He subsequently told journalists that Annan had expressed a "positive attitude" toward this proposal, Reuters reported. The mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently stationed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia expires on 31 July. Tbilisi opposes its extension, while Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba will not agree to the replacement of the CIS peacekeepers by an international force. Meanwhile, Greek Defense Minister Apostolos Tsohatzopoulos said during his recent visit to Tbilisi that Greece is prepared to provide a contingent for a UN peacekeeping force, according to "Delovoi mir" on 18 July. UZBEK-KYRGYZ-CHINESE HIGHWAY OPENS. The prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan met with Chinese officials on 21 July at the new Erkecham customs post on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border for the official opening of the Andijan-Osh-Kashgar highway, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Kyrgyzstan and ITAR-TASS. Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov said the road will become the "transcontinental bridge between Europe and Asia." CENTRAL ASIANS DISCUSS WATER DISTRIBUTION. Representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met in the northern Tajik city of Khujand on 19-20 July to discuss water distribution, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan. The Kazakhs and Uzbeks requested an increase in the volume of water flowing from the Kairakum reservoir in Tajikistan into the Syr River. Tajik representative Kosim Kosimov said such a decision can be made only by the Tajik central government. Kyrgyzstan has already announced it will begin charging its neighbors for water from the Naryn River; it has not yet decided on a price, however. The sources of most western Central Asia's rivers are found in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. FOUR SENTENCED TO DEATH IN TURKMENISTAN. Four people from Turkmenistan's Mary Province have been sentenced to death for drug-trafficking, according to the Turkmen newspaper "Adalat" on 22 July. Two of the sentenced men had regularly crossed from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan. The sentences are in contradiction to a June amnesty that commuted the death penalty into life imprisonment for most cases of drug-trafficking. RUSSIAN-KAZAKH CITIZENSHIP TREATY RATIFIED. Kazakh Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasymjomart Tokayev and Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Valerii Nikolaenko took part in an official ceremony in Almaty on 21 July exchanged the instruments of ratification of an agreement that makes it easier for Russian and Kazakh citizens to transfer their country of residence, according to ITAR-TASS. The original agreement was signed by the parliaments of the two countries in January 1995. END NOTE POLITICAL COMBAT INSTEAD OF BLOODLETTING IN TAJIKISTAN by Salimjon Aioubov The Tajik political scene is set to change significantly following the signing of the peace accord that formally ended long years of fighting in the country. The accord, signed in Moscow on 27 June by Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri, creates a power-sharing arrangement and legalizes some opposition parties and movements that until now were banned, including the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Democratic Party, the Rastokhez People's Movement, and the Laali Badakhshan. All those parties amalgamated into the Islamic Revival Movement while their leaders were in exile in Afghanistan in 1993. Last year, the movement renamed itself the UTO. Opposition leaders say they want to keep the UTO alive as an umbrella organization until the parliamentary elections that are scheduled to take place by the end of 1998. But at the same time, they are also seeking to amend the Tajik election laws to allow each opposition party to run their own candidates in the election. The new National Reconciliation Commission, which was established in early July, is now laying the groundwork for elections and recommending amendments to election laws. The principal aim of the peace negotiations, which took place under UN auspices, was to transfer disagreements among Tajiks from the battlefield to the political stage. The first possible result of such a transfer is that Tajik society will be aligned along two axes; namely the current ruling party and the Islamic opposition. The Islamic Renaissance Party is the main force on the opposition side, while the National Unity Movement, created in June to put up a monolithic front to the opposition, dominates on the pro-president, pro- government side. Headed by Sulton Mirzoshoev, the former chief of the presidential administration, the movement brings together the People's Party and the Political and Economic Renewal Party, both of which were formed by pro-government supporters after 1993. The upcoming election campaign is expected to be fought vigorously. All the leaders say they look forward to an election without intimidation, as opposed to earlier ballots, when heavily armed men were often present at polling booths in an obvious attempt to influence the vote. Rahmonov says that this time citizens will be able to vote for whom they like without the presence of weapons. Opposition leader Nuri has also pledged that his side will not try to impose its will on the people. Both sides are facing the new political era with various disadvantages. Rahmonov can still count on a solid ruling elite, but he has bled away a lot of its strength through his purging of the ranks, a process that continues today. The country's ruinous economic and social situation has deeply scarred the ruling circles' image. For their part, the opposition parties and leaders do not have a cohesive social base. The government has tried to smear the opposition parties by scaremongering about the threats of fundamentalism, which in the past had some success. But now the opposition leaders say that ideology is not the important factor but that they must demonstrate instead their professionalism and dedication the concept of genuine independence and reform for Tajikistan. Both sides have a credibility problem in that the war-weary and anxiety-ridden population is highly skeptical about all politicians. And both the opposition and the government sides are courting Russia and neighboring Uzbekistan, which have considerable influence on Tajik affairs. Russia still supports Rahmonov, and Uzbekistan has improved its ties with the opposition. Yet another factor is the National Revival Bloc of former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajonov, which has no formal links to either the opposition or the government but has some influence in the northern region. In short, it can be said that, despite the peace agreement between the two opposing sides, there are still severe threats to the peace process. Those threats take the form of looming power struggles, the possible fragmentation of political forces, and underlying differences between Russia and Uzbekistan. The author is an editor for RFE/RL's Tajik Service. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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