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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 79, Part I, 23 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 VETOES RELIGION LAW *ROKHLIN SLAMS MILITARY REFORM PLANS *GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES "HASTY" DECISION ON ABKHAZ PEACEKEEPERS End Note ONE STATE, TWO FOREIGN POLICIES? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN VETOES RELIGION LAW. President Boris Yeltsin on 22 July vetoed the law on religious organizations, which would have favored four "traditional religions"--Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism--over more recently established "religious groups." The law has drawn criticism from human rights defenders and minority religious groups in Russia, as well as from the Pope and the U.S. (see Part II). In a statement issued from the Samara Oblast resort where he is vacationing, Yeltsin said his decision was difficult and that he is aware of the need to "prevent the infiltration of radical sects" in Russia. However, he argued that "numerous provisions of the bill curb constitutional human and civil rights and freedoms, make [religious] confessions unequal, and are inconsistent with Russia's international commitments." He sent proposed amendments to the law to both houses of parliament. Article 14 of the Constitution says that religious associations are equal under the law. OPPOSITION BLASTS VETO. Communist Viktor Zorkaltsev, who chairs the State Duma Committee on Political Associations and Religious Organizations, blasted Yeltsin's decision to veto the religion law. He told Interfax on 23 July that "Russia has been trampled on." Duma Security Committee Chairman and Communist Viktor Ilyukhin charged that the West is attempting to "brainwash the younger generation [in Russia]." Valentin Kuptsov, also a prominent Communist, predicted that the parliament will override Yeltsin's veto, which he called a "public humiliation of Russia." There was no immediate reaction from Russian Orthodox Church officials, who strongly supported the law. Fifty Church leaders, including Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, recently issued an appeal urging Yeltsin to sign the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 1997). YELTSIN APPROVES PRODUCTION-SHARING LIST. Also on 22 July, Yeltsin signed the law listing seven sites that may be developed in accordance with production-sharing agreements, Russian news agencies reported. The law is expected to pave the way for substantial foreign and domestic investment in the approved sites: five oil and gas fields, one iron ore deposit, and one gold mine. Production-sharing agreements allow companies to invest in natural resource deposits in exchange for a percentage of the resources extracted in the future. Meanwhile, Yeltsin signed laws on the procedure for adopting and revising the 1998 budget and on calculating and increasing pensions for non-working pensioners. Earlier this month, Yeltsin vetoed the witness protection law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 1997). The president's veto message said some of that law's provisions violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants to a fair trial, "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 4 July. YELTSIN SIGNS DECREE ON POLITICAL ASYLUM. Yeltsin on 22 July issued a decree saying political asylum in Russia may be granted by presidential decree to persons who risk persecution in their home countries "for public and political activities and views that are not inconsistent with democratic principles recognized by the international community and international standards," Russian news agencies reported. However, persons who are persecuted for actions that are forbidden under Russian law will not be eligible for asylum. NEW RUSSIAN PASSPORTS NOT TO LIST NATIONALITY. Vladimir Kolesnikov, head of the Interior Ministry's passport and visa department, announced that new Russian passports will not contain the infamous "Line 5," on which Soviet citizens were required to list their nationality, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 July. In accordance with a recent government directive, the new passports will begin to be issued on 1 October. All Soviet-era passports currently held by Russian citizens are to be replaced by 2005. RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES NORTH CAUCASUS. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin convened a meeting of his deputies and staff on 22 July to discuss rising tensions between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, Russian media reported. Among the proposed measures for stabilizing the region were the restoration of direct Russian government representation in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion. Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov named as a possible candidate for this post, according to Interfax. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 July quoted North Ossetian President Akhsarbek Galazov as affirming that all citizens of North Ossetia are equal before the law, and that alleged discrimination against the Ingush is a reflection of the catastrophic economic situation in the region. The Security Council also discussed the security of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk oil pipeline. The Chechen stretch of that pipeline will be protected against terrorist attacks by 400 guards 24 hours a day, ITAR-TASS reported ROKHLIN SLAMS MILITARY REFORM PLANS. Speaking in St. Petersburg, State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin on 22 July described the military reform plan drawn up by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and approved by Yeltsin as a "disgrace for the country," an RFE/RL correspondent in St. Petersburg reported. He also criticized the growth of the "police forces," a reference to troops subordinate to the Interior Ministry or other federal agencies, which are not affected by recent presidential decrees on downsizing the armed forces. Rokhlin told RFE/RL that he had not been allowed to address generals of the Leningrad Military District. Before arriving in St. Petersburg, he met with top officials and directors of defense enterprises in Vladimir, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 July. Rokhlin plans to tour several other Russian cities to drum up support for his new movement to support the military and the defense industry. MIXED REACTIONS TO ROKHLIN INITIATIVE. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has praised Rokhlin for showing "statesmanship in his approach to the needs of the army," Interfax reported on 22 July. Duma Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Valentin Varennikov, also a Communist, said he too supports Rokhlin's new movement to support the military, which will hold its founding congress in September. Meanwhile, Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin, a leading member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement, criticized Rokhlin for creating a "left-wing opposition movement in defense of the armed forces." Rokhlin belongs to the NDR Duma faction, but Shokhin said Rokhlin has "placed himself outside" the NDR because of the "extremist and marginal membership" of Rokhlin's new movement. NDR Duma deputies will consider whether to expel Rokhlin in September. Yeltsin recently vowed to "sweep aside the Rokhlins with their counterproductive actions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997). NEMTSOV ON PAYING SOLDIERS' WAGE ARREARS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the government will allocate 1.8 trillion rubles ($310 million) in July toward paying wage arrears to those serving in the armed forces, Russian news agencies reported on 22 July. He said that sum is about one-third of total wage arrears to military personnel and pledged that the government will pay all back wages to those serving in the military by 1 September, in accordance with a recent presidential decree. However, "Trud" reported on 22 July that wage arrears to military personnel total at least 8 trillion rubles. The paper also noted that back wages are only part of the government's debt to soldiers, many of whom have not received other benefits payments for one and a half to two years. GOVERNMENT COMMISSION TARGETS MORE TAX DEBTORS. Following a meeting of the government's commission on tax collection, State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok announced that four more large enterprises have said they will keep to schedules for paying their back taxes, Russian media reported on 22 July. The Mechel metallurgical plant in Chelyabinsk will be forced to pay its debt of some 100 billion rubles ($17 million) by 1 September. The Moscow Oil Refinery was given six months to pay its back taxes, while the Ulyanovsk and Urals automobile manufacturers are to pay their arrears by early 1998. All tax debts must be paid in cash, NTV reported. The commission's next meeting will focus on state-run enterprises, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 July. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomryrdin warned that if such enterprises do not stick to schedules for paying their back taxes, their directors will be fired and in some cases may even be prosecuted. VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR THREATENS WALKOUT BY CITY ADMINISTRATION... Appearing on local radio, Viktor Cherepkov has warned that Vladivostok city officials will go on strike beginning on 28 July if the Primorskii Krai administration does not pay 211 billion rubles ($36 million) reportedly owed to the capital, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 22 July. Cherepkov and krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko have been bitter political opponents for years. Also on 22 July, some 2,000 municipal workers demonstrated outside the Vladivostok city administration building for the second straight day. They are demanding a contract with the city on providing services, payment of wage arrears, and Cherepkov's resignation. Doctors are warning of possible outbreaks of epidemics in Vladivostok as the strike by municipal workers, and in particular garbage collectors, continues. The mayor has attributed the strike to "political intrigues" by Communists who oppose reforming the city's housing and municipal services. ...AS PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE CRITICIZES "UNPROFESSIONALISM" OF PRIMORE LEADERS. Viktor Kondratov, Yeltsin's representative in Primorskii Krai, has criticized the "unprofessionalism" of those in power in Primore, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 22 July. Kondratov dismissed Cherepkov's threat of a walkout of Vladivostok officials as "nonsense." He also charged that krai officials flout presidential decrees by continuing to distribute federal funds without Kondratov's consent. As a result, he argued, the funds are being spent "unfairly" and state employees in Vladivostok and the port of Nakhodka are being shortchanged. Kondratov said he has informed Yeltsin about the violations. He has also requested that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais discipline the head of the Primore branch of the Finance Ministry. Kondratov's remarks indicate that Moscow will have trouble enforcing a recent presidential decree expanding the powers of Yeltsin's representatives in the regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1997). GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN QUESTIONS REPORTS ON ALLEGED CHUBAIS MEETING. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov has questioned the veracity of newspaper reports on alleged secret meetings between First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais and the Danish businessman Jan Bonde Nielsen, Interfax reported on 22 July. Some newspapers have published photographs of Chubais meeting Bonde Nielsen, and the weekly "Novaya gazeta" noted that Bonde Nielsen has a "shady reputation," citing Danish journalists. An RFE/RL stringer in Denmark reported on 16 July that Norwegian television networks have broadcast footage shot from hidden cameras showing Chubais and Bonde Nielsen meeting on a yacht. Neither the subjects they discussed nor the nature of Bonde Nielsen's business interests in Russia are known. According to the Danish newspaper "Ekstra Bladet," Bonde Nielsen was charged with embezzlement in Denmark during the 1980s but escaped prosecution by residing in the United Kingdom until the charges against him were dropped in 1995. NIZHNII NOVGOROD GOVERNOR INAUGURATED. Ivan Sklyarov on 22 July was sworn in as governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov spoke at the ceremony, although relations between him and Sklyarov have been strained since the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 July 1997). Aleksandr Livshits, deputy head of the presidential administration, cited Nizhnii Novgorod's importance as Russia's "third capital" (after Moscow and St. Petersburg). Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, whom the new governor has credited with helping his campaign, also spoke at the inauguration. He described Sklyarov's election as a "most difficult victory of democratic forces." But Luzhkov warned against "euphoria," noting that 42 percent of the oblast's voters supported the opposition candidate. The Moscow mayor also called for cooperation among cities and regions, "so as not to allow foreigners to take over the economy." TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES "HASTY" DECISION ON ABKHAZ PEACEKEEPERS. Eduard Shevardnadze said on his return to Tbilisi from the U.S. on 22 July that the Georgian leadership will take no "hasty or light-headed" decisions on expelling the CIS peacekeepers after their mandate expires on 31 July, Russian media reported. But Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, has ordered Georgian volunteers to western Georgia to replace the CIS force now deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 July. Lev Mironov, a Russian representative to UN-sponsored talks on the Abkhaz conflict that opened in Geneva on 23 July, told Interfax it will be difficult to avoid fresh violence if the peacekeepers leave. Citing an unnamed UN source, AFP reported that the talks will not address Abkhazia's future political status but are intended to secure agreement that neither side will renew hostilities after 31 July. AZERBAIJANI SENTENCES ETHNIC ARMENIAN FOR ESPIONAGE. A military court in Baku on 22 July handed down the death sentence to Karen Barashev on charges of spying for Armenia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Baku reported. Barashev, an Armenian who was born in Baku and served in the Soviet army in Azerbaijan, was recruited in Russia by Armenian intelligence, according to "Literaturnaya gazeta" on 16 July, quoting a senior member of President Heidar Aliev's administration. Barashev agreed to return to Azerbaijan, where he enlisted in an anti-aircraft unit and between 1993 and 1996 carried out systematic sabotage causing more than $1 million damage. Azerbaijani Security Minister Namik Abbasov has frequently commented that Russian, Turkish, Iranian, and Armenian agents are engaged in espionage in Azerbaijan. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 July quoted the head of the Public Relations Department of the Armenian National Security Ministry as saying that "you would think the sole aim of the world's intelligence services is to organize a coup in Azerbaijan." ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER STATION CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE. The nuclear power station at Medzamor was closed down on 22 July for two months, during which one-third of the nuclear fuel will be replaced and the security system upgraded, Armenian media reported. At a recent meeting with senior Armenian officials, including Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Hans Blix noted "considerable progress" in ensuring the safe exploitation of the plant, according to Noyan Tapan. Blix and Armenian Energy Minister Gagik Martirossyan also discussed the possibility of building a second nuclear power station in Armenia, Interfax reported on 17 July. KAZAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES TAX, CUSTOMS OFFICIALS. At a 22 July session of the Kazakh Security Council, Nursultan Nazarbayev blasted the work of the State Committees on Taxation and Customs, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. According to Nazarbayev, "inappropriate work" of the two committees was responsible for the government losing an estimated 13 billion tenge (about $170 million). Nazarbayev also told the session that criminal proceedings have been initiated against 29 officials of the Taxation Committee and 22 officials from the Customs Committee. END NOTE ONE STATE, TWO FOREIGN POLICIES? by Liz Fuller Armenia has traditionally considered itself, and been regarded by the international community, as Russia's closest ally in the Transcaucasus, not least because of the two countries' shared mistrust of Turkey. True, since coming to power in August 1990, the post-communist leadership of Levon Ter-Petrossyan has consistently sought to pursue a balanced foreign policy and to establish cordial relations with all neighboring states, including Turkey. Russia nonetheless remained the primary focus, and relations between Yerevan and Moscow were so harmonious that, during his visit to Armenia in fall 1994, Russian Federation Council chairman Vladimir Shumeiko was hard put to name a single issue on which the two countries' leaderships disagreed. (This is not to suggest that Armenia's sovereignty is in any way subservient to Russia: it behaves as a "model geo-political citizen" but not as a satellite.) From Moscow's standpoint, the most crucial component of this "special relationship" is military cooperation. Under a series of bilateral agreements signed over the past few years, Russia maintains a military base in Armenia, and the countries' armed forces regularly conduct joint maneuvers. In terms of regional geo-politics, Russia and Armenia, together with Iran, were until recently perceived as a counterweight to the Western-oriented axis that originally comprised Azerbaijan and Turkey. Over the past year, however, Georgia and Ukraine have aligned themselves with Azerbaijan. Two factors contributed to this configuration change: the search for the economically most viable export route for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil that bypasses Russian territory, and the ongoing debate over NATO's eastward expansion, which offered the (admittedly long-term) possibility of alternative security guarantees to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. The views of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine on both those issues have not always corresponded to those of the Turkish leadership. Georgia and Ukraine propose pumping Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to the Georgian terminal of Supsa, shipping it by tanker to Odessa, and transporting it by pipeline from there to Western Europe. Ankara, for its part, is intent on building a major export pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan in southeastern Turkey. As for NATO expansion, Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller threatened in January to veto acceptance of any new NATO members unless concrete assurances were given that Ankara would finally be granted entry into the EU. The emergence of the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine axis appears to have served as the catalyst for a revision of Armenia's traditionally Russia-oriented foreign and security policies. (This policy shift may also have been prompted by apprehension that some circles within the Russian leadership who want Azerbaijan's oil to be exported via the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk pipeline would make major concessions to Baku that could negatively impact on the search for an acceptable solution to the Karabakh conflict.) Yerevan has in recent months engaged in an intensive dialogue with Kyiv. The Armenian Foreign Ministry has also drafted a new security doctrine that provides for military cooperation with Russia and the CIS as well as for Armenia's more active participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program; a role for Armenia, together with international organizations, in guaranteeing the security of Nagorno- Karabakh; and the proposed creation of a sub-regional security and arms control system. (In this context Armenia is likely to support the recently resurrected Russian proposal to beef up the security component of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Greek Defense Minister Apostolos Tsohatzopoulos may have had this in mind when he commented after recent talks in Yerevan with his Armenian counterpart, Vazgen Sargsian, that "it is necessary to establish a new body of collective security, proceeding from the existence of regional institutions.") In late April, the Armenian Foreign Ministry advised postponing ratification of a treaty permitting Russia to maintain a military base in Armenia. In a document circulated among parliamentary deputies and subsequently published in the independent newspaper "Molorak," the ministry argued that by formalizing the Russian military presence in Armenia, the treaty limited the amount of heavy weaponry that Yerevan would be permitted under the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. If Russia withdrew its troops, Armenia would not be automatically entitled to increase its arms holdings and could therefore find itself vulnerable to attack. However, this reasoning failed to convince the parliament, which ratified the treaty by a large majority. To interpret this episode simply as a clash between two foreign-policy visions--one traditional and static and the other evolving in response to a more complex and changing geo-strategic environment--would overlook three key points. First, the phenomenon of two apparently divergent foreign policy orientations reflects the growing professionalization of the foreign-policy establishments of the former Soviet republics and, as such, is not unique to Armenia. Second, the debate focuses on the priority to be given to Armenia's relations with Russia; that is, it is a question of degree, rather than of two mutually exclusive alternatives. Third, both these orientations have their supporters within the Armenian leadership and the opposition, as does the proposal that Armenia accede to the Russia-Belarus Union. Which vision prevails will likely be determined not by the relative strength of the domestic political lobbies but by the nature and extent of the long-term security guarantees provided for Nagorno-Karabakh under any proposed political settlement of the conflict. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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