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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 81, Part I, 25 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 TO VETO LAND CODE * RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER UPBEAT ON ECONOMIC PROSPECTS * CENTRAL ASIAN UNION CONFERENCE OPENS IN KYRGYZSTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN TO VETO LAND CODE. President Boris Yeltsin says he will veto the land code recently passed by the parliament because it bans the purchase and sale of farmland, Russian media reported on 24 July. Arguing that rural dwellers should be given full land ownership rights, Yeltsin remarked that "the whole world works this way. What are we afraid of?" He also expressed regret that the Federation Council, which rejected one version of the land code in June 1996, approved the latest version passed by the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June and 7 July 1997). The code now goes to a conciliatory commission. Given that the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions have a near majority in the Duma and strongly oppose allowing the sale of farmland, it appears unlikely that the current parliament will approve a land code that Yeltsin would sign. PATRIARCH DISAPPOINTED BY RELIGION LAW VETO. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II has issued a statement warning that the presidential veto of the law on religious organizations could lead to "tension between the authorities and the majority of the people," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 July. Aleksii's statement blamed the Russian and foreign media for misrepresenting the terms of the law, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Speaking in Vilnius on 25 July, Patriarch Aleksii again argued that the law was intended to block "pseudo-missionary" and "destructive" forces and would not have "infringed on anybody's rights," ITAR-TASS reported. Representatives of the Russian Buddhist and Muslim governing bodies have also expressed regret about Yeltsin's veto, Interfax reported. In a 25 July nationwide radio address, Yeltsin repeated that he rejected the law because he believes many of its provisions are unconstitutional and violate international treaties. PRIME MINISTER UPBEAT ON ECONOMIC PROSPECTS... Viktor Chernomyrdin on 24 July said the Russian economy is "on the point of a breakthrough." Chairing a cabinet meeting, the prime minister said "we can raise up the Russian economy and make it competitive and respected throughout the world." He praised the government's efforts to keep inflation low, reduce interest rates, and improve tax collection. While only 58 percent of taxes were collected during the first quarter of the year, he said, 87 percent of taxes were collected during the second quarter, according to Interfax. Chernomyrdin also claimed that over the past 12 months industrial output had risen by 2 percent. The State Statistics Committee recently announced that industrial output grew by 0.8 percent during the first half of 1997, compared with the same period in 1996, Interfax reported on 15 July. ...THREATENS QUOTAS ON EUROPEAN TEXTILES... During the same government session, Chernomyrdin warned that Russia will impose quotas on textiles imported from the EU if the union does not lift import quotas on Russian textiles, Russian news agencies reported on 24 July. The EU currently imports Russian textiles worth some $140 million, while EU textile imports to Russia are estimated at $750 million. On 22 July, Russia renewed its bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). But First Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Georgii Gabuniya, representing Russia at the WTO talks in Geneva, told Interfax the previous day that Russia will join the WTO only "on absolutely equal terms," after the U.S. and EU lift anti-dumping measures. In June, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov refused to meet European Trade Commissioner Leon Brittan in protest at anti-dumping measures against 14 categories of Russian goods. ...CRITICIZES IMPLEMENTATION OF PRIVATIZATION, BANKRUPTCY POLICY. Also on 24 July, Chernomyrdin criticized the government's implementation of privatization and bankruptcy policy, ITAR-TASS reported. The prime minister noted that nearly every time the State Property Committee, chaired by Alfred Kokh, organizes a privatization auction, there is a "scandal, with serious consequences." He also said the Federal Bankruptcy Administration, headed by Petr Mostovoi, is working "very sluggishly." First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, considered the architect of Russia's privatization program, is on vacation and did not attend the 24 July cabinet meeting. BACKGROUND TO CONTROVERSIAL PRIVATIZATION AUCTIONS. An affiliate of the Alfa-group on 18 July was declared the winner of a 40 percent stake in the Tyumen Oil Company. Critics had charged that the auction was rigged in favor of the Alfa-group. A Tyumen Oblast arbitration court is to hear an appeal concerning the privatization of the Tyumen Oil Company on 25 July. On the same day, a winner will be announced in the auction for a 25 percent stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest. The starting price for that auction was set at $1.18 billion, a figure critics say is far too low. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" pointed out on 24 July that a 27 percent stake in the Czech company SPT Telecom was sold in 1995 for $1.32 billion. The upcoming sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel has also provoked controversy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997). YELTSIN APPROVES TAX ON FOREIGN-CURRENCY PURCHASES. Yeltsin has signed a law imposing a 0.5 percent tax on some foreign- currency purchases, Russian news agencies reported on 24 July. The tax will apply neither to cash withdrawals from foreign-currency bank deposits nor to foreign-currency purchases from the Central Bank by commercial banks. Revenues from the tax will be divided 60:40 between federal and regional budgets. On 23 July, Yeltsin vetoed the law on procedures for establishing free economic zones on Russian territory, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1997). The presidential press service did not explain on what grounds the president rejected the law. OFFICIALS ADMIT FLAWS IN DECREE ON INCOME, PROPERTY DECLARATIONS... Deputy heads of the presidential administration Yevgenii Savostyanov and Aleksandr Livshits admitted on 24 July that Yeltsin's May decree requiring officials to submit income and property declarations was flawed, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Savostyanov noted that the decree envisions no procedure for checking the accuracy of the declarations. By way of example, he said the declaration submitted by Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii warranted such an audit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 1997). In addition, the May decree did not specify guidelines for calculating the value of property. As a result, most declarations listed not the market value of their property but the original purchase price (for some items, such as land, the difference is substantial). Savostyanov and Livshits said the administration is drafting another presidential decree that will clear up those shortcomings. ...WHILE NAMING SOME WHO FAILED TO COMPLY WITH DECREE. At the same 24 July press conference, Savostyanov listed some of the prominent officials who failed to submit income and property declarations, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. They include Federal Bankruptcy Administration head Petr Mostovoi, Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov, and former Kemerovo Oblast governor Mikhail Kislyuk. Yeltsin appointed Kislyuk as director of the federal agency for regulating natural transportation monopolies earlier this month, shortly after appointing Aman Tuleev governor of Kemerovo. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 July that in his declaration, Livshits--who was finance minister from August 1996 until March 1997--listed total 1996 income of 56.1 million rubles ($9,685) and no bank accounts or securities. FOREIGN MINISTER IN SOUTH KOREA. Yevgenii Primakov arrived in Seoul on 24 July on the first leg of his southeastern Asian tour, Russian media reported. Primakov met with his South Korean counterpart, Yoo Choong-ha, and agreed to set up a hot-line between Seoul and Moscow in case of conflict. He also met with South Korean President Kim Young Sam and handed him a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin in which Yeltsin wrote he wished to visit South Korea. No date, however, has been set for that visit in view of the South Korean presidential elections scheduled for December 1997. Primakov also took the opportunity to repeat Russia's offer to mediate between North and South Korea. He noted that Russia has good relations with both countries and that this is not the case with some other parties involved in the Korean peninsula. On 26 July, Primakov travels to Malaysia to attend the ASEAN conference. U.S. SECRETARY OF ENERGY WRAPS UP VISIT TO RUSSIA. During his visit to Russia from 20 to 23 July, Federico Pena added the Lytkarino Instruments Research Institute to the list of those Russian nuclear facilities participating in the Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting Program, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Moscow and Russian media. Pena said he was pleased with the progress of the program, which monitors and safeguards nuclear material. Pena also expressed satisfaction with the State Duma legislation on foreign investment but said more legislation must be passed to attract investors. He argued that Russia could attract as much as $600 billion in investment under the right conditions. He also said it could mean the creation of some 500,000 new jobs for Russian citizens. CHECHNYA DEMANDS ROKHLIN'S EXTRADITION. The Chechen National Security Service has addressed a letter to Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov demanding the extradition to Grozny of Duma Defense Committee chairman Lev Rokhlin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 July. Chechen presidential adviser Ruslan Kutaev told the newspaper that Rokhlin contrived to export from Chechnya quantities of an unnamed valuable metal from L-39 aircraft that had been shot down and that he sold the metal in Volgograd for one billion rubles ($173,000). The procuracy confirmed that Rokhlin exported the metal, but it declined to file charges on the grounds that he had used the proceeds to purchase apartments for officers serving under him. LUZHKOV UPDATE. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says military reform should be delayed until social problems in the armed forces can be solved, Russian news agencies reported on 24 July. Noting that soldiers face persistent wage arrears and long waiting lists for apartments, the mayor said, "the reform should not be implemented when the situation in the army is shaky, controversial, and dangerous." Luzhkov said he saw "nothing tragic" in Yeltsin's veto of the religion law, although he advocated passing a revised version to protect "traditional confessions [from] various sects." The mayor also expressed regret that "most [Russian] newspapers are not free" because of pressure exerted by "politicized financial structures." Luzhkov is considered to have considerable influence over many Moscow-based newspapers, which pay far below market rates for rent and municipal services. The Moscow city government recently helped found the TV-Center network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May and 9 June 1997). TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA CENTRAL ASIAN UNION CONFERENCE OPENS IN KYRGYZSTAN. Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan), Askar Akayev (Kyrgyzstan), and Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan) are attending the Central Asian Union conference in the Kyrgyz resort town of Cholpon- Ata, which opened on 24 July. The three leaders agreed to a Kyrgyz proposal to hold a conference in Bishkek under UN auspices to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. All interested parties would be represented at that meeting. At a press conference, they said they had informed their respective prime ministers to draft a program for setting up an international consortium to manage energy and water resources before the next summit. KARIMOV SAYS UZBEKISTAN CANNOT BE GUARANTOR OF TAJIK PEACE. Uzbek President Karimov announced at the Central Asian Union conference that he believes his country is in no position to act as a guarantor of peace in Tajikistan, Russian media reported. Karimov said the situation in Tajikistan is beginning to resemble that of Afghanistan and that his country "is not prepared" to take on the responsibility of ensuring peace in the neighboring country. He added that only Russia, the U.S., or possibly the EU has the resources to influence events in Tajikistan. are Seven countries, the UN, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference are guarantors of the Tajik peace process. Uzbekistan, however, did not sign the April Tehran protocol as a guarantor country. PROBLEMS IN SOUTHWESTERN TAJIKISTAN. Shirali Mirzoyev on 24 July announced the formation of the Defense Council of the Southern and Central Regions of Tajikistan, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR- TASS. Mirzoyev is the head of the council and is supported by the commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev. The council's stated goal is to establish order in the Khatlon region and implement the terms of the Tajik National Reconciliation Accord, signed in Moscow on 27 June. However, the council is opposed to allowing fighters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to return to Tajikistan with their weapons. Under the terms of the Moscow accord, some are to be allowed to return armed to provide security for UTO leaders who also plan to return to the country. Khudaberdiyev has already called for Dushanbe to be an arms free zone. Khudaberdiyev also said he objected to allowing "Islamic fundamentalists and Wahhabis" into Tajikistan. DEMONSTRATION OVER UZBEK DECISION TO CUT WATER TO KAZAKHSTAN. Residents of the Southern Kazakhstan Oblast on 24 July gathered on a bridge over a major canal near the Uzbek-Kazakh border to protest Uzbek cuts in the water supply, ITAR-TASS reported. Tashkent recently cut supplies to the Druzhba Canal, which enters Kazakhstan from Uzbekistan, by 70 percent. The action now threatens to ruin crops on more than 100,000 hectares of farmland in Kazakhstan. Following negotiations, the Uzbeks decided to augment the flow by 20 percent, but the Kazakhs claim this is insufficient. GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DECREES FATE WORSE THAN DEATH. Eduard Shevardnadze told a cabinet session on 24 July that he will shortly sign a decree commuting the death sentences passed on 54 convicts to 20 years' imprisonment, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier this month, 52 Georgian convicts who had been sentenced to death staged a hunger strike to protest "unbearable" prison conditions. There has been a de facto moratorium on executions in Georgia since 1995. Shevardnadze announced an official moratorium last December. GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF OUTLINES REFORM PLANS. Addressing senior police officials in Tbilisi on 24 July, acting National Security Minister Dzhemal Gakhokidze announced the start of a broad reform of the ministry to separate intelligence and counter- intelligence, Interfax reported. Gakhokidze also said that a service for combating terrorism and smuggling (including that of drugs) has been created in response to reports that international drugs syndicates are planning to increase clandestine narcotics shipments to Western Europe via the southern Caucasus. MUSEUM TO GEORGIAN WRITER DAMAGED BY BOMB. A bomb on 23 July partly destroyed the ancestral home of Prince Ivane Machabeli, the 19th century writer and translator of Shakespeare, Interfax reported. The building, located in South Ossetia, is now a museum. The Georgian Interior Ministry refused to comment on the incident, which observers in Tbilisi believe was politically motivated. In late 1990, Georgian parliamentary chairman Zviad Gamsakhurdia revoked South Ossetia's autonomous status within Georgia, sparking fierce fighting between the local Georgian and Ossetian populations. An peacekeeping mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been deployed in South Ossetia since 1992. Some progress has been made toward formalizing the region's status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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