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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 83, Part I, 29 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 * NEMTSOV DEFENDS SVYAZINVEST SALE * CHECHEN PRESIDENT SUSPENDS TALKS WITH MOSCOW * GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO PEACE-KEEPERS' WITHDRAWAL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NEMTSOV DEFENDS SVYAZINVEST SALE. Speaking in Novosibirsk, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov hailed the recent auction of 25 percent plus one share of the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest as an example of "honest privatization," Russian news agencies reported on 28 July. He also criticized those behind the unsuccessful bid for "going into hysterics on television." Russian Public Television (ORT) commentator Sergei Dorenko sharply criticized the Svyazinvest sale on 26 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1997). Meanwhile, it has emerged that George Soros's Quantum Fund was part of the consortium that won the Svyazinvest auction. The "Financial Times" on 29 July quoted Soros as saying Quantum had put up $980 million, roughly half of the consortium's $1.875 billion offer. A press conference on the Svyazinvest sale, scheduled for 28 July, was canceled as neither State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh nor First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais turned up. SOME MEDIA CONTINUE TO CRITICIZE DEAL... The Svyazinvest privatization has been criticized on the radio station Ekho Moskvy and in the newspaper "Segodnya," both part of Vladimir Gusinskii's Most media empire, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 28 July. Most Bank was involved in the losing bid for Svyazinvest. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 July ran a lengthy, unflattering feature on Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin. The paper suggested that "political ambitions" lie behind Potanin's "wolf's appetite" for media outlets. In recent months, Oneksimbank has acquired large stakes in "Izvestiya" and "Komsomolskaya pravda." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" also charged that the consortium, in which an Oneksimbank affiliate was involved, acquired the Svyazinvest stake for an "undervalued" price. (However, Reuters on 28 July quoted financial analysts as saying the stake was sold for a fair price.) "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is partly financed by the LogoVAZ group of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Berezovskii is rumored to have been involved in the losing bid for Svyazinvest. He and Potanin have been rivals in other recent privatization auctions. ...WARN OF REPRISALS AGAINST ORT. "Segodnya" warned on 28 July that some unnamed bankers are seeking to get rid of ORT commentator Dorenko and reorganize the 51 percent state-owned network. Ekho Moskvy has also reported that reprisals are being planned against ORT, and Dorenko told the radio station that a government official is in Potanin's "pocket." Meanwhile, Dorenko told "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 July that associates of First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais have asked to see ORT's founding documents, presumably to examine how the network's leadership can be changed. (Chubais recently returned to Moscow from a three-week vacation.) Dorenko vowed that the next edition of his weekly program will continue the investigative report on the privatization of a large factory in Cherepovets (Vologda Oblast). An ORT report on 26 July alleged that after acquiring a controlling stake in that factory, Oneksimbank transferred abroad $42 million that it had promised to invest in the factory. IRKUTSK ELECTION VIEWED AS VICTORY FOR GOVERNMENT... Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Kazakov hailed Boris Govorin's convincing victory in the Irkutsk gubernatorial election as proof that the federal government can influence voters, Russian news agencies reported on 28 July. He did not specify how the government had influenced the outcome. An RFE/RL correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 17 July that some 9 billion rubles ($1.6 million) were transferred to the oblast during the campaign to help pay off wage arrears. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 July viewed the election result as a defeat for the Communist Party in general and for party leader Gennadii Zyuganov in particular. Zyuganov spent nearly a week campaigning for Sergei Levchenko, who finished a distant second. Meanwhile, Zyuganov told Interfax that the Irkutsk campaign had been the "dirtiest" he had ever seen. Anonymous leaflets spreading damaging allegations about various candidates were widely circulated during the campaign. ...WHILE COMMUNIST OBSERVER CHARGES FALSIFICATION. The opposition paper "Sovetskaya Rossiya" argued on 29 July that widespread falsification was used to ensure a lopsided victory for Govorin. Although local opinion polls indicated that the race would be close, Govorin gained some 50 percent of the vote, while Levchenko took second place with less than 19 percent. Communist State Duma deputy Aleksandr Salii, an election observer in Irkutsk, told "Sovetskaya Rossiya" that computers were used to tally the vote count and transfer votes cast for other candidates to Govorin. He noted that the percentages gained by the candidates were almost identical in all four districts of the city of Irkutsk, despite vastly different socioeconomic conditions in those districts. Salii argued that "any sociologist will tell you" that such a result is impossible. PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN SAYS NO CONFLICT BETWEEN YELTSIN, CHURCH. Sergei Yastrzhembskii says that Yeltsin's recent veto of the law on religious organizations should not be considered evidence of a "crisis in relations" between the president and the Russian Orthodox Church. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin vetoed the law because many of its provisions violated the constitution, not because of appeals from abroad, according to Russian news agencies on 28 July. Citing unnamed Kremlin sources, Interfax reported that Yeltsin has instructed representatives of the presidential administration to discuss possible revisions to the law with Church officials. Meanwhile, Russia's chief rabbi Adolf Shaevich on 28 July admitted that the religion law was not "perfect" but argued that it did not contain any provisions against "traditional world religions," including Catholicism. Along with Russian Orthodoxy, Buddhism, and Islam, Judaism was one of four faiths listed in the law as "traditional" Russian religions. CHECHEN PRESIDENT SUSPENDS TALKS WITH MOSCOW. Aslan Maskhadov on 29 July called for the suspension of all ongoing talks with the federal government until Russia approves a plan for economic reconstruction in Chechnya, AFP reported, citing Interfax. Maskhadov also instructed his ministers to refrain from maintaining contacts with their Russian counterparts and from traveling to Moscow. He accused the Russian leadership of not complying with earlier bilateral agreements. The previous day, Maskhadov met with the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Grozny and asked that organization to consider increasing humanitarian aid to Chechnya. Also on 28 July, Maskhadov called for a treaty establishing formal diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria. RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VOWS CRACKDOWN ON EMBEZZLEMENT. Igor Sergeev has sent a telegram to military and naval commanders throughout the Russian armed forces demanding more stringent control of use of finances allocated by the state budget, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeev said that "deliberate diversion of money set aside to finance troops will be considered as undermining the combat readiness of the armed forces." Sergeev recently dismissed a number of generals and senior officers for misuse of budget funds. They included three officers from the Volga Military District who had misappropriated 6.2 billion rubles ($1.1 million) intended to pay servicemen's wages. OUR HOME IS RUSSIA MAY REPLACE DUMA FACTION LEADER IN SEPTEMBER. The State Duma faction of the pro-government movement Our Home Is Russia (NDR) may "strengthen its leadership" in September, according to Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 28 July. Shokhin confirmed that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is unhappy with Sergei Belyaev, who heads the NDR's Duma delegation. (Chernomyrdin announced Belyaev's imminent resignation on 3 July, but Belyaev has since denied that he will step down.) Also in September, Shokhin said, the NDR Duma faction will seek to remove Lev Rokhlin from the post of Duma Defense Committee chairman. Shokhin noted that Rokhlin's new movement to support the military has been joined by members of several "radical left" groups. Even if the NDR expels Rokhlin, he cannot be stripped of his committee chairmanship unless a majority of Duma deputies support such a move. YAVLINSKII MAY NOT RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2000. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii will not run for president in 2000 "if there is [another] acceptable candidate" in the race, according to State Duma deputy and Yabloko deputy chairman Vyacheslav Igrunov. However, Igrunov refused to clarify whether First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov would be considered a worthy candidate, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 July. While Yabloko opposes the government's policies on the whole, Igrunov noted that Yavlinskii's movement will continue to support Nemtsov's efforts. Yavlinskii helped draft the economic reform program implemented in Nizhnii Novgorod when Nemtsov governed that oblast. In the 1996 presidential election, Yavlinskii gained about 7.3 percent of the vote. His prospects for advancing to the second round of a presidential election are considered poor. SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MONUMENT BOMBINGS. The Federal Security Service has formally charged 18-year-old Andrei Sokolov with the bombings of a monument to Tsar Nicholas II in a village near Moscow and the attempted bombing of a monument to Peter the Great, Russian media reported on 25 July. Sokolov has admitted his guilt. The case has angered young Communists, who have been blamed for the bombings. Sokolov has been linked to the Revolutionary Communist Union of Young Bolsheviks, whose leader is Pavel Bylevskii. But Bylevskii, who was also accused of the bombings, said no one in his organization takes part in terrorist actions. Some Russian media have mistakenly associated Bylevskii's group with the Komsomol, whose acronym is almost identical to that of Bylevskii's organization. EXPLOSION LEVELS BUILDING IN PERM OBLAST. A building owned by the LUKoil Perm-Neft company in the town of Kueda (Perm Oblast) was destroyed in an explosion on 28 July, according to ITAR- TASS. Sixteen people died in the blast, which is thought to have been caused by a kitchen gas canister. Another 15 people were found alive in the rubble by rescue teams; several have been hospitalized in a serious condition. Meanwhile, rescue workers continue to search for more survivors. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO PEACE-KEEPERS' WITHDRAWAL. In his weekly radio address, Eduard Shevardnadze on 28 July advised against the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia when the force's mandate expires on 31 July. The Georgian parliament had adopted a resolution on 30 May demanding that the force leave Georgia after 31 July if a decision taken by the March CIS heads of state summit were not implemented. According to that decision, the force's mandate was to be broadened to enable the peacekeepers to protect those who are repatriated. Shevardnadze argued that the peacekeepers should remain in Georgia until a formal decision is taken on sending a UN force to replace them, according to ITAR-TASS. He said the CIS Heads of State Council should decide at its next session in September whether the peacekeepers' mandate should be prolonged. TURKMEN PRESIDENT SAYS NO COMPROMISE ON CASPIAN OIL FIELD. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 28 July, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov told Serov that the deal signed by Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and Russia's LUKoil and Rosneft in early July to work the Kyapaz field in the Caspian Sea was unacceptable as the field belongs to Turkmenistan. Representatives from LUKoil and Rosneft were also at the meeting. Serov called the issue an "unfortunate misunderstanding" and said Russia was under the impression that Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan had settled the question prior to the contract's signing. Niyazov called on Russian President Boris Yeltsin to declare the agreement void. Niyazov will meet with Yeltsin in Moscow on 7 August. KAZAKH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER FIRED. President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 28 July signed a decree dismissing Nigmatjan Isingarin as deputy prime minister, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakhstan. No reason was given for his dismissal. Isingarin remains the chairman of the inter-government council of the four-country union of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. KAZAKH OPPOSITION MOVEMENT HOLDS CONFERENCE. The Kazakh opposition movement Solidarnost held a conference on human rights in Almaty on 28 July, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakhstan. Leaders of the movement noted that while President Nazarbayev had named 1997 a year of commemoration for the victims of Stalin's repression, there had already been 10 registered cases of human rights violations in Kazakhstan so far this year. By way of example, they named Madel Ismailov, who served almost two months in jail for organizing a demonstration on 30 May even though Solidarnost had claimed that the demonstration was organized not by a single person but by the "deceived people of Kazakhstan." TAJIK PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON NATIONAL COMMISSION. Imomali Rakhmonov on 28 July signed a decree ordering the government to determine the responsibilities of members of the National Reconciliation Commission as well as the commission's structure and budget. The commission will aid in the process of reunifying the country and preparing amendments to the constitution for elections in late 1998. The second meeting of the commission, scheduled for 27 July, was postponed because Said Abdullo Nuri, the chairman of the commission and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader, is still in Tehran. Nuri is scheduled to travel to the Tajik capital once 460 UTO fighters are stationed there as protection for the UTO members of the commission. But the UTO "body guards" are unlikely to arrive until after the Tajik parliament passes the law on a general amnesty, which it is scheduled to do at its 1 August session. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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