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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 87, Part I, 4 August 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 NAMES NEW DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER *THREE ZEROES TO BE KNOCKED OFF RUBLE IN 1998 *NEW CASPIAN OIL AGREEMENTS SIGNED Endnote Shevardnadze's Abkhaz Brinkmanship xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN NAMES NEW DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER. On 1 August, Yeltsin issued a decree naming former Russian Federation Council deputy chairman and current State Duma deputy Ramazan Abdulatipov as the seventh Russian deputy prime minister, Russian media reported. Abdulatipov, an ethnic Avar from Dagestan and the author of numerous theoretical works on nationality problems, will be responsible for ethnic relations, federal development and the Russian regions. Yeltsin admitted his relations with Abdulatipov had not always been "cloudless" -- an allusion to the latter's criticism both of the war in Chechnya and of aspects of Moscow's nationalities policy. But Yeltsin conceded that "in recent years he [Abdulatipov] has supported the course of the president and the government." In an interview with ITAR-TASS, Abdulatipov characterized nationality relations within the Russian Federation as "one of the most difficult and crisis-ridden spheres" in which "very many mistakes were made and little constructive was achieved." NORTH CAUCASUS LEADERS VOICE APPROVAL. Abdulatipov's appointment met with unequivocal approval from several leading North Caucasus politicians. North Ossetian President Akhsarbek Galazov described him as "a wise politician" whose familiarity with the North Caucasus "will certainly be beneficial for the region," according to Interfax. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev noted that Abdulatipov had first-hand experience of the North Caucasus, and observed that "it is a pity that many of the things he once suggested to stabilize the situation in the region did not find understanding within the federal government." The chairman of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, Yurii Soslambekov, said that Abdulatipov "can always count on the support" of his organization, ITAR-TASS reported. CPC OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN NORTH OSSETIAN-INGUSH CONFLICT. Meeting with deputies to the North Ossetian parliament on 2 August, the chairman of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, Yusup Soslambekov, expressed concern at the escalation of tensions between Ossetians and Ingush repatriates in North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi raion, ITAR-TASS reported. Soslambekov said his organization is willing to try to mediate between the conflict sides, and that it plans to establish its own peacekeeping force to help overcome inter-ethnic clashes in the North Caucasus. On 1 August, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev rejected a call by 60 deputies for a special session on the North Caucasus, Interfax reported. INGUSH PRESIDENT PROPOSES BEREZOVSKII AS MEDIATOR. On 1 August, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev proposed that Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii be charged with mediating in the North-Ossetian-Ingush conflict, according to Interfax. Aushev said that Berezovskii's talks in Chechnya have given him a good understanding of the region and "he is capable of unconventional decisions in complicated situations." Kommersant- Daily" on 2 August quoted Berezovskii as saying that he is on good terms with both Aushev and Galazov and will assume the duties of mediator if Yeltsin asks him. On August 1, Yeltsin excluded imposing presidential rule on Prigorodnyi raion, saying this would not help to defuse tensions, and is contrary to the direction in which federalism in Russia should develop, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" reported on 2 August. Aushev had repeatedly called for the imposition of presidential rule, which Galazov opposes. THREE ZEROES TO BE KNOCKED OFF RUBLE IN 1998. President Boris Yeltsin announced on 4 August that the Russian ruble will be redenominated as of 1 January 1998, Reuters reported. One new ruble will be worth 1,000 old rubles, Yeltsin said in a statement, adding that the reduction in inflation had made the change possible. According to the official exchange rate fixed by the Central Bank on 4 August, one U.S. dollar is currently worth 5,801 rubles. The Central Bank has predicted that inflation in 1997 will not exceed 13 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 July. Yeltsin and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin agreed on the redenomination at a 1 August meeting in Samara Oblast, where Yeltsin has been vacationing. New ruble notes will be introduced, but old ruble notes will be valid for all purchases until the end of 1998. Citizens will be able to exchange the old notes at bank offices through 2002. TROOPS SUBORDINATED TO FAPSI, RAILWAYS MINISTRY TO BE DOWNSIZED. Yeltsin on 1 August signed two decrees "significantly reducing" the personnel of troops subordinated to the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) and the Railways Ministry, Russian news agencies reported. No other details about the decrees have been released to date. Yeltsin signed the decrees while discussing military reform issues with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The troops subordinate to FAPSI and the Railways Ministry were not affected by previous presidential decrees ordering reductions in various branches of the armed forces. BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS LEVELED AGAINST NEMTSOV. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Nizhnii Novgorod businessman Andrei Klimentev have accused First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov of taking several large bribes while he was governor of Nizhnii Novgorod, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 August. Zhirinovsky also accused Nemtsov of seeking to arrange his murder. Nemtsov's spokesman Andrei Pershin dismissed Klimentev's accusations as "absurd and false," noting that the businessman has himself been convicted of embezzlement. According to the 2 August "Kommersant-Daily," Klimentev's conviction was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. Pershin said the Supreme Court had not vindicated Klimentev but merely objected to the light sentence handed down against the businessman. As for Zhirinovsky's accusations, Pershin said they were a matter for examination by a psychiatrist. Nemtsov's lawyer Vitalii Khavkin told ITAR-TASS on 2 August that Nemtsov plans to sue Klimentev for slander. ZYUGANOV SAYS YELTSIN DESTROYING RUSSIA'S FOUNDATIONS. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has accused Yeltsin of leading an attack on Russian statehood, spirituality, and independence, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 August. Zyuganov argued that instead of resting during his vacation, Yeltsin has been "consuming the last of his life's strength" to harm Russia on several fronts. Zyuganov again criticized Yeltsin's veto of the religion law and said policies toward the energy and telecommunications sector had destroyed the economic foundations of Russia's national security. In addition, Zyuganov said recent presidential decrees on military reform would destroy the army, and blamed Yeltsin for complicating Russia's relations with Belarus (see related stories in Part 2 of today's Newsline). Zyuganov said the opposition has gathered nearly 3.5 million signatures calling for Yeltsin's resignation, a change in government policies and the formation of a government of national trust. COMMUNIST DEPUTY CRITICIZES DUMA CORRUPTION, SPEAKER. Communist State Duma deputy Vladimir Semago, who chairs the Duma's commission on fighting corruption, announced on 1 August that lobbying "in its dirtiest forms" exists in the lower house of parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. Semago added that the Duma has received interest-free credits from some commercial banks, a practice he said invites abuses. He criticized Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, also a Communist, for taking frequent trips abroad on chartered flights while the Duma lacks the funds to pay deputies' assistants. Semago also charged that the Duma apparatus had ignored numerous requests to release information on various allocations of funds. Semago said he would put the question of whether Seleznev has exceeded his authority before Duma deputies, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 2 August. Semago is one of the few wealthy entrepreneurs openly associated with the Communist Party. DUMA SPEAKER DISMISSES CRITICISM. Duma Speaker Seleznev described Semago's accusations as a provocation "aimed at stirring up a scandal," Interfax reported on 2 August. Seleznev added that "every word" of Semago's assertions was slanderous and that Semago would have to answer for them in court if he were not protected by parliamentary immunity. Seleznev has recently advocated allowing Duma factions to strip deputies of their mandates under some circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1997). If that rule change were implemented, Semago would be among the first deputies targeted by the Communist faction. In recent months, Semago has called for downsizing the Duma's apparatus and criticized Seleznev's leadership on several occasions. In a 28 June article in the official newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Semago said he had repeatedly asked the Duma's leadership to audit the Duma's apparatus, but his requests had been ignored. EXECUTIVE FROM BANK AT CENTER OF RECENT SCANDAL DISAPPEARS. Unikombank officials announced on 1 August that the bank's deputy chairman, Andrei Gloriozov, has been missing since 30 July, Russian news agencies reported. The whereabouts of Gloriozov's car, driver, and one assistant also are unknown. Central Bank Chairman Dubinin recently charged that Unikombank had been involved in deals that defrauded the budget of more than $500 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14-16, 18, and 21 July 1997). Central Bank officials had sought to replace Gloriozov and two other Unikombank executives following an audit that revealed accounting violations at Unikombank and alleged attempts by that bank's executives to obstruct the audit. POWER-SHARING AGREEMENT SIGNED WITH SAMARA OBLAST. Yeltsin and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov on 1 August signed a power-sharing agreement between the federal authorities and the oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. Similar agreements have been signed with more than 30 of the 89 Russian regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1997). According to the 31 July "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Titov has said that in principle, he is against the practice of signing such power-sharing agreements. (Under similar agreements, republics such as Tatarstan have gained far more privileges than other Russian regions.) Titov, a prominent figure in the pro- government movement Our Home Is Russia, was reportedly offered a cabinet post in March but turned down the job. Yeltsin subsequently appointed Boris Nemtsov, then the governor of Nizhnii Novgorod, as first deputy prime minister and Oleg Sysuev, then mayor of Samara, as deputy prime minister. CORRECTION: On 1 August, ITAR-TASS annulled its report on the criminal case against Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1997). According to the corrected version issued by the news agency, the Moscow Procurator's Office is investigating whether Korzhakov slandered NTV journalist Yevgenii Kiselev. (In recent months Korzhakov has accused Kiselev of collaborating with the KGB.) However, in the corrected ITAR-TASS story, there is no mention of Kiselev having requested that charges of revealing state secrets be brought against Korzhakov as well. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA U.S., AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET. In a three-hour meeting at the White House on 1 August, Bill Clinton and Heidar Aliev signed a bilateral investment treaty and a joint statement expressing support for the efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, according to a correspondent for RFE/RL. On 2 August, Aliev flew to Houston for private meetings with oil company representatives. NEW CASPIAN OIL AGREEMENTS SIGNED. During the White House meeting, representatives of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR signed separate agreements estimated at $10 billion with Exxon, Mobil, Chevron and Amoco to develop offshore Caspian oil fields, AFP reported. Aliev subsequently told journalists that these new agreements do not infringe on Russia's interests in the Caspian, Interfax reported. On 2 August, Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade told the independent Azerbaijani TV station ANS that he regretted the annulment by the Russian oil firms Rosneft and Lukoil of a contract signed in early July to develop the Kyapaz Caspian oilfield to which Turkmenistan has laid claim, according to AFP. YELTSIN CALLS FOR DIALOGUE ON ABKHAZIA. On 2 August, Yeltsin told journalists at his vacation residence that he intends to invite the presidents of Georgia and Abkhazia, Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzinba, to Moscow to discuss proposals for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yeltsin warned that the Russian peacekeepers cannot stay in Abkhazia indefinitely, and proposed that the two sides sign an agreement similar to those between Moscow and federation subjects that would preserve Georgia's territorial integrity while giving Abkhazia substantial autonomy. Shevardnadze expressed his approval of Yeltsin's draft proposals on 2 August, according to Interfax. On 1 August, Russia's envoy for Abkhazia, Gennadii Ilichev, told Interfax Russia might lift economic sanctions currently in force against Abkhazia. An advisor to Shevardnadze said on 3 August that Georgia would consider this "an unfriendly move" by Russia. ARMENIA, GEORGIA RAISE ELECTRICITY PRICES. On 1 August, the Armenian government decided to increase electricity prices for individual consumers by 12% to the dram equivalent of $.042 per kilowatt/hour beginning on 1 September, an RFE/RL correspondent in Yerevan reported. Energy prices for enterprises will rise by 20%, but enterprises will be entitled to a 50% price discount at night. Energy Ministry officials said the increases are in line with an earlier agreement signed with the World Bank. The officials said that electricity prices will have to be raised to 6 cents per kilowatt/hour by January 1999 in order to make Armenia's energy sector profitable. In Georgia, energy prices for both commercial enterprises and domestic consumers will rise to 4.5 tetri ($.035) per kwt hour beginning on 1 August, "Kavkazioni" reported on 31 July. Georgian State Energy Company director Vazha Metreveli said the tariffs are not high compared with those in Europe and other CIS countries. SONS OF TAJIK ISLAMIC LEADER KIDNAPPED. Three sons of Tajikistan's Islamic spiritual leader, Amonullo Negmatzoda, were kidnapped by a group of 15-20 armed, masked men late at night on 31 July-1 August, according to ITAR-TASS and Interfax. Two of the three were at Negmatzoda's home outside of Dushanbe, the third was captured at a nearby house. Negmatzoda was not at home at the time. ITAR-TASS reported a demand for $100,000 has been made in exchange for Negmatzoda's sons. Authorities are investigating. REAL INCOME IN TAJIKISTAN FALLS. Tajik wages are now worth less than at the start of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 August. The Tajik state statistics agency reported that real income dropped by 1.8 percent from April to May and has dropped by 37.9 percent since the beginning of 1997. The official average wage is reportedly 3,699 Tajik rubles per month ($1= 320 Tajik rubles, officially) but a kilogram of beef costs 1,200 rubles, a liter of vegetable oil more than 1,000 and a kilogram of sugar 650 rubles. GAZPROM READY TO GIVE UP ON TURKMENISTAN. The head of Gazprom, Russia's gas giant, said his company will end its cooperation with Turkmenistan on gas shipments to Ukraine, Interfax reported on 1 August. Rem Vyakhirev said that after Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree in late June which dissolved Turkmenrosgaz, Gazprom is "ready to give up on Turkmenistan entirely." Gazprom owned 45 percent of Turkmenrosgaz. Turkmenistan soon after terminated further shipments to Ukraine, citing a $780 million unpaid bill. Vyakhirev told Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma Gazprom could supply Ukraine, saying "From here on you don't need to use Turkmen deliveries." Vyakhirev confirmed he is meeting with Niyazov on 6 August at the latter's request. END NOTE SHEVARDNADZE'S ABKHAZ BRINKMANSHIP By Liz Fuller The expiration of the 31 July mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia prompted new diplomatic moves to resolve the conflict. When these moves failed, a series of uncompromising statements by both Georgian and Russian politicians seemed to risk precipitating new fighting. The peacekeeping force, which is composed entirely of Russian troops although it operates under a CIS mandate, has been deployed along the internal border between the separatist republic of Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia since July 1994. The Georgian leadership has stated repeatedly that it would demand the force's withdrawal after its mandate expired unless a resolution adopted at the CIS heads of state summit in March 1997 is implemented. That resolution calls for the peacekeepers' deployment over a broader geographical area and gives them more extensive powers to protect an estimated 200,000 ethnic Georgians who fled from Abkhazia during the war of1992-3, and who are impatient to return to their abandoned homes. The Abkhaz leadership immediately rejected this proposal, arguing that the force's original mandate cannot be amended without the approval of the Abkhaz government. The Abkhaz leadership has since made it clear that it wants the peacekeeping force to continue its duties. The original rationale for deploying peacekeepers along a 13 km zone on both sides of the River Inguri, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, was to expedite the return of ethnic Georgian displaced persons. Many of these have been quartered for the past three years in hotels in Tbilisi, and are without employment. Despite the peacekeepers' presence, few Georgian fugitives have returned to Abkhazia. The Abkhaz leadership has consistently blocked any plans for their large-scale repatriation, and some families that returned spontaneously were attacked and killed by Abkhaz guerrillas. The peacekeeping force itself has lost up to 50 men killed by mines and shot by members of the so-called "White Legion" -- a Georgian guerrilla force that advocates a military campaign to restore Georgia's hegemony over Abkhazia. The peacekeepers have, however, become an instrument that various parties in both Tbilisi and Moscow are seeking to use to extract political concessions. The Georgian parliament adopted a resolution on 30 May hinting that it would consider demanding that Georgia leave the CIS if the resolution of the March CIS heads of state summit on broadening the peacekeepers' mandate was not implemented. Visiting the U.S. in late July, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze tried unsuccessfully to persuade U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan and U.S. President Bill Clinton to agree to send UN peacekeeping troops to replace the CIS force -- a move that would have undercut Russia's influence in the Transcaucasus. The Russian Foreign Ministry, which in June had proposed a conflict resolution plan that was accepted by the Abkhaz side but rejected by Tbilisi, threatened that if Georgia refused to make a formal request that the peacekeepers remain after 31 July, they would be withdrawn, creating a serious risk of spontaneous clashes between Abkhaz and Georgian irregular forces. (Although Georgian and Abkhaz foreign ministry representatives had signed an agreement in Geneva on 25 July rejecting the use of force after the expiration of the peacekeepers' mandate, both the "White Legion" and a contingent of some 3,000 ethnic Georgian former members of the Abkhaz police force and Abkhaz militia forces had warned that they would advance into the 13 km zone to take the peacekeepers' place.) Russian observers estimate that the Abkhaz army, which numbers approximately 4,500 regular troops plus some 25,000 reservists, is disciplined enough, and has enough tanks and heavy artillery, to withstand a Georgian incursion and then keep the Georgian forces pinned down in a lengthy war of attrition. It also has been suggested that some influential Chechen field commanders opposed to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov might agree to fight on the Chechen side. Protracted hostilities could delay the construction of the planned Baku-Supsa pipeline that is scheduled to begin transporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to the Georgian Black Sea coast no later than next fall. On 29 July, Shevardnadze appeared to modify his uncompromising rhetoric, stating that although Georgia would not formally ask the peacekeepers to stay, it would not insist on their withdrawal. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman argued that the decision on revoking the peacekeepers' mandate could only be taken by the CIS heads of state, who had originally endorsed the peacekeepers' dispatch to Abkhazia. This in effect would mean that the force will remain in its present positions at least until the CIS heads of state summit scheduled to take place in Chisinau in October. It also would provide Shevardnadze with a breathing space in which to lobby for international forces under the aegis of the UN to be deployed alongside the Russian troops. Then on 2 August, Russian President Boris Yeltsin called on both Shevardnadze and Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba to meet with him in Moscow for "one last serious talk" before signing an agreement on delimitation of powers between Abkhazia and the central Georgian government in Tbilisi. The agreement would be comparable to the power-sharing agreements Moscow has signed with other federation subjects. (The previous day, Russian special envoy for Abkhazia Gennadii Ilichev said that Moscow was considering lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in early 1996.) Shevardnadze immediately expressed his approval of Yeltsin's proposals. Ardzinba has not yet made any comment. For the moment, then, the three most important parties to the conflict have stepped back from the brink. But there is no guarantee that radical forces in Georgia or Abkhazia will not independently resort to violence to sabotage a Russian-mediated agreement, as they did at the beginning of the conflict in September 1992. CORRECTION: In the End Note "Walking the Moldovan Tightrope," by Michael Shafir, published on 1 August 1997, Valeriu Pasat was described as Moldovan Foreign Minister. He is, of course, that country's Defense Minister. Also note that the basic treaty between Moldova and Russia was signed in September 1990 and that the PUMA helicopters are produced under French rather than U.S. license. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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