|I'm going to turn on the light, and we'll be two people in a room looking at each other and wondering why on earth we were afraid of the dark. - Gale Wilhelm|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 92, Part I, 11 August1997
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 MEETS WITH NORTH OSSETIAN, INGUSH PRESIDENTS * YELTSIN, CHUBAIS ON IMPLICATIONS OF RUBLE REDENOMINATION * RENEWED FIGHTING IN TAJIKISTAN End Note : MOSCOW'S OSTRICH POLICY IN NORTH CAUCASUS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN MEETS WITH NORTH OSSETIAN, INGUSH PRESIDENTS. President Boris Yeltsin met with Akhsarbek Galazov and Ruslan Aushev, the North Ossetian and Ingush leaders, in Moscow on 8 August and outlined new proposals for stabilizing the situation in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion. He also warned the two leaders to "stop your undeclared war," saying that otherwise he would withdraw his support in the upcoming presidential elections in both republics. Yeltsin again rejected Aushev's call for the imposition of presidential rule on Prigorodnyi Raion and declined to send any additional Russian Interior Ministry troops there. He proposed a moratorium of 15-20 years on territorial claims and promised to maintain federal funding for Prigorodnyi Raion at 200 billion rubles ($34.5 million) for 1997-1998 to rebuild housing for Ingush refugees. The proposals, which Galazov termed "wise and far-sighted," are to be formalized in an agreement that all three presidents are scheduled to sign later this month, according to Interfax (see also "End Note" below). YELTSIN, CHUBAIS ON IMPLICATIONS OF RUBLE REDENOMINATION. Speaking to reporters on 8 August, Yeltsin indicated that the money supply will increase in 1998 as new bank notes are issued while old bank notes remain in circulation, Russian media reported. However, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the same day that an increase in the number of bank notes in circulation at the beginning of 1998 will not increase the overall money supply, Interfax reported. Central Bank official Denis Kiselev also contradicted Yeltsin, saying new bank notes will be issued only as old notes are withdrawn from circulation. Yeltsin has promised that the planned ruble redenomination will not hurt ordinary Russians and has said it represents the government's triumph over inflation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). OFFICIAL SAYS CURRENCY REFORM WILL SAVE STATE MONEY. Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko says issuing new ruble bank notes and reintroducing coins for kopecks and the smallest ruble denominations will save the state money in the long run. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau broadcast on 10 August, Aleksashenko said the average bank note remains in circulation for only two to two-and-a-half years. Although in the short term it is more expensive to mint coins than to print bills, he noted that coins typically stay in circulation for 30 years, while bank notes must continually be reprinted as they wear out. Aleksashenko also said that in preparation for the currency reform, during the last year only new ruble bank notes (with three zeroes removed) have been printed. ZYUGANOV SKEPTICAL ON CURRENCY REFORM... Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 8 August described the planned redenomination of the ruble as "hasty, premature, poorly thought-out, and poorly calculated," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He added that there has not been a single reform implemented by Yeltsin "that has not made the people's wallets thinner." Zyuganov claimed that by announcing plans to issue new coins and bank notes, the government hoped to draw the attention of ordinary citizens away from other "destructive transformations," such as the sale of state property. Zyuganov also predicted that the currency change will prompt Russians to put more of their savings into U.S. dollars. He charged that First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais is trying to boost the dollar's value. ...DESCRIBES OPPOSITION'S EFFORTS TO BREAK THROUGH "INFORMATION BLOCKADE." Also on 8 August, Zyuganov described the opposition's attempts to break through what he called an "information blockade" imposed by media outlets that are sympathetic to the president and government. At a press conference to mark the first anniversary of the creation of the Communist-led movement Popular- Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), Zyuganov said the opposition has some 300 newspapers and other publications as well as three radio stations, Russian media reported. In addition, the NPSR has set up a Patriotic Information Agency and plans to broadcast its own television programs on various regional networks, Zyuganov said. Earlier this year, the government promised that the state-run Russian Television network would broadcast a program about the activities of the parliament, which the opposition has long demanded. However, such a program has not yet appeared. AUDIT CONCLUDES NO LAWS BROKEN IN NORILSK NICKEL AUCTION. Officials from the State Property Committee, the Russian Federal Property Fund, and the Procurator-General's Office have concluded that no laws were broken in the recent sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August, citing an unnamed government source. That source said First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais will soon present the conclusions of the audit to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The premier called for the Norilsk auction to be postponed but was later persuaded to let it go ahead on 5 August. He then ordered government officials to examine how the sale had been conducted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5-8 August 1997). AUCTION MAY STILL BE CONTESTED IN COURT. Rival companies may still contest the Norilsk auction in an arbitration court, claiming the terms of the sale were unfair, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. In addition, the Procurator-General's Office may sue to annul the sale if it determines that the auction violated Russian state interests. Critics have noted that Oneksimbank had managed the 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel since November 1995. Moreover, the bank is linked both to the company that organized the auction (MFK- Moscow Partners) and to the company that submitted the winning bid (Svift). "Kommersant-Daily" claimed that Oneksimbank also has links to the little-known consortium that submitted the losing bid for the Norilsk stake. However, the newspaper said Russian law appears to be on Oneksimbank's side. Affiliates of share managers or sale organizers are not prohibited from taking part in privatization auctions. NEWSPAPER CLOSE TO ONEKSIMBANK CRITICIZES CHERNOMYRDIN. "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 9 August argued that, in the recent sale of stakes in Svyazinvest and Norilsk Nickel, First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov had "for the first time in Russia's recent history rebuffed attempts by groups of influential lobbyists to continue playing the game according to their own 'shadowy' rules." In contrast, the paper argued, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin had "become a hostage of financial groups." "Komsomolskaya pravda" claimed that Chernomyrdin advocated postponing the Norilsk auction not because of a recommendation from the Procurator-General's Office but under the influence of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, founder of the powerful LogoVAZ empire. Chernomyrdin changed his mind about postponing the Norilsk sale following discussions with Chubais, State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh, and Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin on 5 August. Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Komsomolskaya pravda." ONEKSIMBANK AFFILIATE SEEN EXPANDING ITS INFLUENCE OVER ST. PETERSBURG PRESS. Baltoneksimbank, a St. Petersburg- based affiliate of Oneksimbank, has extended credits to four of the city's five daily newspapers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. The total value of the loans granted to "Vechernii Peterburg," "Sankt- Peterburgskie vedomosti," "Nevskoe vremya," and "Chas pik" is 1 billion rubles ($172,000). It is not known when the newspapers must repay the loans or what they offered as collateral. According to "Nevskoe vremya" editor-in-chief Alla Manilova, the papers negotiated with four different banks and chose to borrow from Baltoneksimbank because it offered the credits on the best terms. "Kommersant-Daily" argued that the deal will allow Baltoneksimbank to significantly increase its influence over leading St. Petersburg publications. STROEV SAYS REGIONS SHOULD TAKE PART IN DISTRIBUTION OF PROPERTY... Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev has proposed that the government and regional leaders form a joint commission on policies toward state property and the energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 August. In a message to the government, Stroev suggested that such a commission could include Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, and representatives from various Federation Council committees. Noting that currently the federal authorities control the distribution of profits from privatized property, Stroev told journalists that regional leaders should be involved as well. By way of example, he said that the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai should have participated in decisions surrounding the privatization of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel. Stroev added that regional authorities should have some say over the distribution of timber, gas, and other natural resources located on the territory of their regions. ...AS SAMARA GOVERNOR EYES AVTOVAZ SHARES. Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov says that if the government acquires a controlling packet of shares in the automobile manufacturer AvtoVAZ, some of the shares should be transferred to the Samara authorities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 August. The AvtoVAZ board of directors on 2 August agreed to a 10-year schedule for paying off the company's 2.855 trillion rubles ($492 million) in tax debts to the federal budget. If the company fails to meet this schedule, the federal government will take over 51 percent of the company's shares. AvtoVAZ is based in the city of Togliatti and owes debts to the Samara Oblast budget as well as to the federal government. Titov believes those factors should be taken into account if the government acquires a controlling stake in AvtoVAZ. He has vowed to raise the issue with State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh. GOVERNMENT APPROVES CONCEPT FOR RESTRUCTURING HEALTH CARE. Following a report by Health Minister Tatyana Dmitrieva, the government on 7 August approved a concept for restructuring the public health care system by 2005, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. A final program is to be adopted in the coming weeks. Dmitrieva told journalists that basic medical services will still be provided free of charge and will be financed through mandatory medical insurance. Some other medical services -- such as cosmetic surgery, physiotherapy, and massage therapy -- will become fee-based. However, Dmitrieva promised that the poor will still be able to receive such services free of charge if a doctor prescribes them. According to Interfax, the new program will force hospitals and clinics currently closed to the public to join the national system. Dmitrieva said more than 20 federal agencies have special medical facilities that are funded by the federal budget but closed to the public. SUPREME COURT FINDS IN FAVOR OF JOURNALIST DEPRIVED OF ACCREDITATION. The Supreme Court has ordered the Primorskii Krai authorities to restore accreditation to Denis Demkin, the Far East correspondent for "Kommersant-Daily," the paper reported on 7 August. Demkin's accreditation was revoked in April. Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko's press secretary charged that Demkin had spread false information in violation of the federal law on the mass media. The Primorskii Krai Court turned down an appeal from "Kommersant- Daily," saying the law on the mass media does not specify on what grounds a journalist's accreditation may be revoked. However, the Supreme Court ruled that regional or local authorities cannot establish their own rules for enforcing the federal law on the mass media. The court also found that under Article 55 of the constitution, rights and freedoms may be limited in extenuating circumstances only by federal law, not by governors or regional administrations. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RENEWED FIGHTING IN TAJIKISTAN. Fighting erupted in northern Dushanbe on 9 August between Interior Ministry forces headed by Col. Sukhrob Kasymov and some 200 supporters of Yakub Salimov, former interior minister and current customs committee chairman. Salimov withdrew westward from Dushanbe to Gissar after several dozen of his men were killed, according to AFP. Also on 9 August, maverick military commander Makhmud Khudoiberdiev, who since January 1996 has twice launched unsuccessful attempts to overthrow Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, threatened to advance on Dushanbe from his base near Kurgan-Tyube to the south unless Kasymov left the capital, according to Reuters. Presidential guard commander Gafar Mirzoev told AFP on 10 August that Khudoiberdiev's forces were advancing on the capital in order to oust Rakhmonov. Khudoiberdiev issued a denial, claiming his forces were attacked by the presidential guard. He also pledged his loyalty to the president. TAJIK SECURITY COUNCIL CONVENES. Addressing a session of the Tajik Security Council on 10 August, Rakhmonov blamed the renewed violence on "destructive forces" intent on undermining the peace agreement signed between the Tajik government and opposition in late June. The council issued a statement claiming that the fighting was initiated by "the economic and drugs mafia and the criminal world." It also called on the warring parties to surrender their arms within three days, according to Reuters. Sporadic clashes between Kasymov's and Salimov's forces continued west of Dushanbe throughout the night of 10-11 August. ITAR-TASS on 11 August reported that the situation in Dushanbe is calm, public transport is running, and some shops are open. It is unclear whether fighting is continuing in the Fakhrabad mountain pass, some 40 kilometers south of Dushanbe, where Khudoiberdiev's forces clashed with the presidential guard on 10 August, according to dpa. ARMENIA, RUSSIA AGREE ON CFE QUOTA. The Russian and Armenian Foreign Ministries have exchanged notes affirming that Armenia will maintain the present weapons allocations stipulated by the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 August, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Armen Gasparyan. Armenia had ceded part of its arms allocations in tanks, personnel carriers, and artillery to the Russian troops stationed on its territory. The Foreign Ministry opposed that move, arguing it could damage Armenia' s national security vis-a-vis Azerbaijan. Gasparyan did not specify whether the exchange of notes meant Russia would reduce the amount of arms at its bases in Armenia to enable Yerevan to increase its holdings. DETAINED GEORGIAN WARLORD DECLARES HUNGER STRIKE. Djaba Ioseliani, leader of the banned Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation, has declared a hunger strike to demand his release from detention and a meeting with UN and Council of Europe representatives, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 August, citing the Georgian press. Ioseliani was instrumental in forcing the 1992 ouster of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and in bringing back former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze to his native Georgia. Ioseliani was arrested in November 1995, and has been charged with high treason, murder, banditry, and terrorism, including the unsuccessful car bomb attack on Shevardnadze in August 1995. Ioseliani's trial is scheduled to begin in September. Meanwhile, the Georgian presidential press service on 8 August said the Interior Ministry has evidence that another terrorist act against Shevardnadze is being prepared in an unnamed foreign country, ITAR-TASS reported. RAIL TRAFFIC RESUMES BETWEEN MOSCOW, TBILISI. Following an interruption of nearly three years, a train left Tbilisi bound for Moscow at midnight on 7 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The Tbilisi-Moscow service will run once a week and will be protected by armed guards, "Rezonansi" reported on 7 August. EXPLOSION NEAR U.S. EMBASSY IN BAKU. A small explosion was reported near the U.S. embassy in Baku on 8 August, Interfax reported. No one was injured, nor was the building damaged. Turan the next day cited a district police official as saying the explosion occurred when teenagers set fire to an old TV set. Earlier the same day, President Heidar Aliev returned from a state visit to the U.S., which Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov characterized as a "breakthrough" in bilateral relations. He added that relations between Washington and Baku have reached the stage of a "strategic partnership," ITAR-TASS reported on 9 August. DISPUTE OVER KYAPAZ OIL FIELD CONTINUES. Aliev told journalists on 8 August that he is not concerned about the withdrawal of Russian oil companies from the July agreement on joint exploitation and development of the Kyapaz oil field, Interfax and Turan reported. The Russian government had announced three days earlier that Rosneft and LUKoil would withdraw from the deal after the Turkmen Foreign Ministry protested that Kyapaz lies in Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7-8 July and 6 August, 1997). Aliev said the agreement signed was one of intent and therefore cannot be annulled. A senior official of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR told AFP on 8 August that Azerbaijan's claims to Kyapaz are indisputable. Prime minister Artur Rasizade said in an interview with Turan the same day that Azerbaijan has not yet been officially informed of the Russian withdrawal. He proposed that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan jointly develop Kyapaz. END NOTE MOSCOW'S OSTRICH POLICY IN NORTH CAUCASUS by Liz Fuller Until recently, the 1994-96 war in Chechnya and the uneasy peace that followed have eclipsed the unresolved conflict between Chechnya's western neighbor, Ingushetia, and the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. The leaders of the two republics, Ruslan Aushev and Akhsarbek Galazov, met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 8 August in an attempt to forestall new violence in North Ossetia's disputed Prigodonyi Raion. The conflict there, like so many on the territory of the former Soviet Union, is the consequence of Stalin's nationality policy. When the North Ossetian and Ingush autonomous oblasts were created in 1924, Prigorodnyi Raion formed the westernmost district of Ingushetia. In 1936, Moscow merged Ingushetia with Chechnya to form the Checheno- Ingush Autonomous Republic. This formation was abolished following the 1944 mass deportation of both the Chechens and the Ingush to Central Asia under suspicion of collaborating with Nazi Germany. At the same time, Prigorodnyi Raion was incorporated into North Ossetia. Following Secretary-General Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 "secret speech" to the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a green light was given for the repatriation of the exiled peoples and for the reformation of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, albeit within different borders. Prigorodnyi Raion, however, remained part of North Ossetia. The return of the deported Ingush to Prigorodnyi Raion inevitably created tensions between the Ossetians and the repatriates, many of whose homes had been occupied by settlers from elsewhere in the North Caucasus. The Ingush claim that they were routinely subjected to discrimination on ethnic grounds. But with the exception of fighting in the North Ossetian capital in late1981, tensions did not escalate into violence. In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost created the illusion that the Soviet leadership was prepared to redress the most egregious injustices inflicted by Stalin on the non-Russian peoples. Beginning in 1991, the Ingush staged repeated demonstrations to demand that Checheno-Ingushetia again be divided into its two constituent parts and Prigorodnyi Raion returned to Ingushetia. (In March 1991, Boris Yeltsin, then chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, endorsed the first of those Ingush demands.) The Ossetian population, for their part, rallied to protest the proposal to hand over the raion to Ingushetia. In April 1991, the RSFSR Supreme Soviet adopted a law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples that implicitly promised territorial reparations, thereby fueling Ingush hopes. But the Ossetians succeeded in pressuring Moscow to impose a five-year moratorium on implementing the legislation. Checheno-Ingushetia was finally divided into two republics in July 1992. Several months later, in October 1992, the accumulated tensions erupted into fighting in Prigorodnyi Raion between Ingush informal militias and North Ossetian security forces backed by Russian Interior Ministry and army troops. In six days of violence, up to 700 people were killed, hundreds of hostages taken by both sides, and thousands of homes (mostly belonging to Ingush families) destroyed. Almost the entire Ingush population of the district (estimates range from 34,000 to 64,000 people) were forced to flee. The Russian leadership responded by imposing a state of emergency in Prigorodnyi Raion and adjacent areas of both North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which remained in force until February1995. But direct rule by Moscow has failed to contribute significantly to defusing tensions and creating conditions for the return of the Ingush. Most Ingush fugitives are living in temporary accommodation in Ingushetia. Only an estimated 2,000 have returned to Prigorodnyi Raion. Since early July, interethnic clashes in Prigorodnyi Raion have risen dramatically, prompting Aushev to appeal to President Boris Yeltsin to impose presidential rule there. Galazov, however, rejected that proposal as potentially counterproductive, arguing instead for increased funding to rebuild destroyed homes and create new jobs for both Ossetians and returning Ingush. Yeltsin rejected presidential rule as unconstitutional and "contrary to the direction in which Russian federalism should develop." Meeting with the two republican presidents on 8 August, Yeltsin proposed tension-defusing measures similar to those agreed on last year in Chechnya. Those measures include a moratorium of 15-20 years on territorial claims and the creation of Ossetian-Ingush militia patrols to maintain the peace. Moscow will allocate 200 billion rubles ($34.5 million) annually for the next two years toward reconstruction in Prigorodnyi Raion. Galazov expressed satisfaction with those measures, but Aushev warned the moratorium is tantamount to "burying one's head in the sand." Nor do Yeltsin's proposals address two factors that Russian observers identify as contributing to the recent upsurge in violence. First, presidential elections are scheduled for April 1998 in North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which means both the incumbents and their prospective rivals risk alienating potential voters if they appear too conciliatory. Second, the Russian government in early July abolished the special economic status granted to Ingushetia in June 1994, whereby the republic is exempt from federal taxes. That move threatens to undermine the republic's economy and thus create new tensions. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx SUBSCRIBING: 1) To subscribe to RFERL-L, please send a message to email@example.com 2) In the text of your message, type subscribe RFERL-L YourFirstName YourLastName 3) Send the message UNSUBSCRIBING: 1) To un-subscribe to RFERL-L, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org 2) In the text of your message, type unsubscribe RFERL-L 3) Send the message CURRENT AND BACK ISSUES OF RFE/RL Newsline: RFE/RL Newsline is available online on the World Wide Web. http://www.rferl.org/newsline/ BACK ISSUES OF OMRI Daily Digest: Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available on the World Wide Web and by FTP. 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