|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 93, Part I, 12 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 *NORILSK DEAL SIGNED, AS MORE SHOTS FIRED IN INFORMATION WAR *MOP-UP CONTINUES IN WEST TAJIKISTAN, WHILE FIGHTING DIMINISHES IN SOUTH *MORE KARABAKH PEACE TALKS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NORILSK DEAL SIGNED... The government has signed a deal on the 5 August sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel to the Svift company, but there were conflicting reports on when the document was signed. A government spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 11 August that Svift and government officials signed the deal sometime after representatives of the Procurator-General's Office, State Property Committee, and Russian Federal Property Fund had informed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 9 August that no laws were violated during the Norilsk auction. (This report contradicted an earlier ITAR-TASS report on 11 August, which said those officials had not yet submitted their conclusions to Chernomyrdin.) "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 August claimed that the deal transferring the Norilsk stake to Svift, which is linked to Oneksimbank, was signed on 8 August immediately after government officials told Chernomyrdin that the sale was conducted in full compliance with the law. ...AS MORE SHOTS FIRED IN INFORMATION WAR. "Segodnya" on 12 August noted that while the Procurator-General's Office agreed that there are no legal grounds for challenging the Norilsk auction in court, the procuracy's report to Chernomyrdin cited shortcomings in Russia's privatization legislation. The same day, long-time "Izvestiya" journalist Mikhail Berger published a separate article in "Segodnya" arguing that the 1995 agreements under which Oneksimbank acquired management rights over the Norilsk shares were "detrimental and unfair but, within the framework of those unfair rules, everything [connected with the 5 August sale] was honest." Berger argued further that in selling the Norilsk stake, the government had been forced to choose between "the rules" and "fairness," owing to badly-drafted privatization legislation and rules for loans-for-shares deals. Those loans-for-shares rules had been "dictated" by Oneksimbank, Berger claimed. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group owns "Segodnya," while Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya." KORZHAKOV DISCUSSES MEMOIRS. Declaring that the people have a right "to know the truth" about their leaders, State Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov on 12 August told journalists about his new book, "Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Sunset," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Korzhakov, former head of the Presidential Security Service and a close confidante of President Boris Yeltsin, declined to talk about the book's contents in detail but said it will appear in shops by 15 August. He claimed that individuals representing Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii had offered him $5 million not to publish the book. Korzhakov also charged that the authorities tried to pressure Russian publishers not to print the book (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). Excerpts from Korzhakov's book that were published in London's "The Times" on 3 August depicted Yeltsin as having a chronic drinking problem and offered an unflattering portrayal of the president's younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. NEW COMMANDER OF INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS APPOINTED. Col.- Gen. Leontii Shevtsov, who since October 1995 has commanded the Russian contingent serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, has been appointed deputy interior minister and commander of the Interior Ministry troops, Russian media reported on 11 August. The 51-year-old Shevtsov is a graduate of the Tashkent Higher Military Command College, the Frunze Academy, and the General Staff Academy, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. He served in East Germany as commander of a tank battalion and as chief of staff of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya from December 1994 to April 1995. Shevtsov replaces Col.-Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, who was reported to have retired "for health reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 1997). SERGEEV SEEKS TO ASSUAGE FEARS ON MILITARY REFORM. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 11 August told commanders and officers of the Far East Military District in Khabarovsk that military reform will seek to provide "the highest possible level of military security" without exceeding "feasible expenditures," ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeev also stopped in Kamchatka and is to visit military installations in Chita and Novosibirsk. According to the 12 August "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the Far East, Trans-Baikal, and Siberian Military Districts, along with the Pacific Fleet, have the worst wage arrears problems in the armed forces, with backlogs of up to four months. Speaking in Moscow on 7 August, Sergeev promised that wage arrears to military personnel will be paid by 20 August, before the 1 September deadline imposed by a recent presidential decree, Russian news agencies reported. Sergeev added that as military reforms are implemented, spending on soldiers' wages and benefits will increase. ROKHLIN'S MOVEMENT TO JOIN PLANNED OPPOSITION PROTESTS. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin says that this fall, his movement to support the armed forces and defense industry will join with other opposition parties to "lead the people out into the streets and stay there until the president and government resign," Interfax reported on 11 August. Rokhlin -- formally still a member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia Duma faction -- said he plans to discuss possible cooperation with the Communist, Yabloko, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Duma factions. The communist opposition has strongly supported Rokhlin's recent initiatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 August 1997). Rokhlin also said his movement has formed 35 regional branches and hopes to establish another 35 by September. In order to be registered as an all-Russian public organization, a movement must have branches in at least 45 of Russia's 89 regions. FOREIGN BANKS TO FINANCE RUSSIAN SPACE PROGRAM. Speaking at the Moscow-based Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center on 8 August, Yeltsin pledged that Russia will meet its obligations for the construction of the "Alpha" international space station, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin also said that he favored centralizing management of the country's space industry. A presidential decree will allow the Finance Ministry to borrow $99.5 million this year from foreign banks to allow the Russian Space Agency to finance the "Alpha" project. Those loans will be backed by government guarantees. Earlier this year, Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev said four Russian banks would lend some $140 million toward further construction of "Alpha" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 30 April 1997). Because of funding problems on the Russian side, the scheduled launch of the first module of the station has been delayed from November 1997 until June 1998. CATHOLICISM TO BE ADDED TO LIST OF "TRADITIONAL" RUSSIAN RELIGIONS? Speaking in St. Petersburg, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev predicted that when the law on religious organizations is amended, Catholicism will be named among Russia's "traditional religions," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August. The initial version of the law, vetoed by Yeltsin in July, listed only the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as traditional religions. The Vatican urged Yeltsin to veto the law. Yeltsin has called on representatives of the presidential administration, the parliament, and the Russian Orthodox Church to submit a revised draft of the law by 1 September. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II has argued that Catholicism cannot be considered a traditional religion for today's Russia, since before 1917, most Catholics in the Russian empire lived on territory that is no longer part of Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 August 1997). HALF OF RUSSIANS AGAINST SPECIAL STATUS FOR MEMBERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH. In a recent nationwide poll of 1600 Russians by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VCIOM), 49 percent of respondents said members of the Russian Orthodox Church should not have a higher legal status than atheists or representatives of other religious groups, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 August. Some 27 percent of respondents said members of the Russian Orthodox Church should have a special status under the law, while 14 percent expressed no opinion. Article 14 of the constitution declares that all religious groups are equal under the law. ENVIRONMENTALISTS PROTEST NUCLEAR PLANT UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN ROSTOV. Some 150 environmental activists have again blocked the road leading to a nuclear power plant under construction in Volgodonsk (Rostov Oblast), RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 11 August. Construction of the plant was halted in 1990, but the Atomic Energy Ministry decided last year to resume construction. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, Sergei Fomichev of the group Defenders of the Rainbow said the protesters are demanding an oblast-wide referendum on the plant. (Citizens of Kostroma Oblast voted overwhelmingly against building a nuclear plant in a similar referendum last December.) In the 6 August "Izvestiya," Fomichev described how some 30 protesters blocking the road to the Volgodonsk plant were beaten up on 29 July. "Segodnya" on 7 August quoted officials in the Atomic Energy Ministry as saying the Rostov environmentalists instigated the 29 July incident and are in the pay of foreign sources. TWO RUSSIAN OIL COMPANIES TO PURCHASE IRAQI CRUDE. The Russian oil companies Zarubezhneft (Nostro) and Alfa-Ekho have concluded agreements with Iraq's state oil company SOMO to purchase Iraqi oil under the "oil for food" scheme, Russian media reported. Both contracts must be approved by the UN. Zarubezhneft is to buy 740,000 metric tons, which it intends to transport from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan later in August. Alfa-Ekho will buy 354,000 metric tons, according to Interfax. LUKASHENKA PROPOSES BELARUS AS VENUE FOR MASKHADOV- YELTSIN MEETING. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has proposed that the planned meeting between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov take place in Minsk, Interfax reported on 11 August. Maskhadov's deputy, Vakha Arsanov, told journalists that the Chechen leadership considers either Belarus or Azerbaijan an acceptable venue, Turan and Interfax reported. But Yeltsin's press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on11 August that the meeting will take place in Moscow, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. Yastrzhembskii said the talks would focus on why earlier agreements are not being implemented. The Chechen side wants to sign an "inter-state treaty" between Russia and the Chechen Republic. On 11 August, Maskhadov traveled to neighboring Ingushetia where he discussed the overall situation in the North Caucasus with his Ingush counterpart, Ruslan Aushev. CHECHENS WILL TRY TO OBTAIN JOURNALISTS' RELEASE. Maskhadov's press secretary Kazbek Khadzhiev said on 11 August that Grozny hopes to secure the release of five Russian journalists abducted in Chechnya over the past three months before the planned Yeltsin-Maskhadov meeting, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. Vladimir Lukin, the chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, told ITAR-TASS that "no serious accords" between Moscow and Grozny should be signed until all Russians held hostage in Chechnya are freed. TYPHOID OUTBREAK REPORTED IN DAGESTAN. Some 168 people, including 64 children have been hospitalized with suspected typhoid fever in Dagestan, Russian media reported. The first four cases of typhoid in Dagestan this year were reported in May in the town of Kaspiisk, but almost all those affected in the current outbreak are from the village of Tebekhmakhi in Akush Raion. The suspected cause of the outbreak is contaminated supplies of drinking water. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MOP-UP CONTINUES IN WEST TAJIKISTAN... Forces of the presidential guard are continuing to strengthen their positions in the western regions of Gissar, Shahkr-i Naw, and Tursunzade , according to RFE/RL correspondents. Troops under the command of the guard's commander, Sukhrob Kasymov, have forced armed units of Customs Minister Yakub Salimov and of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the army's rapid reaction force, into gorges of the nearby mountains and toward the Uzbek border. Uzbekistan has closed that frontier and strengthened its forces there. Tajik army troops loyal to the government have taken control of on the Tajik side of the border. There is still no official figure for the number of dead and wounded during this latest outbreak of fighting. The government claims to have taken full control of Tursunzade and the aluminum plant in the city. In Dushanbe, where the fighting started on 9 August, the head of the city's police has been fired for failing to take adequate measures to put down the conflict. ...WHILE FIGHTING DIMINISHES IN SOUTH. Tajik government reconnaissance planes show that forces loyal to Col. Khudaberdiyev, have pulled back from their positions in the Fakhrabad Pass, 35 kilometers south of Dushanbe, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Khudaberdiyev claims that those planes bombed positions in Kalininabad on 12 August, preventing the colonel from taking part in negotiations with the head of the CIS peacekeeping force. Russia's NTV on 12 August reported that he does not have sufficient forces left "to put up serious resistance." Commander of the presidential guard Sukhrob Kasymov told NTV that there was fighting in the city of Kurgan-Teppe, where Khudaberdiyev's headquarters is located, and that the city has been under artillery fire since the night of 11 August. He added that he expects to have order restored in "two or three days." RUSSIAN TROOPS, UTO PROMISE NEUTRALITY. Russian officials in Moscow and a United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader say they will remain neutral in the current problems in Tajikistan. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told ITAR-TASS on 11 August that while the Russian military and border guards in Tajikistan "are taking measures to prevent casualties," the response of the Tajik government leads him to believe that the fighting there can be localized. Interfax quoted an unnamed "top" Russian official at the Defense Ministry as saying CIS peacekeepers are not interfering in the conflict. Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, told Ekho Moskvy that Russian soldiers in Tajikistan have not been targeted in the latest outbreak of fighting but that participation in an "active fashion" might lead some forces to "immediately turn on us." UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda told Voice of Free Tajikistan that his forces will also remain neutral. KAZAKHSTAN COMPLAINS ABOUT RUSSIAN CUSTOMS. The chairman of Kazakhstan's State Custom's Committee, Gani Kasymov, has sent a letter of protest to Russian customs officials complaining about violations of trade agreements, RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakhstan reported on 12 August. Russian customs workers have been levying taxes on goods transported by trucks from Kazakhstan. Both countries are members of the four-country customs union (together with Kyrgyzstan and Belarus) and are freed from such taxation. Russia officials have said the practice will be stopped immediately. RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH KAZAKH DEMONSTRATORS. Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Valerii Nikolaenko on 11 August met with Kazakh journalists demonstrating outside the Russian Embassy on 9 August, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The journalists wanted to show solidarity with Russian journalists currently detained in Belarus. They also demanded that their Russian colleagues be released immediately. Nikolaenko said he had been unable to meet with the journalists on 9 August because he had not been in the capital. He also said the Russian government is closely monitoring the situation. MORE KARABAKH PEACE TALKS SCHEDULED? The U.S. intends in the immediate future to intensify its efforts to achieve a political settlement of the Karabakh conflict, AFP reported on 11 August, citing an unnamed U.S. State Department source. He said that "very serious discussions" will be held following the presidential elections in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 1 September. An article in the Armenian state newspaper "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 6 August argued that Armenian society must accept that "mutual concessions on key issues" are necessary to resolve the conflict. The article sparked widespread speculation that the Armenian leadership is preparing to make substantive concessions. Writing in "Hayots ashkhar" on 7 August, Samvel Babayan, the commander-in-chief of the Karabakh Armenian armed forces, rejected such speculation. He asserted that "even if such a document is signed, it won't be implemented." TURKEY WANTS A STAKE IN RECENT US-AZERBAIJAN OIL AGREEMENTS. The Turkish state oil company TPAO is lobbying to be included in at least one of the four new agreements signed by Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and major U.S. oil companies earlier this month, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 12 August, quoting a statement released by the Turkish energy ministry. Turkey is a participant in only one of the five international consortiums created to date to exploit Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. TPAO has a 6.75 percent stake in the consortium developing the Azeri, Chirag, and Gyuneshli fields. ETHNIC GEORGIAN REFUGEES FROM ABKHAZIA ISSUE NEW ULTIMATUM... Representatives of the ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war held a congress in Tbilisi on 8-9 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 August. The participants adopted a 16-point resolution declaring Abkhazia and South Ossetia "annexed territories" and the Russian peacekeeping forces currently deployed there "an army of occupation." They also called for the annulment of the treaty permitting Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia and for Tbilisi to quit the CIS, according to Interfax. The congress participants threatened a "confrontation" with the Georgian authorities if those demands are not met within one month. On 11 August, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze assured the fugitives in his weekly radio address that "until we return Abkhazia [to Georgian jurisdiction], we are all refugees." ...WHILE SHEVARDNADZE QUERIES POINT OF PLANNED MEETING WITH YELTSIN. Shevardnadze has warned that the withdrawal from Abkhazia of the Russian peacekeeping force, whose mandate expired on 31 July, "would inevitably lead to a new conflict." He also said that he would meet in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba only in order to sign a document on resolving the conflict that is acceptable to both sides. Shevardnadze has approved Yeltsin's still unpublished proposals, while Ardzinba wants to use an earlier protocol drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry as a basis for further negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with Ardzinba for several hours in the Black Sea coast resort of Sochi on 9 August, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. No details of their talks have been released, however. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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