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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 94, Part I, 13 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 * LEGALITY OF SVYAZINVEST PRIVATIZATION QUESTIONED * TAJIK MUTINEERS REGAIN LOST GROUND, PROMPTING GOVERNMENT TO NEGOTIATE * IRAN OPPOSES DEPLOYMENT OF PEACEKEEPERS IN NAGORNO- KARABAKH End Note : A NEW DANGER OF MORAL EQUIVALENCY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA LEGALITY OF SVYAZINVEST PRIVATIZATION QUESTIONED. NTV and the RIA-Novosti news agency on 12 August reported that the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls has determined that the recent sale of 25 percent plus one share in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest was illegal. The Mustcom, Ltd. consortium won the Svyazinvest auction with a bid of $1.875 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28-31 July and 1 August 1997). The service reportedly found that the deal involved violations of laws on hard currency transactions. But while Iosif Rogol, acting head of the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls, confirmed the Svyazinvest sale is being examined, Rogol denied that his service had already reached a conclusion or prepared a preliminary report. Rogol told Interfax on 12 August that his service and the State Anti-Monopoly Committee had been ordered to examine the Svyazinvest auction by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. OFFICIAL DENIES LAWS WERE BROKEN DURING SVYAZINVEST SALE. Igor Lipkin, chairman of the Russian Federal Property Fund, has denied that any currency laws were broken during the Svyazinvest sale. The Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls had reportedly concluded that the Central Bank did not authorize Lipkin's fund to perform hard currency transactions. But Lipkin told Interfax on 12 August that the sale of the Svyazinvest stake to Mustcom was carried out in Russian rubles. Mustcom representative Leonid Rozhetskin told the 13 August edition of "Kommersant-Daily" that the consortium complied with all Russian currency laws. NTV quoted a spokesman for the State Property Committee as saying that only a court ruling could force the Svyazinvest sale to be annulled. Many Russian and Western media have hailed the Svyazinvest auction as the fairest of recent privatization sales. "SEGODNYA" VIEWS LATEST SVYAZINVEST DEVELOPMENTS. The 13 August edition of "Segodnya" praised an "impressive" six-page preliminary report on the Svyazinvest sale allegedly prepared by the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls. The newspaper lauded the "courage" of the officials who prepared the report, despite the stance taken by many "highly-placed officials and influential bankers." But it predicted that the service will be pressured to alter its conclusions before releasing an official report. "Kommersant- Daily" also suggested on 13 August that a "behind-the-scenes battle" is being waged over the final conclusions of the investigation into the Svyazinvest sale. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group and has strongly criticized the Svyazinvest auction in recent weeks. Gusinskii and Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii are believed to have participated in the consortium that submitted the losing bid for Svyazinvest, although neither has admitted being involved. BEREZOVSKII, GUSINSKII TO FINANCE NEW VERSION OF "IZVESTIYA"? Igor Golembiovskii, former editor-in-chief of "Izvestiya," hopes to found a new newspaper called "Novye Izvestiya," and media magnates Berezovskii and Gusinskii are rumored to have agreed to finance the project, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 August. Dozens of journalists have either left "Izvestiya" or been fired since the paper's board of directors sacked Golembiovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 10, and 21 July 1997). For instance, former deputy editor Sergei Dardykin and former head of the political department Stepan Kiselev -- who had both been leading efforts to revive a trade union for "Izvestiya" staff -- were served with dismissal notices. Although he was not among those fired, prominent commentator Otto Latsis may also join Golembiovskii's new project. Journalists who have quit "Izvestiya" include the paper's former chief economic correspondent Mikhail Berger, who has been appointed deputy editor of "Segodnya." NEWSPAPERS CLOSE TO CHERNOMYRDIN CRITICIZE PLANNED CURRENCY REFORM. The redenomination of the Russian ruble planned for 1 January 1998 will help neither the public nor the economy and will serve only the interests of the government's "young reformers," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. The paper claimed the government embarked on currency reform because it had "exhausted its reserves for supporting the appearance of stability in the economy." In recent months, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," partly financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, has increasingly praised Chernomyrdin and criticized the government's "young reformers" -- code words for First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June and 29-30 July 1997). "Rabochaya tribuna," also seen as close to Chernomyrdin, argued on 9 August that the redenomination will hurt ordinary people, since shops are unlikely to cut prices by 1,000 times following the disappearance of three zeroes from the ruble. CHURCH OFFICIAL SAYS RELIGION LAW WOULD NOT HURT CATHOLICS, BAPTISTS. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who heads the Moscow Patriarchate's department on foreign Church relations, has said the religion law recently vetoed by President Boris Yeltsin would not limit the rights of Catholics or Baptists in Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 12 August. Kirill described the Catholic and Baptist Churches as "traditional confessions" that have a 150-year history in Russia. (The law would give more rights to religious groups that can prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years.) Kirill argued that he had never seen a "more liberal" religion law, despite "stylistic problems" which made the law appear discriminatory. He also asked why Russia is "afraid" to mention the special historical role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the law's preamble, given that "nobody is offended when some countries say they are Catholic countries." LUZHKOV CONTINUES TO BUILD REGIONAL, FOREIGN TIES... Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed a protocol with Leonid Potapov, president of the Republic of Buryatia, pledging that Moscow will invest up to 50 billion rubles ($8.6 million) in the Buryat economy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 August. Luzhkov, who frequently tours Russian regions (before visiting Buryatia he stopped in the Republic of Tyva), is seen to be cultivating ties with regional leaders in part to strengthen his influence in the Federation Council, which is made up of top regional officials. He is also believed to be courting the regional elite in preparation for a future presidential bid, although he has denied having such ambitions. Luzhkov has also been developing contacts with foreign political and business leaders. Most recently, in late July he met with top local politicians and business leaders in Los Angeles, California. ...AS MOSCOW GOVERNMENT'S INFLUENCE IN BANKING, MEDIA SEEN INCREASING. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 August that the Bank of Moscow -- which is 51 percent owned by the Moscow city government -- has become one of Russia's 10 largest banks in terms of assets. During the last six months, the bank's assets have increased tenfold to 12.8 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion), largely thanks to deposits of city budget funds and proceeds from the city's recent sale of $500 million in Eurobonds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 1997). Meanwhile, a new radio station to be funded by the Moscow city government is scheduled to begin broadcasting on 1 September, "Segodnya" reported on 12 August. Like the recently established television network TV-Center, the new radio station is expected to support Luzhkov if he contests the next presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May and 9 June 1997). POSSIBLE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF MILITARY REFORM. The implementation of Yeltsin's July decrees on downsizing the Russian military will create the opportunity for senior officials to embezzle huge sums of money by writing off equipment and privatizing property, according to military analyst Pavel Felgengauer. Writing in "Segodnya" on 12 August, Felgengauer also warns that failure to pay wage arrears to officers and servicemen could provoke "mass disobedience" this fall. Felgengauer suggests that the movement created by State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin to support the armed forces is intended as a "nationwide parallel system of control" over troops that will assume command over the military if the General Staff loses control in a crisis. In an article published in "Segodnya" on 22 July, Felgengauer argued that the proposals outlined in Yeltsin's decree were drafted by a small group of influential generals to protect their own personal interests. RUSSIA'S CIVIL AVIATION SAFETY DETERIORATING. Air safety in Russia during the first six months of 1997 fell to its lowest level for three years, Russian media reported on 12 August, quoting senior civil aviation officials. A total of 66 people have been killed in seven crashes so far this year, compared with 43 people in five crashes over the same period in 1995 and 35 people in four crashes in 1996. The majority of crashes are still caused by human error. Both freight and passenger traffic also declined during the first half of 1997. JAPANESE GOVERNORS WRAP UP VISIT. A delegation of Japanese governors ended their nine-day visit to Russia on 13 August, ITAR- TASS reported. The delegation included the governor of Saitama prefecture, the deputy governors of Kagowa and Kyoto prefectures, and the secretary-general of the National Association of Japanese Governors. On 7 August, at the 14th meeting of Russian and Japanese governors in Moscow, the Japanese met with the governors of Moscow, Leningrad, Volgograd, and Rostov Oblasts as well the president of Buryatia. The aim of the trip was to promote cooperation between regions within each country. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said "a significant contribution" was made toward achieving that aim. RADIOACTIVE CONTAINER FALLS INTO SEA OF OKHOTSK. A 2,300 kilogram lead container in which strontium-90 was being transported fell from a helicopter into the Sea of Okhotsk about 150 meters from the northern coast of Sakhalin Island, according to Russian media. Russian experts said there was no danger posed to the environment as the lead container could not break from its fall. Ships from the Pacific fleet arrived in the area on 13 August to recover the container, believed to be some 20 meters under the water. The strontium-90 is intended for use in a battery at an automatic weather station. ABDUCTED FRENCH AID WORKERS HELD IN CHECHNYA. Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev has confirmed that the four French aid workers abducted in Makhachkala in early August are being held captive in Chechnya by members of a Chechen- Dagestani criminal group, according to Ekho Moskvy on 12 August and "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 August. The captors refused to negotiate terms for their release and have not demanded a ransom. CHECHEN RECEIVES STATUS OF SOLE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE. The Chechen parliament enacted a law on13 August making Chechen the only official language in the republic, AFP reported on 13 August, citing Interfax. Parliament chairman Ruslan Alikhadzhiev said the law was adopted in response to public demand but that it would be difficult to implement given the lack of skilled teachers who could draft school programs in the Chechen language. The law contravenes Article 68 of the Russian Constitution, which stipulates that Russian has the status of official language in all subjects of the federation but that the indigenous language may also be granted official status. TATARSTAN TO ISSUE EUROBONDS. Tatarstan's Ministry of Finance signed an agreement on 8 August with Russia's Alfa bank and the Netherlands' ING Bering Bank on issuing Tatar Eurobonds, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau and "Izvestiya" on 13 August. The bonds will be sold on European financial markets beginning November 1997, and will later be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Prime Minister Farid Mukhametshin estimated that the Eurobonds will raise between $200 -250 million. Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin met with his Tatar counterpart, Mintimer Shaimiev, in Moscow on 12 August to discuss relations between Tatarstan and the federal center, Russian Public Television (ORT) reported on 12 August. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK MUTINEERS REGAIN LOST GROUND...The Tajik Army's First Brigade, under the command of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, retook the Fakhrabad Pass 25 kilometers south of Dushanbe after a counter- offensive against government troops on 12 August. Khudaberdiyev's unit retreated from the strategic pass when troops loyal to the government began what the Russian press described as a "large offensive" supported by planes and helicopters. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Kosym Boboyev, the deputy governor of Khatlon Oblast, denied that government troops were engaged in fighting with Khudaberdiyev's troops in the Kurgan-Teppe and Sarband region but confirmed that the area had been bombed by "unidentified planes." Khudaberdiyev's forces shot down one military helicopter. Boboyev also said there were casualties among the population but did not give any figures. ...PROMPTING GOVERNMENT TO NEGOTIATE. The Tajik government and Col. Khudaberdiyev have agreed to hold talks on 13 August aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to the fighting between the First Brigade and forces loyal to the government, according to RFE/RL corespondents in Tajikistan. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is scheduled to travel to the Kurgan-Teppe area to meet with Khudaberdiyev at the headquarters of the Russian Army's 191st Regiment, which is mediating in the conflict. IRAN OPPOSES DEPLOYMENT OF PEACEKEEPERS IN NAGORNO- KARABAKH. The Iranian leadership believes that the "intrusion of a military contingent," even a peacekeeping force, in the region of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will only destabilize the situation, according to Aram Sargssian, the chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Armenia. Sargssian briefed journalists in Yerevan on 12 August on his recent 10-day visit to Tehran at the invitation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Armenian agencies reported. AZERBAIJAN WANTS CLOSER COOPERATION WITH NATO. President Heidar Aliev and Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov held talks in Baku on 12 August with Nicholas Kehou, the deputy chairman of NATO's Military Committee for International relations, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Hasanov argued that NATO should not regard the Transcaucasus as a single entity but should adopt a differentiated approach to the three Transcaucasus states that takes into account the presence of Russian troops in Armenia. Kehou gave a positive assessment of Azerbaijan's participation in the Partnership for Peace program and promised NATO's assistance in improving relations between countries of the region embroiled in conflicts, according to ITAR-TASS. During his recent visit to the U.S., Aliev signed an agreement with a joint statement on military relations with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that provides for U.S. assistance in the training of the Azerbaijani armed forces, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 6 August. GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS AT ODDS OVER REBURYING STALIN. Georgia's two rival communist parties espouse diametrically opposing views over Stalin's final, or possibly next, resting place, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 August. Grigol Oniani, the head of the Stalinist Communist Party of Georgia, has begun collecting contributions from the inhabitants of Stalin's home town, Gori, in order to finance the transportation there from Moscow of Stalin's remains should the Russian leadership decide it is time to remove Stalin from the Kremlin wall and Lenin from his mausoleum on Red Square. Oniani has the support of Stalin's daughter Svetlana. But Gen. Panteleimon Giorgadze, the head of the United Communist Party of Georgia, argues that both Lenin and Stalin should remain where they are. END NOTE A NEW DANGER OF MORAL EQUIVALENCY by Paul Goble The old notion that the Soviet and U.S. systems are somehow morally equivalent has resurfaced in an unexpected place, one where its widespread acceptance could have even more serious consequences than it has had in the West. In an essay published in Tallinn on 8 August, Estonian commentator Jaan Kaplinski argues that there was no fundamental difference in the moral standing of the two systems represented by the former Soviet Union and the United States. He suggests that both systems sought to impose their will on others, despoiling the environment at home and dominating satellite states abroad. Moreover, he suggests that both systems are inevitably doomed by their hubris and overreaching. Because of this, he continues, Estonians should not view one of those systems as superior to the other or use the values derived from one to judge the other. Instead, they should develop their own ideas drawing from both sides. This superficially attractive proposition revives a concept known in the West as the moral equivalence of the two systems. The concept was widely advanced by a variety of political figures and analysts during the last years of the Soviet Union and on occasion since that time. Most Westerners making that argument suggested that since their own countries were less than perfect, they should refrain from any demand that Moscow and its system be judged according to Western standards. Whenever anyone pointed to an outrage in the Soviet Union, such people would insist that some U.S. actions were as bad or even worse. While such ideas may have contributed to a certain modesty, they also lead supporters of the idea of moral equivalency to argue that nothing should be done to promote Western values in the Soviet bloc as somehow superior and worthy of emulation. That attitude, in turn, often meant that not only was the West afraid to defend its own values but also that many in the communist bloc lost some of the faith they had in those Western ideals. The collapse of communism in Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union have largely discredited this view in the West. Few Westerners are willing to insist on moral equivalency between a system that had failed and their own, which is still very much live. But now the idea of moral equivalence between the two systems has reappeared in a country where one might least expect it, a country that has had experience with both systems and thus should be able to make comparisons. If many Estonians were to accept the ideas advanced by Kaplinski in his article, that in itself could mean that Estonia and other countries in the region would be exposed to three dangers potentially far greater than when the notion worked to restrain Western criticism of Soviet acts. First, such acceptance could call into question for many people the value of the still unfinished and quite difficult task of reestablishing democracy in a country that saw that political and social system destroyed by the Soviet invasion in 1940. Second, it could serve as a cover for the return of non-democratic forces to power. To the extent that Estonians are encouraged to think that there is no difference between systems, they would be more inclined to accept leaders whose commitment to democracy is anything but secure. And third, the acceptance of this idea could easily contribute to a more general moral relativism that would make the recovery from the impact of the Soviet invasion far more difficult. Consequently, all those concerned about the growth of democracy need to be worried when such ideas surface and remain uncontested. To paraphrase the great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam, unhappy is that country in which the despicable is not despised. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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