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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 95, Part I, 14 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 REPLACES STATE PROPERTY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN *CENTRAL BANK EXAMINES SVYAZINVEST SALE *TAJIK PRESIDENT FIRES MUTINOUS COLONEL End Note AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN CONTEST OWNERSHIP OF CASPIAN OIL FIELD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN REPLACES STATE PROPERTY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN. President Boris Yeltsin on 13 August accepted Alfred Kokh's resignation as deputy prime minister and head of the State Property Committee and appointed Maksim Boiko to both posts. Having joined the State Property Committee when it was run by current First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, Kokh had chaired the committee since September 1996. In a statement released to Russian media, Kokh said he had submitted his resignation before leaving for vacation on 11 August and will now work in the private sector. Kokh added that he leaves the government "with a clear conscience." Recent sales of state-owned stakes in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest and the Tyumen Oil Company have shown that privatization has brought millions of dollars to the state coffers, he said. Boiko, who, like Kokh, is considered a close ally of Chubais, had served as deputy head of the presidential administration since August 1996. CHERNOMYRDIN ON KOKH'S DEPARTURE. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who reportedly informed Yeltsin of Kokh's resignation, described the outgoing State Property Committee chairman as a "good economist" with a "good future," Interfax reported on 13 August. The prime minister said all of the achievements of privatization this year could be attributed to Kokh's work. At a cabinet meeting in July, Chernomyrdin criticized the implementation of privatization policy, saying every recent auction organized by Kokh's committee had ended in a scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 1997). Meanwhile, State Property Committee Deputy Chairman Fazil Gazizullin told Interfax that the committee's staff had long known of Kokh's plans to resign and that privatization policy will not change following Kokh's departure. State Duma Privatization Committee Chairman Pavel Bunich of the Our Home Is Russia faction agreed, noting that Boiko is "from the same team" as Kokh, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 August. PERSONNEL CHANGE REGARDED AS LINKED TO BANK WAR. "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 August argued that Kokh's departure is "the continuation of the bank war" that erupted this summer over several controversial privatization sales. The newspaper argued that Kokh was accused of showing favoritism toward Oneksimbank, the winner of the recent auctions for state-owned stakes in Svyazinvest and in Norilsk Nickel. Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Sergei Dorenko had suggested on nationwide television that Kokh was too close to Oneksimbank. New State Property Committee Chairman Boiko will have to supervise further privatization deals without giving the appearance of being too close to any one financial group, "Kommersant-Daily" argued. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 14 August that Chernomyrdin "has achieved the dismissal of Chubais's closest ally" but did not mention that Boiko is also seen as close to Chubais. That newspaper has slammed recent privatization sales supervised by Kokh. CENTRAL BANK EXAMINES SVYAZINVEST SALE. The Central Bank has begun investigating whether Russian currency laws were broken during the recent sale of a state-owned stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest, Interfax reported on 13 August, quoting the bank's deputy chairman, Aleksandr Khandruev. The same day, Igor Rogal, acting head of the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls, again denied Russian media reports saying his service had already concluded that laws were broken during the Svyazinvest transactions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). Rogal acknowledged that a draft report may have been leaked from his service, but he said conclusions reached in such a document may be unfounded and therefore may be left out of the final evaluation of the Svyazinvest sale. Rogal said that together with the justice minister and the head of the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, he will soon sign a joint official evaluation of the legality of the Svyazinvest deal. OFFICIAL SAYS CONTROL OVER STATE-OWNED SHARES IN ENERGY COMPANIES TO BE TIGHTENED. During a 13 August meeting, Yeltsin instructed Chernomyrdin to draft a presidential decree on managing state-owned shares in enterprises in the energy sector, Interfax reported, quoting Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Livshits. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov recently submitted a report to the president criticizing the Fuel and Energy Ministry and government representatives in partly state-owned energy companies, Livshits said. Livshits also called for revoking decisions that allowed companies to keep dividends earned from state-owned shares. Earlier this year, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov charged that the state earns little revenue from its 40 percent stake in Gazprom and promised to strengthen state control over the gas monopoly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1997). However, Gazprom management retained the right to manage a 35 percent stake -- nearly all of the state-owned Gazprom shares. STROEV CALLS FOR PASSING AMENDED TAX CODE. While meeting with Yeltsin on 13 August, Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev said Russia should adopt a new tax code by the end of the year, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, Stroev noted that the current draft should be amended to better reflect the interests of the regions and domestic industry. He also said regional leaders believe the draft code would not ease the tax burden and are unhappy that most taxes would still be collected by the federal, rather than regional authorities. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists that Yeltsin has accepted an invitation from Stroev to address the Federation Council on 23 September. The upper house will discuss the tax code on that day, according to the 14 August "Segodnya." However, the code must first be approved by the State Duma before it is put to a vote in the Council. UNCERTAIN PROSPECTS FOR TAX CODE PASSAGE IN DUMA. While the Duma approved the tax code in the first reading in June, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev recently predicted that deputies will reject the code in the second reading. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov of the Yabloko faction has suggested that a new code may be passed by the end of the year. However, Zadornov told ITAR-TASS on 13 August that his committee has already received some 500 proposed amendments from Duma deputies or regional authorities. In addition, Sverdlovsk and Belgorod Oblasts have each submitted alternative tax codes for consideration by the Duma. "Segodnya" argued that opponents of the code are planning to "drown it in amendments" that will change its fundamental points. Government officials have repeatedly said the 1998 budget currently being drafted can be fulfilled only if a new tax code goes into effect on 1 January. SERGEEV ASKS OFFICERS FOR "UNDERSTANDING." Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 11 August told army commanders and officers in Khabarovsk, "I don't expect applause from you. I expect understanding of the extreme necessity of the measures that have been planned and approved by the government." Sergeev's comments on the main points of military reform were quoted by the official military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" on 14 August. The previous day, Sergeev completed his visit to the Trans-Baikal Military District in Chita and flew to Novosibirsk, ITAR-TASS reported. The defense minister has been touring garrisons in an attempt to win officers' support for planned reforms that involve downsizing military personnel and merging some branches of the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). Several prominent politicians, including former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, have sharply criticized the military reform plans. GOVERNMENT SCIENCE POLICY CRITICIZED. Vladimir Strakhov, director of the Institute of Earth Physics, has warned that government policies on restructuring the scientific sector are tantamount to the "castration of Russia's scientific potential." In an open letter to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 14 August, Strakhov charged that the government, the leadership of the Academy of Sciences, and trade unions for scientific workers have focused their efforts on preventing a "social explosion" among scientists rather than on promoting the "real interests and needs of science." Strakhov has staged two hunger strikes to protest funding shortages and low salaries for Russian scientists (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 14 October 1996 and 7 January 1997) Meanwhile, 58 hospital workers in Altai Krai, who are owed eight months in back wages, have vowed to continue a hunger strike that has already lasted 10 days, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 August. DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER WARNS OF TEXTBOOK SHORTAGE. Oleg Sysuev has warned that two weeks before the start of the academic year, Russian schools face a drastic shortage of textbooks, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 August. He said that only 29 million textbooks have been printed this year, despite a demand for more than 100 million books. Sysuev blamed regional governments, which, he said, are responsible for supplying schools with textbooks but which have only allocated enough funds to print 10 million books this year. He said various federal ministries and agencies have been instructed to take urgent steps to alleviate the textbook shortage. Sysuev also argued that the responsibility for funding textbook production had been transferred to regional governments too "hastily." He called for a revision of that policy. RUSSIA, IRAN DISCUSS PORT DEVELOPMENT. Talks began in Moscow on 13 August between Russian Transport Ministry officials and Iranian representatives on a proposed joint venture to construct a major trade port in the village of Olya in Astrakhan Oblast, Interfax reported. Olya lies in the Volga delta, 95 kilometers from Astrakhan and 45 kilometers from the Caspian coast. On completion, the port will handle 10 million tons of freight annually. The first new facilities, which will be completed by 2000, will have an annual capacity of 2 million tons. The total cost of the project, including rail and road connections, is estimated at $360 million. RUSSIAN FIGHTER PLANES BUZZ GROZNY? Russian fighter aircraft on 13 August simulated attacks on the central market and airport in Grozny, according to Western agencies and an RFE/RL correspondent in Grozny. Russian defense ministry officials denied, however, that Russian aircraft had entered Chechen airspace. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov toid ITAR-TASS that Chechnya's air defense troops were placed on alert and instructed to destroy any intruding aircraft. First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov termed the mock attack a deliberate attempt to prevent the planned meeting between Yeltsin and Chechen President Askan Maskhadov from taking place, but an unnamed source within the Russian Security Council told AFP on 14 August that the meeting will be held on 18 August. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told Interfax on 14 August that the decision by the Chechen parliament the previous day to designate Russian a foreign language is "counterproductive" and does not contribute to an "atmosphere of trust." TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK PRESIDENT FIRES MUTINOUS COLONEL. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov signed a decree on 13 August relieving Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev of his duties as commander of the presidential guards rapid reaction force. Khudaberdiyev has made no official statement, but the Khatlon Defense Council, which was largely created by the mutinous colonel, has rejected the decree. Rakhmonov has appointed Sherali Mirzoyev as commander of the rapid reaction force. SITUATION CALMS IN KURGAN-TEPPE... The southern Tajik city of Kurgan-Teppe was quiet on 14 August, according to a resident interviewed by RFE/RL's Tajik Service. The resident said that the previous night, gunfire could be heard from the direction of Sarband and the Fakhrabad Pass, which contradicts government claims that the situation was calm there. The Kurgan-Teppe resident also said the process of disarming people had begun but was unable to say who was carrying out that process. The same person noted that "everybody has weapons" and that after darkness no one dares go outside. Similar reports have been filed from the northern sections of Dushanbe. ...WHILE VIOLENCE FLARES ELSEWHERE. Following the defeat of armed groups loyal to Customs Committee Chairman Yakub Salimov, order has broken down in the "liberated" areas west of Dushanbe. RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan report that the armed forces that drove Salimov and his followers into hiding are now engaging in looting, rape, and murder. One man told RFE/RL that his brother and sister-in-law were taken from their home in the town of Tursunzade and shot dead outside in the street. Other reports say that travelers on the road from Tursunzade to Dushanbe are stopped at check points and that suspected "Uzbeks" or "Leninabadtsy" (people from the Tajikistan's north) are beaten and stripped of their property or are subjected to even worse treatment. The village of Cheptura, inhabited by ethnic Uzbeks and Leninabadtsy, is deserted after rumors of violence prompted people to flee, many to Uzbekistan. PRIMAKOV, ARDZINBA IN TBILISI. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba flew unexpectedly to Tbilisi on 14 August for one-to-one talks with his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze. Ardzinba was accompanied by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who had been scheduled to travel to Tbilisi on 14 August for talks with Shevardnadze to prepare for a proposed meeting between Shevardnadze, Ardzinba, and Russian President Yeltsin in Moscow. Primakov had met separately with Ardzinba on 9 August in Sochi. In a three-hour interview with Georgian Television on 12 August, Ardzinba rejected Yeltsin's latest proposals for resolving the conflict and argued that Abkhazia is not a constituent part of Georgia. Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 August said the Russian leadership disapproves of attempts by the Chechen leadership to mediate a resolution of the Abkhaz conflict, NTV reported. Yastrzhembskii argued that foreign policy issues do not lie within the competence of federation subjects. GEORGIAN FUGITIVES TO DEMAND FINANCIAL COMPENSATION. Boris Kakubava, spokesman for the ethnic Georgians forced to flee their homes in Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, says the displaced persons will each demand $25,000 in compensation from the Georgian government if the demands made at their 7-9 August conference are not met, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi, citing BS-Press. Those demands include the annulment of the treaty permitting Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia and that Georgia quit the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). AZERBAIJAN REJECTS RUSSIA'S "LAND FOR BASING RIGHTS" OFFER. Meeting with three U.S. senators in Baku on 12 August, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev said that Moscow had repeatedly offered to "liberate" the districts of Azerbaijan currently under control of Karabakh Armenian forces in return for the right to station troops in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 13 August. Azerbaijan consistently rejected this proposal. Aliev proposed that the U.S. assume the role of guarantor of the independence of the former Soviet republics. END NOTE AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN CONTEST OWNERSHIP OF CASPIAN OIL FIELD by Liz Fuller A major diplomatic row was triggered by the 4 July signing of an agreement between the Russian oil companies Rosneft and LUKoil and Azerbaijani's state oil company SOCAR on jointly exploring and developing a Caspian offshore oil field known as Kyapaz. Involved in that row are the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Their differences spotlight the ongoing dispute over the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the ownership rights to the millions of tons of hydrocarbons that lie beneath it. The five states with a Caspian coastline (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran) have been at loggerheads for the past three years over whether that body of water should be legally defined as a sea or a lake. The question arose in September 1994, when Azerbaijan signed a multi-billion dollar contract with a consortium of Western oil companies plus Russia's LUKoil to exploit the Chirag and Azeri fields and the deep-water section of the Gyuneshli field. The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately declared the contract invalid and called for its annulment on the grounds that it contravened a treaty concluded between the USSR and Iran in 1940 on the joint use of the Caspian's resources. Russia and Iran continue to insist that the Caspian is a salt- water lake and that therefore, under international law, its various resources -- whether sturgeon or oil and natural gas -- may be exploited only on the basis of an agreement concluded by all littoral states. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, for their part, argue that the Caspian is a sea and should therefore be divided into national sectors that each country has the right to exploit as it pleases. (Such a right is included in the 1995 Azerbaijani Constitution.) Turkmenistan had initially subscribed to the Kazakh- Azerbaijani view but, as of late fall1996, espoused the Russian- Iranian argument. In November 1996, Russia modified its position by proposing that the Caspian be divided into zones. Each littoral state would have the exclusive use of resources within its territorial waters, which would be extended from 10 to 45 miles. Resources beyond that point would be jointly used by all five countries. Iran and Turkmenistan approved that proposal. Early this year, however, Turkmenistan again switched tack. In an interview with the "Financial Times" in January, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov claimed that the Azeri and Chirag fields lie in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian. Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov refuted that claim, saying that in 1970 the USSR Foreign Ministry had divided up the Soviet sector of the Caspian between Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. He also said that maps showing the respective sectors proved that Niyazov's claim to the Azeri and Chirag fields were unjustified. Russian Foreign Ministry officials likewise rejected Niyazov's argument -- but on the grounds that no claims to individual fields could be made until an agreement had been reached on the legal status of the Caspian. The Turkmen leadership immediately protested the signing of the Russian-Azerbaijani agreement on Kyapaz. On 5 July, Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov issued a statement contesting Azerbaijan's ownership of the field, which is located some 180 kilometers east of Baku and only 100 kilometers from the coast of Turkmenistan, and demanding the annulment of the agreement. Two days later, Shikhmuradov proposed creating an Azerbaijani-Turkmen commission to formalize the dividing line between the two countries' respective national sectors. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov downplayed the dispute, arguing that the agreement was "purely commercial" and that therefore the Russian government was under no obligation to take any action. In late July, however, when Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev was being lionized in Washington, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov met with the Turkmen leadership in Ashgabat. On his return to Moscow, Serov informed Niyazov that the Kyapaz contract would be annulled. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement confirming the annulment on 5 August. Two days later in the Kremlin, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told Niyazov that the signing of the agreement had been a "mistake" on the part of the Russian oil companies involved. He also said that neither he nor the Russian government had known of the planned deal beforehand. (Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, however, had been present at the negotiations that preceded the signing ceremony.) By thwarting the proposed joint venture, Russia not only mollified its potential ally Niyazov but also succeeded in embarrassing Aliev, whom it suspects of conspiring with the U.S. to undercut Russia's influence in the Caspian. Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade conceded in early August that his country does not claim "exclusive" ownership of Kyapaz, given that deposit lies on the border between the Azerbaijani and Turkmen sectors. He also proposed that its reserves (estimated at 50 million metric tons) be exploited by both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Ashgabat has not yet commented on that offer. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx SUBSCRIBING: 1) To subscribe to RFERL-L, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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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