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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 96, Part I, 15 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 *NEW RUSSIAN PRIVATIZATION CHIEF PROMISES FAIR RULES *NEMTSOV ON PRIVATIZATION SALES *SITUATION IN KURGAN-TEPPE WORSENS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NEW PRIVATIZATION CHIEF PROMISES FAIR RULES. State Property Committee Chairman Maksim Boiko has promised that under his leadership, privatization auctions will be "honest, effective, and open," Russian news agencies reported on 14 August. Boiko said he will not make major personnel changes in the committee. Both he and his predecessor, Alfred Kokh, are considered close to First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. Although Russian officials have hailed this summer's privatization auctions as the most honest in recent years, some observers have criticized the conditions under which sales were held. Several key businessmen met with Chubais shortly before the sale of 25 percent plus one share in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest. In addition, the terms of the auction for a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel were said to favor Oneksimbank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July and 4-8 August 1997). YELTSIN, CHUBAIS EVALUATE KOKH'S WORK. President Boris Yeltsin on 15 August said scandals arose over the Svyazinvest and Norilsk sales because "some banks are apparently closer to the heart of Alfred Kokh, and this is not proper," ITAR-TASS reported. (A consortium involving Oneksimbank won the Svyazinvest auction, and a company linked to Oneksimbank submitted the winning bid for Norilsk Nickel.) Yeltsin's comments contradicted statements by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais on 14 August. He said Kokh had planned to leave the government long before he was replaced and that Kokh's departure was "unrelated to the latest developments in privatization," Interfax reported. Chubais also argued that thousands of pensioners, doctors, teachers, and military personnel should thank Kokh, without whom the state would lack the funds to pay wage and pension arrears. CHERNOMYRDIN WARNS AGAINST "JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS." Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has warned against "jumping to conclusions or making hasty allegations" about the legality of recent privatization auctions, Interfax reported on 14 August. Chernomyrdin confirmed that he has ordered the appropriate government agencies to examine the Svyazinvest and Norilsk deals. He added that the only matter of concern is whether laws were broken: "Who said what to whom, who visited whom and what they agreed or did not agree on are private affairs of individual representatives of the banking community, which do not interest me," "Nezavismaya gazeta" reported on 15 August. Chernomyrdin on 4 August had called for the Norilsk auction to be postponed, but he reportedly agreed that the sale should take place on schedule the next day following meetings with several government officials and Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4- 6 August 1997). NEMTSOV ON PRIVATIZATION SALES... First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has acknowledged that controversy surrounded the recent Norilsk Nickel sale, but he says the auction was conducted "more democratically and openly" than a May auction of a stake in the Sibneft oil company, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 14 August. A company with ties to Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii won the Sibneft auction. In an interview with RFE/RL in Sochi, where he has been vacationing, Nemtsov said the Norilsk sale caused a scandal because of the way regulations governing "loans-for-shares" deals had been drafted. Those rules were established before Nemtsov joined the government. (A new privatization law that went into effect on 2 August prohibits loans- for-shares deals.) Asked whether Berezovskii should remain in the Security Council, Nemtsov said people "who have direct business dealings" should not take up state posts. ...SUGGESTS CHANGES IN STORE FOR ORT. In the same interview with RFE/RL, Nemtsov said the state should establish control over both the finances and the "ideological foundations" of Russian Public Television (ORT). Although the state owns a 51 percent stake in ORT, Berezovskii has wielded substantial influence at the network since ORT began broadcasting on Channel 1 in April 1995. In July, ORT broadcast sharp criticism of the Svyazinvest auction, and Nemtsov slammed the losers of that auction for staging "hysterics on television." Speaking to RFE/RL, Nemtsov again charged that some businessmen had tried to pressure government officials before the Svyazinvest sale and had used their influence to provoke the "biggest scandal of the summer" after losing the auction. Russian media recently speculated that the state plans to change ORT's management structure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28-31 July and 6 August 1997). GUSINSKII DISCUSSES SVYAZINVEST AUCTION... Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii announced on 14 August that he has no complaints regarding the Svyazinvest sale. In an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Gusinskii said Most group -- not Media- Most -- had participated in the Svyazinvest auction. (Gusinskii founded the Most group but resigned as director-general when he created Media-Most in January.) He acknowledged that he had met with Berezovskii, Oneksimbank head Potanin, and First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais in France two days before the auction. But he claimed that Chubais and the businessmen had discussed only the "general rules of the game," not the Svyazinvest deal. Gusinskii also denied that Berezovskii had been involved in the consortium that submitted the losing bid for Svyazinvest, saying Berezovskii had attended the meeting in France because the telecommunications sector affects Russia's national security. Potanin has claimed that Gusinskii and Berezovskii tried to strike a back-room deal to acquire the Svyazinvest stake at a bargain price (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 1997). ...PLANS MEDIA HOLDINGS. In the same interview with Ekho Moskvy, which is owned by Media-Most, Gusinskii denied that he has agreed to finance a new publication to be founded by former "Izvestiya" editor Igor Golembiovskii, Interfax reported on 14 August. However, Gusinskii said he would be willing to consider offers to participate in Golembiovskii's project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). He added that he "would want to help and support the 'Izvestiya' team for purely emotional reasons." Gusinskii also said Media-Most has been invited to become a shareholder in the weekly "Obshchaya gazeta," which recently changed its format and is seeking investment. During the 1996 presidential campaign, when most of the Russian media rallied around Yeltsin, "Obshchaya gazeta" generally supported Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. It was one of the few Moscow- based newspapers that continued to publish sharp criticism of the president. "MIR" COSMONAUTS RETURN TO EARTH. Vasilii Tsibliev and Pavel Lazutkin landed in Kazakhstan on 14 August after six months in the "Mir" space station. A series of misfortunes struck the station while Tsibliev and Lazutkin were on board, the worst of which was the collision in late June with a cargo ship during docking procedures. On 20 August, the new crew will attempt to repair the damage to the station's solar power units caused by that collision. It has already repaired the station's oxygen-generating systems. Tsibliev's first comment after emerging from the station was "Thank God we're home." CHECHEN PRESIDENT TO DEFEND RIGHT TO INDEPENDENCE. Speaking at a press conference in Grozny on 14 August, Aslan Maskhadov said that at his upcoming meeting with Yeltsin he will insist on Chechnya's right to independence and to receive financial compensation for war damage, RFE/RL reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 August that Yeltsin and Maskhadov have agreed by telephone on a date for their meeting, which will take place in Moscow. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin will meet with Chechen First Deputy Premier Movladi Udugov on 16 August to prepare for the two presidents' meeting. Meanwhile, Chechen security forces failed in their attempt on 14 August to secure the release of a Russian TV crew held hostage in Chechnya, NTV reported. MORE VIOLENCE IN NORTH OSSETIA. One person was killed and six seriously wounded on 14 August when unknown assailants opened fire on a busload of workers in a suburb of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, "Izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 August. INTERFAX DIRECTOR JOINS PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION. Mikhail Komissar, a founder of the private Interfax news agency and its director-general since 1989, was appointed deputy head of the presidential administration on 14 August. He replaces Maksim Boiko, who now heads the State Property Committee. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 August, Komissar will deal with political issues and will handle public relations for the presidential administration. He informed the Interfax board of directors that he will give up the post of director-general while serving in the administration. However, "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that Komissar will remain involved in some management questions related to Interfax. POLLS SHOW PUBLIC SKEPTICAL ON PROMISES... In a Public Opinion Foundation poll of 1,500 citizens throughout Russia, 55 percent of respondents do not believe the government will be able to pay back wages to military personnel by 1 September, Interfax reported on 14 August. The same percentage do not believe the government will manage to collect taxes from debtor companies, while 54 percent do not believe wage arrears to all state employees will be paid by 1 January 1998. Less than one-third of respondents believe the government will keep those promises. ...NEMTSOV'S POPULARITY DECLINING. In other nationwide polls conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, the percentage of respondents who said they trust First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov dropped from 45 percent in April to 33 percent in July, Interfax reported on 14 August. The proportion who distrusted Nemtsov rose from 19 percent to 30 percent during the same period. The polls indicate that Nemtsov would still win hypothetical presidential races against Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. However, in all three cases he would win by narrower margins than polls had been the case in April. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SITUATION IN KURGAN-TEPPE WORSENS. The situation in the southern Tajik city of Kurgan-Teppe has worsened.. Rebel commander Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that there was an attack on his home in that city on 14 August, following his dismissal by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov as commander of the army's First Brigade. While Khudaberdiyev initially said he would comply with that decision, he has since indicated he may refuse to step down. He argued that the government has not fulfilled its part of the cease-fire agreement, which includes the return of government forces to their barracks in Dushanbe. Khudaberdiyev confirmed there are armed groups in Kurgan-Teppe but said it was unclear to which side they belong. He also said the armed groups are looting and pillaging and that his unit has asked him to reassume command and restore order. Khudaberdiyev threatened that if the government is unable to restore order, he may seek the help of the United Tajik Opposition. KAZAKH TV BEGINS BROADCASTING IN KAZAKH. RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty on 14 August reported that commercial television stations in Kazakhstan have begun broadcasting some programs in Kazakh in compliance with the new law on languages. According to that legislation, all media outlets must disseminate information in both Kazakh and Russian. Previously, only state- owned television channels broadcast in Kazakh, while private stations broadcast exclusively in Russian. GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA ABJURE USE OF FORCE. Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzinba, the presidents of Georgia and Abkhazia, held lengthy talks in Tbilisi on14 August on resolving the conflict between the two countries. The same day, Foreign Ministers Irakli Menagharishvili and Sergei Shamba met to discuss the same issue. On 15 August, Shevardnadze and Ardzinba signed a joint statement pledging to refrain from the use or threat of force and not to allow the resumption of hostilities, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement also said that the two sides reached agreement on further unspecified issues but that differences remain over Abkhazia's future political status and the repatriation of ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, AFP reported. ARMENIAN RULING COALITION SETS UP COORDINATING COMMITTEE. The Hanrapetutyun bloc, which comprises the Armenian Pan- National Movement and five smaller parties, has announced the establishment of a Political Committee for Inter-Party Cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 August. Parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan was elected coordinator of the new body, which will meet regularly to discuss the alliance's activities and "make proposals and draw up documents on the formation of Armenia's political system," according to Armenpress. The leader of the Republican Party of Armenia, which belongs to the Hanrapetutyun bloc, told RFE/RL on 14 August that the setting up of the committee is not connected with the bloc's preparations for the July 1999 parliamentary elections. TRIAL OF GEORGIAN WARLORD POSTPONED. The preliminary hearings in the trial of former Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani, which were scheduled for 12 August, have been indefinitely postponed, according to "Izvestiya" on 15 August. Ioseliani -- who is charged with high treason, murder, banditry, and terrorism -- went on hunger strike on 6 August to demand his release from detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997). xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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