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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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/

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Headlines, Part I

*NEW RUSSIAN PRIVATIZATION CHIEF PROMISES FAIR RULES


*NEMTSOV ON PRIVATIZATION SALES


*SITUATION IN KURGAN-TEPPE WORSENS


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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).



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