|The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. - Thomas Carlyle 1975-1881|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 97, Part I, 18 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 *RUSSIAN, CHECHEN PRESIDENTS MEET *YELTSIN APPROVES PARAMETERS OF DRAFT 1998 BUDGET *MUTINOUS TROOPS REPOSITION IN SOUTHERN TAJIKISTAN End Note ABKHAZIA AND GEORGIA RULE OUT VIOLENCE AND FURTHER CONCESSIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIAN, CHECHEN PRESIDENTS MEET. Aslan Maskhadov was in Moscow on 18 August for "frank talks" with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Chechen leaders had repeatedly said they hoped Yeltsin would agree to sign an interstate treaty recognizing Chechnya's independence, but Yeltsin told journalists after his meeting with Maskhadov that "we will solve the problems as we did with [Tatar President Mintimer] Shaimiev," which implies he will not grant Chechnya greater autonomy than Tatarstan or other federation subjects, according to Reuters. On 17 August, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov signed a protocol on appointing representatives of families of those killed, abducted, or missing in Chechnya to a joint commission to search for those persons. Also on 17 August, Rybkin told Interfax that the Russian government has allocated 847 billion rubles ($148 million) to Chechnya since the beginning of this year. TWO RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS RELEASED IN CHECHNYA. Two employees of the Russian TV production company VID have returned to Moscow following their release in Chechnya on 17 August, Russian media reported. The two men were abducted in Grozny in mid-June. On 15 August, the Chechen authorities announced they had identified the kidnappers and had ordered them to release the hostages within 48 hours. First Deputy Prime Minister Udugov subsequently told Interfax that no ransom was paid. Three Russian journalists from NTV who were abducted in Chechenya in mid-May remain in captivity. The total number of persons currently held hostage in Chechnya exceeds 1,000, Russian Security Council Secretary Rybkin told ITAR-TASS on 16 August. They include five French, two British, and two German nationals. YELTSIN APPROVES PARAMETERS OF DRAFT 1998 BUDGET. Yeltsin on 15 August approved the parameters of the draft 1998 budget but called for planned spending on the space program, basic scientific research, education, and credits for CIS countries to be increased, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said the cabinet will consider Yeltsin's suggestions when it reviews the draft budget on 21 August. The government is required by law to submit the draft to the State Duma by 26 August. Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Livshits told journalists that the draft budget will facilitate economic growth, but only if the parliament approves a new tax code by the end of the year. Various government officials have characterized the 1998 spending plans as "tough, but realistic." The government has cut 1997 budget spending by about 20.5 percent, citing severe revenue shortfalls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May and 24 June 1997). GOVERNMENT APPROVES DEFICIT REDUCTION PROGRAM. The government has approved a program that calls for the budget deficit to be cut to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2000, Interfax reported on 15 August. In line with Yeltsin's 1998 budget message (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 1997), the program calls for a balanced budget in 1999, excluding interest payments on Russia's internal and external debt, and a 0.5 percent budget surplus in 2000, also excluding debt servicing costs. The 1998 budget deficit is projected at 4.8 percent of GDP including debt servicing costs and 0.5 percent of GDP excluding those costs. The deficit reduction program also projects that a new tax code and improved tax collection will raise budget revenues to 13 percent of GDP in 2000 from 12.7 percent in 1998, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 August. ZYUGANOV SAYS BUDGET PROVIDES TOO LITTLE FOR DEFENSE. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says the planned 1998 budget expenditures on defense of 3-3.5 percent of GDP are far too low, Interfax reported on 15 August. Zyuganov argued that defense spending should amount to 5-7 percent of GDP. (Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Livshits claimed the same day that the draft 1998 budget will increase spending on defense and military reform by 38 percent compared with 1997 levels.) Zyuganov repeated his strong opposition to planned military reforms, which, he said, threaten to destroy Russia's defense capabilities. He also predicted that 90 percent of officers will support Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin's moves to support the military and defense industry and will back protests to be organized this fall by the Communist-led opposition movement Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia. AIR FORCE COMMANDER UPBEAT ON MILITARY REFORM. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 15 August, Army Gen. Petr Deneikin said the downsizing of the air and air defense forces from 340,000 to 180,000 troops will mostly involve the demobilization of desk rather than combat personnel. He warned that failure to compensate demobilized officers could lead to social unrest, Russian media reported. Deneikin argued that the merger of the two branches will improve operational capability. He complained of a "catastrophic" shortage of aviation fuel for training flights but expressed confidence that the situation will improve within a couple of years. Deneikin praised the capacity of the Russian aviation industry to produce sophisticated air craft for the 21st century as fast as "making pancakes." He also denied Chechen allegations that Russian fighter air craft buzzed the central market and airport in Grozny on 13 August. SOME PRIVATIZATION PROCEDURES TO BE REGULATED BY DECREE. Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Livshits says a presidential decree is being drafted on procedures for auctioning large state-owned stakes in enterprises, Russian news agencies reported on 15 August. Livshits indicated that the decree will prohibit firms affiliated with the organizers of such auctions from bidding for shares. (The 5 August auction for a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel was organized by MFK--Moscow Partners and won by Svift; both companies are linked to Oneksimbank.) Special presidential decrees on auction terms will be issued in connection with each future sale of a stake in a major enterprise. At the same time, Livshits argued that issuing convertible bonds backed by state-owned shares would probably earn as much revenue as direct sales of state-owned stakes without causing the scandals commonly associated with direct sales. STATE PROPERTY COMMITTEE TO BECOME MINISTRY? Rumors in Moscow that the State Property Committee will be given the status of ministry were fueled on 15 August when Prime Minister Chernomyrdin introduced the committee's new chairman Maksim Boiko to the committee's staff as "privatization minister," ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 16 August, Boiko neither confirmed nor denied rumors that the committee will be transformed into a ministry. ST. PETERSBURG PRIVATIZATION CHIEF MURDERED. Mikhail Manevich, deputy governor of St. Petersburg and head of the city's Property Committee, was shot on his way to work on 18 August and died shortly thereafter in a hospital, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported. Manevich's car was fired on eight times from a window of a nearby building. Anatolii Ponidelko, head of the Interior Ministry's branch in St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, has said the murder was the work of a professional killer, but he has not yet speculated on a motive. Manevich, who had headed the property committee since 1994, refused several offers to take up high posts in Moscow from Anatolii Chubais, among others. Local observers have speculated that Manevich's murder may be linked to an upcoming review of the privatization of St. Petersburg hotels or may have been ordered by organized criminal groups that feared Manevich would reveal their ties to city officials. CENTRAL BANK READY FOR CUSTOMS ACCOUNTS. Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Khandruev says the bank is ready to handle accounts containing customs duties currently held in commercial banks, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 August. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais recently ordered that those accounts be transferred to the Central Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7-8 August 1997). The paper noted that some commercial banks -- above all, Oneksimbank but also Most Bank, Alfa Bank, and Rossiiskii Kredit-- stand to lose substantial earnings. Both "Kommersant-Daily" and the latest edition of the weekly "Itogi" argue that losing the customs accounts is the price the government will make Oneksimbank pay for winning two major privatization auctions recently. "Kommersant-Daily" is believed to receive some financing from SBS-Agro Bank. "Itogi" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media- Most group. NEMTSOV DOWNPLAYS SPLIT IN GOVERNMENT. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has denied rumors of a government split, saying the cabinet is a "coalition of center-right forces" whose members are "united by the same goal." In an interview conducted recently in Sochi and broadcast by RFE/RL's Russian Service on 17 August, Nemtsov said that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin represents the Our Home Is Russia movement, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais represents Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice, and Nemtsov is closer to Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko, although he is not formally a Yabloko member. Nemtsov noted that no policy can be implemented "if it is not approved by the prime minister -- that's for sure." Many Russian commentators have speculated that on various policy questions, "young reformers" in the government, led by Chubais and Nemtsov, are at odds with "moderate conservatives" led by Chernomyrdin. CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED YET AGAIN. The next meeting of CIS heads of state will take place on 20 November in Chisinau, Interfax reported on 15 August. At the last CIS summit in late March, participants agreed tentatively to convene again in June but no definite date was set (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1997). In late July, the press service of the CIS Executive Secretariat told Interfax that the next CIS summit would take place in the Moldovan capital in late September or early October. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 August quoted Yeltsin's press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying that one of the topics of discussion at the November summit will be space research in the CIS states. PROBLEMS CONTINUE ABOARD "MIR." The planned docking of a cargo ship with the "Mir" space station was canceled on 17 August owing to a computer error, Russian media reported. Russian Mission Control flight director Vasilii Solovev said that "necessary baseline data" for the docking procedure were "loaded incorrectly." Warning systems aboard "Mir" detected the problem and alerted ground control, which has rescheduled the docking for 18 August. The cargo ship, which contains only garbage, is needed to help balance "Mir" during repairs to modules that gather solar power. The repairs are scheduled to begin on 20 August. Meanwhile, Vasilii Tsibliev who returned on 14 August from the space station, blamed the problems "Mir" had suffered over the past few months on inadequate financing. He commented that "factories do not operate and parts have not been delivered." TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MUTINOUS TROOPS REPOSITION IN SOUTHERN TAJIKISTAN... Under the command of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, the Tajik Army's First Brigade left its barracks south of Kurgan-Teppe late on 15 August and repositioned near the towns of Kabodien and Shaartuz. Khudaberdiyev, who is ignoring a 13 August presidential order that he be stripped of his duties as commander, held negotiations with government representatives in the afternoon of 15 August, but that meeting was cut short when it was learned that government troops had been reinforced and were approaching the Kurgan-Teppe area. "Volunteers" from the Dangara and Kulyab areas are aiding government forces near Kurgan-Teppe. They appear, however, to have been largely responsible for looting in the area and are being disarmed by government forces. ...COME UNDER ATTACK BY GOVERNMENT FORCES. ITAR-TASS reported on 18 August that government forces are attacking positions of the mutinous First Brigade. Fighting is reported at a bridge near the village of Garavuti, but no reporters have been allowed into the area. According to some reports, Khudaberdiyev's remaining forces have been joined by those of former Customs Committee Chairman Yakub Salimov, which were forced out of Dushanbe on 9 August by Interior Ministry troops. Salimov was dismissed by President Imomali Rakhmonov on 15 August. The fighting is moving toward the Uzbek border, and the Uzbek government has announced it has taken extra security measures in the border region. KAZAKHSTAN, KYRGYZSTAN FAIL TO AGREE OVER NATURAL RESOURCES. Representatives of the Kazakh government met with a Kyrgyz delegation led by Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov in Bishkek on 15 August, according to RFE/RL corespondents. The meeting focused on the mutual use of natural resources and payment for such use. Kyrgyzstan claims Kazakhstan owes $23 million for supplies of Kyrgyz electricity, while Almaty says it does not owe anything. The two sides agreed to complete construction of the Kambar-Ata hydroelectric plant on the Naryn River but failed to agree on Kazakh payment for water from Kyrgyz reservoirs. There was also no Kazakh response to a Kyrgyz complaint that Kyrgyz cargo trucks are charged as much as $900 to transit Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 August that Kyrgyzstan reduced water supplies to southern Kazakhstan the previous day. AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA CONDEMN KARABAKH ELECTIONS. Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission issued a statement on 16 August condemning the presidential elections to be held on 1 September in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as "illegal and legally void," ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The statement argued that legal elections in Nagorno-Karabakh can be held only after the return to their homes of the estimated 50,000 Azerbaijanis who fled during hostilities. It also called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to prevent the elections from taking place. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 15 August said his ministry opposes the planned vote because Nagorno-Karabakh has not been recognized as an independent state. Both Azerbaijan and Russia condemned the November 1996 elections in Nagorno-Karabakh on similar grounds. GEORGIA RESPONDS TO ARDZINBA-SHEVARDNADZE DECLARATION. Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, condemned the 15 August declaration by the Georgian and Abkhaz leaders as a "betrayal of Georgia's interests," Interfax reported. The declaration is a commitment to refrain from the use or threat of violence; as such, it duplicates a declaration signed by Georgian and Abkhaz representatives in late July (see RFE/RL "Newsline," 28 July 1997). Shevardnadze claimed that progress toward reconciliation "is obvious," but Ardzinba warned that the Abkhaz side will make no further concessions. Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 16 August that the Georgian leadership had made him an "interesting proposal connected with the transportation of oil." A Georgian government delegation headed by Minister of State Niko Lekishvili is scheduled to discuss economic issues with the Abkhaz leadership in Sukhumi on 20 August (see also "End Note" below). NEW PAN-CAUCASIAN LIBERATION MOVEMENT. Unnamed representatives from Russia's North Caucasian republics and from Georgia and Azerbaijan attended the founding congress in Grozny on 17 August of the Caucasus Confederation, Russian media reported. One of the movement's leaders is Chechen former acting president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. The movement's aims are to unite all political forces of the Caucasus and Transcaucasus in the liberation struggle against Russian colonialism and to create a confederation of independent Caucasus states, according to ITAR-TASS. ARMENIAN TELECOM TENDER CLOSES EARLY. The international tender for the 51 percent government-owned stake in the telecommunications company Armentel closed on 15 August, two weeks earlier than originally planned, Interfax reported, quoting an Armenian trade and industry ministry official. A government spokesman told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 15 August that the privatization of Armentel will be completed "within one month." The names of the companies that submitted bids have not been disclosed. A journalist for the Turkish daily "Cumhuriyet" recently claimed that the Armenian authorities had rejected a bid for Armentel made by the Turkish Telecom company. The remaining 49 percent stake in Armentel is owned by the U.S. Trans World Telecom corporation. CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly reported on 12 August 1997 that Turkey is a member of only one of the five international consortiums extracting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. In fact, the Turkish state oil company has a 6.75 percent stake in the consortium developing the Azeri, Chirag, and Gyuneshli fields and a 9 percent stake in the consortium set up in June 1996 to exploit the Shah Deniz field. END NOTE ABKHAZIA AND GEORGIA RULE OUT VIOLENCE AND FURTHER CONCESSIONS by Liz Fuller On 14 August 1992, Georgian troops under the command of then Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani marched into the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, and opened fire on the parliament building. That action triggered a 13-month war between the central Georgian government and the secessionist Abkhaz leadership, which culminated in Tbilisi's loss of jurisdiction over Abkhazia and the exodus of some 250,000 ethnic Georgians who lived there. Five years later, on 15 August 1997, Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzinba, the Georgian and Abkhaz presidents, signed an agreement in Tbilisi abjuring the use or threat of violence and pledging to seek a solution to the conflict exclusively by peaceful means. The two leaders failed, however, to make progress toward resolving such controversial issues as Abkhazia's future political status vis-a-vis the central government in Tbilisi and the repatriation of the ethnic Georgians forced to flee during the fighting. Nor did Shevardnadze and Ardzinba set a date for the signing in Moscow of a more comprehensive peace agreement drafted by Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Although the complete text of Yeltsin's proposals has not been made public, Shevardnadze has said it provides for "broad autonomy" for Abkhazia within a unified Georgian state and is therefore acceptable to the Georgian leadership, which has consistently rejected the Abkhaz demand for equal status with the rest of Georgia within a confederation. Ardzinba, however, has said that the sole acceptable basis for further talks with Tbilisi is a protocol drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry. That document has been the subject of sporadic negotiations over several years. The most recent round of talks in Moscow in June was suspended after Georgia demanded substantive amendments to a version that the Abkhaz delegation had endorsed. Under the terms of that document, Georgia and Abkhazia affirm their "consent to live within the confines of a shared state within the boundaries of the Georgian SSR as of 21 December 1991. Each of the two sides preserves its constitution, and relations between them will be regulated by a special treaty, which both sides agree to invest with the force of a constitutional law." In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry draft contains several points that address specific Abkhaz concerns. It stipulates, for example, that the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia is to be implemented in accordance with a UN-mediated agreement of April 1994, which empowers the Abkhaz authorities to screen applications from would-be repatriates in order to preclude the return of war crime suspects. Abkhazia pledges to guarantee the safety of the repatriates, and provision is made for the creation of militias to perform that function. Georgia, for its part, undertakes to prevent the intrusion onto Abkhaz territory of "terrorist and saboteur groups, armed formations, and individuals". (Two such Georgian groups are known to exist. The so-called White Legion, composed of ethnic Georgian former members of the Abkhaz Interior Ministry, is suspected of perpetrating terrorist attacks against the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Informal paramilitary formations subordinate to the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile -- the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament -- constitute the second group. Both advocate a new Georgian offensive to restore Tbilisi's hegemony over Abkhazia by force.) Paradoxically, although the Shevardnadze-Ardzinba declaration was intended as a step toward rapprochement, it may serve to exacerbate tensions. Spokesmen for the Georgian fugitives from Abkhazia have denounced the document as a "betrayal of Georgia's interests." The proponents of a "military solution" to the conflict may decide to launch a new offensive immediately in order to forestall any further concessions by Shevardnadze. Alternatively, the Georgian fugitives may align with disaffected elements in Moscow, including former Georgian intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze, who are rumored to be planning to eliminate Shevardnadze. (Any Georgian faction that undertakes to precipitate new hostilities in Abkhazia will likely be able to count on backing from those Moscow circles that have a vested interest in destabilizing Georgia to prevent the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the western pipeline to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast.) Yeltsin, too, will be less than satisfied with the outcome of the Shevardnadze-Arzdinba meeting, given that he is engaged in an undeclared competition with the Western countries aligned in the "Friends of Georgia" group to coerce the Georgian and Abkhaz leaders to sign a peace agreement and take the credit for doing so. (The "Friends of Georgia," together with representatives of the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, undertook a fruitless attempt to mediate between Tbilisi and Sukhumi in late July.) In addition to upstaging the West, there are three reasons why Yeltsin wants a peace agreement signed quickly. First, it would substantiate Russian claims to a monopoly on mediating CIS conflicts. Second, it would enable the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to be withdrawn and would dispense with the need for its replacement by a UN or NATO equivalent. And third, it would serve to counter the growing perception that Russia's political influence in the Transcaucasus is rapidly declining. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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