|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 105, Part I, 28 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 * CHUBAIS WANTS INCREASED OVERSIGHT OF MONOPOLIES' INVESTMENTS * ABDUCTED JOURNALISTS DECLINE TO ASSIST INVESTIGATION * TAJIK POLICE KILL SEVERAL OPPOSITION MEMBERS End Note RUSSIA, ARMENIA TO SIGN MAJOR GAS DEAL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHUBAIS WANTS INCREASED OVERSIGHT OF MONOPOLIES' INVESTMENTS... First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has called for strengthening state oversight of investments by "natural monopolies," ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. Russia's three largest such monopolies are Gazprom, Unified Energy Systems, and the Railroad Ministry, in all of which the state is the largest single shareholder. Chairing a government meeting, Chubais said investments by those three monopolies will amount to 89 trillion rubles ($15 billion) in 1997. That figure is five times the planned total state investment in 1997 and 2.5 times the total foreign investment in Russia last year, according to "Segodnya" on 27 August. "Izvestiya" argued the same day that the huge sums invested by the three monopolies indicate they are prospering at the state's expense. Several ministries are to coordinate investment projects with the monopolies; and beginning in January 1998, the State Statistics Committee will prepare quarterly reports on monopolies' investments. ...PROMISES HELP FOR COAL INDUSTRY WORKERS. Addressing a congress of coal industry workers on 27 August, Chubais promised to take steps to end the "intolerable" growth in non-payments to coal enterprises and wage arrears to coal workers, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 August. Noting that coal workers are owed 3.1 trillion rubles ($530 million) in back wages, Chubais said consumers -- mostly power plants -- owe 90 percent of the 9 trillion rubles in debts to coal enterprises. But he expressed optimism that before the end of the year, the World Bank will extend a second loan of $500 million for restructuring the coal industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 1997). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that in recent months, the government has largely met its spending targets for the coal industry. The number of strikes at coal mines has declined from 160 in February to 14 in July and four in August, the daily added. UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Meeting in Moscow on 27 August, Hennady Udovenko and his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, reviewed progress in implementing agreements reached by Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Yeltsin during their May meeting in Kyiv, Russian media reported. The two ministers also signed a statement stipulating the legal aspects of the border issue. Primakov was quoted as saying that demarcation of the Russian-Ukrainian border is "not an issue for today." Border negotiations are scheduled to continue in the Russian city of Bryansk in September. Udovenko also met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss issues related to bilateral cooperation. Udovenko announced that President Kuchma will visit Moscow in January or February 1998. CONFUSION OVER FOREIGN MINISTER'S UPCOMING TURKEY VISIT. Russian Foreign Ministry officials have denied Turkish media reports that Yevgenii Primakov will visit Ankara in the next few months, Interfax reported on 27 August. The officials admitted that Primakov has received an invitation from the Turkish government but said that "neither the date nor the agenda" has yet been decided. AFP on 26 August had quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official as stating that Primakov will travel to Ankara in October and that the visit has been planned for a long time. Similarly, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Omer Akbel told journalists in Ankara on 27 August that the visit is expected to take place, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Akbel also noted that the deployment of Russian S- 300 anti-aircraft missiles in Greek Cyprus earlier than planned is a "very grave development." ABDUCTED JOURNALISTS DECLINE TO ASSIST INVESTIGATION. Ilyas Bogatyrev and Vladislav Chernyaev, employees of the Russian television production company VID who were recently released after being held hostage in Chechnya for two months, have said they "have no particular desire" to testify to Chechen investigators currently in Moscow to determine the circumstances of their release, ITAR-TASS reported. The two men said they do not think there is any point in giving evidence as they are certain that "none of the criminals will be punished." The Chechens are investigating claims by NTV that it paid a $2 million ransom for the release of three of its journalists who were likewise abducted in Chechnya. Chechen leaders have denied those allegations. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 27 August that a cash payment was made to people who helped establish where the journalists were being held captive but that no ransom money changed hands. CHECHNYA DOUBTS PIPELINE WILL BE READY BY OCTOBER... Khozh- Akhmed Yarikhanov, the president of Chechnya's state oil company Yunko, said on 27 August that he "will never sign" a new draft agreement on the transit of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya, Interfax reported. Yarikhanov said the document, which was delivered to Grozny by Russian First Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko, is "politically charged" and contains "numerous references to Chechnya as a member of the Russian Federation." Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told journalists in Baku on 27 August that he doubts the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline will be operational by 1 October when the first "early oil" is scheduled to be exported. Arsanov said that Chechnya plans to build a new pipeline from Grozny through Georigia to the Black Sea, Turan reported. ...BUT RUSSIA SAYS IT WILL BE. In Moscow, however, Russian Security Council Secretary Rybkin has said preparations have been made for repair work on the pipeline, Interfax reported. He added that the repairs can be completed within three weeks. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is also fuel and energy minister, said Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has assured him by telephone on 26 August that Grozny will not obstruct repairs. YABLOKO DEPUTY APPRAISES DRAFT BUDGET. Yabloko member Oksana Dmitrieva, who heads a State Duma subcommittee on the budget, has described the 1998 draft budget as the first "realistic" budget submitted by the government, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. She praised the government for planning to increase expenditures on the health care system and to reduce funds allocated for general supplies to far northern regions, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 August. However, Dmitrieva criticized what she called the "military-police orientation" of the draft budget. She noted that while many state subsidies are to be cut, the government has proposed that the money saved be spent on the "power ministries" rather than on social programs. The Yabloko faction voted against the 1997 budget in all readings in the Duma. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has frequently called on the government to change its spending priorities. OFFICIAL PREDICTS BIDS TO AMEND ELECTORAL LAW. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko has predicted that the coming months will bring a "lively discussion" on amending the electoral law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 27 August. Ivanchenko advocates reducing the number of State Duma deputies elected using a proportional representation system. Currently, 225 Duma deputies are chosen from lists submitted by parties that gain at least 5 percent of the vote. The other 225 deputies are elected by a plurality of the vote in single-member districts. Ivanchenko noted that all but one of Russia's 89 regions elect their legislatures using only single-member districts. He also said the legality of the proportional representation system has been contested in several court appeals. The Supreme Court rejected one such appeal in April, but the Constitutional Court has yet to rule on a similar case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 1997). DUMA DEPUTY WANTS TO ABOLISH PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION. Duma deputy Vladimir Medvedev argued in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 August that the electoral law should be amended to do away with proportional representation. Medvedev said that half of the Duma should be chosen from professional associations, such as the Union of Lawyers and the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, instead of from party lists. The other 225 deputies, he said, would be elected in single-member districts, as under the current electoral law. Such a system would "raise the professionalism" of the Duma, Medvedev added. Medvedev belongs to the Russian Regions faction, composed entirely of Duma deputies elected in single-member districts. He also argued against introducing the "imperative mandate" recently proposed by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, which would allow faction leaders to strip members of their Duma mandates for violating party discipline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 1997). PATRIARCH AGAINST "NORTH AMERICAN NORMS." Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has spoken out against making Russian legislation conform to "North American norms" on religious activity, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. After a meeting with Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, Aleksii said Russian law should recognize "our own traditions and history." He added that proselytizing should be banned because it attempts to "entice people who profess the religion of their ancestors into a different faith." The Vatican and the U.S. Senate, among others, sharply criticized a proposed law on religious organizations as discriminatory. Yeltsin later vetoed that law in July. Aleksii recently said a revised version of the religion law should retain a clause recognizing the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russian history. PUBLISHING EXECUTIVE KILLED. Aleksandr Krutik, commercial director and one of the founders of the Drofa publishing house, was shot dead near his Moscow apartment on 26 August, Russian media reported. Drofa produced more than 2 million textbooks monthly and had a contract to produce some 30 percent of the books ordered by the Education Ministry in 1996 and 1997, according to the 28 August "Kommersant-Daily." The November 1996 murder of Drofa's deputy director-general, Vladimir Vishnyakov, remains unsolved. Members of the Drofa board of directors, which held an emergency meeting on 27 August, believe the killings of Krutik and Vishnyakov indicate that competitors are trying to force Drofa out of the textbook publishing market. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev recently warned that Russian schools face a severe shortage of textbooks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 1997). PRESS ADVOCATES ALARMED BY RECENT TRENDS. Vsevolod Bogdanov, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Russia, announced on 27 August that subscriptions to all Russian newspapers and magazines for the second half of 1997 totaled some 7 million, down 20 percent on the same period in 1996, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Moscow-based newspapers suffered the largest drop in circulation. Bogdanov also said some 60 percent of Russian journalists earn less than $100 a month. Aleksei Simonov, head of the watchdog Glasnost Defense Foundation, noted that the press is increasingly forced to serve as "propagandist and agitator" for the investors on whom publications depend to survive, ITAR-TASS reported. Bogdanov called on the state to guarantee the economic independence of the media and vowed to fight to retain tax breaks for the media outlets. The draft tax code proposed by the government would revoke privileges for the media. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK POLICE KILL SEVERAL OPPOSITION MEMBERS. Several members of the Tajik opposition were killed by police in Kofarnikhon on 27 August. ITAR-TASS reported that four men were killed in an exchange of fire after they attacked a police roadblock. But United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri told RFE/RL's Tajik service that local militia shot five UTO members in the back without provocation. At Nuri's request, representatives of the UN and countries that are guarantors of the peace process are currently investigating the matter. Both Nuri and Ali Akbar Turajonzoda have ordered UTO fighters not to respond with violence or any actions that could threaten the peace process. KAZAKHSTAN CONCERNED ABOUT RUSSIA'S CASPIAN TENDER. Speaking at a news conference on 27 August, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev said his country was concerned about reports that Russia will hold a tender for developing the Caspian shelf, ITAR-TASS reported. Tokayev said part of the shelf to be offered at the tender belongs to Kazakhstan. He added that Almaty will send an official note to Russia to reconsider holding the tender and to conduct negotiations with Kazakhstan first. Tokayev said his government favors consent by all Caspian states before any tenders for oil shares in the Caspian Sea are held. DEATH TOLL IN ARMENIAN BUS EXPLOSION RISES TO SIX. Six people have so far died as a result of injuries sustained when a bus traveling between Yerevan and the southeastern town of Kapan hit a land mine and caught fire on 22 August, Interfax reported. Mines were laid near the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier from 1992-94 during fighting for control of Nagorno-Karabakh. ARMENIA REITERATES KARABAKH NEGOTIATING POSITION. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparyan told journalists in Yerevan on 27 August that a breakthrough in resolving the Karabakh conflict can be achieved only by direct talks between Baku and the Nagorno- Karabakh leadership, ARMENPRESS and Interfax reported. Gasparyan said Armenia considers that measures to promote regional security are crucial to a settlement of the conflict and should be addressed separately in a settlement document. He also criticized the Azerbaijani leadership for "intentionally distorting" the recent proposals made by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. On a recent visit to Stepanakert and Yerevan, Frank Lambach, Germany's representative to the Minsk Group, also advocated direct talks between Baku and Stepanakert. ARMENIAN INTELLECTUALS CALL FOR WAR HERO'S RELEASE. Leading Armenian intellectuals, scientists, and journalists have appealed to President Levon Ter-Petrossyan to pardon Hrant Markaryan, a prominent Dashnak party member and veteran of the Karabakh war, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 27 August. Hrant Markaryan is serving a five-year prison term after being convicted in December 1996 of illegal possession of arms. Two years earlier, Markaryan had been arrested, along with other Dashnak party members, on charges of setting up a terrorist group named Dro. The charges of terrorism against Markaryan were subsequently dropped for lack of evidence. Editors of pro-government and opposition newspapers recently addressed a similar plea to President Ter-Petrossyan to pardon Markaryan. ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT IN EXILE MEETS. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and members of the Georgian "Apkhazeti" parliamentary faction, which represents ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, attended a session of the Abkhaz parliament in exile held in the Georgian capital on 27 August, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported, citing BS-Press. Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the parliament in exile, again argued that Georgia can restore its hegemony over Abkhazia only by force. He criticized the agreement recently signed by Shevardnadze and Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, which he said had encouraged Abkhazia to assume an even more radical position. The parliament in exile demanded the right to participate at any further Abkhaz- Georgian negotiations. Shevardnadze told the session that Georgia and Abkhazia will soon sign an interim protocol paving the way for Abkhazia's inclusion in a federal Georgian state, Interfax reported. END NOTE RUSSIA, ARMENIA TO SIGN MAJOR GAS DEAL by Liz Fuller Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan arrived in Moscow on 28 August for a three-day state visit. Ter-Petrossyan and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, are to sign a new friendship and cooperation treaty. According to Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, this "major treaty" will "give new impetus" to the already harmonious bilateral relations between Moscow and Yerevan. Another key agreement is expected to be signed by Armenian Energy Minister Gagik Martirossyan and the chairman of Russia's Gazprom, Rem Vyakhirev. That accord provides for the creation of a joint venture to export Russian gas via Georgia and Armenia to Turkey. Armenia will also receive Russian gas for domestic consumption at prices lower than those it paid for gas from Turkmenistan. The initial agreement between Russia and Armenia on cooperating in the export of Russian natural gas was signed in Moscow in January 1997 by Armenian Prime Minister Armen Sargssian and Chernomyrdin. Some six months later, in late June, Vyakhirev was in Yerevan to discuss the project with Sargssian's successor as Armenian premier, Robert Kocharyan. Vyakhirev hinted at the time that Gazprom might use part of a $2.5 billion credit it had received to finance construction of the new pipeline through Armenia. Under the terms of the agreement to be signed by Gazprom and its Armenian equivalent, Armgazprom, the volume of Russian gas supplies to and via Armenia will increase from 3 billion cubic meters in 1999 to 9 billion cubic meters in 2003. Russia will receive 55 percent of the profits from the joint venture and Armenia 45 percent. Work on construction of an export pipeline and on renovating the existing pipeline network within Armenia will create some 2,000 new jobs initially. That figure may rise to between 7,000 and 10,000. In addition to underscoring Moscow's enduring interest in mutually advantageous economic cooperation with Armenia, the creation of the joint venture highlights Turkey's increasing dependence on gas imports to meet its growing energy needs. During the ninth meeting of the presidents of Black Sea Economic Cooperation member states in Istanbul in late April, Vyakhirev and Turkish Energy Minister Recai Kutan signed a 25-year contract worth $13.5 billion, whereby Turkey will increase its annual purchases of Russian natural gas from 6 billion cubic meters to 30 billion in 2010. According to Kutan, that amount will cover approximately half of Turkey's total gas needs in 2010; by that time, as a result of the construction of several new gas-fired power-stations, Turkey will rely on natural gas for 38 percent of its total energy requirement (compared with 13 percent now). Russia will thus remain the largest single supplier of gas to Turkey, followed by Iran. (Turkey is the second largest purchaser of Russian natural gas, after Germany.) Kutan and Vyakhirev also agreed to create two new joint ventures. One of those joint ventures will repair and upgrade the existing pipeline that supplies Russian gas to Turkey via Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. (Turkey will pay $1.5 billion toward the construction of new stretches of pipeline and compressor stations.) The second will build a new pipeline either overland through the Caucasus or from Izobilnaya (100 kilometers east of Krasnodar) via Dzhubga and then under the Black Sea to Samsun on Turkey's Black Sea coast. Gazprom board member Vladimir Rezunenko told Reuters in March that Gazprom has approached European banks to discuss credits for financing the underwater Black Sea pipeline, the cost of which is estimated at $3.3 billion. The technical difficulties involved in carrying out that project are daunting, however. The 385- kilometer pipeline would be laid at a depth of 2,100 meters in places, making it the deepest in the world. This would mean the diameter of the pipe would have to be quite narrow to withstand both external and internal pressure, which, in turn, would limit throughput capacity. At a press conference in Moscow in early August, Vyakhirev nonetheless affirmed that Gazprom still intends to proceed with the trans-Black Sea pipeline, but he gave no indication of how long construction might take once funding is secured. The fact that Moscow and Yerevan agreed in January to build the overland pipeline suggests that Gazprom never considered the Black Sea underwater and the Caucasus overland options as mutually exclusive. Nor, apparently, did Turkey. At the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Istanbul summit in late April, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel assured his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, that Ankara's commitment to the underwater Black Sea pipeline did not mean that the overland alternative through Georgia had been "removed from the agenda." As a transit country, Georgia stands to earn tariffs from the pipeline. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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