|I'm going to turn on the light, and we'll be two people in a room looking at each other and wondering why on earth we were afraid of the dark. - Gale Wilhelm|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 112, Part I, 8 September 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/ Listen to news for 13 countries RFE/RL broadcasts to countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia and the South Slavic region are online daily at RFE/RL's 24-Hour LIVE Broadcast Studio. http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA DISCUSS DETAINED ORT JOURNALIST * NEMTSOV ANNOUNCES PLANS TO SELL ROSNEFT * AZERBAIJAN TO DELAY DECISION ON MAIN EXPORT PIPELINE? End Note : "THE SPIRIT OF VILNIUS" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA DISCUSS DETAINED ORT JOURNALIST. Following talks in Moscow on 6 September, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka agreed to sort out the row over the detention of a Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist in Belarus. "We must resolve this question in order to preserve our relations as allies," Yeltsin said. Belarusian authorities on 4 September released ORT cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky but refused to free his colleague Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian citizen, saying he had been stripped of his press credentials before he was arrested for illegally entering Belarus in July. Lukashenka told Russia's Mayak Radio after his talks with Yeltsin that the case of Sheremet will be resolved in accordance with Belarusian law. In August, Minsk released all four members of a second ORT news crew that had been detained on the same charges. YELTSIN MEETS OTHER CIS LEADERS. Also on 6 September, Yeltsin met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, both of whom were in Moscow for the city's 850th anniversary celebrations. Talks with Nazarbayev focused on economic ties, including possible development of Caspian Sea oil reserves, ITAR-TASS reported Topics of discusssion with Lucinschi included peace efforts in Moldova's breakaway Transdniestr region. Yeltsin was originally scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, but RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported that Aliev canceled his trip to Moscow at the last minute to protest the friendship treaty signed on 29 August between Armenia and Russia. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry had sent a note on 4 September to the Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, explaining that Baku was concerned with statutes in the treaty calling for closer military cooperation between Moscow and Yerevan, according to ITAR-TASS. DUMA DENOUNCES GROZNY EXECUTIONS... The State Duma on 5 September adopted a resolution denouncing the televised public execution two days earlier of a couple whom an Islamic court had found guilty of murder, Russian news agencies reported. The statement called on federal legislative and executive authorities to take into account that "present Chechen leaders disregard Russian legal norms, bilateral agreements, and the principles of international legislation," Interfax reported. The Chechen government criticized the Duma vote as an attempt to meddle in Chechnya's affairs and accused Russian deputies of hypocrisy. ...AS DO COUNCIL OF EUROPE, RUSSIAN MUFTI. Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Leni Fischer on 5 September similarly condemned the killings, arguing that "for a democracy, such executions are not the way to combat criminality...and organized crime." Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, a Muslim leader in Russia, expressed concern that the executions may "trigger animosity and even hostility" towards Muslims and " represent Islam in a perverted way," Interfax reported. DUMA CALLS FOR PROBE INTO PRIVATIZATION DEALS. The Duma on 5 September adopted a resolution calling on the Audit chamber to review the recent privatization auctions of Svyazinvest, Norilsk Nickel, and two major oil companies, Sibneft and Tyumenneftegaz, AFP and Russian news agencies reported. The Duma is seeking clarification on three points: how the starting price was established, the legality of the tender procedure, and the transfer of revenue from the sales to the state budget. The resolution was drafted by a communist deputy and two members of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, according to AFP. A document circulated to legislators before the vote noted that only two companies competed for a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel and that both were "set up by the same group which has close financial relations with Oneximbank and MFK [an affiliate of Oneximbank]." NEMTSOV ANNOUNCES PLANS TO SELL ROSNEFT. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 5 September announced that Russia will sell 96 percent of the state-owned oil giant Rosneft, Reuters reported. No terms or dates have been set for the sale, from which the government hopes to raise more than $1 billion. One issue that must be resolved before Rosneft can be sold is the ownership of Purneftegaz, awarded to Rosneft by the government but also claimed by the SIDANKO group, controlled by Uneximbank. Nemtsov said the issue will be resolved by the time of the first Rosneft sale. RUSSIAN-CHECHEN OIL TRANSIT TALKS AGAIN POSTPONED. Also on 5 September, Nemtsov said that Russia is prepared to sign an agreement with Chechnya on repairing the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline immediately, Russian agencies reported. He said that if a simultaneous agreement is not signed on conditions and tariffs for the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, talks on such an accord could be continued while repairs to the pipeline are being carried out. Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, president of the Chechen state oil company, said that the resumption of talks had been postponed until 8 September. Meanwhile, maverick field commander Salman Raduev told a 5 September news conference in Grozny that Chechen radicals will prevent the commissioning of the pipeline before Russia officially recognizes Chechnya as an independent state, according to Interfax. LUKOIL TO EXPAND TO U.S. MARKET. Russia's biggest oil company on 5 September announced that output increased in the first half of 1997, Western news agencies reported. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov predicted production this year will grow by 2 million tons over the 1996 level of 58.5 million tons He said that pre-tax profits rose, but in ruble terms only, while net profits fell slightly. LUKoil plans to invest $240 million over the next three years to build a network of some 2,000 service stations in the U.S. by 2003, Alekperov said. Its Texas affiliate Nexus Fuels, in which LUKoil has a 50 percent stake, says it has access to 5,000 sites near U.S. supermarkets. The first 25-30 stations should open by the end of this year, according to Alekperov. AIR FRANCE, AEROFLOT FORM "HISTORIC ALLIANCE." Aeroflot and Air France on 5 September announced the creation of what both called a "historic" alliance that envisions coordinating passenger service and expanding both airlines' markets, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The agreement was signed in Moscow by Air France managing director Marc Vernon and his Aeroflot counterpart, Valerii Okulov. Aeroflot intends to extend its reach into France, Africa, the Caribbean basin, and Latin America, Okulov said. Vernon said the move will enable Air France to extend its network in Russia and across the CIS. Current levels of service on Aeroflot internal flights will be raised "to bring them up to international level," Okulov added. OUR HOME IS RUSSIA ACCUSES DUMA COUNCIL OF VIOLATING PROCEDURAL RULES. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, told RFE/RL that the decision to vote on his dismissal as Duma deputy speaker was a "personal decision" by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. Shokhin had submitted his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 1997); however later the same day, the Duma voted 232 to 150 to dismiss Shokhin as deputy speaker. Shokhin said his faction had proposed to vote on 10 September and that Seleznev feared the NDR would submit the issue for discussion "in the same package" with discussion on releasing another NDR member, Gen. Lev Rokhlin, from his post of chairman of the Duma Defense Committee. Shokin said Seleznev and communist faction leader Gennadii Zyuganov have confirmed that the new deputy speaker will be an NDR member. ROKHLIN SAYS YELTSIN MUST GO. Meanwhile, Rokhlin has said the only way to end Russia's military decline is to unseat Yeltsin, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 September. Rokhlin told reporters in Kazan that Russia will have no nuclear deterrence by 2060 and that China could pose a threat since its "national interests encompasses Russian territory up to the Urals." Rokhlin said he planned to bring together all opposition forces--ranging from the Communist Party, the People's Patriotic Union, and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party--into his new political group, For Salvation of the Army, in a bid to unseat Yeltsin. Rokhlin created a stir in June when he said the armed forces were on the verge of mutiny. The pro- government Our House Is Russia (NDR) distanced itself from his remarks but postponed a decision whether to expel him until after the Duma's summer recess. LUZHKOV WRAPS UP MOSCOW ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS. In a closing speech at the refurbished Luzhniki stadium, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov declared Moscow's aim to lead Russia to "achieve the greatness and the power that we have the right to declare to the whole world." Luzhkov also denied he was seeking the Russian presidency in 2000, although observers said the mayor would use the spotlight on revitalized Moscow to promote his own presidential bid. On each of the three days of the celebrations, millions of people flocked to the city. On 5 September, a Human Rights Watch report criticized Moscow's continued use of the "propiska," a Soviet-era registration without which no one can live legally in the city, the "Financial Times" reported on 7 September. DELAY IN FINDING LOST RADIOACTIVE CONTAINER. Bad weather has brought a halt to efforts by three ships from the Pacific Fleet to locate a container of strontium-90 that fell from a helicopter into the ocean north of Sakhalin Island in mid-August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997), ITAR-TASS reported on 8 September. Nikolai Smirnov, the head of Sakhalin's Civil Defense and Emergency Situation's headquarters, repeated assurances that the container poses no threat to the environment. "MIR" UPDATE. Russian cosmonaut Anatolii Sovolev and U.S. astronaut Michael Foale left the space station "Mir' early on 6 September and spent nearly six hours searching for damage and carrying out repairs. They realigned two of the four solar batteries with the sun but were unable to locate punctures in the "spektr" modules. With the realignment of the two panels, power is expected to reach 90 percent soon. The next space walk to find punctures in the modules will not be made until after 4 October, however. Russian mission control reported on 8 September that "Mir's" main computer had failed again. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJAN TO DELAY DECISION ON MAIN EXPORT PIPELINE? President Heidar Aliev has created a working group to assess the relative merits of alternative routes for the main export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, Turan reported on 6 September. The group -- which includes a deputy premier, the president and vice president of the state oil company SOCAR, and three top officials of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company -- is to hold talks in Turkey, Russia, and Georgia and to present its recommendations within the next two years. The AIOC was originally scheduled to decide on the route for the main export pipeline this year but announced in June that the decision would be postponed until October 1998. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem arrived in Baku on 7 September to discuss "all bilateral issues," including the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline route for which Turkey is lobbying, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. OPPOSITION DEPUTY DETAINED IN NAKHICHEVAN. Mirmahmud Fattaev, the deputy chairman of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front, and three other people were detained by police at Nakhichevan airport on 6 September, Turan reported. The four men, who intended to travel to the village of Keleki to visit former President Abulfaz Elchibey, were accused of "violating the passport regime" and ordered to return to Baku. WORLD BANK GRANTS LOANS TO GEORGIA. The World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) has approved two loans totaling $65 million to Georgia to help consolidate progress toward stabilizing the economy and to push ahead on key reforms, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 5 September. The larger, $60 million loan will be used to help the Georgian government improve tax collections, restructure its public spending, accelerate privatization, improve financial discipline in the energy sector, and restructure the banking sector, among others. The IDA says the credit will also be used to help Georgia improve the targeting of social benefits, including introducing private pensions and reforming health care. The second loan, worth $5 million, is to finance structural reforms, including in the judiciary and social assistance sector. GEORGIAN STATE TREASURY ROBBED. Thieves recently broke into the national treasury and stole 160 kilos of gold ingots, the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development reported on 5 September, citing "Kavkasioni." The newspaper said that Minister of State Niko Lekishvili accused the treasury administration of failing to take adequate security measures. but "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 September reported that officials have declined to comment on the incident. SUPPORT GROWS IN ARMENIA FOR JOINING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION. Aghasi Arshakyan, one of the leaders of the left-wing Armenian People's Initiative (HZhN), told reporters on 5 September that the group has collected more than 1 million signatures in support of Armenia joining the Russia-Belarus union, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Arshakyan said that joining a "new union" of former Soviet republics will promote "very rapid economic growth" in Armenia and thus help the country overcome its economic crisis. He said some 100,000 Armenian nationals currently residing in Russia also support the union. Telman Gdlyan, a prominent Russian politician of Armenian origin, predicted that other unspecified former Soviet republics will follow Armenia's example. The Communist Party of Armenia likewise claims to have collected 800,000 signatures in support of Armenia's joining the Russia- Belarus union. It will raise the issue at the fall session of the Armenian parliament. BOMB GOES OFF IN DUSHANBE. A bomb exploded in a Dushanbe hotel early on 6 September, according to RFE/RL correspondents The bomb had been placed in a refrigerator in the dining hall of the Hotel Vakhsh, where fighters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and their leader, Said Abdullo Nuri, are scheduled to stay. The hotel is guarded by "bodyguards" from the UTO and government troops. So far, no one has been detained in connection with the bombing. Nuri, who was due in the Tajik capital on 8 September to participate in Independence Day celebrations the next day, has now postponed his arrival. The delay is due to a government request to limit the number of the UTO delegation. ITAR-TASS on 8 September noted that the government list of UTO delegates coming to Dushanbe does not include UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda. BORDER GUARD HEADS MEET IN KYRGYZSTAN. Heads of border guards from the CIS countries, excluding Azerbaijan and Moldova, met in Kyrgyzstan on 5-6 September for the 26th session of border guard commanders, ITAR-TASS reported. The commanders reviewed 33 documents, including those on exchanges of information between CIS border guards and on customs procedures within the CIS and along the borders with other countries. Addressing the session, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev called the guards "one of the more effective structures" within the CIS. END NOTE "THE SPIRIT OF VILNIUS" by Paul Goble For the first time, the countries between the Baltic and the Black Seas have found a common voice, one that will help them to integrate into the West, even as they smooth their relations with one another and with Moscow. At a meeting in Vilnius on 5 and 6 September, the presidents of 10 countries in the region sharply criticized the retreat from democratic reforms in Belarus. They stressed they want to work with both Russia and the West. And they committed themselves to broader regional cooperation. As a result, a summit originally convened to help overcome bilateral conflicts among those states was transformed into something much bigger. That development would appear to justify the claims of some of the leaders present that they will be guided by the "spirit of Vilnius" in the future. The meeting, organized by the leaders of Poland and Lithuania, attracted the presidents of Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, as well as the prime minister of the Russian Federation. The outcome of the meeting was defined less by the individual positions that each of those leaders took than by the collective spirit they displayed on three key issues. First, virtually all the presidents were sharply critical of the increasingly anti-democratic behavior of one of their numbers, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Their outspokenness violated the usual diplomatic niceties of such sessions and indicated that the countries of the region are at least prepared to take a hard line against those who retreat from democracy and a free market economy. It also largely dispelled the fears of those who had thought Lukashenka might be able to exploit the Vilnius summit to escape his regime's current isolation on the international scene. Instead, the Vilnius meeting underlined Lukashenka's isolation from his own people, from neighboring states, and from both Moscow and the West. Not only did the leaders of the other countries speak out, but representatives of Belarusian society directly challenged Lukashenka's claims. Second, the 10 presidents indicated they want to cooperate with both East and West rather than being forced to choose between one or the other. Part of the reasoning behind that position was clearly tactical. Several leaders said they are interested in improved relations with Russia in order to improve their standing with Western governments that have made good relations with Moscow a virtual requirement for inclusion in Western institutions. But at the Vilnius meeting, there were also strategic considerations. The Baltic presidents, for example, did not react as sharply as they have in the past to Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's latest elaboration of Russian suggestions that the three rely on Moscow rather than NATO. Each calmly reiterated the desire of his country to join the Western alliance, but each equally calmly said that his country did not want involvement with the West to preclude good relations with Moscow. This approach led to a remarkable breakthrough. Following bilateral meetings with the Russian premier, each of the Baltic presidents was able to announce that he would soon be signing a border agreement with the Russian Federation, thus laying to rest a long-standing sore point in relations with Moscow. Third, the 10 presidents asserted that they want to work together precisely so that they can take responsibility for themselves rather than waiting for one or the other outside power to decide their fate, as has happened so often in the past. Two countries -- Poland and Ukraine -- offered to host a follow-up regional summit in 1999. And the representatives of several other presidents indicated they were interested in much closer consultations across the region. In the past, efforts to promote such cooperation have foundered on tensions among those countries and on the fears in both Moscow and the West that such arrangements might become a barrier to the inclusion of Russia into European institutions. But precisely because the Vilnius summit was called to avoid setting up such a barrier, this latest drive toward cooperation among the countries of the region may be more successful than its predecessors before World War Two and in the early 1990s. It has already attracted less opposition and more support from outside. Not only did Moscow not denounce it, but U.S. President Bill Clinton said it could play a useful role in "erasing the old dividing lines in Europe." To the extent that the countries of the region continue to act as they did in the Lithuanian capital, the "spirit of Vilnius" may prove a turning point not only for them but for Europe as a whole. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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