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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 115, Part I, 11 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I *RUSSIA, CHECHNYA THREATEN TO ABROGATE OIL TRANSIT ACCORD *DUMA SPEAKER DOUBTS ROKHLIN CAN BE UNSEATED *GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS CONCLUDED End Note A JUMP TOO FAR? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA, CHECHNYA THREATEN TO ABROGATE OIL TRANSIT ACCORD. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is also fuel and energy minister, has said Russia will abrogate the 9 September Russian-Chechen agreement on exporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya if the Grozny cannot ensure the safety of Russian workers repairing the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline, Russian media reported on 10 September. Nemtsov was commenting on reports that a lorry carrying Russian construction workers was blown up in Chechnya on 9 September, injuring two passengers. Chechen officials have denied responsibility for the explosion. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax on 10 September that Chechnya will suspend implementation of the transit agreement unless Moscow provides funds to pay wage arrears to teachers and doctors. He said Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was ignoring instructions from President Boris Yeltsin to transfer the necessary funds. RUSSIA POWERLESS TO BAN CHECHEN RELIGIOUS COURTS. Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 10 September that Russia lacks any legal mechanisms for banning the religious courts in Chechnya, which have recently handed down several death sentences, Interfax reported. A Chechen legal official in Grozny told Interfax that the next execution to be carried out will not be public because of the negative public response. But he ruled out the possibility of the sentences being commuted. DUMA SPEAKER DOUBTS ROKHLIN CAN BE UNSEATED. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev says he has received no request from the pro-government Our Home Is Russia movement to replace Lev Rokhlin as chairman of the lower house's Defense Committee. Rokhlin, who had been critical of the government's army reform plan, was expelled from the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction on 9 September. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said at the time that Rohklin would also have to give up his chairmanship of the committee. But Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 10 September that the move would require a special plenary session. At least 226 of the Duma's 450 deputies must approve holding such a session. Seleznev said he doubted Our Home Is Russia can count on that level of support. DUMA BUDGET COMMITTEE HEAD QUESTIONS DRAFT PROPOSAL. Mikhail Zadornov, the chairman of the Duma's budget committee, doubts that the parliament's lower house will pass the government's 1998 draft budget when it comes up for a vote in several weeks, "Segodnya" reported on 11 September. He said his committee has given the draft careful consideration and finds it "lacking." Zadornov added that proposed spending cuts in welfare benefits and regional subsidies will face stiff opposition in the chamber. He also questioned the government's low revenue forecasts. ZYUGANOV PROMISES "HOT POLITICAL FALL." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov is promising a "hot political fall" for the government, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Zyuganov told a Moscow news conference that the Communists and their allies are planning a series of nationwide strikes to protest current economic policies. He said 7 million people have already signed a petition calling for President Yeltsin and the government to resign. Valentin Kuptsov, the deputy chairman of the party's Central Committee, denied reports of a split in the party. He told journalists there is "no point in looking for intrigue where it does not exist." KREMLIN SAYS RUSSIAN-JAPANESE TALKS WILL BE "FRANK." The Kremlin has said the upcoming meeting between President Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto will be "deliberately informal" to allow a frank exchange of views. Yeltsin spokesman Yastrzembskii told reporters in Moscow on 10 September that the talks will take place in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on 1-2 November. The two countries' decades-old dispute over ownership of the four Kurile Islands has blocked the signing of a formal peace treaty and prevented large-scale Japanese investment in Russia. YELTSIN SUBMITS COUNCIL OF EUROPE DOCUMENTS FOR RATIFICATION. President Boris Yeltsin has submitted four Council of Europe documents to the State Duma for ratification, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The documents are the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on the Prevention of Torture, a framework agreement on the defense of minorities, and a European charter on local self-administration. Russia signed the documents when it became a member of the 40- country body in February 1996. YELTSIN DISSATISFIED WITH CUSTOMS UNION. Yeltsin is dissatisfied with the work of the customs union linking Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, presidential press spokesman Yastrzhembskii told reporters in Moscow on 10 September. Yastrzhembskii did not enumerate the problems but said leaders from the four countries should meet before CIS summit in Chisinau in the fall in order to "breathe new life" into the union. YAKUTSK WORKERS SHUT OFF WATER TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT. Angry workers have shut off water supplies to all government buildings in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The workers, who are from the city's main water treatment facility, have not received their wages since December 1996. Plant director Nikolai Lepchitov said the employees are desperate and no longer believe any of the administration's promises. They intend to keep the water off until all wage arrears are paid. LUZHKOV TOURS TRAIN STATIONS. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov toured the capital's newly renovated Leningrad and Kazan railway stations, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Luzhkov said eight of Moscow's nine main railway stations have now been restored to their original splendor. He unveiled a memorial plaque to architect Konstantin Ton at the Leningrad station. In addition to designing some of the Kremlin's palaces, Ton was the main architect of the Christ the Savior cathedral, whose complete reconstruction Luzhkov is also overseeing. TSAR'S ARCHIVE GOES ON DISPLAY IN MOSCOW. Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov opened an exhibition of archives containing the private papers of Russia's last tsar and the protocol of an investigation into his assassination by the Bolsheviks in 1918, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The ceremony took place at Moscow's Museum of Private Collections. The documents were spirited out of Russia in 1919 and ended up in Liechtenstein. The principality recently agreed to hand the archive over to Moscow in exchange for documents seized by Russia during World War II. "MIR" COSMONAUTS TO RECEIVE FULL WAGES. Aleksei Krasnov, the deputy chief of Russia's Space Agency (RSA) said cosmonauts Vasilii Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin will receive their full wages for the period spent in space, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Viktor Blagov, another RSA official, said the two have already received 70 percent of their wages and that the delay in paying the remainder is due to an ongoing examination of problems on the space station "Mir" while Tsibliev and Lazutkin were aboard. He said such a practice is common while determining if cosmonauts did less or more than was required of them. However, Krasnov did comment that Tsibliev was unlikely to receive compensation for heart problems he experienced while in space because "Russia has not yet developed a health insurance system for cosmonauts." TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS CONCLUDED. Talks in Sukhumi between the Abkhaz leadership and high-level Georgian and Russian government representatives ended on 10 September, Russian agencies reported. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov told Interfax that the two sides are demonstrating greater flexibility and have made some progress toward finalizing conditions for the repatriation of ethnic Georgians who fled during the 1992- 1993 war. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze said the Abkhaz leadership has agreed that Sukhumi and Tbilisi should have a common defense and foreign policy. But he added that Sukhumi still rejects the concept of a federal state and a single constitution. The Georgian and Abkhaz representatives pledged to coordinate efforts to prevent terrorist activities by guerrilla formations in the border region. GEORGIA FAILS TO MEET OBLIGATIONS TO FRONTIER GUARDS. The Georgian government owes Russia 47 billion rubles ($8 million) toward the cost of guarding Georgia's frontier with Turkey, "Delovoi mir" reported on 11 September. Under the terms of an agreement signed in 1994, Moscow provides 60 percent of the funds for overseeing the border which is jointly guarded by Georgian and Russian troop. Georgia pays the remaining 40 per cent. Earlier this year, the Georgian parliament called for legislation on the future protection of Georgia's frontiers exclusively by Georgian frontier guards. FUTURE OF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION GROUP IN DOUBT. Vazgen Manukyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 10 September that the National Accord Bloc, formed exactly one year ago to support his bid for the Armenian presidency, no longer exists as a cohesive mechanism and its future is in doubt. Manukyan said the parties that compose the bloc still have "common interests and goals" but disagree over political strategy. Manukyan said the bloc will organize more rallies in September even though "it is impossible to change the government through mass demonstrations." He said the draft electoral law drawn up by parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan leaves the opposition no chances to win an election. The current leaders have "made fortunes in office and do not want to lose them," he said. ARMENIA TIGHTENS REGISTRATION FOR NON-MAINSTREAM RELIGIONS. President Levon Ter-Petrossyan on 10 September dropped his objection to the parliament's proposed amendment to the law on religious organizations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That amendment raises from 50 to 200 the minimum number of members a religious organization must have in order to be registered with the authorities. It also obliges all religious organizations wishing to register to submit a complete list of their members before they can operate legally in Armenia. Gegham Garibjanyan, chairman of the parliament's committee on social affairs and one of the authors of the amendment, said Ter-Petrossyan and parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan "resolved the matter during a phone conversation." He added that the amendment is not directed against "traditional religious organizations", noting that the Armenian law is more liberal than the one adopted by the Russian State Duma and vetoed by President Boris Yeltsin. KARABAKH PRESIDENT PROPOSES "LIMITED SOVEREIGNTY." In an interview in the 10 September issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Arkadii Ghukasyan, the newly-elected president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, suggested possible alternatives to de jure independence for the disputed enclave or its renewed subordination to the central Azerbaijani government in Baku. Ghukasyan advocated what he termed "limited sovereignty," meaning the coexistence of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan as equal partners in a quasi-federal state with a single parliament. Alternatively, he suggested that Baku could be delegated responsibility for certain policy areas, including ecology, energy, communications, and possibly even the economy. Ghukasyan further insisted that the issue of repatriation of the Azerbaijani population of the enclave be linked to the return to Azerbaijan of ethnic Armenians who fled during the hostilities. KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER ADMITS TO KGB SERVICE. Akezhan Kazhegeldin admitted in an interview in the 10 September issue of "Komsomolskaya Pravda" that he worked for the KGB during the Soviet era. He did not specify for how long he served in the KGB but said he was involved in the shipment of tanks and military technology to other countries, mainly in the Balkans and Muslim countries of southeastern Asia. He also admitted to being in shady money speculation schemes and said that although he was a member of the Communist Party, his membership was kept secret so that if he were caught involved in such schemes, "the honor of the party would not be stained." He concluded by saying he had done nothing for which he could be sentenced. TALIBAN WANT PLANES BACK FROM TAJIKISTAN. Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of Afghanistan's Taliban, has demanded that Tajikistan return five jet fighters allegedly flown to Tajikistan to avoid capture by Taliban forces, AFP reported on 10 September. Omar claims the Taliban offensive against the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif prompted anti-Taliban coalition general Abdul Malik to order eight planes flown to Tajikistan so they would not be taken by the fundamentalist movement. Three of those planes, however, defected to the Taliban. Omar said the planes are being held in Tajikistan for use by forces opposed to the fundamentalists. He warned Tajikistan not to allow its territory to be used for actions against the Taliban. INTERNATIONAL COMPANIES SHOW INTEREST IN TURKMEN TENDER. Tenders for oil and gas deposits in the part of the Caspian Sea to which Turkmenistan lays claim have attracted the interest of "more than 57 major foreign companies," Interfax reported. The first tender was held in Vienna on 10 September. Representatives of companies from 47 countries participated in that round. The second tender begins in London on 11 September. Russia's LUKoil may take part in the London tender, but officials of that company have made clear LUKoil will not bid on the Serdar (Kyapaz in Azerbaijani) field, which Baku also claims as its property. Two more tenders will be held before the 28 November deadline for submitting applications. END NOTE A JUMP TOO FAR? by Paul Goble U.S. military involvement in a peacekeeping exercise in Central Asia in mid-September is the latest indication of a shift in the balance of power in a region long dominated by Moscow. Each of the five countries in the region, both the three that are participating with the U.S. and the two that are not, enjoy unprecedented freedom of action as a result. But because a single exercise will, in itself, not be enough to institutionalize that change, the maneuvers will almost certainly carefully watched by Russia, which retains important assets both within and around the region. Brigadier General Martin Berndt, the U.S. Atlantic Command's director for joint exercises and training, recently announced that U.S. military forces will participate in a joint military exercise known as Centrasbat 97 from 15 to 21 September. He said some 500 paratroopers from the army's 82nd Airborne Division, along with 40 Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks, will fly non-stop from the U.S. to Kazakhstan and then parachute into the exercise area. Joining them in that jump will be 40 soldiers from Turkey, 40 from Russia, and Marine Corps General John J. Sheehan, who is the commander of the U.S. Atlantic Command. Following their arrival, troops from Latvia and Georgia will join the peacekeeping and humanitarian aid training sessions to take place in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Berndt stressed that the 13,000 kilometer airlift of paratroopers is a remarkable "first" by virtue of its distance: "a strategic airlift of airborne troops that has not been seen before." He said the exercises were intended to promote regional military cooperation, to reinforce the sovereignty of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan whose soldiers make up the Central Asian battalion under the Partnership for Peace program, and to help those countries upgrade their ability to participate in international peacekeeping activities. He hastened to add that the U.S. is not trying to send any message to the nations not involved (including the two Central Asian non-participants, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) or to anyone else. Regardless of Washington's intentions, however, U.S. military involvement in the high-profile exercise will send some very powerful messages not only to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan but also to the three countries of the region whose soldiers are taking part and to Russia . To the Turkmens and Tajiks, this high-visibility operation will serve notice that the U.S. intends to be a serious player in the Central Asian region and that they thus have a strong incentive to modify their policies in ways that will allow them to cooperate both with their neighbors, who did not invite them to participate in the exercise, and with the U.S. To the three Central Asian states that are participating, the exercise provides the clearest indication yet that the U.S. is prepared to work with them on much the same basis that it is cooperating with the Baltic States and Ukraine. It will provide yet another impulse toward greater cooperation throughout region as a whole. And it will signal that the U.S. is not prepared to accept Russian pretensions to a continuing sphere of influence in that region, which will allow those countries to adopt increasingly independent foreign policies and sometimes even directly challenge Moscow's positions. But if the exercise sends such messages to the Central Asian countries, it also sends them to Russia. At least some in Moscow may react to what they are likely to see as a direct and intentional U.S. challenge to what many Russians believe is properly their sphere of influence. If the Russian government follows their lead--and recent statements by President Boris Yeltsin about U.S. involvement in the Caucasus suggest that it might--Moscow may decide to react in some way. And if it does, it has some significant assets that it can bring into play. Russia has a variety of means of exacerbating the situation in Tajikistan, including the threat of pulling out Russian peacekeeping forces, which could weaken the Dushanbe regime and lead to instability in Uzbekistan. It could also put in place new obstacles to the export of oil and gas from the countries of Central Asia. In such cases, the U.S. and the West more generally may be forced to provide even more political assistance to its Central Asian partners lest its paratroop drop into Kazakhstan on 15 September prove a jump too far. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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