|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 118, Part I, 16 September1997
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 *YELTSIN UPBEAT ON MEETING WITH BANKERS *PRIMAKOV ON ALLEGED RUSSIAN-IRANIAN NUCLEAR COOPERATION *TAJIK RECONCILIATION COMMISSION CONVENES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN UPBEAT ON MEETING WITH BANKERS. President Boris Yeltsin on 15 September described his meeting with six leaders of powerful banks and financial groups as "very useful," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Yeltsin said bankers who had begun to "quarrel with the government" needed to meet with the president, "whom they always supported and will continue to support." He added that tension recently arose between bankers and some cabinet members, "whom I could not give up under any circumstances." Yeltsin said the bankers had agreed "to end their battle against [First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais, [First Deputy Prime Minister Boris] Nemtsov, and the government." The heads of Oneksimbank, Media-Most, Rosprom, SBS-Agro, Inkombank, and Alfa-Bank attended the meeting. Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, who wields considerable influence at Russian Public Television, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and other media outlets, was not present (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1997). BANKERS COMMENT ON MEETING. Mikhail Khodorkovskii, head of the Rosprom group, told NTV on 15 September that Yeltsin promised to take upcoming privatization auctions, including the sale of the Rosneft oil company, under his personal control. Khodorkovskii also said Yeltsin and the bankers discussed the presidential election scheduled for 2000, saying Yeltsin had promised to ensure "consistency." Alfa-Bank head Mikhail Fridman described the meeting as a step toward "creating an atmosphere of consensus in banking society." He added that Yeltsin agreed "in principle" to hold regular meetings with top bankers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 September. Fridman also predicted that in the future, "we will be called as consultants on the most important economic questions." Speaking to ITAR-TASS, Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin said Yeltsin promised "tough rules" will be applied equally to all those involved in the economic sector. Other bankers who attended the meeting have declined to comment publicly. NEMTSOV ON MEETING'S IMPLICATIONS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says Yeltsin's meeting with the bankers demonstrates that the need to create equal conditions for all financial groups is not merely the "position of Chubais and Nemtsov" but a policy endorsed by the president. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 16 September, Nemtsov noted that in the spring, when the prospect of ending favoritism and back-room privatization deals was only "theoretical," the idea found widespread support. But opposition to the new rules grew in the summer, when those regulations were applied to specific privatization auctions, Nemtsov said. The presidential press service issued a statement saying all bankers who attended the 15 September meeting had agreed to support the economic policies endorsed by Yeltsin and the government, Interfax reported. The bankers also agreed that privatization process should be transparent, with rules applying equally to all potential bidders. PRIMAKOV ON ALLEGED RUSSIAN-IRANIAN NUCLEAR COOPERATION. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 15 September, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov categorically denied that the government is helping Iran develop long-range nuclear weapons. He also rejected the allegation that Moscow has supplied Tehran with nuclear technology, ITAR-TASS reported. He added, however, that Russia will continue with construction of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr, in Iran. He noted that the facility is "important to us in economic terms". Similarly, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had said on 12 September that Western media reports that Russia is aiding Iran's nuclear program are "stupid." Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin complained that "people in Washington simply do not want to listen" to Russian denials of involvement, "Segodnya" reported on 12 September. YELTSIN STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF RATIFYING START-2. Meeting with Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 15 September, Yeltsin instructed the two ministers "to convince legislators that ratification of the START-2 treaty and conclusion of the START-3 treaty are beneficial and useful for Russia", ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov and Sergeev are scheduled to meet on 16 September with the leaders of the seven Duma factions, along with some committee chairmen. Sergeev will outline the military advantages of ratification, while Primakov will explain the foreign policy implications. Sergeev has argued that ratification of START-2 should be contingent on the U.S.'s strict compliance with the provisions of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. CHECHNYA SAYS PLANS FOR BYPASS PIPELINE "NOT SERIOUS." President Aslan Maskhadov on 15 September said that Russian plans to build an oil export pipeline bypassing Chechnya are "not serious," Russian media reported. Maskhadov said such proposals are aimed at canceling existing treaties between Moscow and Grozny. Khozh- Akhmed Yarikhanov, the president of the Chechen state oil company, said on 15 September that Moscow has not officially notified him about the bypass pipeline. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Premier Nemtsov, who is also fuel and energy minister, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 16 September that the estimated $220 million needed to build the 283 kilometer pipeline will not come out of the state budget. The previous day, he had ordered $854,000 transferred to Grozny to finance repairs to the existing pipeline in accordance with the Russian-Chechen agreement signed on 9 September. WERE REPORTS OF ASSASSINATION PLOT AGAINST CHUBAIS FABRICATED... "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 September argued that First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais's team fabricated reports of an alleged assassination plot against Chubais being planned by an unnamed oil company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1997). The authors commented that rumors of such a plot conveniently "cast a shadow over a whole group of [Chubais's] political opponents," namely executives in the oil and gas industry. The newspaper also said the assassination rumors implicitly depict the government's "reformers" as warriors against "bandit capitalism" in Russia, thereby helping Chubais settle scores with his political opponents. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" recently published a sharp attack on Chubais. Meanwhile, Yeltsin said on 15 September that he did not believe the reports of the assassination plot against Chubais, ITAR-TASS reported. He commented that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has also claimed that opponents are plotting to kill him. ...OR ARE THEY GENUINE? "Izvestiya" argued on 16 September that the reported threat to Chubais's life is genuine, citing unnamed officials in the Federal Security Service. The newspaper said that security officials believe the assassination of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich in August may have been meant as a warning to Chubais. Manevich was scheduled to meet with Chubais on the day he was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18-20 August 1997). "Komsomolskaya pravda" argued on 16 August that in preparation for the next wave of privatization sales, "many are interested in playing on the government's nerves." Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya" and "Komsomolskaya pravda," and both newspapers have generally supported Chubais during the scandals of this summer. CENTRAL BANK, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISERS DISAGREE OVER RUBLE REDENOMINATION. Central Bank officials have denied that any laws will have to be amended in light of the planned ruble redenomination, Russian news agencies reported on 15 September. On 1 January 1998, the ruble is to lose three zeroes, and new coins and bank notes will be issued. Ruslan Orekhov, head of the president's Main State Legal Department, recently sent Prime Minister Chernomyrdin a message saying that various laws setting fixed prices, tariffs, and minimum wages and pensions will have to be amended before the currency reform goes into effect, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 September. The newspaper said Orekhov's department is to recommend that Yeltsin rescind his August decree on the redenomination. Citing an unnamed source in the presidential administration, it argued that if Yeltsin rescinds that decree, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin is likely to be dismissed. The Central Bank prepared the August decree. NDR DEPUTY PREDICTS DUMA TO SUPPORT ROKHLIN'S REMOVAL. Duma deputy Roman Popkovich of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction has predicted that many independent Duma deputies and some Communists, along with the Yabloko and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions, will support removing Lev Rokhlin from the chairmanship of the Duma Defense Committee, Interfax reported on 15 September. Popkovich, a Defense Committee member whom the NDR hopes to appoint in place of Rokhlin, told Ekho Moskvy that under Rokhlin's leadership, the committee has become too "politicized." The Defense Committee was one of four committees whose chairmanships were given to NDR under a January 1996 agreement between all Duma factions. Rokhlin was expelled from the NDR on 9 September. He claims to have recruited some 140 deputies to join a new Duma group to lobby for laws that would support the armed forces and defense industry, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 September. NUCLEAR WORKERS PROTEST FUNDING PROBLEMS. Workers at the nuclear research center in Sarov, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, staged a protest on 16 September over wage arrears and other government debts to the center, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported. They claim the government is not honoring a pledge to fund the center adequately. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin made that promise when he visited Sarov in July, on the eve of the Nizhnii Novgorod gubernatorial election. Meanwhile, managers and trade union leaders at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in Snezhinsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, have warned that the center's workers are preparing to declare an indefinite strike on 30 September, ITAR- TASS reported on 15 September. The workers at Snezhinsk have not been paid for three months and charge that funding problems are jeopardizing safety at the center. In July, some 300 nuclear industry workers participated in a protest march from Smolensk Oblast to Moscow. ENERGY PROBLEMS IN PRIMORE. Electricity was cut off in some areas in Primorskii Krai on 15 September, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Vladivostok. An official from Dalenergo, the region's power supplier, said the cuts were necessary because of a lack of coal owing to ongoing coal miners' strikes. Most households in Vladivostok currently have no hot water, and many have only infrequent electricity supplies. Coal miners from the largest pit in Primore went on strike on 15 September to demand the payment of wage arrears. The following day, some 500 coal miners and workers from the energy sector picketed city and krai administrative offices to press the same demand. Meanwhile, Yevgenii Nazdratenko, the governor of Primorskii Krai, has urged that the price of electricity for domestic consumption be lowered from 566 to 300 rubles per kilowatt hour. AUTONOMOUS OKRUGS TO PARTICIPATE IN TYUMEN LEGISLATIVE ELECTION. Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs have agreed to participate in the Tyumen Oblast legislative elections in December, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 September. Legislatures of both okrugs have approved a plan agreed on earlier this month by the executive authorities of Tyumen and both okrugs. Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets are part of Tyumen Oblast, but the okrugs also have their own governors and legislatures. Both okrugs boycotted the Tyumen gubernatorial election in January, despite claims by Tyumen authorities that their action was unconstitutional. In July, the Constitutional Court ruled that Tyumen Oblast elections should also be held in the okrugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1997). Khanty- Mansi will conduct the December election in accordance with the Tyumen electoral law, while Yamal-Nenets plans to adopt its own law on holding oblast-wide elections on the okrug's territory. COURT DELAYS EX-MINISTER'S LAWSUIT AGAINST TABLOID. A Moscow municipal court has delayed hearings in former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev's libel lawsuit against the weekly "Sovershenno sekretno" until 12 November, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September. In late June, the newspaper printed a feature called "The Minister Has No Clothes: Secret Pranks of the Head of the Justice Ministry." The article was accompanied by photos allegedly showing Kovalev and nude women in a sauna in a Moscow club frequented by organized crime figures. Kovalev was first suspended and then replaced shortly after the feature was published. He is challenging the authenticity of the photos, charging that the videotape from which they were taken was doctored. The newspaper says both the videotape and the photos are genuine, and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has also vouched for their authenticity. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK RECONCILIATION COMMISSION CONVENES. The National Reconciliation Commission held its first session in the Tajik capital on 15 September, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Said Abdullo Nuri, chairman of the commission and leader of the United Tajik Opposition, had arrived in Dushanbe four days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 1997). Opening the meeting, President Imomali Rakhmonov called on guarantor states of the peace process to continue their work and asked international donor organizations to help in the reconstruction of the country. Four sub-committees were formed to deal with legal, military, political, and refugee issues. Also on 15 September, the Russian Federal Border Guard Service announced that 800 Tajik refugees had returned to Tajikistan from Afghanistan within the previous 48 hours. Nearly 6,000 refugees have been repatriated since the process began on 17 July. ANTI-NUCLEAR FORUM OPENS IN TASHKENT. A conference whose aim is to officially declare Central Asia a nuclear-free zone opened in the Uzbek capital on 15 September, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Representatives from more than 60 countries and organizations are attending the meeting. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said that declaring Central Asia a nuclear free zone would help to "ensure the security and peace of the people who live here [as well as] the prosperity of the region." Karimov pointed out that the people of Central Asia still feel the effects of testing carried out in the 1950s and the 1960s in northern Kazakhstan and more recently in western China. He also said there are countries in the region that are trying to acquire the technology to make their own nuclear weapons. He urged that a control mechanism be developed to "avert the spread of nuclear weapons." AZERBAIJAN'S "YEREVANGATE" TEAM IN MOSCOW. First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov arrived in Moscow on 15 August to attend a session of the trilateral government commission charged with investigating Russia's arms supplies to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has repeatedly protested the alleged shipment to Armenia from 1992-1994 of weaponry worth $1 billion. The Azerbaijani Security Council discussed the issue on 14 September, according to Interfax. Meeting with Georgian Ambassador Gia Chanturia, President Heidar Aliev expressed concern that much of the weaponry in question has been transported to Armenia via Georgia, Turan reported. AZERBAIJAN THREATENS SANCTIONS OVER DISPUTED OIL FIELD. Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR issued a statement on 11 September threatening unspecified reprisals against Western oil companies that participate in the tender for the disputed Kyapaz Caspian oil field, Russian media reported. Kyapaz is included in 11 Caspian sectors for which the Turkmen government opened tenders at the beginning of September. SOCAR Vice President Khoshbakht Yusif-Zade told journalists in Baku on 15 September that Azerbaijani and Kazakh government experts are close to coordinating their position on dividing the Caspian into "equally-distanced national sectors," Interfax reported. ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER RESIGNS. Jirair Libaridian, senior adviser to President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, told journalists on 15 September that he is resigning in order to rejoin his family in the U.S., RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Libaridian, a Beirut-born naturalized U.S. citizen, has worked in Yerevan since 1991. He concentrated on foreign-policy issues, conducting talks on the Karabakh conflict with his Azerbaijani counterpart and maintaining contacts with Turkey (with which Armenia has no formal diplomatic relations). Libaridian said he rejected the offer to become Armenia's representative to the UN but will retain the post of presidential ambassador-at-large. Ter-Petrossyan publicly thanked Libaridian for his service to Armenia. His successor has not yet been named. LEBANESE PARLIAMENT SPEAKER PROPOSES KARABAKH REFERENDUM. Nabih Berri told journalists in Yerevan on 14 September that Lebanon will recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state if the population votes for independence in a UN sponsored referendum, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The enclave unilaterally declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 but has not been recognized by any country. During his three-day visit, Berri held talks with his Armenian counterpart, Babken Ararktsyan, and with President Ter- Petrossyan. No formal bilateral agreements were signed, but Ter- Petrossyan said the visit "marks a new stage" in bilateral relations. He noted that Lebanon could become Armenia's door to the Middle East and described Armenians' attitude to both Lebanon and Syria (where he was born) as "special," Interfax reported. GEORGIA, GREECE SIGN FRIENDSHIP TREATY. Georgian President Eduard Shevadnadze and his Greek counterpart, Constantinos Simitis, signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation on 15 September, the first day of Shevardnadze's three-day official visit to Greece. The two presidents discussed regional conflicts, including Cyprus, and Greek- Turkish relations. Simitis noted the readiness of the Greek business community to invest in Georgia and commented that Greek foreign policy in the Black Sea and Caucasus should be more active. Georgia and Greece are both members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. ABKHAZ POLICE ABDUCT SIX GEORGIANS. Abkhaz police seized six ethnic Georgians in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi on 14 September and took them to a police station in neighboring Gali Raion, in Abkhazia, AFP reported. The reason for the kidnapping is unclear. The Georgian government has lodged an official protest with the Abkhaz leadership and with the UN observer and Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the region. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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