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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 119, Part I, 17 September 1997
A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW * DUMA FACTIONS DISAGREE OVER START-2 RATIFICATION * TAJIK OPPOSITION RELEASES PRISONERS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW... During his first visit to Moscow as prime minister, Valery Pustovoitenko announced that "Russia is unquestionably Ukraine's strategic partner," Russian media reported on 16 September. Pustovoitenko met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who said there are "no large intractable problems" between the two countries. Statements by Russian officials, however, indicate some problems still exist. Following his meeting with Pustovoitenko, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said turnover in trade between the two countries in the first half of 1997 was $7.7 billion, down 22 percent on the same period last year. No solution was found to the issue of Ukraine's debt to Russia for gas supplies. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told reporters that Moscow has no intention of buying from Ukraine Soviet-era Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers. ...MAKES SUGAR A PRIORITY ISSUE. One of the topics at the top of Pustovoitenko's agenda was the export of sugar from Ukraine to Russia. Pustovoitenko urged Yeltsin to remove a 25 percent tax imposed on sugar imports last May and a 10 percent value-added tax levied in the summer. The Ukrainian premier said the problem is "seriously slowing down Russian-Ukrainian cooperation." In the past, Ukraine exported 1.1-1.3 million tons of sugar to Russia annually, but this year's contracts provide for only 600,000 tons. According to Interfax, Yeltsin promised to have Prime Minister Chernomyrdin look into the matter. YELTSIN SAYS LUKASHENKA BROKE AGREEMENT ON ORT JOURNALIST. Yeltsin on 16 September criticized his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for allegedly not abiding by an agreement to release Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Pavel Sheremet, Russian news agencies reported. Russian authorities have said Lukashenka promised at a 6 September meeting with Yeltsin to free Sheremet, but Lukashenka has said the matter will be resolved in Belarusian courts. In an interview published in the official newspaper "Sovetskaya Belarus" on 16 September, Lukashenka said, "I will impeccably fulfill all agreements with Boris Yeltsin. As for Sheremet, that's a matter of routine judicial procedures." Lukashenka added that he is not an "absolute monarch" with the power to arrest and release people at will, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 September. YELTSIN, CHERNOMYRDIN COMMENT ON MEETING WITH BANKERS. Before a 16 September meeting with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin said he told six top bankers the previous day that "banks cannot be above the authorities," Russian news agencies reported. He added that banks should serve the government and cooperate with it, settling disputes without resorting to "insults" or "harsh statements" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1997). Chernomyrdin argued that it is incorrect to say the government and some bankers were at "war" before Yeltsin's meeting with the influential businessmen. He added that ministers realize "we cannot do without banks. But there should be tolerance and support for each other," Interfax reported. MOSCOW DISBURSES FUNDS FOR CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is also fuel and energy minister, has signed a decree on the transfer to Grozny of the first installment of funds to finance repairs to the Baku-Grozny- Tikhoretsk pipeline, Russian media reported on 16 September. Nemtsov told journalists that the decision to build an alternative pipeline bypassing Chechnya did not mean Moscow would renege on the 9 September agreement to fund repairs to the existing pipeline. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov similarly told a press conference on 16 September that plans to build the alternative pipeline "are not intended to spite Grozny or create difficulties in the negotiating process", ITAR-TASS reported. DISAGREEMENT IN BAKU OVER CHECHEN BYPASS PIPELINE. Azerbaijani Ambassador to Georgia Khadzhan Gadzhiev told Interfax on 16 September that Baku does not object to Russia's recent decision to build an oil pipeline bypassing Chechnya to export Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. "The main thing is that the oil should be exported on time, and it is the responsibility of the Russian side [to determine] how the oil travels from Azerbaijan's border with Russia," Gadzhiev said. But Ahmed Zeynalov, vice president for construction at the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR, told Turan on 16 September that the route bypassing Chechnya is not the optimum one for Russia and that technical problems will make construction problematic. In addition, Zeynalov argued, the decision to build a bypass pipeline contravenes the Russian-Chechen-Azerbaijani agreement, signed in Baku in July, on exporting Azerbaijani oil. DUMA FACTIONS DISAGREE OVER START-2 RATIFICATION. At Yeltsin's bidding, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with the leaders of the State Duma factions and some committee chairmen on 16 September to argue the case for ratifying the START-2 treaty, Russian media reported. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Popular Power faction head Nikolai Ryzhkov told Interfax that they found the ministers' arguments "unconvincing" and will not vote for ratification. ITAR-TASS quoted Duma Defense Committee member Vladimir Volkov as arguing that ratification should be postponed until the economic situation in Russia and the military-political situation in Europe have stabilized. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii advocated ratification, while Aleksei Podberezkin, one of the leaders of the Communist faction, argued that the START-3 treaty should be ratified before START-2, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 September. OFFICIALS DENY REPORT ON PRIMAKOV RESIGNATION. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii says a report that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has submitted his resignation is "disinformation" that damages the prestige of Russia and its Foreign Ministry, ITAR- TASS reported on 16 September. The latest edition of the weekly "Moskovskie novosti" claimed Primakov has already handed in a resignation letter. The newspaper's speculations on the reasons for the alleged decision range from the minister's reported desire to return to academia to an attempt by Primakov to leave the Foreign Ministry before a scandal breaks over misappropriated funds. Yastrzhembskii said the president highly values Primakov's activities. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov described the "Moskovskie novosti" report as "nonsense" and a "canard." Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov dismissed the report as "fantasy," commenting that some Russian media are afflicted with "cadre syndrome" at the end of every summer. DUBININ SAYS NO NEED TO CHANGE LAWS FOLLOWING REDENOMINATION... Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin says parliament will not have to approve changes to various laws in connection with the planned ruble redenomination, Russian news agencies reported on 16 September. The Main State Legal Department of the presidential administration recently noted that laws specifying fixed ruble prices, tariffs, wages, and pensions will have to be amended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1997). But Dubinin said the government could issue a document explaining how laws affected by the currency reform will be implemented after 1 January 1998. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov commented that the wave of publications describing alleged complications related to the redenomination appear to have been "commissioned." ...BUT PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER DISAGREES. Meanwhile, Mikhail Krasnov, Yeltsin's legal adviser, told journalists on 16 September that the parliament will have to amend some laws to remove three zeroes from fixed ruble amounts, Russian news agencies reported. However, Krasnov denied that the presidential administration or its Main State Legal Department is opposed to the currency reform or has suggested rescinding the August presidential decree on redenomination. He predicted that the State Duma will approve all the necessary amendments. "Segodnya" argued on 15 September that the department has in effect "armed the opposition" by suggesting that opposition Duma deputies may not agree to lower minimum wages and pensions by 1,000 times in line with the currency reform. SQUEAKY WHEELS GET GREASE IN DEFENSE INDUSTRY. Federation of Independent Trade Unions leader Mikhail Shmakov announced that within a week, 500 billion rubles ($85 million) will be allocated to pay back wages to workers in the defense industry, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 September. Shmakov said top officials from the Finance, Defense and Economics Ministries, along with the presidential administration, made the decision at a 16 September Kremlin meeting, which Shmakov attended. Since the funds will not cover all wage arrears owed to defense industry workers, he said, the money will be directed toward "hot spots," where workers have staged protests. The beneficiaries of the funds earmarked for wage arrears will include the submarine repair factory Zvezda in Primorskii Krai, the ship-building plant in Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Khabarovsk Krai, and a defense factory in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Oblast. LEFT OPPOSITION ALLIANCE TO CONTEST MOSCOW DUMA ELECTION. Communist Party leader Zyuganov on 16 September met with leaders of the opposition electoral bloc My Moscow, which will contest the December election to the Moscow City Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. The groups that form My Moscow are also members of the Popular- Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), created out of organizations that supported Zyuganov's 1996 presidential bid. However, My Moscow is not campaigning as a Communist opposition movement. Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin, the leader of My Moscow, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 September that My Moscow has no "party ideology" and includes many organizations that have never been associated with "the Reds." Podberezkin added that My Moscow favors cooperation with the city's executive authorities and is "in solidarity with [Moscow Mayor Yurii] Luzhkov" over the need to adhere to "state-minded principles." ZYUGANOV CRITICIZES YELTSIN'S MEETING WITH BANKERS... Commenting on Yeltsin's meeting the previous day with six leading Russian bankers, Zyuganov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 16 September that the state should regulate the economy through "normal laws and normal rules," not by having the president gather quarreling bankers together and play peacemaker. Yeltsin was compelled to meet with the bankers because "normal" laws do not exist in Russia and because the president apparently did not trust any cabinet minister to do the job, Zyuganov argued. ...AND RUSSIAN TV. In an interview published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 16 September, Zyuganov said the recent creation of the television network Kultura arouses "suspicion." He noted that the network's top executive, former Deputy Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, had previously "tried to convince us to turn cultural valuables over to Germany." In addition, Zyuganov charged that "not a single [ethnic] Russian person" appears on the five leading Russian television networks. All nationalities in Russia have the right to be represented on television, he argued, including ethnic Russians, who form a majority of the population. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov slammed Zyuganov's comments as "boorishness," ITAR-TASS reported on 16 September. Shabdurasulov also erroneously claimed that in the "Sovetskaya Rossiya" interview, Zyuganov advocated banning all non-ethnic Russians from appearing on television. FIRST LADY TO CO-CHAIR NEW TV NETWORK'S BOARD OF TRUSTEES. Naina Yeltsin has agreed to co-chair the board of trustees of the nationwide television network Kultura, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 September, citing Kultura head Shvydkoi. Yeltsin issued a decree in August creating the new network, which is to be devoted primarily to educational and cultural topics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1997). Appearing at a Moscow press conference with the renowned cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, Shvydkoi asked Rostropovich to become an honorary co-chairman of the Kultura board of trustees as well, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 September. Rostropovich neither accepted nor declined the invitation, suggesting instead that President Yeltsin be made chairman of the network's trustees. YELTSIN DISMISSES TWO ADVISERS. Yeltsin on 16 September dismissed presidential advisers Georgii Satarov and Lev Sukhanov, according to ITAR-TASS . Satarov was reported to be transferring to an unspecified new job, and Sukhanov was said to be retiring. "Kommersant-Daily" commented on 17 September that the dismissals are surprising only in that they did not occur earlier. Satarov was considered one of the "Kremlin doves," along with former security adviser and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov, and economic adviser Aleksandr Livshits. But Satarov had commented in recent months that he felt less at ease in the current administration. Sukhanov has long wielded virtually no influence in the Kremlin, the newspaper said. Former foreign policy adviser Dmitrii Ryurikov and former top aide Viktor Ilyushin, who, like Sukhanov, were considered part of the Kremlin "old guard," have long since been dismissed. KALININGRAD GOVERNOR WANTS TO LEGALIZE PROSTITUTION. Leonid Gorbenko has advocated legalizing prostitution in Kaliningrad Oblast in order to combat the spread of AIDS in the region, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 September. Kaliningrad has recorded more AIDS cases than any other Russian region. Health officials have registered more than 1200 people who are infected with the HIV virus, and more than 100 Kaliningrad residents have been diagnosed with the disease. According to an official in the regional branch of the Interior Ministry, about 90 percent of those arrested for prostitution or drug-related crimes in Kaliningrad are infected with HIV. Gorbenko proposes legalizing a few brothels and providing close medical monitoring of the prostitutes who work in them. "Izvestiya" argued that even if approved by the regional legislature, such a decision probably requires changes in federal crime legislation and therefore cannot be made at the regional level. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK OPPOSITION RELEASES PRISONERS. Mirzo Zieyev, a field commander of the United Tajik Opposition, has released 25 government soldiers, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 17 September. Zieyev's unit captured the soldiers during fighting in the Tavil-Dara region of central Tajikistan. Originally, five ethnic Russian soldiers taken prisoner were to be handed over. But as a gesture of goodwill, the UTO released an additional 20. Helicopters from the CIS peacekeeping force air-lifted the released soldiers from Tavil-Dara. ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER IN KAZAKHSTAN. Romano Prodi was in Almaty on 15-16 September to discuss trade with Kazakh leaders and businessmen, RFE/RL correspondents and Interfax reported. Prodi met with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin on the second day of his visit. At a news conference following the meeting, it was announced that Italian firms will be granted the right to explore and develop two hydrocarbon fields in Kazakhstan's sector of the Caspian Sea. Nazarbayev praised the Italian company Agip for its work in the Karachangansk oil and gas field in western Kazakhstan. He also said that Almaty is interested in importing Italian equipment for producing machine- tools and processing farm products. The volume of trade between the two countries in the first half of this year totaled $187 million. KYRGYZ HOMELESS THWARTED IN BID TO REGISTER. The Justice Ministry has rejected an application by the Yntymak movement to officially register, a ministry official told RFE/RL correspondents on 16 September. Yntymak was formed by homeless people who moved to Bishkek from the countryside in search of work. The group filed registration papers on 11 July but had received no reply by the time of the two-month deadline for a decision. Justice Ministry officials now say there were mistakes in the registration form. Yntymak members have demonstrated several times in front of the government building, asking for plots of land on which to build dwellings. They began constructing homes without permission, but the authorities demolished the home of the movement's chairman, Nurlan Alymkulov, on 10 September. Local authorities have filed charges against Alymkulov and other members of the movement. JAPAN TO BUILD OIL REFINERIES IN KYRGYZSTAN, GEORGIA. Japan's Sumitomo Corporation has signed an agreement to build an oil refinery in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 16 September. It has also promised long-term loans to the Kyrgyz government. President Askar Akaev met with a group of Sumitomo executives on 16 September. Five days earlier, the Itochu corporation signed a memorandum on building an oil refinery at the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa, the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development reported, citing the 12 September issue of "Kavkasioni." Members of the Turkish-Japanese Business Council visited Baku and Tbilisi in early September to discuss projects connected with the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 September. GEORGIAN POLICE, SVANS CLASH OVER DRUGS HARVEST. Georgian police engaged in destroying illegal poppy plantations in the remote Mestia Raion of northwestern Georgia were attacked by local Svan mountain dwellers on 15 September, Russian agencies reported. Four police and two Svans were killed and several more police officials wounded in the shoot-out that followed. The Svans are a Kartvelian ethnic group who speak a language related to Georgian. GEORGIAN HOSTAGES RELEASED. Four ethnic Georgians abducted by Abkhaz police on 14 September were released two days later as a result of the Abkhaz and Georgian governments' coordinated efforts, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 September suggested the motive for the abduction was not political. The newspaper noted that rival Abkhaz and Georgian gangs are engaged in the export of walnuts from Abkhazia's Gali Raion to Turkey. The Abkhaz police confiscated two trucks transporting walnuts when they took the Georgians hostage. ABKHAZIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON POLITICAL STATUS. The Abkhaz authorities plan to hold a referendum to determine the region's future political status, the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy, and Development reported, citing the 12-15 September issue of "Meridiani." Ethnic Georgian residents of Gali Raion will be allowed to participate in the vote. Participants will be asked to decide whether Abkhazia should be part of Georgia, part of Russia, or an independent state. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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