|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 121, Part I, 19 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 * YELTSIN BACKS STROEV * TWO MORE PUBLIC EXECUTIONS IN GROZNY * ROCKETS FROM AFGHANISTAN HIT UZBEK CITY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN BACKS STROEV... During a one-day visit to Orel Oblast, President Boris Yeltsin highly praised Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, who is also governor of the region, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 18 September. Yeltsin said Stroev has brought "calm" and "prosperity" to Orel, expressing confidence that Stroev will be re-elected governor in October. The president also attended a signing ceremony between German company representatives and Orel officials on a DM 114 million ($64 million) loan for grain production in Orel. The Russian government will guarantee that loan. RFE/RL's correspondent noted that Yeltsin needs Stroev's backing in part because the Kremlin wants the upper house to block initiatives of the State Duma, in which opposition groups have a majority. Yeltsin also needs Stroev as a counterweight to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov within the Federation Council. Luzhkov has criticized some of the government's key economic policy initiatives (see below). ...STRESSES SUPPORT FOR CHUBAIS, NEMTSOV. Yeltsin praised the activities of First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, RFE/RL's correspondent in Orel reported . He repeated that he had told Russian bankers not to attack Chubais and Nemtsov, although he said no one in the government should be safe from justified criticism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1997). Yeltsin also hailed the admission of Russia into the Paris Club of creditor nations and congratulated Chubais on being named finance minister of the year by the magazine "Euromoney." YELTSIN CONCERNED AT U.S.'S GROWING INFLUENCE IN EUROPE. Yeltsin also noted that Russia would like to see U.S. involvement in European security issues curbed. He said NATO is the means by which the U.S. exercised its influence on European security. He again expressed his opposition to NATO's eastward expansion, noting that "Russia advocates a multi-polar world in which no single country exercises a diktat," ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. Yeltsin warned he will stress at the upcoming Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg that Europeans should take responsibility for their own security. YELTSIN AGAIN CALLS FOR UNRESTRICTED LAND OWNERSHIP RIGHTS. Yeltsin announced in Orel that he will not sign a tax code or land code unless they include a uniform land tax and guarantee full land ownership rights to Russian farmers, RFE/RL's correspondent in the oblast reported. Federation Council Speaker Stroev, appearing alongside the president, remained silent. He has spoken out against the unrestricted purchase and sale of farmland. Yeltsin repeated his support for private land ownership in a 19 September nationwide radio address, Russian news agencies reported. He also predicted a "bumper crop" this year of nearly 80 million metric tons. That would be roughly equivalent to the 1994 harvest and up from both last year's harvest of 69.3 million metric tons and the 1995 harvest of 63.5 million metric tons (the worst harvest in 30 years), but below the 1991 harvest of 90 million metric tons. REACTION TO PARIS CLUB MEMBERSHIP. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax on 18 September that although his party supports in principle efforts to reclaim debts owed to Russia, Russia's admission to the Paris Club of creditor nations cannot be evaluated until the terms under which Russia was admitted are known. State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said joining the Paris Club will enhance Russia's authority and help it recover some debts. But Lukin said that unlike First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, he is not in "a state of euphoria" about the implications of club membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1997). Chubais on 18 September said Paris Club membership, along with an upcoming debt rescheduling agreement with the London Club, will improve Russia's credit rating and help corporate borrowers in particular, ITAR-TASS reported. OFFICIAL REVISES FIGURE FOR DEBT OWED TO RUSSIA. Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told journalists on 18 September that debts owed to Russia by 55 nations total $112.7 billion, Reuters reported. Of that amount, $111.8 billion is from loans granted by the USSR and $880 million from credits extended by Russia since 1991. Russia expects to receive $26-$30 billion of the $111.8 billion in debts inherited from the USSR, according to Kasyanov. Figures released by government officials earlier this year suggested that debtor countries owed Russia up to $140 billion. Speaking in Orel Oblast on 18 September, Yeltsin claimed debtor nations owe Russia $190 billion. TWO MORE PUBLIC EXECUTIONS IN GROZNY. Two men convicted of murdering three people were publicly executed by firing squad in Grozny on 18 September. It was the second such public execution since the beginning of the month. The first drew strong protests from Russian leaders and the international community. First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Ekho Moskvy that future executions will not be carried out in public. The Russian Procurator-General's Office, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, deputy Security Council secretary Boris Berezovskii all condemned the public killings. Yeltsin, meanwhile, made no reference to the incident in his 19 September nationwide radio address. RUSSIA PARTLY SUPPORTS LAND MINE BAN. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov, commenting on the recent Oslo conference on banning anti-personnel mines, said such a measure must not be taken "hastily," Russian media reported on 18 September. Tarasov said Russia respects efforts against the use of such weapons but believes consideration should be given to special "geo-strategic situations of different countries and the length of their borders." A Foreign Ministry official commented that while Moscow is in favor of continuing discussion on the issue, it gives higher priority to the "nonproliferation of nuclear weapons." Russia, which was an observer nation at the Oslo conference, did not sign the draft convention banning land mines. BABURIN BLASTS LEBED COMMENTS ON KURILE ISLANDS. Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin of the Popular Power faction has criticized former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed's statements urging the Kurile Islands to be eventually returned to Japan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1997), Russian media reported. Baburin said the four islands "were, are, and must remain Russian territory," adding that "no one ever gives away territory." He went on to compare Lebed's comments to Yeltsin's "sad" view but added that Lebed's ideas were "much coarser" because "Aleksandr Ivanovich is a military man with no diplomatic polish." Yeltsin had said that relinquishing ownership of the islands is possible but that it will "require a generation" for the idea to become acceptable to the Russian people. CHERNOMYRDIN SIGNS GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVE ON CURRENCY REFORM. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 18 September signed a government directive on recalculating prices, wages, and other payments in line with the ruble redenomination scheduled for 1 January 1998, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The newspaper said that contrary to a recent assessment by a presidential administration official, Chernomyrdin expects the parliament to agree to make the necessary technical changes in laws setting fixed ruble amounts for taxes, tariffs, wages, and pensions. The government directive also instructs the Central Bank to determine by 1 October how bank accounts will be recalculated. Yeltsin on 18 September said the redenomination will probably not be applied to saving accounts opened in Sberbank before 1992, Russian news agencies reported. Opposition politicians have advocated not removing three zeroes from the old Sberbank accounts, which were rendered virtually worthless by high inflation in the early 1990s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 August 1997). CHUBAIS, COMPETING BANKERS MEET U.K. BUSINESSMEN. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais and several of Russia's most influential businessmen discussed investment projects with a high- level U.K. business delegation in the British embassy in Moscow on 18 September. British Ambassador Andrew Wood said the motto of the meeting was "transparency, predictability, and stability" in economic relations, AFP reported. The Russian businessmen attending the meeting included Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin, Rosprom group head Mikhail Khodorkovskii (founder of the Menatep bank), Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, and Security Council Deputy Secretary Berezovskii, who represented the LogoVAZ group. Media outlets influenced by Gusinskii and Berezovskii have sharply criticized Chubais and Oneksimbank in recent months. "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 September argued that the recently bitter enemies needed to appear together at the British embassy in order to convince prospective foreign investors that the so-called "bank war" has ended. DUMA OPPOSITION SEEKS COOPERATION WITH FEDERATION COUNCIL. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 18 September announced that some 200 Duma deputies have signed a letter to Federation Council deputies asking for cooperation with various Duma initiatives. In particular, the letter asks the Federation Council to support opposition demands for a "round table" to be held this fall, attended by representatives from parliament, the executive branch, the judiciary, and the trade unions. The letter echoes many points from an appeal recently issued by the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power Duma factions, "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). NEMTSOV CRITICIZES MOSCOW SUBSIDIES FOR HOUSING, UTILITIES. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has criticized the Moscow authorities for spending too much money to subsidize payments for rent and utilities, Russian news agencies reported on 18 September. After a cabinet meeting on housing policy, Nemtsov told journalists that Muscovites pay just 17 percent of the costs of housing and municipal services. The proportion of those costs paid by Russian citizens on average has risen this year from 26 percent to 35 percent, he said. Meanwhile, Moscow spends 17.5 trillion rubles ($6 billion), or 43 percent of the city budget, on subsidies for housing and municipal services. Nemtsov's criticism is likely to be welcomed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who has repeatedly criticized the government for shifting too much of the burden for rent and utilities payments onto citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May and 2 July 1997). LUZHKOV CRITICIZES DRAFT BUDGET, TAX CODE. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov has again strongly criticized the government's draft 1998 budget, which would eliminate subsidies to the city of Moscow for the cost of maintaining federal facilities. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 19 September, Luzhkov vowed to appeal to the Constitutional Court if the subsidies for Moscow are not added to the budget. Luzhkov also argued that the government's proposed new tax code, on which the 1998 revenue targets are based, would hurt regional governments. Other regional leaders have also criticized the tax code. During a recent visit to Kazan by State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev objected to the plan to give the federal government all sales tax revenues, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 September. Proceeds from the profit tax, which is far more difficult to collect, would be earmarked for regional coffers. LEZGIN CONFERENCE CANCELED AFTER MURDER. A conference of the Lezgin National Council scheduled to take place in Derbent, Dagestan, on 20 September has been canceled following the murder of the wife of Council chairman Mukhuddin Kakhrimanov, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. The council was formed in late 1990 and advocates the creation of a separate Lezgin state that would include areas of southern Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan. The Lezgins, a Caucasian Muslim minority, have traditionally lived in those areas. Kahrimanov, a retired Soviet army general, has headed the council for several years. POWER CUTS CONTINUE IN PRIMORE. Primorskii Krai was hit by power cuts for the fifth consecutive day, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 18 September. A coal miners' strike has left power plants short of fuel, and the plants lack funds to pay for coal shipments. Primore residents were without electricity for up to 12 hours. Krai officials have sent a letter to the president asking for federal subsidies to lower the cost of electricity in Primore. But Viktor Kondratov, Yeltsin's representative in Primore, refused to sign the appeal, saying the burden for Primore's high electricity tariffs should not be passed to the federal government or to other regions. Instead, Kondratov flew to Moscow on 18 September to seek some 60 billion rubles ($10.3 million) to pay wage arrears to coal and energy workers. The same day, Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko met with local bankers to try to secure emergency funding to pay wage arrears. COAL STRIKE PREVENTS STOCKPILING IN PRIMORE. Aleksandr Gelbakh, the press secretary of Primore's regional utility, Dalenergo, says the region is already behind schedule in amassing coal reserves for the harsh winter months and that the situation will worsen if the miners' strike continues. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Russian service on 18 September, Gelbakh said Primore's coal reserves are sufficient only to supply power plants for 10-12 days. They are not being used to alleviate the current fuel shortage, because the weather is still warm. Asked why miners' strikes do not frequently lead to power cuts in other Russian regions or in Ukraine, Gelbakh noted that all Primore's power plants are coal-fired, whereas other Russian regions and Ukraine have nuclear or hydro-electric plants as well. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ROCKETS FROM AFGHANISTAN HIT UZBEK CITY. During a battle for control of the northern Afghan town of Khairaton, 10 rockets struck the Uzbek border city of Termez, seriously wounding three people, RFE/RL correspondents in Uzbekistan reported Khairaton and Termez are located on opposite banks of the Amu-Darya, which divides Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Uzbek security forces are positioning themselves to ensure there is "no repetition of the incident." TRIAL OF KYRGYZ JOURNALIST RESUMES. The trial of Yrysbek Omurzakov resumed in Bishkek on 18 September, following a three- month pause, RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Omurzakov, who is accused of libel by the manager of a Bishkek factory, told RFE/RL that the court claims to have lost documents on his case, particularly witness testimony in his favor. Two other people are also on trial for allegedly giving Omurzakov false information about conditions at the factory. The Committee to Protect Journalists has sent a letter of appeal to President Askar Akayev asking him to intervene in the case. NIYAZOV RETURNS TO TURKMENISTAN. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov returned to Ashgabat from Germany on 19 September, RFE/RL correspondents in Turkmenistan reported. Niyazov underwent heart surgery in Germany at the start of September, following an official visit to that country. AZERBAIJAN COOL ON PROPOSED TREATY WITH RUSSIA. Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade told Interfax on 18 September that the Azerbaijani leadership is not convinced by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's statement that the Russian-Armenian treaty signed on 29 August is not directed against Azerbaijan or another third country. The previous day, Primakov proposed that Russia and Azerbaijan sign a treaty on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance similar to the Russian-Armenian accord. Gulu-Zade pointed out that the agreement between Moscow and Yerevan focuses on military cooperation, specifically the Russian military base in Armenia. Russia has no bases in Azerbaijan. Yeltsin and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation in Moscow in early July. RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN ON KARABAKH. Gennadii Tarasov told journalists on 18 September that unnamed leaders of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are seeking to "frustrate the ongoing negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the conflict" by allegedly making statements on the need for a new war, ITAR-TASS reported. Although no Karabakh official has advocated a resumption of hostilities, Defense Minister Samvel Babayan has argued in several recent interviews that another war may be inevitable unless Azerbaijan makes compromises and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group proposes a peace plan acceptable to Karabakh. Asked by an Armenian journalist to comment on Babayan's statements, Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasyan on 17 September said the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh should "be ready to face the worst. But this does not mean that war is inevitable," ARMENPRESS reported. NO ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI COOPERATION TO COMBAT CRIME. The Department of Public Relations of the Armenian Interior Ministry has issued a denial that Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives have discussed joint efforts to combat crime in the area of their common frontier, ARMENPRESS reported on 18 September. Both the Armenian agency and Turan had earlier reported that such a discussion took place during the 11-12 September meeting of CIS interior ministers in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1997). AZERBAIJAN SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON PRESS CENSORSHIP. President Aliev on 17 September issued a decree prohibiting military censorship of the media, Turan reported . Abulfaz Elchibey, Aliev's predecessor, imposed such censorship in January1993, after Azerbaijan had experienced major military defeats in Nagorno- Karabakh. Aliev imposed political censorship on the media in late 1994. Military censorship will continue to be applied pending the enactment of a law on state secrets, Jahangir Ildrym-zade, the head of the department for the Protection of State Secrets, told Turan on 18 September. Meanwhile, Minister of Information Sirus Tebrizli has informed the editor of the newly established weekly "Forum" that its second issue will not be published because the paper propagates opposition views, according to Turan. The first issue was published on 12 September, but all copies were withdrawn on Tebrizli's orders two days later. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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