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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 123, Part I, 23 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 * CHERNOMYRDIN, GORE MEET NEAR MOSCOW * GORE EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER RELIGION LAW * MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN ARMENIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN, GORE MEET NEAR MOSCOW. U.S. Vice President Al Gore told journalists on 22 September that during his first day of talks with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the main topics were Iran, START-2, U.S. investments in the Russian oil sector, and the "Mir" space station. Gore said the two sides pledged to cooperate on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear technology and that the differences between them on that issue had "narrowed considerably," Reuters reported. Gore also said Chernomyrdin appears optimistic that the Russian parliament will ratify the START- 2 treaty. Several State Duma opposition factions, however, recently said they will oppose ratification (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 September, 1997) Gore reaffirmed support for continued U.S.- Russian space research but withheld judgment on whether the planned seventh docking of a U.S. space shuttle with "Mir" should proceed following the latest breakdown in the station's computer system. GORE EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER RELIGION LAW... During his talks with Chernomyrdin, Gore expressed concern about the religion law recently passed by the Duma, Reuters reported on 22 September. Gore told journalists that amendments made since President Boris Yeltsin vetoed an earlier version in July did not allay concerns that some minority religions will face discrimination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997). He added, "I've tried hard to explain exactly why we Americans feel so strongly about [the religion law]." But while he said he hoped to persuade the Kremlin to seek further changes in the religion law, Gore acknowledged that Chernomyrdin gave him no reason to expect that Yeltsin will veto the revised version. ...BUT KREMLIN DEFENDS ITS PROVISIONS. Ruslan Orekhov, head of the presidential administration's Main State Legal Department, and former presidential adviser Georgii Satarov told journalists on 22 September that the revised religion law fully complies with both Russia's constitution and international law, ITAR-TASS reported. Orekhov and Satarov specifically defended the most controversial aspect of the law, which divides religions into two categories: "religious organizations" (which can prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years) and "religious groups" (which cannot meet the 15-year requirement). Critics have charged that groups that cannot pass the 15-year test will be denied equal rights and may face persecution. PRIMAKOV, CLINTON MEET. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and U.S. President Bill Clinton met in New York on 22 September during the UN General Assembly session. The agenda, which was proposed by Clinton, included Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Middle East, and disarmament. Primakov told Clinton that Russia will not oppose President Biljana Plavsic's proposal to hold parliamentary elections in October in the Republika Srpska. He also said Moscow has made progress toward ratifying START-2, although "difficulties remain." Agreement was reached on resuming the joint drafting of START-3. Clinton expressed concern over Russia's reported assistance to Iran in developing long-range nuclear weapons. Primakov told journalists later that the U.S. regards Russia as a "serious, informed, and capable partner" with whom it wishes to cooperate in resolving a range of problems. CHUBAIS UPBEAT ON RUSSIAN ECONOMY. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told the annual meeting of the World Bank and IMF on 23 September that Russia's economic decline has been halted and that economic growth will begin in 1998, RFE/RL's correspondent in Hong Kong reported. Chubais predicted that the ruble will remain stable and that inflation will fall to 5-7 percent next year, compared with projected inflation of 13 percent in 1997. At a press conference on 22 September, Chubais expressed confidence that Russia will be able to keep the 1997 budget deficit to 3.5 percent of GDP. While he acknowledged that tax collection still lags behind budget targets, Chubais said Russia will make up for some of the shortfall by selling state property. He again called for the parliament to pass the government's proposed new tax code. RUSSIA ASKS FOR LARGER COAL LOAN. Following talks on 22 September with World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Chubais told reporters that Russia hopes the bank will agree as early as December on the terms of a second loan for restructuring the Russian coal industry, Russian news agencies reported. Chubais said Moscow is asking the bank to increase the second loan from $650 million to $750 million. The bank's board of directors has not yet decided whether to issue that credit; some funds from a $500 million coal loan to Russia in 1996 are said to have been misused. A World Bank delegation will arrive in Moscow soon to examine the Russian proposals and settle problems connected to the first coal loan. Chubais heads an interdepartmental government commission on the socio-economic problems of the coal industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 1997). RUSSIA SEEKS TO USE YUAN IN TRADE WITH CHINA. Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin took time out from the World Bank and IMF annual meeting to hold talks with the head of China's state bank, Dai Xianglung, Russian media reported on 22 September. Dubinin raised the possibility of Russian deals with China being conducted in yuan and of opening a Russian Central Bank office in China. He said that both measures would facilitate growing economic cooperation between the two countries. Dubinin will travel from Hong Kong to Beijing after the World Bank-IMF meeting to further discuss the two proposals. 1998 BUDGET HAS FEW FRIENDS IN PARLIAMENT. Representatives of all seven Duma factions have called for rejecting the draft 1998 budget in the first reading, which is scheduled for 8 October, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 September. Even prominent figures in the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, such as Duma Privatization Committee Chairman Pavel Bunich and Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksei Golovkov, have demanded that the draft be amended, particularly the revenue targets, Russian news agencies reported on 22 September. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the Our Home Is Russia, Agrarian, and Russian Regions factions favor sending the draft to a conciliatory commission of government and parliamentary representatives. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov of Yabloko has also advocated creating such a commission, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 23 September. The Communist, Popular Power, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions favor returning the budget directly to the government. MORE REGIONAL LEADERS SPEAK OUT AGAINST BUDGET, TAX CODE. "Finansovye izvestiya" reported on 23 September that the National Economic Council, which is headed by Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, is dissatisfied with the draft budget. In an interview with "Rabochaya tribuna" on 19 September, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov sharply criticized the government's proposed tax code, on which projected 1998 budget revenues are based. Titov chairs the Federation Council's Budget Committee and is also deputy chairman of the Our Home Is Russia movement. He told "Rabochaya tribuna" that the tax code recognizes the obligations of the regions, but not their rights. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev have already criticized the tax code and 1998 budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). Those developments suggest that the government will have trouble persuading the Federation Council to approve its main economic policy initiatives. WAS ONEKSIMBANK BEHIND AUDIT OF PRECIOUS METALS EXPORTS? "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 September claimed that an Audit Chamber report on exports of precious metals and gemstones is intended to promote the business interests of Oneksimbank. The Audit Chamber found that during the last two years, some $1 billion earned from sales of precious metals and gemstones passed through Finance Ministry accounts held by the commercial bank SBS-Agro (formerly Stolichnyi Bank). Some of the proceeds are alleged to have been misappropriated, and the Duma may demand changes at Almazyuvelireksportom, Russia's largest exporter of precious metals and gemstones. Citing an unnamed Duma source, the newspaper claimed that Oneksimbank is behind the Audit Chamber's report, because the bank is seeking more control over platinum exports. Norilsk Nickel, in which Oneksimbank purchased a controlling stake in August, produces most Russian platinum. SBS-Agro provides financial support to "Kommersant-Daily." LEADING BANKER ON "YOUNG REFORMERS." In an interview with "Segodnya" on 20 September, Aleksandr Smolenskii, head of the bank SBS-Agro, said the president should "listen to different groups of the population" and not just the views of the government's "young reformers" (meaning First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov). Smolenskii attended the recent meeting at which Yeltsin told six leading businessmen to stop "quarreling with the government" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16-17 September 1997). In a clear reference to Chubais, Smolenskii criticized an official who claims to "know how to lead Russia to the bright future." He also drew a parallel between reports that an oil company may be plotting Chubais's assassination and the so-called "doctors' plot" against Josef Stalin in 1952, which preceded a campaign of official persecution against Soviet Jews. "Segodnya," owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's company Media-Most, has repeatedly criticized Chubais and Nemtsov in recent months. ENVIRONMENTALIST SUPPORTS LEBED'S CLAIMS ON MISSING BOMBS. Aleksei Yablokov, a former ecological advisor to Yeltsin, has confirmed the existence of suitcase-sized nuclear bombs in an interview with NTV on 22 September and in a letter published in "Novaya gazeta" the same day. Yablokov said he had talked with people who designed the bombs in the 1970s. Although he could not confirm that any were missing, he pointed out that the bombs were manufactured for terrorist purposes on KGB orders and therefore would not have been registered by the Defense Ministry. Appearing on the U.S. television network CBS on 8 September, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed claimed that more than 100 suitcase bombs were built and that most of them are currently unaccounted for. The Russian Defense Ministry and Kremlin officials have denied that any bombs are missing. Lebed repeated the claims on 19 September, during a private visit to Japan. TATARSTAN TO EXPORT PETROLEUM TO SLOVAKIA? A Slovak government delegation headed by Deputy Economics Minister Jean Kholton has expressed interest in buying petroleum from Tatarstan and in the joint production of oil, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 23 September. The two sides also discussed an inter-governmental agreement on cooperation. President Shaimiev may visit Slovakia in November to witness the signing of this agreement. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN ARMENIA. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparyan told journalists on 22 September that the three co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group did not make any new proposals during their talks with Armenian leaders two days earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gasparyan said the discussions focused on the "methodology" of resolving the conflict. The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic advocates a "package" solution whereby all contentious issues are resolved in a single document, while Armenia prefers a step-by-step approach that would postpone a decision on the future political status of Nagorno- Karabakh. The co-chairmen also met with the Karabakh leadershipin Yerevan on 22 September before leaving for Baku, according to Interfax. ARMENIAN LEADERS MEET AGAIN WITH DASHNAK PARTY. Parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan, Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian, and other senior officials met with representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-- Dashnaktsutyun (HHD) on 20 September, Armenian agencies reported. President Levon Ter-Petrossyan suspended the party in December 1994, accusing its members of terrorist activities and preparing a coup. In April 1997, he initiated contacts with the Dashnak party to discuss its possible relegalization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 April, 1997). HHD bureau member Martun Matevosyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 22 September that the talks focused on relegalizing the party in Armenia, its possible contribution to resolving the Karabakh conflict, and domestic political stability. ARMENIA'S NATIONAL ACCORD DEFUNCT. National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan told journalists on 22 September that the National Accord bloc of opposition parties created last year to support his presidential candidacy is "dead," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukyan said National Accord fell apart because of unspecified differences of opinion between its constituent members. Speculation about the bloc's imminent breakup has grown since two of its member parties, the Union for Self-Determination and the banned Dashnak party, recently embarked on a dialogue with the Armenian leadership. Manukyan said the National Democratic Union is currently increasing its membership and will focus on improving living standards. He added that the authorities are "retreating" from the platform of self-reliance in foreign policy, democracy, and the protection of human rights on which the 1988 pro-democracy movement came to power. AZERBAIJAN CONTINUES TO CRITICIZE ARMENIAN-RUSSIAN COOPERATION. Presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade told Interfax on 21 September that the 29 August Russian-Armenian treaty on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance does not correspond to the interests of Russia or the Russian people. He suggested that Russian President Boris Yeltsin was unaware of the contents of the treaty when he signed it and that it had been drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, where, he claimed, Armenians are "strongly represented." Gulu-Zade added that he hoped the Russian parliament will refuse to ratify the treaty. Turan on 22 September claimed that a group of Armenian officers is currently being trained in Smolensk to use sophisticated anti-aircraft systems, including some technology illegally supplied to Armenia by Russia since 1994. AZERBAIJANI SOLDIER SENTENCED FOR ESPIONAGE. Azerbaijan's Supreme Court on 22 September sentenced Tengiz Suleimanov to 12 years' imprisonment for espionage, Interfax and AFP reported. Suleimanov was arrested earlier this year while attempting to pass classified military information to the Iranian intelligence service. He was also convicted of theft of state property from the military unit in which he served. GEORGIAN MILITARY UPDATE. Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 September that Georgian, NATO, and U.S officials are discussing the possibility of military exercises in southeastern Georgia, possibly under the aegis of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Interfax reported. At the same time, Nadibaidze, who is widely regarded by the Georgian opposition as Moscow's stalking horse, affirmed that "Russia was and remains Georgia's major partner in military cooperation," according to ITAR- TASS. Meanwhile, the Georgian parliament has enacted legislation whereby Georgians eligible for military service who live outside Georgia may pay 2500 lari [$1,900] to avoid the draft. The law also provides for deferment of induction for students under the age of 24 and for village doctors and teachers, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 September. UZBEKISTAN SAYS AFGHAN PROBLEMS ARE INTERNAL AFFAIR. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry released a statement on 22 September calling problems in Afghanistan "an internal affair" of that country, ITAR- TASS reported. The statement also said the Uzbek government made the correct decision in closing the bridge that connects the Uzbek city of Termez to the Afghan town of Khairaton, which is currently under siege by or in the hands of the Taliban religious movement. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry also called for an international contact group to be created that included representatives of the sides involved in the conflict, neighboring states, the U.S., and Russia. Uzbekistan also advocates negotiations aimed at forming a coalition government. It proposes such discussions be held under the aegis of the UN, with the participation of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. KAZAKH PREMIER ABROAD FOR MEDICAL TREATMENT. Akezhan Kazhegeldin is currently "abroad" for medical treatment, Russian media and Reuters reported on 22 September. His duties will temporarily taken over by First Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov. According to Reuters, Kazhegeldin has been receiving treatment for "traumatic phlebitis." Interfax reported that Kazhegeldin is in Europe but did not specify where. Earlier this month, he revealed he had worked for the KGB during the Soviet era. Shortly after, parliamentary deputy Zamanbek Nurkadilov accused Kazhegeldin of using his position to acquire large shares in the Shymkent oil refinery. Yesimov said Kazhegeldin's trip does not mean he is resigning and that "there will be no government reshuffle." xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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