|The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion. - Thomas Paine|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 125, Part I, 25 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 ECONOMIC NEWS from this week's annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank is online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/imfmeeting/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * MOST REGIONAL LEADERS PLEASED WITH TAX PROPOSALS * CHERNOMYRDIN, GORE IN SAMARA * KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA SIGN OIL DEAL End Note : A DANGEROUS NEW ORTHODOXY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MOST REGIONAL LEADERS PLEASED WITH TAX PROPOSALS... Almost all regional leaders welcomed proposed tax concessions to the regions advocated by President Boris Yeltsin during his speech to the Federation Council, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 September. In particular, Yeltsin called for forcing regional branches of companies to pay corporate taxes in the regions where they are based. Currently, such enterprises pay taxes only where company headquarters are located. If incorporated into the new tax code, such a measure would reduce Moscow's tax revenues, since most company headquarters are in the capital. Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov told RFE/RL that "it is about time" that Moscow share some of its wealth with other regions. Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov said his government has been trying to collect taxes from local branches of companies based in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He added he was glad to hear the president support that policy. ...BUT LUZHKOV REACTS CAUTIOUSLY TO PRESIDENT'S SPEECH. Leaving the Federation Council after Yeltsin's address, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov looked decidedly gloomy and did not stop to give interviews to journalists, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 September. Speaking to Russian news agencies later, the mayor did not criticize the speech, saying Yeltsin had articulated some "very interesting ideas" on economic matters. Nor did he comment on the proposal to make regional branches of companies pay taxes in the regions or on Yeltsin's call for enterprises in the regions to pay their federal and regional taxes through regional branches of the Federal Treasury, rather than directly to Treasury offices in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). However, Luzhkov repeated that he doubts regional leaders will support the government's draft tax code, ITAR-TASS reported. PRESIDENT'S REMARKS ON LAND REFORM DRAW MIXED REVIEW. Federation Council deputies applauded Yeltsin's call for full land ownership rights and a single land tax to replace several different taxes currently levied on land, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 September. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev told NTV the same day that farmland should be given to rural dwellers free of charge, after which farmers would have the right to decide whether to keep, lease, or sell the land. In contrast, several regional leaders, speaking to RFE/RL, expressed reservations about allowing the purchase and sale of farmland. Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said Russia "is not ready" for such a move. In July, the Council approved a land code that would have prohibited the purchase and sale of farmland. Yeltsin vetoed the code, but the State Duma sent it back to the upper house after overriding his veto on 24 September. OFFICIAL VOWS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPEAL ON LAND CODE. Ilya Yuzhanov, chairman of the State Committee on Land Resources, told Interfax on 24 September that his committee will appeal to the Constitutional Court if the Federation Council overrides Yeltsin's veto of the land code. Yuzhanov added that "even if both houses override the veto, the president will never sign the most reactionary of documents ever passed by the Russian parliament." Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, has already said the president may appeal to the Constitutional Court against the procedure by which the Duma overrode his veto of the land code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). YELTSIN CRITICIZES DUMA... Yeltsin told journalists on 24 September that he will not address the Duma this year. He added, "let [Prime Minister Viktor] Chernomyrdin, [First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais, and other cabinet members fight in the Duma," Interfax reported. (Earlier this month, Duma deputies invited the president to address the lower house on the opening day of its fall session, but Yeltsin declined, citing a busy schedule.) Yeltsin argued that the Federation Council lacks the "political anarchy" observed in the Duma. In his speech to the Council earlier in the day, Yeltsin praised the upper house of parliament as a "stabilizing force" and said it should reject laws passed by the Duma more often to reduce the number of times he has to use his veto power. When Yeltsin had the power to hire and fire regional governors, the Council more frequently rejected laws that the Kremlin opposed. ...SNUBS LUKASHENKA. Also on 24 September, Yeltsin indicated that the diplomatic conflict between Moscow and Minsk over the continuing imprisonment of a journalist for Russian Public Television (ORT) has not blown over. When asked to comment on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent offer to resign as head of the council of the four-country customs union (whose members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan), Yeltsin remarked, "I don't want to comment on his moves any more. Pass this message to him," Interfax reported. Yeltsin recently accused Lukashenka of failing to abide by an agreement to release ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). Sheremet has been in custody since July for allegedly crossing the Belarusian- Lithuanian border illegally. CHERNOMYRDIN, GORE IN SAMARA. Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore concluded three days of meetings in the city of Samara on 24 September. They toured companies with U.S. investment in order to promote an initiative of the joint U.S.-Russian Commission for Economic and Technological Cooperation, which also involves U.S. investment projects in Sakhalin and Novgorod Oblasts and Khabarovsk Krai. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 September, Gore offered Samara Oblast a $10 million U.S. loan in 1998 for agricultural production and land reform. That credit still requires the approval of the U.S. Congress, the newspaper noted. RUSSIA TO DEMAND FULL PARTNERSHIP IN G-8. Following a meeting with the G-7 finance ministers on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Bank and the IMF in Hong Kong, Russian Finance Minister Anatolii Chubais said Moscow will "insist" on full participation in the G-8, Russian media reported. The G-7 finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Washington in April 1998. Chubais said that by then, "the formula 'seven plus one' must be done away with." Germany has already announced it favors such a move, but Japan continues to say Russia is not economically fit to participate in sessions devoted to macroeconomic issues, international finances, and foreign currency exchanges. RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS RESUME. A Chechen delegation headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov has resumed talks in Moscow on Chechnya's future status vis-a-vis Moscow. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 24 September that Moscow is not preparing, and will not sign, an inter-state treaty with Chechnya. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin similarly told Interfax the previous day that "Chechnya should have maximum liberties and powers, but within...the Russian Federation." Udugov, however, said Chechnya insists that Moscow recognize Chechnya's state sovereignty. He added that Grozny will never agree to sign the power-sharing treaty proposed by Moscow. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 September quoted Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov as admitting that Moscow and Grozny have never discussed what precisely the Chechens mean by "independence." Meanwhile, Rybkin canceled a planned trip to Grozny for talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskahdov, NTV reported on 24 September. FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES PENSION HIKE. The Federation Council on 24 September approved a law that would raise the minimum pension by 10 percent to 76,533 rubles ($13) as of 1 October and by another 10 percent to 84,186 rubles as of 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin is expected to sign the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997). DEFENSE INDUSTRY WORKERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT DEBTS. Some 200 defense industry workers picketed government headquarters in Moscow for the third straight day to protest more than 2.5 trillion rubles ($430 million) in wage arrears and some 15 trillion rubles in unpaid government orders for military equipment, Russian media reported on 24 September. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, together with officials from the Finance and Economics Ministries, met with representatives of the protesters on 23-24 September. Nemtsov promised them that the government will clear its debts to defense enterprises by April 1998, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 September. "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported the same day that defense industry trade unions have vowed to continue protesting until "concrete steps" are taken to settle the debts. The newspaper said the government has not kept promises made to nuclear industry workers earlier this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 July 1997). GOVERNOR ON CONTROVERSY OVER SIBERIAN MAYOR. Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev has blasted law enforcement officials for not warning voters in the city of Leninsk-Kuznetskii about the criminal record of Gennadii Konyakhin, who was elected mayor in the spring. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 24 September, Tuleev said that a recent investigative series published in "Izvestiya" was accurate but told only part of the story (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). He claimed that police and procurators, at both the city and oblast level, ignored his repeated requests that they inform the public about Konyakhin's record before the mayoral election. (At that time, Tuleev had not yet been appointed governor of Kemerovo.) Tuleev, who faces a gubernatorial election on 19 October, has vowed that law enforcement officials who knew about Konyakhin's record but remained silent will be held criminally responsible. SOLZHENITSYN ON CULTURE, CHECHNYA, LUZHKOV. Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn bemoaned "the utilitarian demands of culture and the absolute power of money" at a Moscow round table organized by the Academy of Sciences, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 September. Solzhenitsyn warned that the "globalization" and commercialization of culture destroy the incentive for artists to create for "true connoisseurs." He said the future of Russian culture will depend on whether creative genius can overcome such difficult conditions. Asked about Russia's policy toward Chechnya, Solzhenitsyn said, "We must now understand that Chechnya has been separated from us." Far from destroying Russia, this separation may even benefit Russia if Chechnya is prevented from "living at Russia's expense," he added. Solzhenitsyn also praised Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, who spoke at the same round table, for both the clarity of his ideas and the high quality of the language in which he expressed them. RUSSIAN GENERAL DENIES EXISTENCE OF SUITCASE NUKES. Senior Russian Defense Ministry official Lieutenant-General Igor Volynkin told journalists on 25 September that Russia has never manufactured suitcase-size nuclear bombs, ITAR-TASS reported. Volynkin admitted that it is theoretically possible but expensive--and therefore not economically viable--to manufacture such weapons. Two days earlier, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov similarly rejected claims made recently by former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed. Lebed said that up to 100 such suitcase bombs were unaccounted for (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1997). TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO RESTRUCTURE DEBT TO RUSSIA. The National Assembly on 24 September ratified an agreement on restructuring Armenia's estimated $73.7 million debt to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The debt is repayable over 11 years, beginning in 2000, at a 5 percent annual interest rate. The agreement specifies that the debt may be repaid in hard currency, Russian rubles, and Armenian state assets, including shares of stock in state enterprises. In 1994, Armenia pledged a 15 percent stake in its Medzamor nuclear power station, the Nairit chemical plant, the Yerevan cognac distillery, and the Armelektromash electrical engineering plant as collateral for a 110 billion ruble credit. The 1997 Armenian state budget earmarked some $62 million for debt servicing (excluding the debt to Russia), but less than one-third of that amount has been repaid in the first nine months of this year. ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES. Paruir Hairikyan, leader of the radical Union for Self-Determination, told journalists on 24 September that the opposition parties belonging to the National Accord Alliance (AHD) have decided to "freeze" their coordinated activities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hairikyan added, however, that the constituent parties are "ready to reunite, if necessary, to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law." Hairikyan said he is confident the bloc will reform before the 1999 parliamentary elections. The AHD was created in September 1996 to support National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan's presidential candidacy. Manukyan recently pronounced the alliance "dead" but not buried (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1997). The leaders of three other parties within the AHD told "Hayots Ashkhar" on 23 September that Manukyan has no right unilaterally to dissolve the bloc. HEAD OF UN OBSERVER MISSION RETURNS TO GEORGIA. A UN spokesman said on 24 September that no disciplinary action will be taken against the commander of the UN observer mission in Georgia, Reuters and AFP reported. Major General Haroun ar-Rashid was recalled to New York to explain why he violated UN regulations by paying a $7,000 ransom for two of his men recently taken hostage in western Georgia. The spokesman said that in light of unspecified "mitigating circumstances," no action will be taken against the general. AZERBAIJANI EARLY OIL COUNTDOWN. An unnamed spokesman for the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AOIC), which is currently developing three Azerbaijani Caspian oil fields, told Interfax on 24 September that the first oil from the Chirag field will start flowing in the first week of October. Drilling of the first well at the Chirag field is almost completed. The AIOC also denied reports that its president canceled a visit to Georgia scheduled for 22 September, according to TURAN. An AIOC commission recently visited the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa to monitor construction of a $225 million terminal from which Azerbaijani oil from Baku will be loaded onto tankers, "Delovoy mir" reported. Construction is proceeding on schedule. DISAGREEMENT OVER COST OF AZERBAIJAN/CASPIAN PIPELINE. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 22 September rejected as "wishful thinking" Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's claim that the planned oil export pipeline bypassing Chechnya is cheaper than that through Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. A Transneft press spokesman told Interfax on 24 September that the Chechen bypass pipeline will be guarded by Russian Interior Minister and Federal Security Service personnel. He added that construction will be completed in May 1998 and that the pipeline will have an annual throughput capacity of 40 million metric tons. French ambassador to Moscow Hubert Colin de Verdiere said on 24 September that France has no objections to the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Russia, noting that cost and security are the key factors. French companies are represented in two of the five major consortia currently operating in Azerbaijan. RUSSIAN OBLAST APPROVES KAZAKHSTAN/CASPIAN PIPELINE. The Astrakhan Oblast authorities on 24 September approved construction of that sector of the Tengiz-Novorossiisk export pipeline that traverses the oblast, Interfax reported. The oblast leadership also requested that the neighboring regions of Kalmykia, Stavropol, and Krasnodar, which must also approve construction of the pipeline across their territory, make a joint appeal to the Russian government to guarantee that the four regions will receive part of the income from the export of oil via the pipeline. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Almaty is distributing "Happiness Is Multiple Pipelines" bumper stickers, according to the "Baltimore Sun" on 24 September. KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA SIGN OIL DEAL... Almaty and Beijing on 24 September signed an estimated $9.5 billion deal on oil shipments and the construction of two pipelines, according to RFE/RL correspondents. China's number two leader Li Peng arrived in Almaty for a one-day visit to sign the deal with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The China National Oil Corporation will develop the Uzen and Aktyubinsk oil fields in western Kazakhstan. It will also build a 3,000 kilometer pipeline to China's western border and a 250 kilometer pipeline to the Turkmen border. Under the deal, the pipelines will begin operating within five years. Li called the deal a "new page" in Sino-Kazakh relations, while Nazarbayev said it was the "contract of the century." ....AND BORDER AGREEMENT. Nazarbayev and Li also signed an agreement demarcating an 11-kilometer section of the Sino-Kazakh border near the Khan Tengri mountain peak, according to RFE/RL correspondents. Sections of the border near Almaty and in eastern Kazakhstan are still being negotiated. FIRST STAGE OF TAJIK REPATRIATION COMPLETED. The last 300 Tajik refugees from camps near the Nizhni Pyanj border crossing have entered Tajikistan from Afghanistan, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 25 September. This wraps up the first stage of the repatriation program. According to ITAR-TASS, 6,000 refugees from Afghanistan's Kunduz Province have crossed the border into Tajikistan since 17 July. The next stage, which is due to begin shortly, will repatriate about 7,000 refugees living in camps near the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Those refugees will pass through Termez, Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Tajik Prime Minister Yakhyo Azimov, who is attending the annual meeting off World Bank and the IMF in Hong Kong, has asked for $80 million in aid through the end of 1998 to help implement the Tajik General Agreement on Peace. END NOTE A DANGEROUS NEW ORTHODOXY by Paul Goble New Russian legislation restricting missionary activity in particular and religious freedom in general could threaten Moscow's relations with the West and especially with the U.S. On 19 September, the State Duma approved a revised law on religious organizations by a vote of 358 to six. Four days later, the Federation Council approved it by 137 to zero. It now goes to President Boris Yeltsin, who is expected to sign it. Yeltsin's office drafted the revised bill after he had vetoed the original version in July, following protests by human rights groups and a threat by the U.S. Senate to block some $200 million in aid if he did not. But despite his promises that the problems of the first draft would be eliminated, the new version of the law contains virtually all the provisions of the original as well as a number of new and even more restrictive ones. Like the original bill, the new legislation divides denominations into two groups: those with 15 years of recognized operation that could function openly and those without such standing that could not legally their religions, publish, or maintain a bank account. Advocates of the law, including the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, have suggested that such legislation is needed to protect historical Russian faiths from the impact of missionaries for other religious groups who have entered Russia since the fall of communism. And they argue that the law protects not only Russian Orthodoxy but also Roman Catholicism, the Baptist church, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. But such claims are not justified by the text of the law. While the legislation might protect congregations and hierarchies already registered with the state, it would do little to protect congregations within those faiths not registered in the past. Thus, the many Jewish synagogues that have arisen since the end of Soviet power might not be protected by the law, and the large number of Roman Catholic congregations active underground even before 1991 might not have the right to continue to exist. Moreover, the new legislation, which its advocates say is designed to keep out "dangerous" sects, would make it extremely difficult for groups not registered with the Soviet state in the past or with the Russian state now to survive long enough to gain the protections enjoyed by registered groups. Because of those restrictions, both human rights activists and Western governments have already indicated their dismay. For example, Lawrence Uzzell--the Moscow representative of Britain's Keston Institute, a group that monitors religious life in Russia--said the new measure is "not a law that protects tradition but a law that protects Stalinism, as it protects only those religious bodies that were most loyal to the Soviet state." As such, he said, the measure is "manifestly unconstitutional," even if it enjoys widespread support in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, the Russian state, and the Russian public. A spokesman for President Bill Clinton said that the U.S. leader had expressed his concerns about the law during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov in New York on 22 September. Similarly, Vice President Al Gore told Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow one day later that he, too, is worried about the new legislation. But despite such expressions of Western concern--and possibly even because of them--Yeltsin seems unlikely to veto the law this time. Not only is he under pressure from the increasingly influential Russian Orthodox hierarchy, but he is confronted by an almost unanimous Duma and broad support for the measure among many ordinary Russians. But both he and Russia more generally are likely to learn quickly that Americans and others who may not always understand all the intricacies of other human rights issues will immediately recognize violations of religious liberty. And their attitudes are likely to affect the way in which their governments deal with a Russian government apparently committed to a new and not very free orthodoxy on religious questions. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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