In the effort to give good and comforting answers to the young questioners whom we love, we very often arrive at good and comforting answers for ourselves. - Ruth Goode

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 126, Part I, 26 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:

ECONOMIC NEWS from this week's annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank is
online at RFE/RL's Web site:

Headlines, Part I






YELTSIN SIGNS RELIGION LAW. President Boris Yeltsin has signed
the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, Reuters
and ITAR-TASS reported on 26 September. He vetoed an earlier
version of the religion law in July. Critics have charged that the law
is unconstitutional and will lead to persecution of some minority
religions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997). Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, a Vatican official responsible for Catholic doctrine,
argued on 25 September that the law "complicates" the situation of
the Catholic Church in Russia, AFP reported.

FRENCH PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW... Arriving in Moscow on 25
September on a three-day state visit, Jacques Chirac was presented
by his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, with the Order for Services
to the Fatherland. Chirac is the first foreign head of state to receive
this award, which Yeltsin said is in acknowledgment of Chirac's help
in promoting closer Russian ties with the West. Yeltsin specifically
mentioned Russian participation into the G-7 and the Paris Club of
creditor nations and the Russia-NATO Founding Act signed in Paris in
May. Yeltsin praised Chirac as "a staunch supporter of closer Russian-
French ties" and affirmed that bilateral relations "have risen to the
level of a privileged partnership." On 26 September, Yeltsin and
Chirac met again to discuss European security issues.

...DISCUSSES ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Also on 26 September, Chirac
met with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss
Russia's relations with the EU and Russian-French economic relations,
in particular joint ventures and investments. Chernomyrdin, too,
thanked Chirac for "understanding Russia's problems" and termed
France "a good friend and business partner." Shortly before Chirac's
arrival, a senior Russian Ministry of Agriculture official announced
that Russia will no longer designate brandy and sparkling wine for
export as "cognac" and "champagne," although those terms will
appear on bottles intended for the domestic market, AFP reported.

has met for the first time with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal
Kharrazi, Russian media reported. The meeting took place on 25
September in New York The two ministers positively assessed their
ongoing cooperation on Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and the Caspian and
hailed the growth of bilateral trade. Primakov told Kharrazi it is
imperative that Tehran pursue a balanced foreign policy that would
expedite its emergence from international isolation, particularly in
view of its imminent takeover of the Organization of the Islamic
Conference chairmanship.
Primakov and NATO foreign ministers are to attend the first full
meeting of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council on 26

DUMA BACKS ROKHLIN. State Duma deputies on 26 September voted
down an attempt to remove Lev Rokhlin as chairman of the Duma
Defense Committee, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Our
Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, which recently expelled Rokhlin,
sought to appoint Roman Popkovich to the post, claiming that the
NDR has the right to appoint the Defense Committee head under a
January 1996 agreement among all Duma factions. Rokhlin's ouster
was supported by 190 deputies, representing the NDR, Yabloko and
the majority of the Russian Regions and Liberal Democratic Party of
Russia factions. However, 201 deputies, mostly from the Communist,
Agrarian and Popular Power factions, backed Rokhlin. Responding to
charges that he betrayed the NDR by denouncing the president and
government and by forming an opposition movement to support the
armed forces, Rokhlin told RFE/RL, "I didn't betray them--they
betrayed me."

September rejected in the first reading all 15 government-backed
draft laws and amendments to existing laws that would have
reduced various social benefits. The package was a modified version
of proposals that the Duma voted down in June (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 19 and 25 June 1997). They include measures to make
some social benefits means-tested so that only low-income citizens
would be eligible for them and to set ceilings for sick pay and
maternity leave benefits. Other proposals would take benefits away
from family members of veterans and of some state employees, such
as judges, firefighters, and law enforcement officials. Those
employees would continue to receive benefits such as free public
transport and a 50 percent discount on rent and utilities, but they
would have to pay the full rate for those services first and be
reimbursed later.

Policy Committee Chairman Sergei Kalashnikov of the Liberal
Democratic Party of Russia argued that the Duma's rejection of the
social benefits reductions was a victory for the government, which,
he said, can now blame the Duma for the failures of its social policy,
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 September. Kalashnikov's
committee had recommended that the Duma approve the legislation.
Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who oversaw the negotiations
with Duma deputies on the social legislation, told ITAR-TASS on 25
September that Duma deputies refused to take responsibility or to
recognize the government's "real abilities." Government officials
argue that if eligibility for social benefits is reduced, there will be
enough funds to pay all eligible recipients. "Kommersant-Daily"
quoted First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov as saying that
"senseless benefits" must be reduced if the government is to pay
wages to teachers and doctors.

Duma has asked its Legislation and Rules Committees to clarify
whether deputies are allowed to vote on behalf of colleagues who are
absent, Russian news agencies reported on 25 September. Aleksandr
Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, charged that the
Duma "falsified" a recent vote to override the veto of the land code,
because proxy voting was used to achieve the two-thirds majority
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). Some Duma deputies
have charged that Kotenkov exceeded his authority by expressing his
own views rather than the president's. Meanwhile, Sergei Shakhrai,
Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, has denounced
proxy voting as "pure forgery," according to "Izvestiya" on 26
September. The same day, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted an unnamed
Duma deputy as saying that when proxy voting is used to pass
legislation the president supports, no one in the Kremlin complains.

UNION. The Duma on 25 September voted by 345 to one with three
abstentions to create a commission to promote Armenia's accession to
the Russia-Belarus union, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission is
composed of 15 deputies, including former USSR Prime Minister
Nikolai Ryzhkov, who has lobbied energetically in Armenia for this
cause. The Communist Party of Armenia and the National Initiative
Group supported by Ryzhkov and other Duma deputies claim to have
collected 800,000 and more than 1 million signatures, respectively,
in support of Armenia's joining the union.

the speaker of the Duma, said on 25 September that Russia is very
interested in cooperating with the Central Asian and Transcaucasian
states, Russian media reported. Seleznev said Russian security
"depends in many respects on the situation" in those two regions.
Seleznev had just returned from Uzbekistan, where he met with
President Islam Karimov. The two leaders agreed it was necessary to
improve Uzbek-Russian relations, which both characterized as
currently "unsatisfactory."

Committee has approved a plan for privatizing the Rosneft oil
company during the fourth quarter of 1997 and the first half of
1998, Russian news agencies reported on 25 September. After legal
questions surrounding Rosneft's ownership of the oil extracting
company Purneftegaz have been settled, 63 percent of Rosneft shares
will be divided into several blocks and sold at special cash auctions.
A commercial tender will be held for a 33 percent stake, and the
remaining 4 percent of shares will be distributed among members of
the Rosneft workers' collective. The Rosneft privatization is expected
to provoke a fierce conflict between rival Russian banking groups.
Oneksimbank, which won auctions in the summer for stakes in the
telecommunications giant Svyazinvest and Norilsk Nickel, has
indicated that it will bid for Rosneft. Representatives of other banks
have charged that Oneksimbank already has an unfair advantage
over its competitors.

municipal court declared Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii's
lawsuit against Oneksimbank president Vladimir Potanin closed after
lawyers revealed on 25 September that both sides had agreed to a
settlement. Gusinskii sued Potanin for slander after Interfax's
Financial Information Agency quoted Potanin as saying that Gusinskii
and Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii tried to
strike a back-room deal to keep Oneksimbank from bidding for a
stake in Svyazinvest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 July 1997).
In the agreement, the plaintiff (Gusinskii) states he found the
Financial Information Agency report "unethical," saying it contained
slurs against him in both the headline and the text, "Kommersant-
Daily" reported on 26 September. The defendant (Potanin) states he
did not make any statements alleging that the plaintiff acted
unethically during negotiations about the Svyazinvest auction.

gazeta" charged on 26 September that First Deputy Prime Minister
Anatolii Chubais "fulfills the recommendations of the U.S. Finance
Ministry [sic] much better than the decrees of the Russian president."
The newspaper, which recently accused Chubais of "striving for
complete control over Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September
1997), published a letter allegedly sent to Chubais in April by U.S.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. The newspaper
argued that the letter contains "instructions on Russia's domestic and
foreign policy" aimed toward improving the climate in Russia for U.S.
companies. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that Chubais apparently
discussed Russian economic affairs with Summers before rejoining
the government in March and that Chubais has implemented many of
the policies suggested by Summers. It added that the letter provides
grounds for reflection on "just who is whose agent." Chubais recently
said the Paris Club became "Russia's agent" when it admitted Russia.

YELTSIN ON CORRUPTION. Yeltsin's weekly radio address on 26
September focused on crime and corruption, which he called "Russia's
most serious problem." Yeltsin said criminals are concentrating on
gaining access to public office in order to get "closer to federal and
municipal coffers." Yeltsin said more than 2,500 officials are
currently under investigation for corruption. The Russian president
blasted parliamentary deputies, who he said "are not hurrying to
adopt the necessary laws to combat crime." Yeltsin listed officials
already caught engaging in corruption, though he named them by
office only. He criticized rigged sales of state enterprises, illegal
production and sales of alcohol, and illegal trade that avoided
customs regulations.

commission charged with drafting an agreement on relations
between Moscow and Grozny began its fourth session on 25
September amid mutual criticism and recriminations, Russian media
reported. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin submitted
to the Chechen delegation a draft power-sharing treaty, but the
Chechens continued to insist they will discuss only their draft of an
interstate treaty and agreements on economic and defense
cooperation. Chechen delegation member Said-Hassan Abu-Muslimov
told RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent that the defense pact has been
almost completely agreed on and may be adopted with very few
changes. Also on 25 September, a spokesman for the Council of
Europe announced that it will send a delegation to Chechnya on 11
November to assess the human rights situation there following the
recent public executions of four convicted murderers in Grozny,
Reuters reported.

Primorskii Krai Duma voted to suspend Vladivostok Mayor Viktor
Cherepkov, charging that his administration has poorly managed the
city and violated federal and regional laws, RFE/RL's correspondent
in Vladivostok reported on 26 September. Cherepkov is currently
visiting North Korea. His suspension must be confirmed by a krai
court. The krai Duma is dominated by supporters of Primore
Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, a longtime political opponent of
Cherepkov. The governor managed to oust Cherepkov as mayor once
in 1994. Following a Moscow court ruling, Yeltsin reinstated
Cherepkov by decree in September 1996. Meanwhile, 120 billion
rubles ($20 million) in federal funds have been transferred to
Primore to pay wage arrears to striking coal miners and power plant
workers, RFE/RL's correspondent reported on 25 September.
However, the funds will cover only two months of back wages. The
workers have vowed to continue their strike until all wage arrears
are paid.

U.S. SHUTTLE HEADED FOR "MIR." The U.S. space shuttle "Atlantis" has
lifted off from Cape Canaveral and will dock with the Russian space
station "Mir" on 27 September. The shuttle is carrying a new
computer for the station, along with other supplies. U.S. astronaut
Michael Foale is due to be replaced by David Wolf. NASA officials had
approved rotating another U.S. astronaut only hours before lift-off.
Many had previously expressed skepticism about saftey standards
following a series of problems aboard the station. The computer on
"Mir" went down again on 22 September but has since been repaired.


EXPLOSION AT TAJIK NEWS AGENCY. A bomb went off in on the
second floor of the building that houses the Tajik state news agency,
Khovar, on 25 September, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe
reported. Several people sustained minor injuries, and there was
large damage to the first two floors of the building. It is suspected
that the blast is the work of groups within the country opposed to
the peace process there. The headquarters of the National
Reconciliation Commission and the Pakistani Embassy are located
near Khovar's office.

National Democratic Union (AZhM) leader Vazgen Manukyan on 25
September announced the beginning of a "mass resistance
movement" that will seek to change the country's leadership,
RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukyan called for the creation
of "strong structures" at grass-roots level to exert constant pressure
on the authorities to hold free and fair elections and improve living
conditions. He said the new AZhM-led movement will be open to
other political parties, labor unions, and NGOs. He added that his
party is ready to engage in a dialogue with the authorities on
improving Armenia's electoral system. Manukyan was addressing an
estimated 15,000 supporters in Yerevan on the first anniversary of
the storming of parliament following the disputed 1996 presidential

The National Assembly on 24 September ratified the Convention on
Nuclear Safety, aimed at ensuring the safe use of nuclear power and
prevention of nuclear catastrophes, Noyan Tapan reported. Energy
Minister Gagik Martirossian told deputies that the 1998 budget
earmarks $2 million for improving the safety system at the
Medzamor nuclear power station. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan
Hasanov recently called for the closure of Medzamor, claiming that it
failed to meet world safety standards.

General Dolya Babenkov, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping
forces in western Georgia, has warned Georgians forced to flee
Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war not to proceed with a protest
planned for 27 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The
Georgian displaced persons intend to cross the Inguri bridge
separating Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia and stage a march
through Abkhazia's southern-most Gali Raion, where many of them
previously lived. Babenkov has requested the assistance of the UN
observer mission in Georgia to prevent the planned protest from
taking place. The Georgian government has designated 27
September--the anniversary of the capture of Sukhumi in 1993 by
Abkhaz forces--a day of mourning.

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