|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 128, Part I, 30 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 RUSSIAN MEDIA EMPIRES. Government and business entities control many major Russian media. This special report on the RFE/RL Web site lists the important players. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I *COURT REVERSES PRIVATIZATON OF ONEKSIMBANK-CONTROLLED FACTORY *YELTSIN RULES OUT INTER-STATE TREATY WITH CHECHNYA *KYRGYZ JOURNALIST SENTENCED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA COURT REVERSES PRIVATIZATON OF ONEKSIMBANK-CONTROLLED FACTORY. The Moscow Arbitration Court on 29 September ordered that a 41 percent stake in the Cherepovets Azot factory, Vologda Oblast, be returned to the state, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Oneksimbank acquired those shares in late 1994. The Federal Property Fund lodged the court appeal in July 1997, claiming that Oneksimbank had not met investment conditions under which the privatization contract was awarded. Informing journalists of the court decision, State Property Committee Chairman Maksim Boiko said the Cherepovets Azot investor had used funds that were intended to be invested in the enterprise for other purposes, Interfax reported. Boiko added that the state's privatization agencies "will work to ensure the honest implementation of the investment terms" following privatization sales. Boiko did not mention that Oneksimbank was the investor that failed to keep its commitments to Cherepovets Azot. DID MEDIA COVERAGE INFLUENCE COURT DECISION? Oneksimbank's management of the Cherepovets Azot factory first gained widespread attention following an investigative report aired on Russian Public Television (ORT) on 26 July, the day after an Oneksimbank-led consortium won the controversial auction for Svyazinvest. The report was the first shot fired in the summer "bank war," which was waged by media outlets influenced by competing financial groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28-29 July 1997). Among other things, ORT alleged that Cherepovets Azot had transferred some $41 million abroad while not paying its debts to the state budget. Appearing on RFE/RL on 29 September, Sergei Dorenko, the anchor of the ORT program, claimed that before the ORT report aired in July, the Moscow Arbitration Court rejected the Federal Property Fund's attempt to regain the stake in Cherepovets Azot. After the publicity, Dorenko claimed, the court considered the case again. This time "the state won," he added. YELTSIN RULES OUT INTER-STATE TREATY WITH CHECHNYA. In a communique following his talks with Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin on 29 September, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he is aware that Grozny has drafted a Russian-Chechen inter-state treaty but that "it will never be implemented," Russian agencies reported. Yeltsin added that "mutually-acceptable solutions" to Chechnya's future status must be found but noted that sovereignty for Chechnya is possible only within the Russian Federation. Any treaty between Moscow and Grozny should be modeled on those already concluded between Moscow and other federation subjects such as Tatarstan, he argued. Earlier the same day, Yeltsin had rejected Rybkin's suggestion that a meeting between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov could resolve the deadlock. Maskhadov's press secretary, however, told ITAR-TASS on 29 September that Maskhadov has asked the Chechen delegation to the bilateral Russian-Chechen talks to prepare such a meeting. ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Romano Prodi met with Yeltsin in Moscow on 29 September to discuss bilateral relations and international issues, including Russia-NATO cooperation and the peace process in former Yugoslavia, Russian agencies reported. Prodi later discussed bilateral economic cooperation with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Among the issues discussed were increased Russian exports of natural gas to Italy (to which end Italy is prepared to finance repairs to the existing export pipeline) and cooperation in the auto industry. A memorandum was signed on joint construction of a plant in Nizhnii Novgorod that will assemble Fiat automobiles. The plant will be financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Russia's GAZ (Gorky Car Plant), and Fiat. A contract on the manufacture of 150,000 Fiat cars annually will be signed when Yeltsin visits Italy in February 1998. Prodi assured Chernomyrdin that Italy will support Russia's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization. YELTSIN CRITICIZES DUMA'S STANCE. Yeltsin has sharply criticized the State Duma for displaying "discord with the government" since the beginning of its fall session, Russian news agencies reported on 29 September. During a meeting with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin noted that the Duma recently rejected a government-backed package of social benefits reductions and said deputies are dragging their feet on the 1998 budget. Yeltsin also said he will never sign the land code approved by the Duma because it would not allow farmers to buy and sell agricultural land. He added that the Duma committed "flagrant procedural violations" when it overrode his veto of that code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 September 1997). Also on 29 September, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, warned that if the Duma votes no confidence in the government, it will "set in motion the constitutional process of [its own] dissolution," ITAR-TASS reported. OPPOSITION LEADERS CONFER ON STRATEGY. Leaders of 32 opposition parties and movements met in Moscow on 29 September to discuss strategy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Nikolai Ryzhkov, leader of the Popular Power State Duma faction, chaired the meeting. Participants included Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov; Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, leader of the Movement in Support of the Army; Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, leader of the nationalist Russian All-People's Union; and Viktor Anpilov, the leader of the radical communist movement Workers' Russia. The participants agreed to support a series of protest actions planned for this fall. In interviews with RFE/RL, both Anpilov and Baburin stressed that the opposition groups represented at the meeting sought to coordinate their actions against current government policies but did not agree to join a common organization. Ryzhkov told reporters that similar consultations will be held every month, Interfax reported. YELTSIN, PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DISCUSS CORRUPTION INVESTIGATIONS. Yurii Skuratov met with Yeltsin on 26 September to discuss the investigation of the local authorities in Leninsk- Kuznetskii, Kemerovo Oblast, Russian news agencies reported. Following an investigative series in "Izvestiya," a commission representing the Prosecutor-General's Office, Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service was sent to Leninsk-Kuznetskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24-25 September 1997). Skuratov told Interfax that similar commissions will be sent to other regions. (Yeltsin recently announced that some 2,500 officials in Russia are being investigated for corruption.) Skuratov also said a presidential decree currently being drafted will increase the prosecutor-general's role in fighting economic crime. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Dementev, the head of the Interior Ministry's Main Department on Economic Crime, was recently replaced, "Segodnya" reported on 27 September. That department was transferred to the supervision of Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev, who heads the ministry's Main Department on Organized Crime. DUMA FORMS COMMISSION ON FALL 1993 EVENTS. The Duma on 26 September voted to form a commission to investigate the events from 21 September to 5 October 1993, Russian news agencies reported. That period spans from Yeltsin's decree No. 1400 "on gradual constitutional reform," which dissolved the parliament, to the aftermath of the shelling of the legislature by tanks. The Duma also proposed making 4 October a holiday to honor "the defenders of the constitution and the law." Yabloko deputy Sergei Ivanenko pointed out that the Duma disbanded a similar commission after declaring an amnesty in February 1994, which applied to participants in the fall 1993 events. Meanwhile, the Duma on 26 September voted down a proposal by a Communist deputy that the lower house investigate some of the claims made by Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov, Yeltsin's former bodyguard, in his recent book (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). DUMA DEPUTIES SUSPECT DEPUTY PREMIER OF WRONGDOING. Duma deputies have vowed to conduct their own investigation into Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev's activities as mayor of Samara, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 September. Responding to a request from two Communist and Agrarian Duma deputies, the Prosecutor-General's Office informed Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 26 September that investigators had found no evidence of crimes committed by Sysuev. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that a previous investigation by the Samara tax police uncovered various "dubious documents" signed by Sysuev between 1994 and 1996. On several occasions, Sysuev authorized the use of city budget funds to guarantee bank loans to commercial enterprises. In one case, city funds were used to pay a debt of an enterprise belonging to Sysuev's friend Aleksandr Sidorenko, the chairman of the Samara Oblast Property Committee. Sysuev resigned as mayor when he joined the government in March. LUZHKOV AGAIN CRITICIZES HOUSING REFORM... Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has again criticized the government's planned reductions of subsidies for housing and municipal services, Interfax reported on 29 September. Speaking at a ceremony to award medals to leading Duma deputies, Luzhkov argued that while "privatization robbed the entire country without making an impact on individuals, the housing and utilities reform can affect every family." He added, "First let the people make a living, then raise the tariffs. Otherwise a catastrophe will occur." Luzhkov also encouraged the Duma to pass a law to protect Russian language and culture. He slammed television networks, especially state-controlled Russian Public Television and the privately owned NTV, for showing "death, blood, murders, pornography," and even condom advertisements. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Our Home Is Russia faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin were among the Duma deputies who received an award from Luzhkov. ...NEMTSOV RESPONDS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says he and Luzhkov have no "conceptual" differences in their approach to housing reform, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 September. Speaking to students at a Moscow school, Nemtsov argued that the "heated political debates" over housing reform have come up because "certain people apparently want to score [political] points" on the issue. Nemtsov also repeated that he believes Moscow is spending too much money on subsidies for rent and utilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 September 1997). Nemtsov is the cabinet minister responsible for coordinating housing reform. He is also considered a likely candidate for president in the next election, although on 29 September he again denied having presidential ambitions. ST. PETERSBURG ELECTIONS INVALID IN MOST DISTRICTS. Despite an extension of the voting period, St. Petersburg municipal elections will be declared invalid in most districts because of low turnout, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 30 September. Governor Vladimir Yakovlev on 28 September ordered that the elections be extended for one day in 90 districts after it became apparent that turnout in those districts would fall far short of the required 25 percent. But few additional voters turned out on 29 September. In the end, citywide turnout was 18 percent, and turnout was high enough to elect a representative in only 33 of the city's districts, according to ITAR-TASS. Repeat elections are likely to be held in three months. Yakovlev has warned that the ballot will cost the St. Petersburg budget some 15 billion rubles ($2.6 million). AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS SCORE SUCCESS WITH STRIKE. Air traffic controllers at 50 airports throughout Russia launched a strike on 29 September to demand the payment of wage arrears and to protest their employers' failure to abide by updated wage scales and vacation agreements, Russian agencies reported. Federal Aviation Service President Valerii Yezhov agreed to meet the strikers' demands one hour after the strike began. Previously, talks between the Federal Aviation Service and representatives of the air traffic controllers had failed to resolve the dispute. INGUSH CONGRESS GIVES THUMBS DOWN TO YELTSIN REPRESENTATIVE. Delegates to a 27 September congress of the peoples of Ingushetia passed a vote of no confidence in Aleksandr Kovalev, Yeltsin's representative in Ingushetia and North Ossetia, Interfax reported. They accused Kovalev of failing to take legal measures to restore the constitutional rights of the Ingush people, who were deported to Central Asia in 1944. Addressing the congress, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev reaffirmed his approval of the 10- 15 year moratorium on territorial claims, which both he and North Ossetian President Akhsarbek Galazov had agreed to on 4 September, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 September. Aushev expressed concern at the delay in creating the conditions for Ingush displaced persons to return to their homes in North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion. He also said he was worried about the high crime rate in Ingushetia. The congress agreed that presidential elections in Ingushetia will be held , as scheduled, on 1 March 1998. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KYRGYZ JOURNALIST SENTENCED. Yrysbek Omurzakov on 29 September was sentenced to 30 months in a penal colony, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Omurzakov was found guilty of libel for writing an article that claimed a Bishkek factory manager was abusing his authority. He based the article on statements made by factory employees, two of whom also went on trial. They received six months in a penal colony but are pardoned under a 30 July amnesty law signed by President Askar Akayev. Omurzakov is not included in the amnesty because of previous convictions. Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz weekly newspaper "Asaba" was criticized by presidential spokesman Kanybek Imanaliyev as trying to discredit Akayev's economic and political reforms. Imanaliyev, who earlier was a journalist for "Asaba," said the 26 September issue of the newspaper carried eight articles that gave a negative portrayal of Akayev. UZBEK GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE. President Islam Karimov on 29 September signed a decree relieving Rustam Akhmedov of his duties as defense minister and reappointing him as minister for emergency situations, RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent reported. First Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Jurabekov was removed as minister for emergency situations to make room for Akhmedov but retains his deputy premiership. The new defense minister is Major-General Khimatullah Tursunov, until now the head of the Uzbek border guards. RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF IN KAZAKHSTAN. Colonel-General Andrei Nikolayev, the director of the Russian Federal Border Service, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met in Almaty on 29 September and agreed that they will sign a border accord, Russian media reported. Nazarbayev said the goal of the accord is not to "fix a rigid border" but "safeguard our citizens." Nikolayev commented that "no informal units will guard the border," referring to Russia's recent "experimental" use of Cossack units to patrol its side of the border. That move drew heavy criticism from the Kazakh government. Nazarbayev and Nikolayev also said there is a need to strengthen the borders of the four countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus) belonging to the intra-CIS customs union. CENTRAL ASIAN WATER COMMISSION MEETS. The Central Asian water resources commission met in Tashkent on 26 September, Interfax reported. Representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan agreed to install equipment to measure the flow of water into the Aral Sea. Under a 1992 agreement between the five countries, 14 billion cubic meters of water were to flow into the sea each year. However, that goal has not been met. The five countries also decided to set up a Central Asian water and energy consortium. AZERBAIJAN RADIO BROADCASTING TO IRAN. Azerbaijani Radio currently broadcasts three hours each day to an estimated audience of 30 million Azeris in Iran, according to an article by Movlud Suleymanli, the head of Azerbaijani Television and Radio, published in "Azerbaijan" on 20 September and summarized by "Turkistan Newsletter" on 29 September. Suleymanli said that programming in Azerbaijani to Iran was discontinued in 1990 but has now resumed. Suleymanli argued that his audience in Iran has "made revolutions many times in the 20th century" and needs to be informed about its language and history. He added that his staff must carry out its duties "rationally" and "without false patriotism." Azerbaijani Radio also broadcasts to Azerbaijan's Kurdish, Lezgin, and Georgian minorities. NEW LEFT-WING ALLIANCE FORMED IN ARMENIA. Several tiny socialist oriented political parties and groups have united to create a Union of Socialist Forces, Noyan Tapan reported on 26 September. Representatives of the Democratic Party of Armenia and the banned Dashnak Party attended the founding meeting as observers. The union's primary objective is to draft social programs and submit them to the government. "Molorak" on 26 September quoted Aghasi Arshakyan--one of the leaders of the National Initiative, which is lobbying for Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus union--as saying the new alliance may support the National Initiative. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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