|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 129, Part I, 1 October 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 * YELTSIN PROMISES CITIES MORE FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE * RUSSIAN REPRESENTATIVES TEMPORARILY EXPELLED FROM CHECHNYA * ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS PRESIDENT'S KARABAKH POLICY End Note DEFENSE OFFICIALS DENY LEBED'S NUCLEAR SUITCASE CLAIMS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN PROMISES CITIES MORE FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE... President Boris Yeltsin on 30 September said he has signed a new law on the financial foundations of local government in order to provide "some legal guarantees of the financial independence" of municipalities, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin and First Deputy Finance Minister Anatolii Chubais discussed the implications of the legislation at a Kremlin meeting of the presidential Council on Local Government. The new law is expected to decrease the financial leverage that regional governors and republican presidents currently wield over local authorities. In particular, municipalities will be allowed to keep a larger share of federal and regional taxes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 September and 1 October. The Federation Council, which is comprised of regional leaders, rejected the law on local government in July. The State Duma overrode the upper house's decision on 10 September, and Yeltsin signed the law two weeks later. ...WANTS CHANGES TO ELECTORAL LAW. Addressing the Council on Local Government, Yeltsin advocated changes to the electoral law to prevent "criminal elements" from coming to power, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko told the council that loopholes in the current law allow candidates with criminal records to be elected. He proposed that law enforcement agencies be required to publish information on candidates' past criminal records during election campaigns. Yeltsin and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev have recently blasted law enforcement agencies for not informing the public about the criminal record of Gennadii Konyakhin before his election as mayor of Leninsk-Kuznetskii, Kemerovo Oblast, earlier this year. RUSSIAN REPRESENTATIVES TEMPORARILY EXPELLED FROM CHECHNYA. Almost the entire staff of the Russian representation in Chechnya was evacuated on 30 September at the insistence of Vice President Vakha Arsanov. Arsanov had demanded an apology from Moscow for refusing to open an air corridor across Russian territory to enable him to fly from Grozny to Baku on 28 September. A bilateral Russian-Chechen agreement signed in August permits international flights from Grozny, but a spokesman for the Russian Security Council told Interfax that the company that Arsanov intended to use was not licensed for international flights. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 1 October ruled that the Russian mission be allowed to return to Grozny and resume work, First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told ITAR-TASS. Udugov said Maskhadov's ruling "shows his personal trust in Boris Yeltsin." RADICAL CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER INJURED BY CAR BOMB. Salman Raduev, commander of the so-called General Dudaev army, was seriously injured in an assassination attempt on 30 September, Russian agencies reported. One of his bodyguards was killed and a second injured when the car in which the three men were traveling blew up in Grozny. Speaking from his hospital bed on 1 October, Raduev accused Russian intelligence of masterminding the attack, according to ITAR-TASS. Raduev gained notoriety for his leadership of the Pervomayskoye hostage-taking in January 1996. He was injured and reported dead in a shoot-out two months later but resurfaced in July 1996, after plastic surgery. There have been at least two previous attempts on his life this year. The Chechen leadership has distanced itself from Raduev's threats to stage terrorist bombings in Russian cities and has cast doubt on his sanity. ZYUGANOV SAYS DISSOLUTION OF DUMA POSSIBLE. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov believes that the State Duma may be dissolved this fall and says certain "obedient" mass media are preparing the ground for such a move, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 30 September. The president has the right to dissolve the Duma if the lower house three times refuses to confirm the president's nominee for prime minister or twice votes no confidence in the government. Asked whether his party will press for a no- confidence vote, Zyuganov said the Communist Duma faction is considering that option and will decide its strategy on 7 October. Government officials are scheduled to address the Duma the next day to report on the implementation of the 1997 budget. Recent opinion polls have indicated that opposition groups are likely to fare better than pro-government movements if early parliamentary elections are called. SPOKESMAN SAYS REPORT EXAGGERATES ORGANIZED CRIME. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 30 September charged that a report recently released in the U.S. exaggerates the threat posed by organized crime in Russia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The report, issued by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies on 29 September, warned that if it is "left unchecked, Russia is on the verge of becoming a crime- dominated oligarchy, controlled by shady businessmen, corrupt officials, and outright criminals." Yastrzhembskii acknowledged that organized crime poses a threat. He recalled Yeltsin's recent pledge to crack down on "criminals in power." But Yastrzhembskii also argued that allegations that the Russian economy is inextricably linked with organized crime are frequently used in order to cast doubt on Russia's status as a market economy. GAZPROM DEFENDS IRANIAN GAS DEAL. A spokesman for Gazprom told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that his company "fully backs" the right of France's Total to participate in the international consortium that signed an agreement on 28 September with the National Iranian Oil Company to develop Iran's South Pars Caspian gas deposit. Other participants in the consortium, in which Total has a 40 percent stake, are Gazprom and Malaysia's Petronas (30 percent each). Washington claims that the deal falls under U.S. legislation providing for the imposition of sanctions on companies that invest more than $20 million in Iranian energy projects. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, however, argues that U.S. legislation does not apply in France. STATE PROPERTY COMMITTEE BECOMES MINISTRY. Yeltsin issued a decree on 30 September transforming the State Property Committee into the State Property Ministry. The committee's chairman, Maksim Boiko, was simultaneously appointed state property minister and will retain the title of deputy prime minister. According to "Kommersant- Daily" on 1 October, a 1993 presidential decree granted the State Property Committee the status of a ministry but that decree was rescinded in July 1997. Boiko told Interfax on 30 September that he will reorganize the ministry over the next two to three months. Its main task will be to become "a conscientious manager of state property," he added. FORMER PRIVATIZATION CHIEF RESPONDS TO NEW ALLEGATIONS. Former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh has denied any wrongdoing in connection with a $100,000 royalty payment he received earlier this year for a book on privatization that has not yet been published. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 October, Kokh said that he had not known that a key executive at the Swiss firm Servina was connected with Oneksimbank when that executive offered to publish his book (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1997). He said the book will be published later this year, after he has written a final chapter on the most recent privatization sales. As for his alleged close personal ties with Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin, Kokh admitted taking his family on a vacation recently with Potanin and his family but argued there is "nothing shameful" in that. NEWSPAPER ACQUIRES FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER'S MERCEDES. At a 30 September auction in Moscow, the popular daily "Moskovskii komsomolets" purchased for $35,400 a Mercedes once used by former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. In line with a March presidential decree, the government is selling foreign cars formerly used by top officials. The newspaper repeatedly criticized Grachev before his June 1996 dismissal, accusing him of corruption and derisively referring to him as "Pasha Mercedes." Vadim Poegli, the journalist who bid for the car on behalf of "Moskovskii komsomolets," faced criminal charges in 1995 for an article he wrote entitled "Pasha Mercedes: A thief should be in prison, not the defense minister." Also on 30 September, military sources said General Anatolii Krivolapov has been appointed Russia's military envoy to NATO headquarters in Belgium, AFP reported. Grachev was rumored to be under consideration for that job. CELEBRITIES ASKED TO PAY TAXES. State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok on 29 September met with several stars of Russian show- business, including the pop singer Alla Pugacheva, in a bid to persuade them to pay their taxes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 September. A tax police official recently criticized some celebrities for not filing tax returns or underreporting their incomes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1997). He asked the celebrities to set a good example for other citizens. Pugacheva and the singer Aleksandr Malinin argued that some stars should be given a two-year tax exemption in order to save money for their retirement. Pugacheva told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that the tax authorities should remember that popular artists have high expenses. Artists should be told how their tax payments will be spent, she noted, adding that "no one would object" if they were used to pay pensions of retired artists. WHO IS MAYOR OF VLADIVOSTOK? Confusion reigns in Vladivostok over who is the city's legitimate mayor, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 30 September. Shortly after declaring that the Primorskii Krai Duma's attempt to suspend him was illegal, Mayor Viktor Cherepkov went on sick leave and appointed Nikolai Markovtsev acting mayor. However, Yurii Kopylov, who was appointed acting mayor by the krai legislature, has set up an alternative city administration and is implementing his own policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1997). Although the krai prosecutor and Yeltsin's representative in Primore have both denounced the attempt to remove Cherepkov from office as illegal, the current confusion is likely to continue until a court resolves the dispute. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 October that Kopylov now claims that all six banks holding the Vladivostok administration's accounts have agreed to honor only financial instructions signed by Kopylov. COMBINATION OF FACTORS LED TO "MIR" COLLISION. A report by a Russian commission has concluded that "methodological, technical, and human error were to blame" for the 26 June collision of Russia's "Mir" space station with a U.S. cargo ship, Russian media reported. The commission's findings help exonerate Russian cosmonauts Vasilii Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin, who have been blamed for the crash by the head of the company that built the station. "Kommersant daily" on 1 October noted that Tsibliev, who manually guided the cargo ship toward "Mir" when the impact occurred, had not been informed that the cargo ship was overloaded. The daily also argued that Russian mission control is unlikely to admit technical problems caused the collision since that would "discredit" it in NASA's eyes. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS PRESIDENT'S KARABAKH POLICY... Opposition National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan on 30 September harshly criticized statements by President Levon Ter- Petrossyan at a 26 September press conference, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukyan rejected Ter-Petrossyan's endorsement of a phased resolution of the Karabakh conflict as "capitulation" and "treason," saying the president's arguments "substantially undermine Armenia's negotiating position." Using uncharacteristically harsh language, Manukyan said Ter-Petrossyan "should be barred from leading a country" and warned that "aggressive haste" in seeking to resolve the Karabakh conflict could prove counter-productive. The phased solution to the conflict proposed by the co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group envisages postponing a decision on Karabakh's future status until after the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied territories and the repatriation of displaced persons. ...BUT BAKU MAKES POSITIVE ASSESSMENT. Interfax on 29 September quoted an unnamed source within the Azerbaijani presidential administration as interpreting Ter-Petrossyan's statements as a "constructive change in Yerevan's position". He added, however, that they could prove a tactical ploy whereby Armenia's seeks to off load responsibility for the outcome of the negotiating progress onto the Karabakh Armenians. Stepanakert rejects a "phased" solution of the conflict and wants all contentious issues, including Karabakh's future political statement, resolved within one framework document. Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade told Interfax on 30 September that he is "personally satisfied" with Ter-Petrossyan's statements. In particular, he pointed to Ter-Petrossyan's rejection of suggestions by Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan that a new war may prove the only way to resolve the conflict. ABKHAZIA TO DEMAND COMPENSATION FOR WAR DAMAGE? Igor Akhba, Abkhazia's permanent representative in Moscow, told Interfax on 30 September that Sukhumi will demand $60 billion compensation from the Georgian government for damage to property during the 1992-1993 war. Akhba also affirmed that Abkhazia will never accept "even the broadest autonomous status" within Georgia. Several days earlier, Anri Djergenia, personal envoy of Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, had similarly said that Abkhazia proposes signing a protocol drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry in early 1996 as a basis for negotiations. That document provides for Georgia and Abkhazia creating a common state of two legally equal constituent republics. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 29 September said this hardening of the Abkhaz position could jeopardize the negotiating process. RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS ACCUSE LEZGIN SEPARATISTS. A commander of the Russian border guards in Dagestan has claimed that a group of armed militants affiliated with the Lezgin organization Sadval is preparing "armed provocations" on the Russian-Azerbaijani frontier, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Spokesmen for Sadval, which advocates the creation of an independent Lezgin state, have denied the allegations. The wife of one of Sadval's leaders, General Mukhuddin Kakhrimanov, was murdered in Makhachkala in mid-September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). A prominent Lezgin businessman who reportedly provided funding for Sadval's activities was shot dead in southern Dagestan on 24 September, Turan reported. MORE VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS IN AZERBAIJAN. Four Baku police officers on 22 September beat two correspondents for the newspaper "Mozalan," one of whom is still hospitalized, Turan reported on 30 September. The journalists were investigating irregularities in registering residents of a hostel run by Baku transport authorities. AZERBAIJAN EARLY OIL COUNTDOWN. Repairs to the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk oil export pipeline will be completed on 16 November, Radio Rossii reported on 30 September, quoting a spokesman for Chechnya's Yunko oil company. The repairs began on 25 September. Five brigades of Russian workmen are undertaking the repairs, while 400 members of the Chechen national guard are ensuring their security. Terry Adams-- the president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Committee, which is exploiting three Caspian oil fields--said at a news conference in Tbilisi on 29 September that the first 40,000 metric tons of oil from the Chirag field will be loaded into the pipeline beginning on 1 October. Adams said that repairs to the Baku-Supsa pipeline are proceeding on schedule and should be completed during the fourth quarter of 1998. He added that the planned $350 million budget for those repairs is unlikely to be exceeded. OTHER PIPELINE NEWS. Dagestani oil industry officials wholeheartedly support the Russian initiative to build an oil export pipeline through Dagestan bypassing Chechnya, Interfax reported on 30 September. Dagneft Director-General Gadzhi Makhachev estimated that a 500 kilometer pipeline through Dagestan could generate $30 million a year in transit fees. "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 September suggested, however, that at the recent consultations between US Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a secret agreement was reached on oil exports. Under that deal, Kazakhstan's oil would be exported via Russia to Novorossiisk, while Azerbaijan's oil would flow west to Georgia. Such a scheme would obviate the need for a pipeline bypassing Chechnya. PROTEST IN KAZAKHSTAN. Some 1,000 people, mostly workers at the Achisay Polymetal factory, began a march from the southern city of Kentau to Shymkent on 1 October to protest declining living standards, RFE/RL correspondents reported. From Shymkent, the protesters will take trains to Almaty to deliver a petition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. They are demanding unpaid wages amounting to 100 million tenge ($1.3 million). They also complain that 80 million tenge allocated by the government for their wages has been used for other purposes by the factory's management. In Almaty some 200 pensioners gathered in front of the Mayor's Office on 30 September demanding that their pensions be increased and that the government pay more attention to their situation . TAJIK PRESIDENT ADDRESSES UN. Imomali Rakhmonov, addressing the UN General Assembly on 30 September, thanked the countries and organizations that aided his country in restoring peace, RFE/RL correspondents in New York reported. Rakhmonov paid special tribute to the role of Russia, Iran, and the UN. He said he hopes for continued help from those who have already contributed to peace in Tajikistan, especially the UN. At the same time, Rakhmonov warned that events in neighboring Afghanistan threaten the Tajik peace process, and he encouraged efforts to mediate peace there as well. SOARING COSTS IN TAJIKISTAN. The National Statistical Agency has released figures showing that prices of basic consumer goods have risen more in Tajikistan than in any other CIS state so far this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Consumer prices have increased by 222 percent since the beginning of 1997, with an 123.5 percent increase in August alone. Whiles crops of potatoes, vegetables, fruits, and grain harvest have increased compared with 1996, the cost of vegetables has risen by 3.1 percent and potatoes by 61.9 percent. As of 1 September, the basket of basic food stuffs cost 14,230 Tajik rubles ($17-18). ITAR-TASS, however, notes that only the highest paid officials make so much money. Public education and health workers can "buy eight or nine loaves of bread and nothing else" with their wages, according to the agency. END NOTE DEFENSE OFFICIALS DENY LEBED'S NUCLEAR SUITCASE CLAIMS by Floriana Fossato Top Russian defense officials have been vigorously denying recent claims by former government officials that Moscow possesses miniature nuclear bombs but has lost track of some of them. Military observers say some statements--particularly those by General Igor Volynkin, the head of the Defense Ministry's 12th department, which oversees nuclear security--are "surprising on account of their openness." In an interview with a U.S. television network aired on 8 September, former Security Council Secretary General Aleksandr Lebed alleged that the former Soviet Union had produced 132 such bombs in the 1970s but had since lost track of 84 of them. He said the portable devices were designed for sabotage behind enemy lines. On 21 September, Aleksei Yablokov, President Boris Yeltsin's former environmental security adviser, said he knew people who had been involved in the making of the bombs, which, he stressed, were intended for "terrorist purposes." However, Yablokov said he could not confirm that the bombs are indeed missing. Official denials followed immediately. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said he has "no fears" and insisted Russia's nuclear arsenal is under firm control. Volynkin, for his part, told reporters that such portable devices "have never been produced in the past and are not produced now." Conceding that building nuclear suitcases is "possible in theory," he said the Defense Ministry came to the conclusion that they were "too costly" to produce and "ineffective." He said the device could last only a few months, after which it would have to be replaced at an exorbitant cost. He remarked that "not even the U.S. would attempt to do that." According to Russian military commentator Aleksandr Golts, such a statement is surprising because it breaks the Russian military habit of avoiding comment on issues of this kind. Volynkin went on to rule out the possibility that structures such as the Soviet-era KGB could have produced such devices. He said that since it was established 50 years ago, his department at the Defense Ministry has had "sole responsibility over nuclear stocks." He noted, however, that the Defense Ministry works closely with the Ministry of Atomic Energy to keep detailed records of the whereabouts of all nuclear stocks. He added that all weapons belonging to Russia's nuclear arsenal have been withdrawn from military units and are now located in his department's storage facilities under tight supervision. According to the general, Yablokov may have confused nuclear suitcases with nuclear mines, whose existence he admitted. At the same time, Volynkin ruled out the possibility of nuclear mines disappearing. Golts told RFE/RL that "nuclear mines were part of the nuclear arsenal that the former Soviet Union kept in former East Germany." He added that they "are extremely big, won't fit into any suitcase or backpack, and are transported only by specially designed trucks." General Vyacheslav Romanov, the head of the National Center for the Reduction of Nuclear Threat, told the daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" that "to say that a single person could deliver a nuclear device--whose minimum weight usually is 200 kilograms--to the site of an explosion without being noticed and then set it off on his own is absurd." He added that "no device could be used by a single person-- such is the technology." In the light of such statements, Lebed's claims may seem surprising because the general, a professional soldier, should be aware of many key details concerning the production of portable nuclear devices. But according to Golts and other Russian military observers, a possible explanation could be Lebed's political ambitions and his "necessity to remain in the spotlight." Golts says that Lebed's popularity has been threatened recently by the growing popularity of another soldier-turned-politician: Lev Rokhlin. Lebed came third in last year's presidential election and went on to serve briefly as Security Council secretary. Since being fired by Yeltsin last fall, he has been seeking to create his own political party and has made no secret of his plans to run for president in the year 2000. But recent developments suggest that Lebed's plans may be thwarted by Rokhlin. On 26 September, the communist- and nationalist-dominated State Duma refused to remove Rokhlin as chairman of the Duma Defense Committee. Rokhlin was ousted from the pro-government party and parliamentary faction Our Home Is Russia in early September, after he launched a strong attack on the Kremlin's military reform program and called for Yeltsin's removal from office. Following Lebed's example, Rokhlin then set up his own political movement. That formation already seems to be gaining popularity among the military as well as many opposition forces, including communist and nationalist groups. In addition, many people in Russia consider him a hero of the war in Chechnya. Golts points out that "Rokhlin, not Lebed, has grown during the past few months to become the main military leader" opposed to Yeltsin and the government. He added that it is somehow "natural" that, as a consequence, Lebed is making every effort to maintain his popularity, "including sensational statements that undoubtedly attract attention in Russia and abroad." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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