|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 137, Part I, 13 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN VOWS TO FOLLOW ALL COUNCIL OF EUROPE RECOMMENDATIONS * RUSSIA SUPPORTS LAND MINE BAN * KORZHAKOV IMPLICATED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT End Note : YABLOKO SEEN AS YELTSIN'S TOUGHEST OPPONENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN VOWS TO FOLLOW ALL COUNCIL OF EUROPE RECOMMENDATIONS... President Boris Yeltsin pledged on 10 October that Russia will adhere to all Council of Europe recommendations, including a ban on capital punishment. Addressing the Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg, Yeltsin said Russia has not carried out any executions in more than a year. With regard to the recent public executions in Chechnya, Yeltsin said the Russian leadership is taking "all necessary measures for localizing such manifestations of medieval barbarianism," Interfax reported. Russian courts still occasionally hand down the death sentence, and the State Duma voted down a law on banning capital punishment earlier this year. But according to Council of Europe Secretary-General Daniel Tarschys, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has promised that the lower house will ratify the European Human Rights Convention and honor other obligations Russia undertook when it joined the Council of Europe in February 1996, ITAR-TASS reported. ...AGREES TO REGULAR SUMMITS WITH KOHL, CHIRAC. While in Strasbourg, Yeltsin, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac agreed to hold annual three-way summits. The Russian president accepted Chirac's suggestion that the first such summit be held in Yekaterinburg, the capital of Yeltsin's native Sverdlovsk Oblast. In several recent interviews and public appearances, Yeltsin has said Russia seeks more cooperation with Europe and has spoken out against U.S. influence on the continent. Shortly before departing for the Council of Europe summit, he argued that Europe does not need any "overseas uncle," an RFE/RL correspondent in Strasbourg reported on 9 October. RUSSIA SUPPORTS LAND MINE BAN. Yeltsin also announced on 10 October that Russia supports a ban on anti-personnel land mines and will sign a convention to that effect. That statement caused some confusion, since Russia is a major manufacturer of land mines and was only an observer at the recent negotiations in Oslo on banning land mines. The next day, Yeltsin's press service clarified the statement, saying Russia supports the goal of banning land mines and will sign the convention "when the necessary conditions are created," Russian news agencies reported. While in Strasbourg, Yeltsin did not discuss any concrete dates for signing the Oslo accord, the press service added. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman recently said a ban on anti-personnel mines should not be implemented "hastily" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). CHERNOMYRDIN ON BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS. In an interview with Russian Public Television (ORT) on 11 October, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomrydin said that in upcoming negotiations with the parliament, the government will not compromise on the "key parameters" of the draft budget for 1998, including the projected inflation rate of 5 percent. However, he said, the government may consider raising expenditures--currently planned at 472 billion new rubles ($80 billion)--by 0.5 percent. Chernomyrdin also remarked that the government's decision to cut subsidies to Moscow may have been hasty. A trilateral commission on the 1998 budget, comprised of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives, is expected to hold its first meeting on 13 October. Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksander Zhukov of Our Home Is Russia has said that the trilateral commission may agree to increase projected revenues and expenditures by 30 to 40 billion new rubles, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 October. LUZHKOV BLASTS CHUBAIS. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 10 October charged that all of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's policy initiatives have failed, Russian news agencies reported. Luzhkov added that Chubais's recent address to the Duma was "disgraceful and unskilled." Chubais recently argued that Moscow does not need compensation for the costs of maintaining federal facilities in the capital, particularly in light of the recent celebrations of Moscow's 850th anniversary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 1997). Luzhkov countered that Moscow had earned substantial revenues from those celebrations. For his part, Chubais on 10 October accused Luzhkov of turning policy disputes into personal attacks and argued that Moscow "can provide for itself and for other [Russian] regions," although to do that the Moscow authorities "would have to build one less monument." Meanwhile, speaking to journalists in Berlin on 11 October, Luzhkov again denied that he plans to run for president. GATES FIGHTS SOFTWARE PIRACY DURING MOSCOW VISIT. During a visit to Moscow, Bill Gates, the president of the U.S. software giant Microsoft, encouraged top Russian politicians to crack down on unlicensed sales of computer products. More than 90 percent of software sold in Russia is believed to be pirated. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 11 October promised Gates that the Russian government will take steps to solve the problem. The previous day, Gates discussed the issue with First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais and signed a deal with Sberbank Chairman Andrei Kazmin whereby the bank will pay Microsoft $1.65 million in order to legalize the company's software already in use at the bank. Gates also discussed the use of Microsoft products at the Central Bank and the oil company LUKoil with Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov. DUMA APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Duma on 10 October appealed to the Constitutional Court against Yeltsin's failure to sign the law on the government, ITAR-TASS reported. That law would require the entire cabinet to resign if the prime minister quit or was dismissed. Both houses of the parliament overrode a presidential veto of the law earlier this year, but Yeltsin charged that unconstitutional voting procedures were used (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 7 July 1997). On similar grounds, the president refused to sign a law that would ban the removal of "trophy art" from Russia. The Duma's appeal, which does not cover the trophy art law, argues that the president does not have the right to refuse to sign "federal constitutional laws," a special category that includes the law on the government. Such legislation must be approved by a two- thirds majority in the Duma and a three-quarters majority in the Federation Council. CONTROVERSY OVER PRESIDENTIAL FOREIGN POLICY DEPARTMENT. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 October, Karen Khachaturov accused the Department for Foreign Policy within the presidential administration of seeking to usurp the functions of the Foreign Ministry. The department, created under a September decree issued by Yeltsin, replaced the Presidential Council on Foreign Policy and has more extensive powers than its predecessors. Khachaturov described the department as a "bureaucratic monster" that ignores the executive branch and is unconstitutional. He pointed out that its creation has fueled rumors of the imminent dismissal of Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. In September, Primakov was named as chairman of a commission on international security that is subordinate to the Russian Security Council. Khachaturov described the commission as "purely decorative." RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS OVERCOME TENSIONS TEMPORARILY... Meeting in Dagomys on 9 October, Russian and Chechen representatives agreed that Moscow's representation in Chechnya may return to Grozny once that city's airport is granted international status, Russian media reported, quoting Chechen Deputy Premier Akhmed Zakaev. Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii said on10 October that the two sides also agreed that Chechnya will submit to the Russian State Duma two separate drafts of an accord specifying Chechnya's political status. Berezovskii said fundamental disagreement on that issue persists but noted both sides are committed to resolving their differences by "legitimate, peaceful means." Meanwhile, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said after meeting with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Grozny on 11 October that the recent crisis in bilateral relations is over and that both he and Maskhadov pledged their readiness to continue talks. ...BUT NEW STANDOFF LOOMS. However, at a session of Chechen negotiating team convened by Maskhadov later on 11 October, it was agreed that Grozny will not send representatives to the 14 October Russian Duma session at which the two draft documents on Chechnya's future political status are to be discussed, Interfax reported, quoting presidential press spokesman Kazbek Khadzhiev. Duma deputies are "unwilling" to approach the issue of Chechnya's status "constructively," Khadzhiev said. He added that "Chechnya is ready to discuss with Moscow the need to establish full-scale diplomatic relations of a friendly nature." Also on 12 October, Chechen parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiev warned that the Chechen parliament will not ratify a bilateral accord that makes Chechnya dependent on Russia. DUMA TO MONITOR GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION IN OREL. The Duma on 10 October voted to send a commission to Orel Oblast to monitor the 19 October gubernatorial election following accusations that two candidates were unfairly denied registration, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Incumbent Yegor Stroev, who is also speaker of the Federation Council, is expected to win the election easily. But in a speech to the Duma, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky accused Stroev of trying to stage a sham election. Only one other candidate, a little-known head of a collective farm, was registered for the race. The Orel Electoral Commission denied registration to two candidates, including the head of the LDPR's Orel branch. After the Duma rejected his call that the lower house demand Stroev's removal as Federation Council speaker, Zhirinovsky told RFE/RL that LDPR deputies will stage a protest at the Council's upcoming session. BEREZOVSKII, NTV ON U.S. BANKER'S VISA. Security Council Deputy Secretary Berezovskii said on 10 October that U.S. banker Boris Jordan was recently deprived of his multiple entry visa because he had gained access to classified military and financial information that could "harm the Russian state," ITAR-TASS reported. An ORT commentary the next day endorsed Berezovskii's version of events and criticized First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov for defending Jordan. Jordan heads the MFK investment bank, which is part of the Oneksimbank empire. Berezovskii, an influential figure at ORT, is considered a leading business rival of Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin. Meanwhile, a 12 October commentary on NTV's influential weekly program "Itogi" was largely sympathetic to Jordan. The network linked Jordan's visa problems to a battle for management control over a large steel mill. NTV is owned by the Media-Most company of Vladimir Gusinskii. YEKATERINBURG MAYOR BLAMES DEATHS ON STRIKING AMBULANCE DRIVERS. Arkadii Chernetskii has charged that a strike by Yekaterinburg ambulance drivers cost 13 lives because of delays in emergency aid for patients, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 October. The drivers went on strike on 6 October to protest inadequately equipped ambulances and wage arrears. Chernetskii on 9 October vowed to fire the strikers and file criminal charges against them. ITAR-TASS quoted him as calling the protest "blackmail verging on terrorism." City prosecutors, for their part, said the strike was illegal. The drivers ended the strike on 9 October, after one of their key demands--the dismissal of the director of the Yekaterinburg ambulance service--had been met. The city's ambulance drivers staged a similar protest in January. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KORZHAKOV IMPLICATED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Georgian businessman Temur Maskhulia claims that Yeltsin's former bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov and former Russian Federal Security Service chief Mikhail Barsukov were involved in the August 1995 failed attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, according to Interfax. Maskhulia made the allegations during a conversation with Georgian intelligence service head Avtandil Ioseliani, a videotape of which was shown at a news conference in Tbilisi on 10 October. Maskhulia said he had been informed of Korzhakov's and Barsukov's role by Yevgenii Marusin, the former intelligence chief of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus. Maskhulia also claimed that while under arrest earlier this year, he was pressured by Ioseliani to give false testimony implicating leading Georgian political figures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). Speaking at the 10 October news conference, Ioseliani denied having pressured Maskhulia. ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET. Levon Ter-Petrossyan and Heidar Aliev, meeting in Strasbourg on 10 October on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit and in their respective addresses to the meeting, reaffirmed their shared commitment to resolving the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means, Reuters reported. In a joint statement, they said they consider it necessary to facilitate talks between all three parties to the conflict within the framework of the Minsk Group. The previous day, Russian President Boris Yeltsin had proposed inviting Ter-Petrossyan and Aliev to Moscow for talks with himself and French President Jacques Chirac on resolving the conflict. Yeltsin, however, had not included, Arkadii Ghukasyan, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in the invitation to the proposed Moscow talks. NAGORNO-KARABAKH PROPOSES IRAN AS CO-GUARANTOR OF ITS SECURITY. Naira Melkumyan, the permanent representative in Yerevan of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL on 11 October that Karabakh has formally rejected the most recent peace plan proposed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. Melkumyan said the "step-by- step" approach advocated by the Minsk Group is unacceptable because it fails to address the Karabakh Armenians' security concerns. She said Karabakh will continue to push for a "package" solution that would resolve all contentious issues within one framework document. She added that Karabakh is prepared to withdraw from six occupied districts of Azerbaijan in return for international guarantees of its security. Melkumyan also suggested that Armenia and other countries, including Iran, could act as guarantors. NEW PRO-GOVERNMENT BLOC IN AZERBAIJAN. Eight pro-government political parties on 8 October aligned themselves with the New Azerbaijan party, which holds an overwhelming majority of seats in the parliament, Turan reported two days later. New Azerbaijan was founded in 1992 by President Aliev, who at that time was chairman of the Nakhichevan Supreme Soviet. The members of the new bloc, which is named Democratic Azerbaijan, agreed to propose joint candidates for the upcoming municipal elections. KAZAKH PRESIDENT ON ECONOMY. Addressing the parliament on 10 October, Nursultan Nazarbaev outlined his concept for the country's development between now and 2030, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Nazarbaev proposed that Kazakhstan aim for intensive, rather than extensive, economic development and that it take as its model the "little tigers" of southeastern Asia with the aim of becoming "Central Asia's mountain lion." He said the number of ministers in Nurlan Balgimbaev's government will be reduced to 15 and that the cabinet will focus on implementation of the president's new economic strategy. Nazarbaev also announced that referenda will be held in the next few months on banning abortion and introducing the death penalty for drug-trafficking. He denied that the next presidential elections, due in 2000, will be held earlier. CHERNOMYRDIN IN BISHKEK. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, CIS Affairs Minister Anatolii Adamishin, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev held talks with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Prime Minister Apas Djamagulov in Bishkek on 9-10 October, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Four agreements were signed: on cooperation in fighting drug-smuggling, on Moscow's leasing military facilities in Kyrgyzstan, on scientific-technical cooperation, and on creating a bilateral commission on trade and economic cooperation. Akaev told journalists on 9 October that bilateral relations are "strategic" and "developing well," according to Interfax. Chernomyrdin on 10 October said the two countries continue to seek "new forms of higher integration" but do not plan "in the near future" to conclude a union comparable to that of Russia with Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported. END NOTE YABLOKO SEEN AS YELTSIN'S TOUGHEST OPPONENT by Floriana Fossato The State Duma's recent debate on the 1998 budget shows that the reformist bloc Yabloko, rather than the Communists or the nationalists, is the most uncompromising opponent of the Russian government's spending plan. On 9 October, the Duma voted against the draft budget in the first reading and pledged to soon hold a no confidence vote in the government. Communist Party legislators joined pro-government deputies to vote 326 to 13 to reject the draft but agreed to create a trilateral commission, composed of members of the cabinet and of both chambers of the parliament, to revise the budget proposal. Political analysts in Moscow say that in the budget debate, the Communists used tough rhetoric but backed off from some of their demands. Analysts also say that the Yabloko faction, led by economist Grigorii Yavlinskii, is the only group to put up uncompromising opposition to President Boris Yeltsin and his government. Foreseeing the outcome of the budget debate, Yavlinskii on 8 October had questioned the logic of the Communists' strategy, which he called "absurd." Yavlinskii told RFE/RL that his faction opposes the 1998 budget because it is linked to the approval of a new tax code, which, he said, will not decrease the tax burden and therefore will not help collect revenues. Yevgenii Yasin, an influential economist and a minister without portfolio, told RFE/RL that much of Yavlinskii's criticism of the government is fair, adding that "it is impossible to change the course of economic reform now." He said "if Yavlinskii had accepted to be part of the government, he would have realized this is the case." Before the 9 October vote, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov also had tough words to describe his faction's stance on both the draft budget and the tax code. He said the Communists have no confidence in the "socio-economic course" taken by Yeltsin and his government, as it is "doomed to failure." He also said he does not fear Yeltsin's recent veiled threats to dissolve the uncooperative Duma and call new parliamentary elections. The previous day, the Duma had approved a non-binding resolution declaring the government's performance during the first nine months of this year unsatisfactory. Also on 8 October, Communist legislators gave the first sign that they were ready to cooperate with the government by voting against a Yabloko motion to include a no confidence vote on the session's agenda. The move came before Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin addressed the Duma on the government's performance and pledged the cabinet is ready to compromise with deputies in order to avoid the draft budget's rejection and a no confidence vote. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said after the vote on the budget draft that since the government and the parliament would now be working together on the budget, a no confidence vote is "unlikely." If approved, a no confidence vote would still be non- binding. But if the Duma voted no confidence twice within three months, Yeltsin would have to decide whether to dismiss his cabinet or the Duma. New parliamentary elections would follow if he disbanded the lower house. Zyuganov stressed on 9 October that the decision on a no confidence vote had not been dropped altogether but simply postponed until the following week. In the past, the Communist faction has backed down from threats of a no confidence vote. Many commentators believe that behind-the-scenes compromises will lead to the same outcome this year. Yeltsin and his government seemed triumphant after the vote. Speaking to journalists upon his arrival in Strasbourg for the Council of Europe summit, the president predicted that "now everything will be in order with the budget." Chubais called the outcome of the vote a "great victory for common sense and a defeat for extremism." Rory McFarquhar, an analyst with the Russian-European center for Economic Policy, told RFE/RL that "everyone knows the Communists oppose Yeltsin and his government." He added that the Communists use threats of no confidence votes "to gain as much as they can" from the budget debate, out of the political necessity to stay afloat. But he also said Yabloko's position that slashing taxes will boost revenues is unrealistic at the moment. Such a move could raise inflation, McFarquhar commented. Michael McFaul, a senior associate at the Moscow Carnegie Center, wrote recently that the Communist Party looks increasingly marginalized since last year's presidential election. He notes that, with its established network of grassroots regional organizations and its strong identification with democratic principles, Yabloko could benefit from the "end of polarized politics" and emerge as a powerful parliamentary opposition in the next elections. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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