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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 149, Part I, 30 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 *DUMA ASKS COURT TO RULE ON THIRD PRESIDENTIAL TERM *NEMTSOV REJECTS U.S. THREAT OF GAZPROM SANCTIONS *GEORGIA, UKRAINE TO FORM JOINT PEACEKEEPING UNIT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA ASKS COURT TO RULE ON THIRD PRESIDENTIAL TERM. The State Duma on 29 October approved a motion to ask the Constitutional Court to decide whether President Boris Yeltsin is legally entitled to seek a third term, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Article 81 of the constitution says the president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. However, some presidential aides have argued that Yeltsin could run for re-election in 2000, since he was first elected president in 1991 under a different constitution. The Duma wants the Constitutional Court to clarify the issue long in advance of the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000, in order to minimize possible political pressure on the judges. Yeltsin has given mixed signals about his intentions, but most recently, he ruled out running for re-election again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 1997). YELTSIN ASKS DUMA TO RATIFY CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION. Yeltsin on 29 October sent the Duma a new draft law on ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), urging deputies to pass the legislation by 1 November, Russian news agencies reported. In April, the Duma postponed ratifying the convention on the grounds that Russia currently lacks the funds to meet deadlines for destroying chemical weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 30 April 1997). Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, argued that Russia must ratify the convention soon if it is to influence crucial decisions on the CWC's implementation. "Segodnya" on 17 October had accused the Kremlin of seeking to impede Duma ratification of various arms control accords in order to harm the lower house's image. In particular, the newspaper charged that Kotenkov on 14 October blocked the Duma Council from putting a draft law on ratifying the CWC on the Duma's agenda. DUMA APPROVES SANCTIONS FOR ILLEGAL POWER CUTS... The Duma on 29 October passed amendments to the criminal code that would impose fines or prison terms of up to five years on officials responsible for illegal power cuts to non-paying consumers of electricity, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to the "Financial Times," an official from the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems described the amendments as a "populist measure." In addition, the Duma rejected amendments on punishments for not paying wages,. pensions, or student stipends on time. Some deputies expressed concern that executives at cash-strapped firms would fire workers rather than risk prosecution for delaying wage payments. ...REJECTS BAN ON FASCIST PROPAGANDA. Also on 29 October, the Duma rejected a proposed amendment to the criminal code that would have banned the "public justification of, approval of, extolling of, or denial of crimes committed by national-socialist or fascist regimes," ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies from the Yabloko and Our Home Is Russia factions supported the amendment but were outvoted by representatives of the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions. Moscow City Duma deputy Yevgenii Proshechkin appealed to State Duma deputies to support the amendment, saying Russia needs the measure to fight people who praise Hitler. But Popular Power faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov argued that the amendment would lead Russia "down a very dangerous path, toward fighting dissidence." PRIMAKOV CONTINUES MIDEAST DIPLOMACY. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 30 October arrived in Egypt, the last stop on a tour aimed at boosting Russia's role as co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. On 28 October, following meetings in Amman with King Hussein and other Jordanian officials, Primakov told journalists that reviving Syrian-Israeli talks will be difficult, since Syria "is ready to make peace with Israel" but "does not want to restart negotiations from zero," AFP reported. An unnamed Jordanian official quoted by the agency said Primakov had warned that Israel is planning a major offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. At a press conference following a 27 October meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, Primakov criticized the Israeli government, which, he said, has not abided by agreements it and previous governments signed with Palestinian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1997). NEMTSOV REJECTS U.S. THREAT OF GAZPROM SANCTIONS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told journalists on 29 October that Moscow "rejects all attempts to influence Russia's Gazprom" and will protect that organization, Russian agencies reported. The U.S. administration has threatened sanctions against Gazprom in retaliation for the $2 billion deal that the company signed with French and Malaysian firms and the Iranian National Oil Company to exploit Iran's giant South Pars Caspian natural gas field. Nemtsov said the South Pars project "strengthens Gazprom's position not only on the Asian market but on the world market," Interfax reported. REPORT CALLS FOR REVAMPED BALTIC POLICY. The influential Foreign and Defense Policy Council has issued a 50-page report, titled "Russia and the Baltic States," that calls for Russia to revamp its policy toward Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 October published excerpts of the report, which argues Russia should seek cooperation with the Baltics and alternatives to NATO membership for the three states. The council's report also says Moscow should continue to apply pressure to protect the interests of Russian-speaking populations in Estonia and Latvia. According to the 29 October "Izvestiya," the report argues that Baltic membership in the EU could bring economic benefits to nearby Russian regions. RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET POSTS GAINS. The Russian Trading System index rose some 16 percent on 29 October following a 19 percent drop the previous day. Shares of leading companies, such as the oil company LUKoil, the regional utility Mosenergo, and the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems, posted even stronger gains. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told reporters in London that "the roots of the present financial crisis lie in the economies of the South Asian countries and have nothing to do with Russia," according to ITAR-TASS. He added that shares in Russian companies are still undervalued and will remain attractive to investors, RFE/RL's correspondent in London reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin commented that there was no "crisis," but merely "panic," which, he said, may have been created deliberately, Russian news agencies reported. COMMISSION ON EXTREMISM INTENDED TO 'WARN' OPPOSITION? "Russkii telegraf" on 29 October argued that a new presidential commission on fighting political extremism was created as a "final warning to oppositionists." Under a presidential decree issued the previous day, the commission is to enforce a ban on organizations that seek to change the constitutional structure through violence, to violate Russia's territorial integrity, or to incite social, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred. Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin will chair the commission, which will also include Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 30 October that the commission may target Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who recently vowed to seek the removal of Yeltsin and his "hated regime" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1997). LUZHKOV KEEPS UP ATTACK ON GOVERNMENT. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 29 October denounced the government's proposed tax code and other economic policies supported by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, Interfax reported. Luzhkov remarked that "monetarists are not interested in how the economy operates; what they want is to collect as much in taxes as possible at any price." He argued that the tax code would "bleed the entire country dry," adding that if the state had sold property for its real value rather than at giveaway prices in recent years, "the proceeds would have sustained the country for 30 years." Speaking to journalists in London on 28 October, Chubais charged that "Nothing of what Luzhkov has done in Moscow...could have been done without the economic policy which he is attacking." SUSPECT DETAINED IN ST. PETERSBURG MURDER. Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov on 29 October announced that a suspect has been arrested in the murder of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich, Russian news agencies reported. Manevich, who headed St. Petersburg's Property Committee, was killed by a sniper on his way to work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 August 1997). Skuratov noted that it would be premature to say the authorities have solved the crime. Virtually no high-profile slayings in Russia have been solved in recent years. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev announced on 29 October that eight people suspected of involvement in the Manevich murder are in custody. However, Kovalev said, they were all arrested on different charges, such as forgery or illegal weapons possession. MASSIVE PROTEST STAGED IN PRIMORE. Trade union officials estimated that up to 200,000 residents throughout Primorskii Krai took part in a protest action on 30 October, Reuters and RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Several thousand demonstrators picketed the city and krai administration buildings in Vladivostok. Total wage arrears in Primore are estimated at nearly 500 billion rubles ($85 million), and some parts of the krai are afflicted with water shortages. The protesters also demanded the resignations of Yeltsin, the federal government, and the Primore administration. Meanwhile, energy workers are threatening more strikes in November, which could cause a resumption of power cuts. Workers at the Zvezda submarine repair plant, which has not been paid for various defense orders, are threatening to blockade the Trans-Siberian Railroad. NO QUORUM, NO VOTE ON CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S POWERS. Owing to the lack of a quorum, the Chechen parliament on 28 October was unable to vote on Aslan Maskhadov's second request that his powers be increased to suspend legislation, rule by decree, and impose a state of economic emergency, Russian agencies reported the following day. The parliament had voted against Maskhadov's first request five days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 24 October 1997). Parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiev told ITAR-TASS that deputies will vote on the issue on 4 November. ALTAI REPUBLIC TO BECOME 'SECOND CHECHNYA'? "Trud" on 29 October reported that corruption in the Altai Republic, which is entirely dependent on federal subsidies, has reached astronomically high levels even by Russian standards. It also warns of secessionist tendencies among the region's 200,000 population, of whom some 70 percent are ethnic Russians. Yurii Antaradonov, the head of the republic's off-shore economic zone, which was created in 1995, is said to have siphoned off billions of rubles each month to fund his election campaign for the head of the local administration. "Trud" warns that the combination of secessionist tendencies and corruption may mean the region will become a "second Chechnya." TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA, UKRAINE TO FORM JOINT PEACEKEEPING UNIT. Meeting in Tbilisi on 29 October, Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and his Ukrainian counterpart, Aleksandr Kuzmuk, agreed to create a joint peacekeeping battalion, CAUCASUS PRESS reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who is also on an official visit to Tbilisi, told journalists that the peacekeepers' primary task will be to safeguard transportation routes through Abkhazia, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 October. The two defense ministers also signed a protocol on developing military-technical cooperation. ITAR- TASS reported that Ukraine intends to purchase an unspecified number of modernized Su-25 military aircraft from Georgia. RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN KAZAKHSTAN. Igor Sergeev has met with his Kazakh counterpart, General Muhtar Altynbaev, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss the terms under which Russia will continue to lease the Baikonur space complex. and other military bases. Russia's owes some $486 million for the use of Baikonur, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 October. Last year, Russia undertook to pay $28 million a year for the use of Kazakh defense facilities, but Sergeev had suggested that Moscow instead supply Kazakhstan with military equipment and train Kazakh officers. Visiting Almaty in early October, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin failed to reach an agreement with Nazarbayev on Baikonur. Meanwhile, Sergeev and Kazakh leaders agreed Russia will give Kazakhstan four Su-27 military aircraft as partial compensation for Soviet military hardware withdrawn after 1991. KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTIES TO JOIN FORCES. Representatives of several opposition parties and movements met in the Kazakh capital on 28 October to discuss forming an opposition alliance that will be called the National Front, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the next day. Azad, Azamat,. the Communist Party, and the Workers' Movement of Kazakhstan announced their readiness to join such a grouping. KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT REJECTS DRAFT BUDGET. Ignored an appeal by President Askar Akayev, the upper chamber of the parliament has unanimously rejected the 1998 draft budget, the Russian press reported. The draft almost doubled funding for the country's bureaucracy while slashing funds for agricultural projects. Deputies called on the government to submit a new draft budget by 1 January 1998. TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE TRY TO RESOLVE GAS DEBTS. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Holubchenko is in Ashgabat for talks with his Turkmen counterpart, Rejep Saparov, on resuming Turkmen natural gas exports to Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ashgabat bureau reported on 30 October. The two deputy ministers are also trying to determine exactly how much Ukraine owes for gas received in 1996-1997. Turkmenistan cut gas supplies to Ukraine in March 1997 because of Kyiv's failure to pay. A spokesman for the Itera company, which acted as an intermediary to export and sell Turkmen gas to Ukraine, said a large share of that debt, which is believed to exceed $300 million, would be settled by means of barter trade. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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