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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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


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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.

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