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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 150, Part I, 31 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 RATIFIES CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION * YELTSIN, JOSPIN AGREE ON IRANIAN GAS PROJECT * AZERBAIJANI EX-PRESIDENT RETURNS TO BAKU End Note RUSSIAN DUMA POSTPONES BUDGET DEBATE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA RATIFIES CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION. By 288 votes to 75 with two abstentions, the State Duma on 31 October voted to approve a law on ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention. First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and General Staff head Anatolii Kvashnin urged Duma deputies to ratify the treaty, which bans the development, production, and use of chemical weapons, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. Kvashnin said chemical weapons currently stockpiled in seven locations in Russia pose a public health hazard. Earlier this year, the Duma postponed ratification of the convention, saying Russia lacks the funds to meet requirements that chemical weapons and production facilities be destroyed within 10 years. In a 30 October letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised that the 1998 budget will earmark 500 million new rubles ($85 million) for destroying chemical weapons, up from 80 million rubles in the government's original draft, Interfax reported. YELTSIN, JOSPIN AGREE ON IRANIAN GAS PROJECT. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 30 October agreed that a project to develop a gas field in Iran complies with both the letter and the spirit of international law, Interfax reported. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the two leaders agreed that attempts to thwart the contract, which involves the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and the French company Total, are unfounded. The U.S. government has criticized the project but has not taken any concrete action against Gazprom or Total (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). Jospin and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin are to chair a session of the Russian-French intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation on 31 October. The Chernomyrdin-Jospin Commission is modeled after the commission co-chaired by the Russian prime minister and U.S. Vice President Al Gore. RUSSIA SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON IRAQ. Meeting in Moscow on 30 October with the Iraqi ambassador, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said constructive cooperation between the Iraqi government and the UN disarmament commission is the only "correct" way to have UN sanctions lifted, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists in Cairo on 31 October that Russia disapproves of Iraq's decision two days earlier to expel U.S. disarmament experts. Primakov said the Iraqi action puts Moscow "in a very difficult position." But he added that Russia "strongly objects" to calls for the use of force against Iraq. On 30 October unnamed Foreign Ministry sources told Interfax that Moscow will take "an extremely negative attitude" toward the use of force against any Arab country. AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR IN MOSCOW. Following talks with Yeltsin on 30 October, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima told journalists that "the Russian side emphasized the advantages of Austria's neutrality" since World War II but made clear that it will not apply pressure to influence Austria's decision on whether to join NATO, Reuters and Interfax reported. Meeting with Klima on 29 October, Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin praised Austrian neutrality and described NATO expansion plans as a "historic mistake," ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin and Klima signed an agreement on scientific cooperation. According to the Russian presidential press service, Klima assured Yeltsin that Austria will work to improve cooperation between Russia and the EU while it chairs the union in the second half of 1998. Klima also said he favors Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. JAPANESE PREMIER HOPES FOR RAPID SOLUTION ON KURILS. Meeting with Russian Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev in Tokyo on 31 October, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto expressed hope that he and Russian President Yeltsin will settle territorial disputes between Russia and Japan by the end of this century, AFP reported. Japan claims four Kuril islands seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Yeltsin has previously said the dispute is unlikely to be settled for at least a generation . However, appearing on Ekho Moskvy on 30 October, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin did not rule out that Russia and Japan will propose a "revolutionary approach" to solving the problem within the next five or six years. Yeltsin and Hashimoto are to discuss the Kurils and economic cooperation issues during informal talks in Krasnoyarsk Krai on 1 and 2 November. DUMA REJECTS LAW ON COMBINING SECURITY SERVICES. The State Duma on 30 October rejected a law that would have combined the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and the Federal Agency for Governmental Communications and Information (FAPSI) into a single state security ministry, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The law was proposed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a prominent Communist, said the proposed law is "senseless." He argued that "we have already begun reforming the military without enough money to do so. We have no right to put the security services in the same situation and thus destroy them." Representatives of the FSB, SVR and FAPSI urged the Duma to reject the law at recent hearings called by Ilyukhin's committee, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 30 October. AIDES DIFFER ON DUMA'S LATEST COURT APPEAL. Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, said the Duma's request that the court rule on whether Yeltsin may seek a third term is "absolutely legitimate," Interfax reported on 30 October. Shakhrai added that the question "should not be left legally unsettled until the year 2000" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). In contrast, Yeltsin's legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov argued that the Duma's appeal shows "contempt" for the president and the court, despite being couched in "superficially legal terms." Krasnov argued that since Yeltsin has said he will not seek a third term, the Duma's appeal reflects "unhealthy suspicion." Meanwhile, in the latest nationwide poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, 65 percent of respondents said they are opposed to Yeltsin's seeking a third term, while only 13 percent were in favor. GOVERNMENT REJECTS PENSION REFORM PLAN. The government on 30 October rejected pension reform plans prepared by the Labor Ministry and agreed to consider the issue again in December, Russian news agencies reported. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who is also labor minister, presented the plans to the cabinet. He was then criticized by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin for submitting a "rough draft" that had not been approved by Labor Ministry experts. The government was to have considered Sysuev's reform plans during a 23 October meeting chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais while Chernomyrdin was out of the country. However, Chernomyrdin ordered that the meeting be postponed so that he could attend the discussion of pension reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 1997). YELTSIN PRAISES POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS WITH REGIONS. During a nationwide radio address on 31 October, Yeltsin said power- sharing agreements between federal and regional authorities have helped "strengthen the federal state" and keep the Russian Federation intact, ITAR-TASS reported. Federal authorities have signed such agreements with 37 of Russia's 89 regions, beginning with the Republic of Tatarstan in February 1994. Most recently, Yeltsin concluded accords with officials from Astrakhan, Kirov, Murmansk, Ulyanovsk, and Yaroslavl Oblasts, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 October. On 1 November, he is to sign a power-sharing agreement with Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Taimyr and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs. Yeltsin did not mention Chechnya in his radio address. Russian officials have sought to sign a power-sharing agreement with Grozny, but Chechen officials have insisted that any agreement with Moscow must recognize Chechnya as an independent state. INGUSH FUGITIVES PICKET RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT. An unspecified number of Ingush forced to flee their homes in North Ossetia during the fighting five years ago have begun picketing the Russian government building to draw attention to their plight, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 October. The Ingush said their situation has not been improved by the treaty on resolving the conflict signed in September by the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetia or by subsequent measures to expedite the return of the Ingush to their homes. Two days earlier, North Ossetian President Akhsarbek Galazov rejected Ingush allegations that an Ingush village was shelled from North Ossetian territory. MUSLIM REGIMENTS IN RUSSIAN ARMY? Top Muslim clergymen-- including Gabdulla Khazrat Galiulla, the chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Tatarstan, and Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Russian Muftis--met on 28 October with Russian Minister for Nationalities Vyacheslav Mikhailov and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 31 October, citing Tatarinform. The talks focused on the possibility of forming special Muslim regiments in the Russian army and setting up an Islamic University in Russia. JEWISH CONGREGATION UNABLE TO REGISTER IN BRYANSK. The Bryansk Oblast Justice Directorate has informed a local Jewish congregation that in line with Russia's new religion law, "we are disregarding the application for registration of the Jewish Religious Congregation," the Keston News Service reported on 29 October. An official said the directorate has merely requested more documentation and has not taken a final decision to refuse to register the congregation. The religion law recognizes Judaism as a "traditional" Russian religion, and the Bryansk congregation is a member of the Congress of Jewish Religious Societies and Organizations of Russia, which has been registered with federal authorities. However, the Bryansk congregation was founded in the early 1990s, and the religion law stipulates that the status of "religious organization" can be granted only to groups that have existed in Russia for at least 15 years. COURT SAYS LEGISLATURE ILLEGALLY SUSPENDED VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR. The Primorskii Krai Court on 30 October ruled that the krai Duma exceeded its authority when it suspended Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov and appointed Yurii Kopylov acting mayor, ITAR- TASS reported. Earlier, the same court upheld the legislature's action, but the Duma has since reversed its decision to suspend Cherepkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 October 1997). Vladivostok prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation against Kopylov. In addition, Cherepkov has vowed to file suit against Kopylov and the krai Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. COURT RULES AMBULANCE DRIVERS' STRIKE ILLEGAL. The Sverdlovsk Oblast Court has ruled that a recent strike by ambulance drivers in Yekaterinburg was illegal, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. The drivers staged a four-day strike to protest wage arrears and inadequately equipped ambulances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii vowed to press criminal charges against the strikers, and city health officials have already asked city prosecutors to open a criminal case into the matter. The officials charge that four elderly people died needlessly during the drivers' strike because the ambulances they summoned were delayed by up to 90 minutes. VORONEZH LEGISLATURE CRITICIZES NEW HISTORY TEXTBOOKS. The Voronezh Oblast Duma has adopted a non-binding recommendation to teachers urging them not to use an allegedly "anti-Russian" textbook on 20th-century European history, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. The deputies charged that the book, written by Saratov University professor Aleksandr Kreder, is unpatriotic and tendentious, both belittling and distorting Russian history. They also objected to the book's financing by U.S. billionaire George Soros's Cultural Initiative foundation. The federal Education Ministry, however, considers such criticism unfounded. Ministry officials argue that Russian events receive comparatively little treatment because the textbook covers European history as a whole. They also say a group of Russian experts, not foreigners, selected the textbook for publication. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJANI EX-PRESIDENT RETURNS TO BAKU. Abulfaz Elchibey, who fled Baku during the June 1993 insurrection, returned to the Azerbaijani capital on 30 October from his native village of Keleki in Nakhichevan. Elchibey, who is head of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front, told journalists he plans to unite the opposition and to "restore and develop" democracy. Popular Front Deputy Chairman Asim Molla-Zade said in an interview with Reuters that Elchibey plans to contend the October 1998 presidential elections. Turan reported that the Azerbaijani authorities approved Elchibey's return and provided a plane for him to fly from Nakhichevan to Baku. The 1993 insurrection paved the way for the return to power of former Communist Party First Secretary Heidar Aliev. ARMENIA DENIES PKK OFFICE OPENED IN YEREVAN. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian on 30 October denied a Turkish press report that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has opened an information office in Yerevan. Gasparian told "RFE/RL Newsline" that the Armenian authorities have never cooperated with the PKK. He said the Turkish report is "groundless and provocative and does not help the establishment of cooperation in our region." The "Turkish Daily News" on 30 October cited the Anatolia news agency as reporting that the PKK has opened an office in Yerevan after the Georgian government refused to allow it to open one in Tbilisi TURKISH PRESIDENT STRESSES NO OPEN BORDER WITH ARMENIA. Speaking in Kars on 30 October at a ceremony to mark the 77th anniversary of the city's capture by Kemalist Turkish forces, Suleyman Demirel again said Turkey will not open a frontier crossing with Armenia until the Karabakh conflict is resolved, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 31 October. (Under the Treaty of Sevres of August 1920, Van, Mush, Bitlis, Erzrum, Kars, and Ardahan were formally ceded to Armenia.) Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gasparian told "RFE/RL Newsline" that Turkey should open a frontier crossing with Armenia. He also argued that as a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group, Turkey should establish diplomatic relations with Armenia without stipulating conditions in order to expedite a solution to the Karabakh conflict. DASHNAK MEMBERS TO MEET ARMENIAN PRESIDENT. Apo Boghikian , a senior member of the banned Dashnak party (HHD), told journalists in Yerevan on 30 October that HHD representatives will meet with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan in early November. Ter-Petrossyan issued a decree in December 1994 suspending the HHD's Armenia organization on the grounds that it sponsored a secret terrorist organization. On 29 October, the HHD was allowed to retake control of its offices in Yerevan and other towns, fueling hopes that the ban on its operations will soon be lifted. But on 29 October, parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan told visiting Russian journalists that political parties financed from abroad should be banned in Armenia, according to ARMENPRESS. The HHD falls into that category. PROTESTS IN KAZAKHSTAN. The opposition movement Azat began picketing the Kazakh parliament on 31 October in solidarity with the Achisay Polymetal plant workers who are still prevented by police from continuing their protest march to Almaty, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. Parliamentary deputy Esenbay Belgibayev told RFE/RL that the government has allocated 150 million tenges ($2 million) to the Achisay plant to pay the wage arrears that the protest marchers are demanding. Employees of the Balhash-Stroy State Construction company also started demanding back wages since1995. In Janatas (Taraz Oblast), workers from the Karatau Plant pitched tents in the central square to express solidarity with the Achisay workers and to demand a total of 515 million tenges in wage arrears. Meanwhile workers at the Aqtau Nuclear Power station in Western Kazakhstan requested permission from the local administration to organize a protest in Aqtau to demand their overdue salaries, which have not been paid since 1994. RUSSIAN-KAZAKH DEFENSE AGREEMENT SIGNED. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and his Kazakh counterpart, Muhtar Altynbaev, signed agreements in Almaty on 30 October on Russian compensation to Kazakhstan for leasing defense facilities and on the removal of toxic missile fuel from the Sary Shagan testing site, ITAR- TASS reported. Sergeev later told journalists that Moscow may give Kazakhstan additional weaponry, including two mine-sweepers and two patrol boats. It has already agreed to hand over 73 military aircraft. In response to an RFE/RL correspondent's question, Sergeev said Russia is reducing the number of its bases in Kazakhstan but will not leave that country, which he said is Russia's most reliable partner in the region. UZBEK-TAJIK STANDOFF CONTINUES. As talks between Uzbek and Tajik government representatives continued in Tashkent, Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 30 October denied charges by Gaffar Mirzoyev, the head of the Tajik presidential guard, that Uzbekistan is aiding and abetting anti-government forces in Tajikistan, Interfax reported. Karimov termed the current fighting in Tajikistan "not just a political struggle for power but a struggle between rival clans" to shore up President Imomali Rakhmonov's hold on power. Karimov further affirmed that "Uzbeks will never fight against Tajiks." Also on 30 October, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said Russia is concerned by the recent reported clashes on the Tajik-Uzbek frontier. He reaffirmed Moscow's readiness to contribute to the implementation of the May Tajik peace agreement. REBEL COLONEL VOWS TO CONTINUE FIGHTING. Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev on 30 October denied claims by Mirzoyev that his forces were routed after attacking the presidential guard near Tursunzade, 75 kilometers west of Dushanbe. Khudoiberdiev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 31 October that his men have repelled an attack by government forces. He added that he is prepared to continue fighting for 10 years, if necessary, to put an end to the killings of his supporters in Tajikistan and to win the right to return and live peacefully. The Russian newspaper also reported growing disagreement between the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition over the ongoing repatriation from Afghanistan of UTO fighters. TURKMEN-UKRAINIAN GAS AGREEMENT. Meeting in Ashgabat on 30 October, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Holubchenko and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed that Turkmenistan will supply Ukraine with 3 billion cubic meters of gas next year and 20 billion cubic meters in 1998, Interfax reported. In exchange, Ukraine will help Turkmenistan build chemical plants and a bridge across the Amudarya River. The estimated cost of the latter project is $80 million. The question of how Ukraine will settle its outstanding $1.5 billion debts for earlier gas deliveries was not resolved. END NOTE RUSSIAN DUMA POSTPONES BUDGET DEBATE by Floriana Fossato Despite a plea by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's State Duma decided not to debate the 1998 budget by 1 November. Analysts say the move suggests the Duma, in which Communists and their allies have a virtual majority, may be seeking more concessions from the Kremlin and the government. President Boris Yeltsin recently promised regular consultations and roundtable discussions with parliamentary and opposition figures. In return, the Communists withdrew a vote of no confidence from the Duma's agenda. Some of the Communists' political opponents believe other motives lay behind the Duma's decision to delay the budget vote. Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of the pro-government "Our Home is Russia" faction, commented that the Communist leadership "did not want to show to its electorate that it is voting in favor of the budget ahead of the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution [on 7 November]." On 28 October, the Duma Council scheduled the 1998 budget debate for 12-14 November. The same day, the government approved the guidelines of a compromise 1998 draft budget drawn up by a trilateral commission of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives. The revised budget meets deputies' demands for increased funding of the military, agriculture, and social programs by raising estimated revenues by some 6 percent to more than 360 billion new rubles (some $62 billion) from the original projection of $340 billion rubles. Projected expenditures are also increased. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais commented that the new revenues projection "strains the limits of common sense" and cannot be increased further. Despite the government's poor performance in improving tax collection, the main source of additional revenues is expected to come from taxes and the rescheduling of tax arrears. Also on 28 October, the government approved 10 draft taxation laws, which, according to Chernomyrdin "will ensure the fulfillment of the revenue part of the 1998 budget." The debate in November will begin with consideration of the new draft tax legislation. Yeltsin's concessions to the opposition included regular, high- level roundtable talks on political, economic, and social issues as well as Duma supervisory boards on two nationwide television channels and two hours of programs weekly on Russian Television devoted to parliamentary procedures. Yeltsin and other top Russian politicians, both from the government and the opposition, have said the roundtable talks, which are scheduled to begin in November, will signal a new era of cooperation, rather than confrontation, between the Duma and the government. But analysts say those talks are mainly a public relations exercise and will be equally advantageous both for the Kremlin and the Communist opposition. Accused by many critics in Russia and abroad of being unable to work with the Duma in a productive way, Yeltsin obviously stands to gain by showing his ability to draw the Communists to the negotiating table. And for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the roundtable is important because it displays his party's "political weight." Visiting St. Petersburg recently to mark the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution, Zyuganov told a group of supporters that "today is a new era, and we must avoid such revolutionary uprisings." That message appeared to be directed mainly at critics within his own party and its allies, including Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, the co-leader of the Popular Power faction. Baburin has accused the Communist leadership of giving in to the Kremlin. He commented that by failing to carry out the "no-confidence threat," the Communist opposition "lost political initiative" and showed "it is now in deep crisis." Baburin has also suggested that the Communists may begin to lose popularity in the regions. The results of recent gubernatorial elections suggest that good relations with the Kremlin can be advantageous for some regional candidates. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev--a former top Communist Party member, turned Yeltsin ally--was recently re- elected as governor of Orel Oblast with more than 94 percent of the vote. Stroev, who ruled Orel in Soviet times, was one of the first conservative regional bosses to choose cooperation with Yeltsin, instead of confrontation. He formally quit the Communist Party after he was elected Orel governor for the first time in 1993. According to RFE/RL correspondents in the oblast, local media displayed a strong pro-Stroev bias during the election campaign. Mostly subsidized by the regional administration, local media outlets publicized numerous appeals from citizens to vote for Stroev. Stroev's landslide victory came one week after Aman Tuleev, one of Yeltsin's prominent former foes, was elected governor of Kemerovo Oblast. As chairman of Kemerovo's legislature, and later as a presidential candidate, Tuleev often strongly criticized Yeltsin and members of the government. He softened his criticism when Yeltsin appointed him to the cabinet in August 1996. After the president appointed Tuleev governor of Kemerovo in July 1997, some observers expected Tuleev to become an opposition voice in the Federation Council. But in televised comments broadcast during a visit to Paris on 28 October, Tuleev argued that Russia's political situation has "stabilized" and that "more cooperation" is needed between Moscow and the regions "in order to attract much needed investment" in regional economies. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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