|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 153, Part I, 5 November 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 REMOVES BEREZOVSKII FROM SECURITY COUNCIL * RUSSIA PUTS PRESSURE ON IRAQ * ARMENIAN FINANCE MINISTER PRESENTS 1998 DRAFT BUDGET End Note RUSSIAN REGIONS PRESSURE KREMLIN INTO POLICY SHIFT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN REMOVES BEREZOVSKII FROM SECURITY COUNCIL. President Boris Yeltsin on 5 November signed a decree dismissing Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii in connection with his transfer to unspecified new work, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In recent months, Berezovskii, one of Russia's wealthiest businessmen, has frequently clashed with First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, with whom Yeltsin met the previous day. No details about Berezovskii's new work have been released, although he told Interfax that he will not be appointed to a government post. Efforts to curtail Berezovskii's influence at 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television (ORT) are also under way. The government has appointed a council of representatives for the network, and a 13 November shareholders' meeting is expected to transform ORT from a closed to an open joint- stock company, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 November. lb COMMUNISTS WELCOME BEREZOVSKII DISMISSAL. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, also a Communist, welcomed Berezovskii's dismissal as a generous "gift to the working people" from Yeltsin on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution, Russian news agencies reported on 5 November. Seleznev said Berezovskii should have been dismissed long ago, adding that a person who continues to conduct private business should not occupy high office. lb FEDERATION COUNCIL RATIFIES CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION... The Federation Council on 5 November unanimously voted to adopt a law on ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which prohibits the use, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Duma recently approved the law after receiving assurances from government officials that sufficient funds will be allocated for destroying chemical weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). However, the Duma added a clause to the law saying Russia may withdraw from the CWC if it faces a threat to its national security or if economic problems make implementing the treaty impossible. Russia has an estimated 40,000 tons in chemical weapons stockpiles, which is more than any other country. lb ...DELAYS CONSIDERATION OF LAND CODE. Also on 5 November, the Federation Council postponed a vote on whether to override a presidential veto of the land code, ITAR-TASS reported. In September, the Duma overrode Yeltsin's veto of the code, which would prohibit the purchase and sale of farmland. A "roundtable" of presidential, government, and parliamentary representatives is to discuss the code on 22 November. The Federation Council will return to the issue at its next session, in December. lb DOCTOR GIVES YELTSIN CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH. One year after he performed a quintuple-bypass operation on Yeltsin, surgeon Renat Akchurin told journalists on 4 November that the president has fully recovered and is in good health. Akchurin said checkups have shown Yeltsin's heart to be functioning normally. He noted that the president keeps a busy schedule, making many trips and working up to 12 hours a day. Akchurin added that Yeltsin is keeping to a low- fat diet and hinted that he consumes small amounts of red wine to keep his cholesterol level down, AFP reported. lb SPOKESMAN DENIES CHERNOMYRDIN DISMISSAL RUMORS. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov on 4 November denied rumors that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will soon be sacked, Russian news agencies reported. Shabdurasulov said such rumors appear every time the prime minister takes time off. (On 3 November, Chernomyrdin began a previously unannounced one- week vacation.) The spokesman joked that Chernomyrdin is considering awarding a prize for the best rumor on his impending dismissal reported by Russian media. lb RUSSIA PUTS PRESSURE ON IRAQ. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov told journalists on 4 November that a telephone conversation the previous day between a senior Russian diplomat and a member of the Iraqi leadership played a key role in persuading Baghdad to agree to receive a special UN mission, Russian agencies reported. Also on 4 November, Russian government spokesman Shabdurasulov commented that Iraq's continued refusal to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors is "unacceptable." lf RUSSIA DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN TAJIK-UZBEK BORDER CLASHES. Foreign Ministry spokesman Tarasov on 4 November denied allegations that Russia is seeking to exacerbate inter-ethnic tensions in Central Asia, Russian agencies reported. In particular, he rejected claims of Russian involvement in the 27 October clashes between Tajik government troops and opposition forces near the Tajik-Uzbek frontier. Tarasov reaffirmed Moscow's "vital interest" in resolving and preventing conflict situations in Central Asia. lf OFFICIALS COMMENT ON RUSSIA-JAPAN SUMMIT. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 4 November announced that the recent pledge by Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to sign a peace treaty by 2000 reflects "the political will and firm desire on the part of the two leaders to overcome the territorial issue," Interfax and AFP reported. However, Yastrzhembskii noted that no binding pledges were made during the informal talks between the two leaders. Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Nobuaki Tanaka told journalists in Tokyo that the summit achieved "excellent" results and made real progress toward solving the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 4 November, the Japanese consulate in Khabarovsk expressed "perplexity" concerning a monument unveiled in Sakhalin to mark the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Russians on the Kurils. lb RYBKIN SLAMS SPECULATION OVER CHECHNYA'S FUTURE STATUS. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told journalists in Moscow on 4 November that media speculation about Chechnya's future political status is "inadmissible" in the light of the Khasavyurt agreement, which postpones a decision on the issue until 2001, Russian agencies reported. Rybkin went on to warn that Moscow's failure to meet its financial obligations to Chechnya plays into the hands of "extremist forces" there. Also on 4 November, the Chechen parliament again postponed a vote on President Aslan Maskhadov's request for extended powers. Maskhadov, who is vacationing in Turkey, told "Izvestiya" on 5 November that there are no internal splits within the Chechen leadership. lf CHECHNYA TO PROCEED WITH PLANS FOR LEASING PIPELINE. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 5 November, Maskhadov signed a protocol of intent with several prominent British businessmen in mid-October on creating an international energy consortium to which Chechnya intends to lease its sector of the Baku- Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline. The newspaper published what it claims is the entire text of the protocol. The agreement is part of an ambitious plan to create a Pan-Caucasian common market. Commenting in October on the Chechen intentions to lease the pipeline, Russian government spokesman Shabdurasulov warned that "the pipeline is the exclusive property of the Russian Federation, and any deals concerning it will be illegal," ITAR-TASS reported on 21 October. lf GAZPROM SIGNS $3 BILLION LOAN AGREEMENT. As expected, Gazprom director Rem Vyakhirev signed an agreement in Paris on 4 November with a consortium of Western banks for a $3 billion credit, ITAR-TASS reported. The money will finance the construction of the 4,000 kilometer Yamal pipeline, which is to run from Siberia to Western Europe. Gazprom has undertaken to repay the loan partly through gas sales to France and Finland. According to the "Financial Times," Vyakhirev also wants to use some of the loan to bid at forthcoming privatizations of Russian oil companies, possibly including Rosneft. lf RUSSIA DEMANDS APOLOGY FOR BEHAVIOR OF NEW YORK POLICE. The Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded that the U.S. explain and apologize for an "unprecedented intrusion" of New York City police officers in connection with a car belonging to Sergei Lavrov, Russia's ambassador to the UN, Russian news agencies reported on 4 November. Police on 31 October halted Lavrov's car and briefly took the keys from the driver but made no arrests. The police say the car was stopped "because the operator was blowing the horn extremely loud and for no reason," AFP reported on 4 November. In January, Moscow demanded an apology after an altercation between New York City police and two diplomats from Russia and Belarus (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 3 and 23 January 1997). lb U.S. DROPS CLAIMS OF RUSSIAN NUCLEAR TEST. The U.S. government and the CIA have withdrawn a claim that a "seismic event" near the Arctic site of Novaya Zemlya in August may have been caused by a nuclear test, the "Washington Post" reported on 4 November. The U.S. demanded an explanation from Moscow after a CIA report argued that the event was probably linked to a nuclear test. Russian officials denied the charge, saying Russia continues to abide by a five-year moratorium on nuclear testing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 3 September 1997). U.S. officials dropped the claim after a panel of experts convened by the CIA concluded that a nuclear explosion "almost certainly" did not cause the seismic disturbances. lb PROSECUTOR SAYS SOLDIERS MAY BE BARRED FROM ROKHLIN'S MOVEMENT. Chief Military Prosecutor Yurii Demin announced on 4 November that serving military personnel will not be allowed to join a new movement founded by Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin if the movement is officially recognized as "political," Russian news agencies reported. Demin said the Justice Ministry has not yet decided whether to register Rokhlin's the Movement in Support of the Army. If the movement is registered as a political organization, soldiers who have joined will be dismissed from the armed forces. Demin's office is investigating Rokhlin's recent public statements on his plans to remove Yeltsin and his "hated regime." Rokhlin claims the media distorted his words (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 1997). lb PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATING 21 GENERALS FOR CORRUPTION. At the same press conference, Demin said criminal cases have been opened against 21 generals. He noted an investigation of former Deputy Defense Minister Konstantin Kobets will be completed by the end of this year. He also said General Vladimir Ruzlyaev, a former head of border guards in the North Caucasus, will be prosecuted for allegedly beating officers. However, Demin admitted that an investigation into illegal arms shipments to Armenia has been stalled because Armenian and Georgian authorities have been "slow to respond to inquiries" from Russian prosecutors, Interfax reported. lb MOSCOW AUTHORITIES HALT UTILITY RATE HIKE. The Moscow city government on 4 November annulled a 1 November resolution on raising rates for heating, water and electricity in the city, Russian news agencies reported. The increase would have forced residents to pay 40 percent of the costs for utilities, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 November. Currently, residents who do not receive special subsidies must pay 30 percent of those costs. Moscow officials had previously said they were obliged to implement the increases because of federal government instructions. However, the Moscow City Duma, which is dominated by supporters of Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, appealed to the government to halt the rate hike. Luzhkov has been a leading critic of federal government plans to force citizens to pay more for rent and utilities. lb YELTSIN LIFTS LIMITS ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF OIL COMPANIES. Yeltsin on 4 November signed a decree lifting restrictions on foreign ownership of shares in Russian oil companies, Interfax reported. Under a November 1992 decree, no more than 15 percent of shares in such companies could be owned by foreign investors. The new decree is expected to help the government attract higher bids in upcoming sales of stakes in Rosneft, LUKoil, Norsi-Oil, the Eastern Oil Company, and the Tyumen Oil Company. It also represents another blow to former Security Council Secretary Berezovskii, who has substantial interests in the oil industry (see above). "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is partly financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, has warned that foreigners should not be allowed to acquire controlling stakes in Russian oil companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 1997). lb CHERNOMYRDIN ORDERS PAYMENTS TO ARCHIVE GUARDS. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 4 November instructed the Finance Ministry to pay back wages to guards of federal archives within three days, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, the Interior Ministry withdrew the guards from the archives to protest some 4.5 billion rubles ($760,000) in wage arrears. Government spokesman Shabdurasulov said the guards' action was "absolutely impermissible" since it put "priceless" archive materials at risk. lb ALTAI COURT REVOKES LEGISLATORS' IMMUNITY. The Supreme Court of the Altai Republic has decided to revoke the immunity that up to now has been guaranteed to members of all legislative bodies in the republic, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 November. Law enforcement officials will no longer need to seek the approval of the republican legislature in order to arrest or prosecute deputies. Official corruption is believed to be widespread in Altai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). lb TSAR'S REMAINS TO BE MOVED TO MOSCOW. Yeltsin on 4 November ordered that the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family be transferred to Moscow for further scientific tests to confirm their authenticity. The remains are to be returned to Yekaterinburg before January, when Yeltsin plans to decide where they should be buried (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1997). Communist Party leader Zyuganov commented that Russia's last tsar should be buried "where he lived and ruled," alluding to St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. He described the murder of the tsar's family as a "tragic page" in Russian history but expressed doubt that Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was to blame, noting that "war is a very complicated thing." lb TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN FINANCE MINISTER PRESENTS 1998 DRAFT BUDGET. Armen Darpinian told journalists in Yerevan on 4 November that the government draft budget projects 5.2 percent GDP growth in 1998 and a 9 percent inflation rate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian said that budget expenditures are estimated at 174 billion drams ($350 million), 15 percent higher than in 1997, while the budget deficit is projected at 5.5 percent of GDP. He added that there are no precise figures on estimated revenues as it is unclear how much the Armenian government will receive in foreign loans and from the privatization of state enterprises. Darpinian said tax revenues are expected to increase by 28 percent owing to improved value-added and excise tax collection. lf ARMENIA TO BUY IRANIAN GAS? In talks with Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganehi in Tehran on 2 November, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Manasarian said Yerevan wants to purchase an unspecified quantity of natural gas, Reuters reported, citing IRNA. A previous agreement on Armenian purchases of Iranian gas has not been implemented for financial reasons, according to "Hayots ashkhar" on 18 October. In late August, Armenian and Russian officials signed a major agreement on the export of Russian gas to Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). lf SHOOTING ON ARMENIAN-TURKISH FRONTIER. The Arshat frontier post, which is manned by Russian border guards, was fired on from Turkish territory on 3 November, Russian and Armenian agencies reported. The shots came from a sub-machine gun. No one was injured in the incident. lf TEN KILLED IN RENEWED ABKHAZ FIGHTING. Ten Abkhaz police officers, including a deputy minister of internal affairs, were killed in a clash with Georgian White Legion guerrillas in Abkhazia's Lata gorge on 1-2 November, CAUCASUS PRESS reported on 5 November. The Abkhaz contingent was reportedly planning to attack Georgian- populated villages in the gorge. lf ALIEV DISCUSSES SECURITY ISSUES. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev told a session of his Security Council on 3 November that the Russian military presence in Armenia and Georgia negatively impacts on relations between CIS states, Turan reported on 4 November. He again called for the annulment of the Russian-Armenian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, signed in August. He went on to say the stalled investigation into Russian arms supplies to Armenia is an obstacle to implementing the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group's Karabakh peace proposal. Aliev endorsed the program for Azerbaijani participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program drafted by Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov. But Azerbaijan has nonetheless cancelled its participation in the PFP exercises currently under way in Romania for financial reasons, Mediafax reported on 4 November. lf ELCHIBEY ADVOCATES SUSPENDING OIL CONTRACTS. Addressing the Supreme Council of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front on 3 November, former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey argued that the implementation of several oil contracts signed with U.S. firms should be suspended until Washington reviews its approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan and Interfax reported. Elchibey said the U.S. is pursuing double standards by "demanding that Azerbaijan give up its sovereign right to Karabakh." He added that numerous violations were made in signing the oil contracts. Elchibey reportedly declined an invitation from the U.S. Embassy to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State's special adviser on CIS affairs on 4 November, saying he was "too busy." lf END NOTE RUSSIAN REGIONS PRESSURE KREMLIN INTO POLICY SHIFT by John Helmer When Orel Oblast cast a 95 percent vote to re-elect Governor Yegor Stroev in late October, the Kremlin sought to beat State Duma election observers to the punch by claiming victory for President Boris Yeltsin. Stroev, who is also the powerful chairman of the Federation Council, "personifies stability and common sense," said Deputy Viktor Sheinis, one of the State Duma observers at the Orel poll. According to Kremlin officials, Stroev's near-total victory-- surpassing even the margin of victory in Kemerovo by Governor Aman Tuleev--could not have been won without Yeltsin's personal backing or without institutional and media endorsement. Nor could it have been achieved without cash from the central government to meet regional budget needs. Although Stroev and Tuleev are still viewed as pro-communist by the Russian Communist Party, they are also claimed as Yeltsin supporters by the Kremlin. Sergei Shapovalov, the deputy head of the president's territorial department, argues that party loyalties no longer have any bearing in regional politics. "Let the opposition count as they will," Shapovalov told RFE/RL. "We know that political colors change radically after a person gets elected." Regional politicians say that, following Yeltsin's recent concessions to the Duma and to regional treaty negotiators, it is the president who most resembles a chameleon. In addition to Stroev, representatives of several multi-region associations are to be included in the monthly "roundtable," which Yeltsin promises will now review the most contentious government policies before they are sent to the parliament. This was just one of the points Yeltsin said he accepted as the price for avoiding the Duma vote of no confidence in October. Stroev is also included in the "council of four," an even more influential consultative body Yeltsin is reviving with Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. Yeltsin has also put emphasis on the revenue-sharing and policy provisions of the treaties--37 so far--that he has signed with regional administrations. Those pacts, he asserted in a recent speech, are a "fundamentally new constitutional instrument." Significantly, presidential officials say, Yeltsin has conceded that the treaties are an alternative source of policy-making power in which several regional leaders are developing the upper hand. Because of his position in the Federation Council, Stroev is one of those leaders, while Tuleev, who controls the vital Kuzbass coal mines, is another. The governors of the big tax-paying regions, and the mayor of Moscow, are also members of this policy-making elite. This group is strongly opposed to the policies of the government's perceived market reformers, First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. Just how big the gap is between them became evident six months ago, when the Federation Council passed a resolution endorsing a report prepared by its own analytical department. Entitled "On Measures to Perfect State Regulation of the Economy and Correct Economic Reform," the report was drafted by Sergei Glazev, a young economist currently working for Stroev. In September 1993, Glazev was a cabinet minister who turned against the government and has been a scathing critic of its policies ever since. His report blames the government's budget-cutting approach for the collapse of investment and the failure of economic recovery. It recommends a totally different budget strategy from the one being pursued by the government. A poll of upper house members, carried out by the Russian Academy of Sciences and published in October, suggests that 70 percent or more of Council deputies agree with Glazev. When asked in a similar poll two years ago to say if they favor strengthening state regulation of the economy, 16 percent said "yes." The survey also notes greater blame directed at federal government policy this year, compared with 1995. Anton Fedorov, overseer of presidential representatives in the regions, says the Kremlin has had to replace 60 percent of those representatives this year because of the suspicion that their loyalty has been co-opted by the regional power elites. Yeltsin recently described his treaties with the governors as necessary to prevent "a weak rag state in which everyone is out for himself." The view in the Federation Council is that "everyone for himself" is exactly what those treaties mean. The author is a Moscow-based journalist who regularly contributes to RFE/RL. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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