|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 159, Part I, 13 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 EUROPE: Has The West Embraced The East? -- a five-part series about Europe's multilateral organizations and whether and how they've aided the integration of Central and Eastern Europe with the West -- is online at the RFE/RL Web site. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/multilateral/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT ROYALTY PAYMENTS TO OFFICIALS * SARATOV LEGISLATURE PASSES LAND LAW * AZERBAIJAN CELEBRATES FIRST "EARLY OIL" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT ROYALTY PAYMENTS TO OFFICIALS... The State Duma voted 302 to zero on 13 November to ask the Prosecutor- General's Office to investigate royalty payments to various officials for a book on privatization that has not yet been published, ITAR- TASS and RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Before the vote, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading Communist, cited allegations made by journalist Aleksandr Minkin during a 12 November appearance on Ekho Moskvy. Minkin charged that Segodnya-Press, a publishing house co-owned by Oneksimbank, paid $90,000 to each author of the book. Those authors include First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, State Property Minister Maksim Boiko, Federal Bankruptcy Administration Chairman Petr Mostovoi, and former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh. Kokh is under criminal investigation for taking a $100,000 payment earlier this year from a Swiss firm, reportedly linked to Oneksimbank, for a different forthcoming book on privatization. LB ...WHILE CHUBAIS RESPONDS TO ALLEGATIONS. Speaking to journalists in the Duma on 13 November, Chubais charged that "compromising material" against him was timed to obstruct the passage of the 1998 budget, ITAR-TASS reported. Minkin made the allegations on 12 November, the day before the Duma was scheduled to consider the budget and a government-backed package of tax laws in the first reading. Chubais confirmed that he, Boiko, Mostovoi, Kokh, and others co-authored a book on the history of privatization. He also confirmed that each author received a $90,000 honorarium from Segodnya-Press. However, Chubais said the authors will give 95 percent of their book fees to the Foundation for the Protection of Private Property. He added that no crime has been committed and that he may sue Minkin for claiming the authors were paid for a book that has not yet been written. LB NO SURPRISES IN MEDIA COVERAGE OF LATEST SCANDAL. Media outlets that have repeatedly attacked Chubais and Oneksimbank in recent months gave prominent coverage to Minkin's allegations in their 13 November editions. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," partly financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, acknowledged that Minkin is most likely "a mouthpiece for political and financial forces" that oppose Chubais but said his accusations nonetheless appear to be "close to the truth." The newspaper said the book's authors struck the deal with Segodnya-Press in May, two months before an Oneksimbank-led consortium won an auction for a major stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest. Both "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Segodnya," owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most, gave skeptical treatment to Chubais's claim that the book fees will go primarily to the Foundation for the Protection of Private Property. The newspapers noted that associates of Chubais run that foundation, which is involved in investments rather than charitable activities. LB COMMUNISTS WANT GUARANTEES BEFORE APPROVING BUDGET... Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 12 November said his party will decide whether to support the 1998 budget only after the government reports on its progress in implementing several opposition demands, Reuters reported. The opposition gained the concessions at a meeting between President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1997). But Zyuganov said the government has not yet kept the promises. In particular, he noted that the parliament has yet to receive additional air time on state-run Russian Television, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 November. Zyuganov also claimed there has been insufficient preparation for a 22 November roundtable discussion of the land code, in which officials from the government, parliament, and presidential administration are to take part. LB ...OPPOSE GOVERNMENT-BACKED TAX LAWS. Zyuganov also said the Communist faction is opposed to the package of tax laws submitted by the government, Interfax reported on 12 November. The cabinet prepared those laws, on which the revenues in the draft 1998 budget are based, after it became clear that a new tax code will not be approved by the end of the year. Zyuganov claimed the laws would increase the tax burden on both individuals and manufacturers. He also said the legislation seeks to increase budget revenues "by robbing citizens again." Among other things, the laws would raise the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5 percent to 1 percent, allow local governments to introduce a sales tax of up to 5 percent, and eliminate tax breaks currently granted to military personnel and some other groups. LB SARATOV LEGISLATURE PASSES LAND LAW. The Saratov Oblast Duma on 12 November approved a land law that would allow the purchase and sale of farmland, Russian news agencies reported. The ground-breaking law is in apparent conflict with federal legislation but has the support of Yeltsin as well as Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1997). The Duma on 13 November passed a non-binding resolution denouncing the Saratov land law as unconstitutional, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution also asked Saratov legislators to bring the regional law in line with the land code approved by the Duma but vetoed by Yeltsin. That code would prohibit the purchase and sale of farmland. LB LUZHKOV CAUTIOUS ABOUT SARATOV EXPERIMENT. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov argued on 13 November that Saratov Oblast should be allowed to give farmers full land ownership rights, ITAR-TASS reported. However, Luzhkov warned that the Saratov experiment should not be extended to the rest of Russia, saying the issue should be approached "with extreme caution." On 5 November, Luzhkov vetoed a land law passed by the Moscow City Duma that would have allowed investors involved in constructing or renovating buildings to purchase plots of land underneath those buildings. LB SLUMP ON RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET CONTINUES. The Russian Trading System Index declined by nearly 9 percent and most liquid stocks by more than 10 percent on 12 November, Russian news agencies reported. Although trading was not halted on that exchange, the Russian Federal Securities Commission twice halted share trading on the Moscow Interbank Hard-Currency Exchange. Analysts say selling by Russian investors has fueled the latest declines on the stock market. In recent weeks, previous declines in Russian corporate stocks were attributed primarily to selling by foreign investors. LB PRIMAKOV IN JAPAN. Minister of Foreign Affairs Yevgenii Primakov held talks with his Japanese counter-part, Keizo Obuchi, in Tokyo on 13 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The two agreed to head a new structure for preparing a peace treaty formally ending hostilities between their two countries. The two ministers also discussed Japanese investment and guarantees for capital invested in Russia. Primakov supported an idea proposed by Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng that Russia, Japan, China, and the U.S. establish a system of political consultations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1997). Primakov also met with U.S. First Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is currently in Japan. BP ARE RUSSIAN ARMS EXPORTS UP OR DOWN? Foreign Economic Relations Minister Mikhail Fradkov said in Moscow on 12 November that Russia was the world's second-largest arms exporter after the U.S. in 1996, with a market share of more than 20 percent. At the same time, he noted that the number of customers for Russian arms is diminishing but expressed the hope that the abolition of the virtual monopoly previously enjoyed by the arms export concern Rosvooruzhenie would reverse that trend. First Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Aleksandr Kotelkin told Interfax on 12 November that arms exports began to drop the day he was replaced as head of Rosvooruzhenie in August. He predicted that the Russian arms exports in 1997 will be "significantly lower" than in 1996. LF SERGEEV ON STATE OF MILITARY. Opening a conference on raising the general educational level within the armed forces, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev conceded that the Russian army is still suffering from the psychological impact of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the demise of the USSR, and the war in Chechnya, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 November. He complained that the educational level of conscripts has fallen sharply over the past 10 years and that only 6 percent can name any of the classics of Russian literature. Sergeev added, however, that he believes an increasing number of military personnel are convinced of the need for military reform. Also on 12 November, Valerii Spektor, the president of the International Academy of Sciences for Problems of National Security, advocated creating a military reserve in order to maintain Russia's military capacity following the demobilization of some 100,000 officers. LF NEW AIDS MENACE IN RUSSIA. After examining AIDS among intravenous drug users, the Health Ministry has discovered that a testing method by dealers may be responsible for the rapid spread of the disease, AFP reported on 12 November. It reports that sometimes the drugs themselves contain the virus and that to find out whether the narcotic will coagulate blood, which would be fatal to users, dealers cut their own veins and allow blood to drip onto the drug. After the required additives are introduced and testing is completed, the drug goes on sale. According to the Russian Institute for Preventing and Combating AIDS, the incidence of the disease was 10 times higher from January-October compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported on 11 November. That report also notes the rate is increasing most quickly among intravenous drug users. BP MORE CONFLICTING REPORTS ON SOBCHAK. Duma deputy Lyudmila Narusova, the wife of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, told journalists in Paris that her husband is in "satisfactory" condition at an unspecified private clinic in the city, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. Narusova said Sobchak recently had a series of medical tests (not heart surgery as was previously reported). She denied that he has been to the American Hospital in Paris, although officials at that hospital have said they performed tests on Sobchak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1997). Narusova also said that Sobchak went abroad because he had received death threats but that he will return to Russia as soon as he is well. Speaking in Moscow the same day, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov expressed regret that Sobchak left Russia abruptly, without informing the investigator who wants to question him as a witness in a corruption case, Interfax reported. LB LUZHKOV OBJECTS TO HIGH COST OF CATHEDRAL FRESCOES. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov on 12 November blasted sculptor Zurab Tsereteli and architect Aleksei Denisov for submitting a "reckless" and "extravagant" budget for frescoes in the newly restored Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Russian news agencies reported. Some 1.4 trillion rubles ($240 million) has already been spent on rebuilding the cathedral, which was consecrated in September. Speaking to a meeting of the church's advisory council, Luzhkov said 370 billion rubles, the cost estimate provided by Tsereteli, was too much to pay for the frescoes. Tsereteli has produced several controversial sculptures in the Russian capital, including a giant statue of Peter the Great. In the past, Luzhkov has nearly always defended Tsereteli's work. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJAN CELEBRATES FIRST "EARLY OIL"... President Heidar Aliev on 12 November opened a valve on the Chirag 1 platform,120 km east of Baku, to allow the first "early oil" to flow into the underwater pipeline that will transport it to the Sangachala terminal. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena, Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, and international oil company officials were all present at the opening ceremony. Aliev said the beginning of production at Chirag "marks the beginning of a new era not only in our country but for the entire Caspian region," Turan reported. Nemtsov said the venture, in which Russia's LUKoil has a 10 percent stake, forms the basis for "integration and economic rapprochement between Russia and Azerbaijan." He thanked Aliev for helping resolve the dispute with Chechnya over oil tariffs, which had threatened to delay commissioning of the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline. LF ...AS COMPETITION FOR MAIN EXPORT PIPELINE INTENSIFIES. Meanwhile, guests at the Baku ceremony lobbied for their respective proposed routes for the Main Export Pipeline, which will export the far larger volumes of Caspian oil that will come on stream in 2004. Nemtsov said there is a "100 percent chance" that the pipeline will run north through the Russian Federation to Novorossisk, which he said is the cheapest variant, Interfax reported. Yilmaz said Turkey "fully supports" the Baku-Ceyhan route, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Pena also expressed support for the Baku-Ceyhan route, hinting that the U.S. would welcome routing this pipeline via Armenia once the Karabakh conflict is resolved. But Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who met with Aliev in Baku on 12 November on his way home from Kazakhstan, told CAUCASUS PRESS he is sure the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be routed via Supsa. LF PROTEST AT IRANIAN EMBASSY IN BAKU. Police on 12 November quickly dispersed some 50 members of Azerbaijan's Turkish National Youth Movement who were staging a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Baku, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Azerbaijani capital reported. Vugar Beyturan, the movement's leader, said the demonstration was intended to protest Iranian President Mohammad Khattami's failure to fulfill his campaign promise to grant greater autonomy to all ethnic groups in Iran, including the estimated 25 million ethnic Azeris. LF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS REFERENDUM ON KARABAKH PEACE PLAN. Several dozen Armenian opposition parties and NGOs have demanded that the latest Karabakh peace plan proposed by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe be submitted to a referendum in both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 12 November. They condemned President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's "defeatist" approach to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, accusing him of trying to restore Azerbaijan's sovereignty over the disputed region. LF ARMENIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH KARABAKH WAR VETERANS. Robert Kocharyan on 11 November met with members of the Yerkrapahner parliamentary faction to discuss recent developments over Nagorno-Karabakh, "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" reported. That faction is composed largely of Karabakh war veterans. The deputies urged Yerevan not to disregard the 1992 Armenian parliament decision that bars the government from signing any international treaty referring to Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan. They also said the conflict is a "pan-national issue and should be settled by the whole nation." LF PHONE LINKS RESTORED BETWEEN ABKHAZIA, RUSSIA. International telephone links between Sukhumi and Sochi have been restored, CAUCASUS PRESS reported on 12 November. In mid-April, the Georgian authorities had re-routed all international telephone links from Abkhazia via Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 1997). Abkhaz parliamentary speaker Sokrat Jinjolia told RIA-Novosti that agreement on the restoration of telephone lines to Russia was reached during bilateral talks in Tbilisi. LF PROSECUTOR ABDUCTED IN TSKHINVALI. Guram Babutsidze, an ethnic Georgian who is prosecutor in the capital of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, was abducted by unidentified gunmen near Tskhinvali on 12 November, ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian President Shevardnadze and his South Ossetian counterpart, Lyudwig Chibirov, are scheduled to meet on 14 November to assess the prospects for signing an accord formalizing relations between the former autonomous region and the Georgian government. LF PROBLEMS CONTINUE TO PLAGUE TAJIK PEACE PROCESS. More than 1,000 fighters belonging to United Tajik Opposition (UTO) were officially registered in the Garm and Tavil-Dara areas on 12 November, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. But those fighters have not yet been disarmed, a condition for their later integration into the regular Tajik armed forces. Nor has construction been completed on the barracks in the regions where they will be relocated. Another group of 400 UTO fighters is waiting to be transported out of Afghanistan, but there are reportedly no funds available for that operation. Meanwhile, the Tajik National Reconciliation Commission complains that the UTO has handed over more POWs (over 200) than the government (58). BP RFE/RL TURKMEN STRINGER FREED. Yovshan Annakurbanov has been freed from police detention, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat on 12 November. Annakurbanov was taken into custody as he attempted to board a plane in Ashgabat bound for Prague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 1997). Police later claimed he was in possession of a computer disc with material from opposition groups in Turkmenistan. BP RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER PUTS DAMPER ON HILLARY CLINTON'S TRIP. The daily "Russkii Telegraf" on 12 November quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton's trip to Central Asia is a "subtle attempt...to infiltrate the zone of Russia's traditional interests." The article also questioned Clinton's message on women's rights given the area's "local traditions and peculiarities." Meanwhile, Clinton was in Bishkek on 12 November to opening the American University of Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Clinton also announced a $2 million donation to Kyrgyzstan for medical purposes. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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