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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 162, Part I, 18 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 DELAYS BUDGET VOTE IN WAKE OF BOOK SCANDAL *GAZPROM SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH SHELL *RUSSIA REJECTS GEORGIAN CRITICISM OVER ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA DELAYS BUDGET VOTE IN WAKE OF BOOK SCANDAL. The State Duma Council has postponed for two days a debate on the draft 1998 budget, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 November. That debate had been scheduled for 19 November. The Communist Party, which controls the largest Duma faction, issued a statement on 17 November demanding that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais be sacked before the Duma debates the budget. Chubais is at the center of a growing scandal over fees paid for a book on privatization. But Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced the next day that the Duma will consider the budget on 21 November even if Chubais has not been fired, AFP reported. Seleznev failed to convince Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during a 17 November meeting that sacking Chubais would facilitate passage of the budget and several government-backed tax laws in the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. LB COMMUNISTS PUSH FOR 'COUNCIL OF FOUR' MEETING... Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 18 November that his party is seeking a meeting of the president, prime minister, and speakers of both houses of parliament on 20 November, Reuters reported. Seleznev suggested convening the "council of four" during his meeting with Chernomyrdin the previous day. President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 18 November did not rule out a possible meeting of the "council" within the next few days, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. However, he advised the opposition not to try to force Yeltsin to fire Chubais by linking the passage of laws to personnel changes in the government. Yastrzhembskii commented that it is "hopeless" to talk to the president "in terms of ultimatums and demands." LB ...BUT NOT CONFIDENCE VOTE. During the 18 November meeting of the Duma Council, no faction sought to put a confidence motion on the agenda for the following day's Duma session, ITAR-TASS reported. Instead, Duma deputies will consider a non-binding resolution calling for Chubais's dismissal. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the pro- government Duma faction Our Home Is Russia, argued on 17 November that the book scandal may lead to renewed efforts in the Duma to pass a no-confidence vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. (Shokhin, a former government minister, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Chubais.) However, Valentin Kuptsov, the deputy head of the Communist faction, told ITAR-TASS that the Communists are not yet seeking a no-confidence vote. In October, the Communists dropped a planned confidence motion after obtaining some concessions from the Kremlin. LB PROSECUTORS ORDER RAPID INVESTIGATION INTO BOOK SCANDAL. The Prosecutor-General's Office has instructed the Moscow Prosecutor's Office to complete "in the shortest possible time" an investigation into fees paid to officials for a book on privatization, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. The book's seven authors allegedly received payments from a publishing house co-owned by Oneksimbank, but of the seven, only Chubais and Federal Securities Commission Chairman Dmitrii Vasilev retain official posts. Yeltsin has already fired Aleksandr Kazakov as deputy head of the presidential administration, Maksim Boiko as state property minister, and Petr Mostovoi as Federal Bankruptcy Agency head. The other two authors, former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh and former Chubais aide Arkadii Yevstafev, did not hold state office when the scandal broke. LB FATE OF TAX CODE UNCLEAR. The Duma Council agreed on 18 November to schedule a debate on government-backed tax laws for 20 November, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The Duma recently passed some tax laws in the first reading, but rejected several others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997). The laws provide the basis for planned 1998 budget revenues, as a new tax code is unlikely to be adopted before spring 1998 at the earliest. Meanwhile, Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov says the lower house will consider the tax code in the first reading on 19 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma approved the code in the first reading in June, but since then several thousand amendments to it have been proposed. Consequently, deputies voted on 14 November to return the tax code to a first reading, after which a conciliatory commission of presidential, government, and parliamentary representatives will be formed to work out a compromise. LB RTR CHAIRMAN DENIES NETWORK LINKED TO ONEKSIMBANK. Nikolai Svanidze, the chairman of fully state-owned Russian Television (RTR), says his network has "no relationship with Oneksimbank or with any other banks," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. A report the previous day on the private network NTV listed RTR among media outlets that are partly owned or financed by Oneksimbank. However, Svanidze said RTR's funding comes only from the state budget and from advertising revenues. RTR's news coverage is considered to favor First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais. A program hosted by Svanidze on 16 November took a sympathetic view toward Chubais in light of the scandal over book fees, calling attention to the likely consequences on Russian financial markets if Chubais were dismissed. LB OTHER MAJOR NETWORKS MORE CRITICAL OF CHUBAIS. In their coverage of the book scandal, NTV and 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television (ORT) have been far more critical of Chubais than has RTR. ORT journalist Sergei Dorenko devoted 40 minutes of his 15 November program "Vremya" to the scandal. Among other things, he referred to Chubais as a "self-interested machine," a "mercenary," and a "manipulator." ORT is partly financed by former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and Dorenko has frequently blasted Chubais and Oneksimbank on the air in recent months. NTV, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company, has also criticized Chubais and Oneksimbank, although its attacks have been less severe than Dorenko's. LB COURT NOT TO HEAR APPEALS ON ELECTORAL LAW. The Constitutional Court has refused to hear two appeals against the proportional representation system currently used to elect half of Duma deputies, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. A student organization and a group of Duma deputies charged that dividing up half the Duma seats only among electoral blocs that gain at least 5 percent of the vote violates the rights of voters who support other groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 28 August 1997). The court decided that since the student organization did not compete in the 1995 parliamentary election, its complaints against the electoral law are merely "abstract." Judges rejected the Duma deputies' appeal on the grounds that it is the parliament's prerogative to amend legislation. The Constitutional Court has tended to sidestep highly controversial issues since it reconvened in March 1995 following an 18-month lapse. LB GAZPROM SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH SHELL. Gazprom on 17 November signed a cooperation agreement with Royal-Dutch Shell, the world's largest oil company. The accord provides for a joint venture to develop oil and gas deposits, beginning with the Zapolyarnoye field in western Siberia. Shell is also to invest up to $1 billion in Gazprom convertible bonds, Interfax reported. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 November, Gazprom board chairman Rem Vyakhirev said Russia currently has "a unique chance" to move into "virgin territory" by expanding into the south Asian market and exporting gas to Pakistan, India, China, and South Korea. Also on 17 November, Gazprom, Shell, and LUKoil signed a memorandum of understanding on drawing up a joint proposal on participating in the Rosneft tender, ITAR-TASS reported. LF BRITISH PETROLEUM BUYS INTO SIDANKO. British Petroleum signed an agreement in London on 18 November on purchasing 10 percent of the shares in one of Russia's largest oil companies, Sidanko. BP will pay $571 million to Oneksimbank, which owns the controlling stake in Sidanko. It will also buy 45 percent of Sidanko's 60 percent stake in Russia Petroleum, which has a license to develop the Kovytkinskoe gas deposit in Irkutsk. That deposit is one of the largest in Russia, with estimated reserves of 1.5 trillion cubic meters. BP will invest $172 million in developing the deposit. During Yeltsin's recent visit to China, Russian and Chinese officials signed a memorandum on exporting gas from the Kovytkiskoe field to China. Some of that gas will be re-exported to Japan and South Korea. LF ABDULATIPOV TRIES TO CALM CHECHEN-DAGESTANI TENSIONS. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov on 17 November appealed to Aslan Maskhadov and Magomedali Magomedov, the leaders of Chechnya and Dagestan, to sign a treaty on good neighborly relations in order to resolve tensions on their common border, Russian agencies reported. Also on 17 November, Magomedov asked Dagestani Minister for Nationality Affairs Magomedsalikh Gusayev to propose such a treaty to the Chechen leadership. A treaty was drafted in November 1996, but the Chechen side has failed to comment on it. LF TESTS CONFIRM AUTHENTICITY OF TSAR'S REMAINS. Forensic tests have confirmed the authenticity of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, Interfax reported on 17 November, citing Sergei Abramov, a forensic expert with the Health Ministry. The tests were carried out in Yekaterinburg, after the Prosecutor-General's Office postponed a decision on whether the remains should be transported to Moscow for testing. In January, Yeltsin is expected to announce whether the remains will be buried in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Yekaterinburg, where the tsar and several family members were executed in 1918. LB DUMA ISSUES APPEAL OVER AIDS. The Duma on 14 November voted unanimously to appeal to the government to take "urgent measures" on combating the spread of AIDS in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies heard a report claiming the number of patients registered with AIDS reached 6,232 in 1997, of which 3,600 were reported this year. The number of HIV-infected people in Russia has risen twelve- fold "in the last few years," and the situation is worse in cities such as Moscow, Kaliningrad, Novorossiisk, Tver, and Nizhnii Novgorod. The report also noted that 90 percent of registered cases are drug users. BP SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR OPPOSES REGIONS BASED ON ETHNICITY. Eduard Rossel told journalists in Yekaterinburg that he believes Russia's regions should be divided on purely geographical lines, without marking out territories for certain ethnic groups, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 November. Russia has 21 republics named after various nationalities, such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, along with 10 autonomous okrugs representing smaller ethnic groups. Rossel, himself an ethnic German, argued, "We should have only one nation: citizens of Russia. We should not divide people by categories." Some governors of Russia's oblasts and krais resent the special privileges and greater economic autonomy that the federal government has granted to certain republics. LB RESISTANCE TO NEW PASSPORTS CONTINUES. Aslan Djarimov, president of the Republic of Adygeya in the North Caucasus, has followed Tatarstan in suspending issue of the new Russian passports, ITAR-TASS reported. Djarimov told journalists he objects to the fact that data in the new passports is only in Russian, while Adygeya has two state languages. Altai Republic government chairman Vladilen Volkov told journalists on 14 November that he considers the omission of the holder's nationality in the new passports "premature" and contrary to the wishes of many Russian republics and regions, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told Ekho Moskvy on 14 November that people are afraid that replacing old passports will be followed by "liquidation of the non- Russian republics tomorrow and of the non-Russian nationalities the day after." LF COURT REFUSES TO RELEASE POET ACCUSED OF DRUG DEALING. A Moscow court has refused to order the release of poet Alina Vitukhnovskaya, who is accused of selling drugs, Interfax reported on 17 November. Vitukhnovskaya wrote an article on drug-taking for the magazine "Novoe vremya" in 1994. She was accused of selling drugs after she refused to provide the Federal Security Service with additional information about drug use in Moscow, since such information would reveal her sources. Vitukhnovskaya spent nearly a year in custody before being released pending trial in 1995 (see "OMRI Daily Digest, 13 October 1995). However, she was re-arrested last month. Her attorney says Vitukhnovskaya's continued detention is unjustified, since during a three-year investigation she has committed no new crimes and made no efforts to flee Moscow. LB VLADIVOSTOK MAYOR ON HUNGER STRIKE. Viktor Cherepkov continued his hunger strike for the second day on 18 November, ITAR-TASS reported. He is demanding the dismissal of Primorskii Krai prosecutor Valerii Vasilenko and some court officials. In a letter to Yeltsin, Cherepkov vowed to continue his protest until officials responsible for corruption and "arbitrary rule" in Primore have been punished, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 November. The krai administration has responded by accusing Cherepkov of trying to pass the blame for his own poor management of the city. Krai authorities have also convened a commission on emergency situations and charged it with running Vladivostok. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Rozanov, Russia's deputy prosecutor-general, told ITAR- TASS on 17 November that there are no plans to fire Vasilenko. Cherepkov, a long-time opponent of Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, recently announced that he plans to resign. He has called early mayoral elections for March 1998. LB PROBLEMS STILL PLAGUE SPACE STATION. Another computer failure aboard "Mir" on 14 November caused a temporary loss of the space station's orientation toward the sun, but the problem was repaired within two days, Russian media. During that period, the temperature aboard the station rose to 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Scientists explained the rise was a natural consequence of the station's orbit, which "twice a year puts it...under the direct rays of the sun." They added, however, that the station's cooling system did not function "well enough." BP TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA REJECTS GEORGIAN CRITICISM OVER ABKHAZIA. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 17 November rejected as "unfounded" Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's criticism of Chernomyrdin's recent decree allowing the export to Russia of agricultural produce from Abkhazia. Shevardnadze charged that the measure creates "hot-house conditions" for Abkhaz separatists and is aimed at bolstering the dwindling authority of the CIS. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov denied that Russian imports of agricultural produce from Abkhazia violate previous Georgian-Russian agreements on resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Speaking in Tbilisi on 17 November, Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Ukleba reaffirmed that Georgia will not lift economic sanctions on Abkhazia until a political settlement of the conflict has been reached and ethnic Georgian displaced persons allowed to return to their homes in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. LF ARMENIA WANTS COOPERATION WITH TURKEY ON NUCLEAR SAFETY. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian on 17 November reaffirmed Armenia's commitment to both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the safe functioning of the Medzamor nuclear power station. Gasparian said Yerevan is ready "to reasonably address Turkey's concerns about the safety of our WWER-type reactor." He proposed confidence-building measures, including the regular exchange of information with Turkey. Ankara has claimed that leaks of radio-activity from Medzamor have affected areas of northeastern Turkey. In September, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov charged that Medzamor is unsafe and can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Armenia has denied both those charges. LF ARMENIA RELUCTANT TO BAN LAND MINES. Gasparian also said on 17 November that while Yerevan welcomes international efforts to ban the production and use of anti-personnel land mines, it will not accede to the international convention banning such weapons unless other states in the region do so. At the same time, Gasparian expressed concern at Azerbaijan's refusal to join the convention. He noted that some 6,000-8,000 land mines are concentrated along the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier. There are also heavily mined areas on the former front line between Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. The draft peace proposal drawn up by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe Karabakh requires Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan to cooperate in clearing those areas in order to allow the deployment of OSCE peacekeeping forces. LF KARABAKH PREMIER ON SETTLEMENT TIMETABLE. Leonid Petrossian has hinted that Nagorno-Karabakh may drop its insistence on a "package" rather than a "phased" solution to the conflict. Speaking on 17 November, he suggested that if the latter option is chosen, Karabakh's status vis-a-vis the central Azerbaijani government should be decided first, Noyan Tapan reported. Petrossian said the second stage should involve "determining borders" and the third the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gasparian said on 17 November that Yerevan will use its right of veto if Azerbaijan pushes for adopting a document that reaffirms Baku's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh at the December meeting of OSCE foreign ministers, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES DEBATE ON ELECTION LAW. The parliament has voted to postpone discussion of two draft election laws until February 1998, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 17 November. The opposition Hayrenik faction called for the issue to be included on the fall session's agenda. It opposes the draft law prepared by the ruling Hanrapetutyun coalition, which it says provides for the appointment rather than the election of deputies. Hayrenik leader Eduard Yegoryan has prepared an alternative draft. Adoption of a new election law is a precondition for Armenia's admission to full membership in the Council of Europe. LF KAZAKH PRESIDENT IN U.S. Nursultan Nazarbayev held talks with US officials in Washington on 17 November, according to RFE/RL correspondents in the U.S. capital. Nazarbayev met with U.S Vice President Al Gore, with whom he later attended the opening of the fourth session of the Kazakh-U.S. joint economic commission. Gore stressed the need for multiple pipelines to bring Kazakh oil and gas to markets both in the West and East. While Gore avoided mentioning Iran, Nazarbayev said later at a Pentagon news conference with U. S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that if a pipeline were to run through either Iran or Iraq, "I will have to talk about security." BP KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN BROADCAST "PLANNED." Askar Akayev has said the recent broadcasts by Russian television stations of footage showing a Kyrgyz children's home were "planned" to coincide with the 13 November visit of U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997), ITAR-TASS reported. He complained that the footage inaccurately portrayed Kyrgyzstan as a country where "children die because of the absence of medicines and food." He added that "no one explained this was a children's home where there were sick children." Kyrgyzstan has sent official protests to both the Russian government and the Russian television stations that ran the footage. BP KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER RETURNS TO BISHKEK. Topchubek Turgunaliev, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's opposition Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, has been moved from a prison in Leilik to the capital, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 17 November. Earlier this year, Turgunaliev was found guilty of abuse of power while dean of the Bishkek University of Humanities in 1994. Turgunaliev will serve the remainder of his four-year sentence in a Bishkek detention center. BP TAJIK OPPOSITION SOON TO RECEIVE GOVERNMENT POSTS? Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri have met to discuss which government posts the UTO will receive, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported on 17 November. Under the terms of the peace agreement, the UTO is to have 30 percent of government portfolios, but it remains unclear which ones it will receive. Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov is quoted by Reuters and Interfax as saying one of the government power ministries will be handed over to the UTO. According to RFE/RL correspondents, the UTO may instead receive the Ministry for Emergency Situations. Saidov also said the government reshuffle should take place within the next week. 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