|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 168, Part I, 26 November 1997
Note to Readers: "RFE/RL Newsline" will not appear on Thursday, 27 November (a public holiday in the U.S.) or on Friday, 28 November. 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 * RUSSIA ADMITTED TO APEC * GAZPROM TO INVEST $600 MILLION IN IRAN * TAJIKISTAN RECEIVES $56 MILLION PLEDGES AT DONOR CONFERENCE End Note : LIGHT AT THE END OF THE ABKHAZ TUNNEL? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA ADMITTED TO APEC. On the second day of the Vancouver conference, the 18 member nations of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation organization voted unanimously to admit Russia, along with Vietnam and Peru. Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto expressed his satisfaction with the vote, noting his country strongly supported Russia's admission to APEC, Russian media reported on 25 November. He noted that Russia will participate as a full member at the 1998 APEC session in Malaysia. ITAR-TASS reported the next day that at the 22-23 November APEC meeting, Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Mexico had expressed doubts about admitting Russia. BP YELTSIN WANTS MORE INFORMATION ABOUT FINANCIAL MARKETS. President Boris Yeltsin has said he and the government need more information about international finance markets in order to defend Russia against economic turbulence, Interfax reported on 25 November. Yeltsin said he receives a lot of information on political matters from his Security Council, the Federal Security Service, and the border service. But he complained that he does not get "enough systematic information on economic matters." Central Bank head Sergei Dubinin said the same day that world financial turmoil has upset Russia's ambitious plans for privatization this fall. He said Russian banks are finding it increasingly difficult to borrow money, forcing the cancellation of some privatization auctions. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said recently that the present upheaval on the world's financial markets poses a "real danger to Russia." JB YASIN SAYS NEGATIVE PERCEPTION OF RUSSIA MUST CHANGE. Former Economics Minister and current Minister without Portfolio Yevgenii Yasin says it is imperative to change foreign investors' negative image of Russia. Yasin spoke to ITAR-TASS on 25 November from California, where he is attending the second annual Russo- American Investment Forum. He said changing Russia's image abroad is crucial to increasing investment and noted that many negative articles in Western newspapers are often directly picked up from the Russian press. Yasin said the government intends to organize an economic forum on the West Coast of the U.S. to try to mobilize American business leaders to invest in Russia. JB GOVERNMENT MAY FAIL TO PAY WAGE ARREARS. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said the government may fail to meet its year- end deadline for paying off public-sector wage arrears, Russian media reported on 25 November. Sysuev said wage arrears totaling 3.3 trillion rubles ($568 million) have been paid off since 1 July, leaving 9.6 trillion rubles to be paid before January 1. The deadline was set by President Yeltsin in the summer. JB CHUBAIS SAYS REGIONAL AUTHORITIES NOT COOPERATING. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told Russian Public Television on 25 November that regional authorities are not cooperating with the government's efforts to pay off public-sector wages. In his first interview since being stripped of the finance portfolio following corruption allegations, Chubais said the government is "very worried" about the issue. He noted that some regions are not paying their half of the debt, as agreed under a plan proposed by Yeltsin. Chubais estimated the total arrears owed to state workers at 26 trillion rubles ($4.45 billion). JB GAZPROM TO INVEST $600 MILLION IN IRAN. A top Gazprom official said on 25 November that the gas giant will invest some $600 million in the controversial $2 billion deal to develop Iran's South Pars gas field. Pyotr Rodionov, the deputy chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, told ITAR-TASS that his company is "absolutely indifferent" to complaints raised in the U.S. about the deal recently reached between Iran and Gazprom in partnership with France's Total and Malaysia's Petronas. JB PRIMAKOV SAYS RUSSIA HAS RIGHT TO SELL ARMS. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told a news conference in Buenos Aires on 25 November that Russia has "as much right as any other country in the world to export arms, except where there are international restrictions." But he added that he did not want his visit to be "associated with the desire to promote Russian arms exports to Latin America." Earlier this year, the Russian arms export agency, Rosvooruzhenie, launched a new marketing drive in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Russia has sold military helicopters to Colombia and MiG-29 fighter jets to Peru. Primakov is currently touring several Latin American countries. JB YELTSIN TO VISIT CHECHNYA. Addressing the Russian Security Council on 25 November, Yeltsin announced his intention to visit Chechnya, Russian media reported. But no date for that trip has yet been set, according to Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin. Rybkin added that Yeltsin believes all deputy premiers and government ministers involved in the reconstruction of Chechnya's infrastructure should also visit the republic. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said Yeltsin's announcement was "wise and courageous" and vowed that no one would harm the Russian president while he is on Chechen soil. Rybkin later told journalists that Moscow is offering Chechnya the status of "a self-ruling republic" within the Russian Federation, which, he said, would constitute a "high level of autonomy," Interfax reported. Maskhadov, for his part, told journalists in Grozny on 25 November that Russia's refusal to recognize the republic's independence is delaying a solution to the problem of Russian- Chechen relations. LF KVASHNIN PROMOTED TO "FULL GENERAL." Yeltsin on 25 November gave Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed forces Anatolii Kvashnin the rank of "full general." The two men met to discuss social problems stemming from the downsizing of the armed forces and improving cooperation between the military and the Federal Border Guards. In an article in "Segodnya" on 24 November, military commentator Pavel Felgengauer had predicted Kvashnin's promotion, attributing both it and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's recent promotion to marshal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997) to Yeltsin's desire to redirect officers' discontent away from himself. Meanwhile the Main Military Prosecutor's Office has established a "hot line" for victims of hazing in the armed forces, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 26 November. The incidence of such mistreatment increased by 22.9 percent during the first nine months of 1997, compared with the same period last year. LF UNION OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIAN WORKERS IN WORST CONDITIONS IN 70 YEARS. Bill Jordan, the secretary-general of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), told a news conference in Moscow on 25 November that Russian workers are experiencing the worst conditions since the 1920s. He noted that 40 percent of workers did not receive their October wages and that only one- quarter of workers are paid on time and in full. Jordan said that in parts of Russia, people have not been paid for a year and one-eighth of workers are now paid with items ranging from tinned pineapples, manure, meat grinders, to coffins. JB RUSSIA SAYS ORGANIZED CRIME NO THREAT TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES. First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev told a news conference in Moscow on 25 November that Russian criminal groups pose no threat to the security of foreign countries. But he admitted that criminal activities by Russians abroad have grown five-fold since 1991 and that more than 400 criminal groups are operating beyond the country's borders. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Louis Freeh had said in October that Russian organized crime posed an "imminent danger" to the U.S. Freeh toned down that statement during a recent visit to Moscow, saying such crime did not directly threaten U.S. security. JB JOURNALIST SEVERELY BEATEN IN DAGESTAN. Police in Dagestan took the editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Dagestanskaya Pravda" to hospital after finding her unconscious on the steps of her house, Russian media reported on 25 November. Galina Beibutova had been badly beaten and sustained severe back and head injuries. Interfax reported that "Dagestanskaya Pravda," which is widely read in the republic, recently published an article denouncing organized criminal groups allegedly active in the republic. Ruslan Gitinov, a top police official, and two other people were wounded in a bomb attack in Dagestan recently. Gitinov had pledged to step up the fight against organized crime in Dagestan. JB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIKISTAN RECEIVES $56 MILLION PLEDGES AT DONOR CONFERENCE. At the international donor conference in Vienna, Tajikistan received pledges worth $56.6 million, some $9.4 million short of the $65 million Tajikistan had hoped for. UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem nonetheless found the results "overwhelming in view of critical comments about security" in the Central Asian state. The money will used for demobilizing the army, preparing for multi-party elections to the parliament, the resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, and generally repairing the country's damaged economy. The Vienna conference was attended by more than 100 representatives from 40 countries. BP MORE ARRESTS IN TAJIKISTAN. Tajik law enforcement authorities on 25 November arrested another group of people in connection with the 18 November kidnapping of two French nationals. Following searches of villages outside the capital, 23 people were taken into custody. Tajik officials said some of those detained may have been involved in the wave of bombings that have plagued Dushanbe since early September. The location of the two hostages is still not known, but officials say the group responsible for the kidnapping may have taken up to 12 local villagers captive as well. The U.S. embassy on 24 November warned U.S. citizens to leave the country, questioning the ability of Tajik law enforcement bodies to protect them. BP U.S. OFFICIAL CRITICIZES TURKMENISTAN OVER HUMAN RIGHTS. Michael Hathaway, a member of the U.S. delegation to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe conference in Warsaw on 25 November, has sharply criticized Turkmenistan for failing to respect human rights, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Polish capital reported. Hathaway charged that Turkmenistan "still finds political dissidents mentally ill and incarcerates them in psychiatric institutions." He claimed the country's "misuse of mental institutions against political dissidents violates...the most fundamental norms of human decency." Hathaway called on Turkmenistan to "put an end" to such practices and urged the OSCE to "settle for nothing else." BP TURKMEN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1998 BUDGET. Legislators on 25 November approved the 1998 state budget, ITAR-TASS reported. Revenues are set at 6.4 trillion manat ($1.5 billion) and expenditures at 6.6 billion manat ($1.58 billion). The budget deficit is not expected to exceed 1.4 percent of GDP. BP NAZARBAYEV IN GERMANY. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meeting in Bonn with leading German officials on 25 November, encouraged Germany to invest in his country's oil and gas reserves. Nazarbayev also discussed the situation of ethnic Germans living in Kazakhstan. German officials said they are pleased with the improved conditions of Kazakhstan's ethnic German community and said more efforts will be made on its behalf. Both sides agreed it is desirable to keep those Germans in Kazakhstan and thereby "create a bridge between both nations." BP ARMENIAN, TURKISH BUSINESSMEN SIGN PROTOCOL. Meeting in Istanbul on 25 November, a delegation from the Union of Businessmen and Industrialists of Armenia signed a protocol with a group of Turkish businessmen calling for the normalization of bilateral economic ties, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 26 November. Union President Aram Vardanian argued that opening a border crossing between Turkey and Armenia would contribute to resolving unemployment in eastern Turkey and to attracting investment to both countries. During their four-day visit to Turkey, the Armenian delegation held unofficial meetings with Trade and Industry Minister Yalim Erez and Minister of State Eyup Asik. Asik stressed the interest of all members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization to resolve the Karabakh conflict, according to ArmenPress. Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations. LF GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER DISPUTE INTENSIFIES. The Georgian parliament's Committee for Defense and Security issued a statement on 25 November criticizing the Russian Federal Border Service's unilateral decision to move its Verkhnii Lars frontier post 1 kilometer into Georgian territory, CaucasusPress reported. The committee intends to raise again the question of abrogating the bilateral agreement whereby Georgia's frontiers with Russia are jointly patrolled by Russian and Georgian troops. LF REGIONAL AFFAIRS QUADRILATERAL TALKS IN BAKU. The deputy foreign ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Moldova met in Baku on 25 November to discuss economic and security cooperation as well as participation in such regional projects as the TRASECA transport corridor, Russian and Azerbaijani agencies reported. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov proposed that the four countries conclude an agreement on cooperation with NATO comparable to those Russia and Ukraine have signed with the alliance. He also argued that strengthening quadrilateral ties should take place at the same time as the four countries' integration into European structures. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev expressed his satisfaction at Moldova's recent accession to the informal Azerbaijan-Georgian- Ukraine grouping, stressing that "our union is not aimed against anyone." LF END NOTE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE ABKHAZ TUNNEL? by Liz Fuller Abkhaz and Georgian delegations met in Geneva from 17-19 November for a second round of talks under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General's Friends of Georgia group, which comprises the U.S., Germany, France, and the U.K (Russia has observer status within that group). The meeting had been postponed for five weeks at the request of the Abkhaz side and was preceded by a sharp deterioration in Georgia's relations with both Abkhazia and Russia. Yet despite the inauspicious omens, the outcome of the talks--in conjunction with earlier Georgian domestic political developments-- gives grounds for cautious optimism that gradual progress towards resolving the conflict is possible. The UN had assumed a more active role in trying to mediate a political settlement of the deadlocked Abkhaz conflict in late July, following the failure of an intensive Russian effort to persuade the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships to sign a Russian-drafted peace protocol. The first round of talks to be sponsored by the Friends of Georgia yielded an agreement between Tbilisi and Abkhazia to desist from the threat or use of violence against each other--a pledge that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, reaffirmed at their meeting in Tbilisi in mid-August. That meeting paved the way for lower-level government talks on restoring economic ties between the central government in Tbilisi and the breakaway Black Sea province. Significant progress toward that goal was precluded, however, by Tbilisi's refusal to lift economic sanctions on Abkhazia until an estimated 200,000 ethnic Georgian displaced persons are allowed to return to the homes they had been forced to flee during the 1992- 1993 war . (The Abkhaz, for their part, want repatriation delayed until sanctions have been lifted and the region's devastated economy has begun to recover.) On 13 November, the Abkhaz government drastically reduced electricity supplies to Georgia to protest an explosion at a substation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. It blamed Georgian guerrilla formations for that incident. One week earlier, on 7 November, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had signed a decree allowing the sale to Russia without Tbilisi's prior permission of Abkhaz agricultural produce. Such sales were prohibited in early 1996 at Georgia's insistence. Russia's unilateral decision elicited an outraged response from Shevardnadze, who accused Chernomyrdin of creating "special hot- house conditions" for Abkhaz "separatists." Despite those setbacks, the Abkhaz and Georgian delegations in Geneva agreed to create a coordinating commission to oversee the activities of three working groups that will address security, repatriation, and economic and social issues. Moreover, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists on his return to Tbilisi that the atmosphere at the talks had been "far more constructive" than at the meeting in late July. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov noted, in an infelicitous marriage of metaphors, that the two sides had opted to "untie political knots by small but frequent steps" instead of focusing on the issue of Abkhazia's future political status. In particular, the working group dealing with security issues, which will meet at least once a week, could make a significant contribution to confidence building. The group will seek to neutralize the various guerrilla formations currently active in Gali Raion, especially the Georgian White Legion, which systematically targets members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The working groups have another advantage insofar as they create a forum for low-level but regular talks on practical issues. This contrasts with the high-level UN- and Russian-mediated talks aimed at persuading both sides to sign a more comprehensive document. Those talks have regularly raised, and then failed to fulfill, expectations. Recent rifts in the ranks of the ethnic Georgian displaced persons may similarly expedite the negotiating process. At a recent congress of displaced persons in Tbilisi, delegates accused some members of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile (which is composed of the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1990) of misappropriating financial aid intended for displaced persons. Those charges apparently prompted the parliament in exile to align itself with the Georgian leadership. (Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the parliament, had consistently exerted pressure on the Georgian leadership by advocating a military campaign to restore Tbilisi's jurisdiction over Abkhazia).In return, the exiled parliament received the right to nominate a representative who would belong to the Georgian delegation to the Geneva talks. The "Abkhazeti" faction within the Georgian parliament is similarly threatened by internal dissent over Russia's role as a mediator in the Abkhaz conflict. Such disagreements have reduced the displaced persons' collective ability to exert pressure on the Georgian leadership, thereby making the policy of "small but frequent steps" a viable option. But it is still uncertain whether progress toward resolving practical issues can be parlayed into a formal political agreement on Abkhazia's status within Georgia. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx SUBSCRIBING: 1) To subscribe to RFERL-L, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org 2) In the text of your message, type subscribe RFERL-L YourFirstName YourLastName UNSUBSCRIBING: 1) To un-subscribe to RFERL-L, please send a message to email@example.com 2) In the text of your message, type unsubscribe RFERL-L Current and Back Issues Back issues of RFE/RL Newsline and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at: http://www.rferl.org/newsline/search/ Listen to news for 13 countries RFE/RL programs for countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia and the South Slavic region are online daily at RFE/RL's 24-Hour LIVE Broadcast Studio. http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/index.html Reprint Policy To receive reprint permission, please contact Paul Goble, Publisher Email: GobleP@rferl.org Phone: 202-457-6947 Fax: 202-457-6992 Postal Address: RFE/RL, 1201 Connecticut Ave., NW Washington, DC 20036 USA RFE/RL Newsline Staff: * Paul Goble, Publisher, GobleP@rferl.org * Liz Fuller, Editor, CarlsonE@rferl.org * Patrick Moore, Deputy Editor, MooreP@rferl.org * Laurie Belin, BelinL@rferl.org * Bruce Pannier, PannierB@rferl.org * Michael Shafir, ShafirM@rferl.org * Jan Cleave, CleaveJ@rferl.org Freelance And Occasional Contributors * Fabian Schmidt * Matyas Szabo * Jeremy Bransten * Jolyon Naegele * Anthony Wesolowsky RFE/RL Newsline Fax: (420-2) 2112-3630
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