|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 170, Part I, 2 December 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 BEGINS STATE VISIT TO SWEDEN * U.S. CITIZEN DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF SPYING * TAJIK REBEL LEADER KILLED IN SHOOT-OUT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN BEGINS STATE VISIT TO SWEDEN... President Boris Yeltsin arrived in Sweden on 2 December for a three-day state visit. Talks are expected to focus on bilateral relations and confidence-building measures in the Baltic region, ITAR-TASS reported. In comments to Russian and foreign reporters the previous day, Yeltsin said his trip to Sweden aims to bring bilateral relations to a "new level of understanding and cooperation." He noted that Russia welcomes Sweden's help in normalizing relations with the Baltic countries. Yeltsin also commented that Russia has "a sincere interest" in developing good-neighborly relations with the Baltic States but that the stumbling block in dealing with Latvia and Estonia is the situation of the Russian-speaking population there. JG ...CALLS FOR BOOSTING BILATERAL TRADE, INVESTMENTS. Yeltsin also urged Swedish businessmen to step up trade with Russia and to invest more in the Russian economy. Swedish businessmen should not be afraid of "Russian bureaucracy, corruption, and the so-called Russian mafia," he commented, adding that the scale of such problems has been "strongly exaggerated." Yeltsin also said a "solid package" of agreements will be signed during his visit to Stockholm, specifically mentioning an agreement on restructuring the former Soviet Union's debt to Sweden. The Russian Ministry for Foreign Economic Relations released statistics on 1 December showing trade between Russia and Sweden could reach $2 billion this year, AFP reported. JG U.S. CITIZEN DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF SPYING. A spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said on 1 December that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Rostov Oblast on suspicion of spying, Russian news agencies reported. The spokesman said Richard Bliss was detained on 25 November after he had been found taking land surveys of "sensitive sites" using satellite transmitters that are not allowed to be brought into Russia. Meanwhile, Richard Hoagland, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Moscow, said two U.S. businessmen were detained for questioning by the Rostov authorities on 25 November. Hoagland said one of the men has been released and the other is still in detention. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington that Bliss works for a U.S. telecommunications company that is setting up a mobile telephone network in Russia. JG ZYUGANOV AGAIN CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT AHEAD OF BUDGET DEBATE. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 1 December renewed criticism of the government over Yeltsin's decision to put off a meeting, scheduled for the same day, at which the cabinet was to report on its economic performance to date, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Earlier, Yeltsin had threatened that some ministers might be dismissed after he had heard the government's report. Zyuganov told a news conference in Moscow that the meeting was put off to avoid criticism of the government shortly before the 5 December parliamentary debate on the budget. Zyuganov accused the government of continuing "its ruinous economic policy" and said Communist Duma deputies will meet on 2 December to discuss their position on the budget. But State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, also a Communist, said later the same day that prospects for the budget debate are "in no way linked" to the postponement of the meeting, ITAR-TASS reported. JG DISAGREEMENT OVER YELTSIN'S PLANNED CHECHEN VISIT CONTINUES. Russian Presidential Press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 1 December reiterated that Yeltsin's planned visit to Chechnya in January will not have the status of a state visit, given that Chechnya "was, is and will be" part of the Russian Federation, Russian agencies reported. Chechen officials, including President Aslan Maskhadov, want the visit to take place in accordance with international diplomatic protocol. Maskhadov spokesman Kazbek Khazdhiev said on 30 November that Grozny may not ban the visit unless it takes place on those terms. LF PRIMAKOV MEETS WITH BULGARIAN COUNTERPART. Following a meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart, Nadezhda Mikhailova, in Moscow on 1 December, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, said relations between Moscow and Sofia are "good, normal, and have good prospects for development," ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that while there are no "splits" or "antagonistic" feelings between the two countries, differences of opinion exist, including over NATO expansion. Mikhailova said her talks with Primakov were very useful and will serve as a "good basis for further cooperation." Mikhailova was in Moscow also to help prepare for Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov's visit to Moscow on 19-20 December. JG RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN TREATY TO BE RATIFIED BY YEAR'S END? Duma speaker Seleznev and his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Moroz, said after their meeting in Moscow on 1 December that they hope their parliaments will ratify a bilateral friendship treaty by the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. That treaty was signed by Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in May 1997. Moroz said that "a synchronized ratification" of the treaty will strengthen the authority of Ukrainian lawmakers ahead of Ukraine's March parliamentary elections. Georgii Tikhonov, the chairman of the Duma Committee for the CIS and Relations with Russians Abroad, noted on 1 December that the status of the Russian language in Ukraine may become a bone of contention during ratification discussions. But Moroz argued that "there are no problems with the use of the Russian language in Ukraine." JG GROWING NUMBER OF DRUG ADDICTS, ALCOHOL-RELATED DEATHS. Nikolai Ivanets, the head of the Health Ministry's Narcotics Center, has said the number of drug addicts in Russia grew by 34 percent so far this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 November. Ivanets said most of the new drug addicts are between 15 and 20 years old. Officials say alcohol-related deaths also are increasing. Boris Tereshenko, head of the Interior Ministry's economic crimes department, said the previous day some 43,000 Russians have died this year from drinking low-quality vodka. JG PRELIMINARY RESULTS FROM KAMCHATKA REGIONAL ELECTIONS. Preliminary returns from the 30 November elections to the Kamchatka Regional Council of People's Deputies show that 46 out of the 49 council seats have been filled, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. No single political party won clear majority in the vote. Electoral authorities said the results of the vote in the Koryak autonomous district, which has three seats in the regional council, are still unclear due to the lack of communications with communities in remote areas. JG TRETYAKOV GALLERY DIRECTOR ASKS FOR FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE. The director of Moscow's prestigious Tretyakov Gallery has asked Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov for an emergency meeting to discuss the museum's financial problems, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. Valentin Rodionov said that the Interior Ministry had withdrawn several of its guards working at the gallery because of unpaid wages. Rodionov said the ministry had warned in a 28 November letter that unless back wages are paid, the unit providing security to the museum would be substantially downsized. The gallery owes a total of some $1 million in back wages to the guards. JG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK OUTLAW LEADER KILLED IN SHOOT-OUT. Rezvon Sadirov, one of the leaders of a group that has taken several hostages since December 1996, was killed on 2 December, RFE/RL correspondents in the Tajik capital reported. Sadirov and some 40 of his supporters were surrounded by Tajik government security forces in a Dushanbe suburb but refused to surrender. The total number of casualties in the shoot-out that followed has not yet been released. The Security Ministry said a large number of weapons and narcotics were found at the scene. Sadirov's gang kidnapped two French citizens on 18 November and demanded the release of Rezvon's brother, Bahrom, in exchange for the hostages. However, one of the hostages was killed on 30 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). BP TURKMENISTAN EXTENDS OIL, GAS TENDER. The Turkmen government has extended the date for bids to explore and develop hydrocarbons in the country's section of the Caspian Sea, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 1 December. The deadline was originally the end of November, but owing to "large number of applicants," the authorities have decided to continue accepting proposals until 15 February 1998. BP GEORGIAN TERRORISM TRIAL SUSPENDED. The trial of Jaba Ioseliani and 14 members of his Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation opened in Tbilisi on 1 December amid massive security precautions. The proceedings were suspended almost immediately after the defendants loudly protested having to sit in steel cages. The defendants face charges of organizing the August 1995 assassination attempt against then parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, banditry, and the illegal possession of arms and drugs. Ioseliani denounced the proceedings as a "show trial", while Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio broadcast that he is sure all legal and democratic norms will be observed, according to ITAR-TASS. LF GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN POPULATION PLEDGES LOYALTY. Dzhavakhk, the organization representing Georgia's Armenian population, has issued a statement expressing its support for the Georgian government's planned measures to improve social and economic conditions in those areas of southern Georgia with a majority Armenian population, Caucasus Press reported on 1 December. Several Georgian politicians have accused Dzhavakhk of campaigning for territorial autonomy. LF AZERBAIJANI TERRORISM SUSPECT EXTRADITED TO BAKU. Russian law enforcement agencies on 29 November extradited to Azerbaijan 30-year-old Azer Aslanov, who is charged with planting a bomb that exploded in the Baku metro in July 1994 and killed 13 people. Aslanov, who was taken prisoner by Armenians in January 1994 while serving in the Azerbaijani army, was commissioned by the Armenian security service to plant the Baku bomb, according to Turan, citing the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office. In February 1997, Azerbaijani Security Minister Namik Abbasov announced that his ministry had arrested the man responsible for an earlier Baku metro bombing. That suspect was also said to have been recruited and trained by the Armenian secret service. Armenia denied those allegations. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ON POLITICAL SITUATION. Heidar Aliev on 29 November said the political situation in Azerbaijan is "more stable than ever before" and affirmed that democratic processes "are irreversible and will continue to gather strength," Interfax and Turan reported. But Aliev also charged that unnamed members of the government are trying to distort the leadership's policies. Saying it is unacceptable for opposition parties to maintain armed formations, Aliev condemned unnamed opposition figures for supplying information about human rights violations and prison conditions in Azerbaijan to international organizations, many of which he claimed are "financed by Armenians." Aliev was speaking at a meeting to mark the fifth anniversary of the creation of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party. LF PLANS TO GUARD CAUCASUS RAILWAY, PIPELINE. Georgia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan will create a joint battalion to protect the Transcaucasian transport corridor, Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksandr Kuzmuk told journalists in Kyiv on 1 December. Kuzmuk and his Georgian counterpart, Vardiko Nadibaidze, had agreed on jointly protecting the railroad through Abkhazia during Kuzmuk's recent visit to Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). Caucasus Press on 1 December cited the independent Azerbaijani news agency ANS as reporting that if construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline proceeds, U.S. reconnaissance aircraft currently stationed at Turkey's Incirlik air base will be deployed to protect the pipeline under an agreement between Turkey, the U.S., and Britain. LF ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS HOLD CONGRESS. Addressing the 33rd congress of the Armenian Communist Party in Yerevan on 29-30 November, party first secretary Sergei Badalyan argued that the "so-called reforms" conducted by the country's present leadership have led to deadlock, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 1 December. He predicted that "sooner or later" the Communists will return to power. Badalyan advocated resolving the Karabakh conflict within the framework of a revived union of former Soviet republics on the basis of the right of the region's Armenian population to self-determination. Badalyan and the other six communist parliamentary deputies had met on 27 November with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan to discuss the country's social and economic situation and constitutional reform, ITAR-TASS reported. Five leading Communists were expelled from the party in November for having joined the Union of Socialist Forces. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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