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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 171, Part I, 3 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 SAYS RUSSIA READY TO CUT TROOPS ON NORTHWESTERN BORDER * RUSSIA, WESTERN CREDITOR BANKS CONCLUDE LANDMARK DEAL * OPERATION AGAINST TAJIK TERRORISTS CONTINUES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN SAYS RUSSIA READY TO CUT TROOPS ON NORTHWESTERN BORDER... President Boris Yeltsin has said that Russia is ready to unilaterally cut its land and naval forces in the northwest of the country by more than 40 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin, who was addressing the Swedish parliament on 3 December, said the reductions would take place by 1 January 1997. He did not say, however, exactly how many troops would be cut or which areas would be affected. Yeltsin also proposed introducing "a regime of confidence" in the Baltic region. He said Russia wants "a border of peace, not strife" with its Baltic neighbors. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia all rejected Russia's recent offer of security guarantees, while Sweden has said it does not support the initiative. According to Yeltsin in his address to the Swedish parliament, only the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can serve as the basis for a sound security system in Europe. JG ...MAKES SURPRISE STATEMENT ON NUCLEAR WARHEADS. The previous day, Yeltsin had announced at a press conference in the Swedish capital that Russia will unilaterally reduce its nuclear warheads by another third. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii explained later that Yeltsin was simply proposing to go beyond reductions already discussed with the U.S. in preliminary talks on a START III treaty. Under the START II treaty, Russia and the U.S. agreed to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals to some 3,500 warheads each by 2000. That treaty still has to be ratified by the Russian parliament. U.S State Department spokesman James Rubin responded that while Washington would welcome unilateral reductions in Russia's nuclear arsenal, the main item on the U.S.- Russian arms control agenda is the Russian parliament's ratification of START II. JG RUSSIA, SWEDEN AGREE TO RESTRUCTURE SOVIET DEBT. Also on 2 December, Yeltsin and Swedish Premier Goran Persson attended the signing of several agreements, including one on restructuring the former Soviet Union's debt to Sweden, Russian news agencies reported. Russia is repaying that debt, which is estimated at $50 million. Other agreements were on fighting money-laundering and tax evasion, closer cooperation between the two countries' Justice Ministries, and cooperation in space research and nuclear energy. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is accompanying Yeltsin, met with Swedish Finance Minister Erik Asbrink and called on Swedish businessmen to increase their investments in the Russian economy, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin's visit to Sweden is the first by a Russian head of state since 1909. JG RUSSIA, WESTERN CREDITOR BANKS CONCLUDE LANDMARK DEAL. Russia and its Western creditor banks concluded a landmark $32.3 billion deal on 2 December. Andrei Kostin, the chairman of state-owned Vneshekonombank, told a news conference in London that Russia considers the London Club deal another step toward the stabilization of Russia's financial situation and increased investments. He added that Russia can now look forward to an improved credit rating in the first quarter of next year. Meanwhile in Moscow, IMF representative Martin Gilman said the Russian government needs to do more to expedite the release of a $700 million loan from the fund, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that a decision on issuing the delayed loan would not be taken until February. On 1 December, the Central Bank had issued a statement saying it expects the IMF to release the loan by the end of the month following the government's new fiscal measures. JG RUSSIA EXTENDS BAN ON EXPORT OF LAND MINES. The presidential press service announced on 2 December that Russia has extended its moratorium on the export of land mines for another five years, Interfax reported. The extension of the ban was decreed by Yeltsin. In October, the president had said Russia supports a world ban on anti-personnel land mines and that he does not rule out being among the signatories of such a treaty at the international conference in Ottawa, which began on 2 December. The Kremlin, however, said no date has been set for Russia's accession to the treaty. JG 67 PEOPLE KILLED IN KEMEROVO MINE BLAST. The Emergencies Ministry has announced that a methane gas explosion killed 67 people in a southern Siberian mine on 2 December, Russian news agencies reported. The blast occurred in the Zyryanovskaya mine in Kemerovo Oblast, but its cause was not immediately known. The blast is said to be Russia's worst mining disaster in decades. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev said it indicates the critical plight of the regional coal industry. JG RUSSIA TO FILE SPY CHARGES AGAINST U.S. CITIZEN. Aleksandr Zdanovich, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), said on 2 December that Russia will file espionage charges against U.S. citizen Richard Bliss, Interfax reported. Zdanovich said that if convicted, Bliss faces between 10 and 20 years in prison. The FSB announced on 1 December that Bliss was detained the previous week in Rostov Oblast after he had been found taking land surveys of "sensitive sites" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). JG PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS CIS CRIME RATE HAS DOUBLED. Russia's Yurii Skuratov said on 2 December that the number of crimes committed in CIS member states has almost doubled over the past five to seven years, ITAR-TASS reported. Skuratov was speaking at a meeting in Moscow of CIS law-enforcement officials. Also on 2 December, a Russian Interior Ministry official said a total of 150 people were killed and some 470 injured in bomb explosions throughout Russia so far this year. Major-General Igor Khromov, the deputy chief of the ministry's criminal investigations department, told a Moscow news conference that the number of bombings increased from 185 to 740 over the past five years. JG SKURATOV ON DEMAND FOR STANKEVICH'S EXTRADITION. Also on 2 December, Prosecutor-General Skuratov said Russia will take "appropriate measures" if Poland does not fulfill the Russian authorities' demand to extradite former Moscow Deputy Mayor Sergei Stankevich, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He did not, however, specify what those measures would be. Skuratov said Russia will continue to insist that Stankevich be extradited, despite a recent Warsaw court decision that Stankevich is not liable for extradition under Polish law. "I do not think Poland wants to become a safe haven for international criminals," Interfax quoted Skuratov as saying. Stankevich is accused of bribe-taking. JG YUGOSLAV FEDERAL PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Radoje Kontic arrived in Moscow on 2 December for a three-day official visit, ITAR-TASS said. Before leaving for Moscow, Kontic told reporters he expects trade turnover between Yugoslavia and Russia to triple by the end of the century, reaching $3-3.5 billion . Kontic and his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, are expected to sign an agreement whereby Russia will extend a credit for federal Yugoslavia to buy Russian goods worth $150 million. They are also expected to sign several cooperation accords and to discuss a wide range of international issues, including implementation of the Dayton peace accords. JG CHINESE GENERALS VISIT RUSSIAN WARSHIP. Six Chinese generals, led by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese Armed Forces Xiong Guangkoi, have inspected the Russian destroyer "Admiral Vinogradov," ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. The vessel is currently docked in Vladivostok, the headquarters of the Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet Command. The Chinese used the opportunity to discuss further military cooperation, including joint naval exercises. China has shown great interest in purchasing Russian naval military technology, such as destroyers and submarines. BP CHECHEN PARLIAMENT OVERRULES PRESIDENTIAL VETO. The Chechen parliament on 2 December overruled President Aslan Maskhadov's veto of its October ruling that all Chechen officials who held power under pro-Moscow President Doku Zavgaev must be fired by 1 January 1998, Interfax reported. On three occasions, the parliament has postponed a vote on Maskhadov's request for expanded powers enabling him to rule by decree. Also on 2 December, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced he plans to visit Chechnya later in December. But his Chechen counterpart, Ruslan Alikhadzhiev, told ITAR-TASS that Seleznev will not be admitted if he insists Chechnya is still a subject of the Russian Federation. LF DUMA DEPUTY CONDEMNS "GUAM-2." Speaking at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 2 December, Colonel-General Eduard Vorobev, a member of the State Duma Defense Committee, said the alignment of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova "cannot be seen as a friendly gesture toward Russia," Interfax reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev had said on 25 November that the new union "is not directed against anyone." But Vorobev claimed it aims to further the "military and strategic" interests of the four member countries. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OPERATION AGAINST TAJIK TERRORISTS CONTINUES... Tajik government security forces are continuing their operation against a terrorist group responsible for several kidnappings, despite the death of the group's leader, Rezvon Sadirov. The government wants to eliminate the group and free 12-15 hostages believed to be held by the outlaws. Authorities in Dushanbe believe that among the hostages are the two sons of the head mufti of Tajikistan, who were kidnapped in the summer. BP ...WHILE GOVERNMENT SAYS FOREIGNERS SAFE. Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurahmon Azimov on 2 December told diplomats and heads of international organizations that they need not worry for their or their co-workers' safety, ITAR-TASS reported. Azimov said there is now a "90 percent probability" that there will be no repetition of the recent hostage-taking incident in which one French woman was killed. Security Minister Saidamir Zuhurov, however, noted that "bandit groups" may be among repatriated United Tajik Opposition members and even representatives of Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies in Dushanbe. The next day, the UN observer mission in Tajikistan announced it is operating as normal. BP ONE AZAMAT LEADER FINED IN ALMATY... Murat Auezov, the co- chairman of Kazakhstan's Azamat movement, was fined 2,480 tenge ($33) by a district court on 2 December for "organizing and participating in an unauthorized rally," Interfax reported. Azamat called for the 30 November demonstration in front of the Kazakh parliament building to protest the government's "arbitrary rule " (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). BP ...WHILE ANOTHER BEATEN IN BISHKEK. Peter Svoik, also a co- chairman of the Azamat movement, was beaten in a hotel room in the Kyrgyz capital on 1 December, RFE/RL corespondents in Bishkek and Almaty reported. Four masked men entered Svoik's room, hit the Kazakh politician on the head, and also injured his wife. Svoik was in Bishkek to attend a conference on "Democratic Changes in Central Asia." Several of Kazakhstan's opposition movements and parties have sent a protest letter to the Kyrgyz embassy in Kazakhstan. BP SHELL CHOSEN TO HEAD TURKMEN PIPELINE CONSORTIUM. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Royal Dutch Shell President John Parsley on 2 December in Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov proposed that Parsley's company form a consortium to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. The British-Dutch company's president agreed to head such a consortium. The results of France's Sofregaz company feasibility study on the project are expected to be made available by year's end. BP GEORGIAN WARLORD TO BOYCOTT TRIAL. Djaba Ioseliani, the leader of the banned Georgian paramilitary formation Mkhedrioni, has refused to attend further sessions of his trial on charges of terrorism and attempting to assassinate then parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, Interfax reported on 2 December. In a letter addressed to the chairmen of the Supreme Court and the parliamentary Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Ioseliani said the requirement that he and the other 14 defendants sit in steel cages during the court proceedings constitutes "arbitrary rule and a tragic farce." LF TBILISI-BATUMI TENSIONS INCREASE. Adjar Supreme Soviet Chairman Aslan Abashidze has declared his intention to institute criminal proceedings against Rostom Dolidze, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary committee on procedures, Caucasus Press reported on 3 December. In October, former Batumi Mayor Temur Kharrazi accused both Dolidze and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, Dolidze of conspiring to oust Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 1997). But Anzor Tsutsunava, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission created to investigate those accusations, told Caucasus Press that the Adjar Prosecutor's Office is not empowered to start proceedings against Dolizde and Zhvania. Dolidze complained on 2 December that the investigative commission has failed to demonstrate that Kharrazi's charges were fabricated. LF ESTONIAN, GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS MEET. Estonian parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi and his Georgian counterpart, Zurab Zhvania, signed a cooperation agreement in Tbilisi on 2 December, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Savi told journalists later that Georgia has "great economic potential," adding that he is certain Georgia will soon become a member of the EU. Zhvania again charged that Georgia's relations with Russia are reverting to the level of a "Cold War" owing to Moscow's failure to expedite a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. He suggested that Georgia may reconsider its membership in the CIS, which, he said, has failed to bring "anything positive." LF ARMENIA'S MANUKYAN SAYS DEMOCRACY KEY TO KARABAKH CONFLICT. National Democratic Union chairman and former presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 2 December that democratization and public trust in the government, together with a strong army, will help Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to secure a "just solution" to the Karabakh conflict. Speaking about his recent visit to South America (where an estimated 100,000 ethnic Armenians live), Manukyan said he was primarily interested in those countries' peaceful transition to democracy after decades of military rule. He said their experience is very useful for Armenia, which "has retreated from democracy since 1991." LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION REJECTS PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM. Spokesmen for Azerbaijan's three leading opposition parties have taken issue with President Heidar Aliev's statements at a 29 November meeting, Turan reported three days later. Aliev accused the opposition of "hostility" and called for the "normalization" of relations between the leadership and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). Azerbaijan Popular Front Deputy Chairman Mirmahmud Fattaev noted that Abulfaz Elchibey, the front's chairman, recently called for establishing "civil peace" in Azerbaijan. Fattaev said the present Azerbaijani leadership is a "guarantee not of democracy but its suffocation." Party of National Independence Secretary-General Elshad Musaev said it is "abnormal" that the Azerbaijani leadership is ready for talks with Armenia but not with its own opposition. And Musavat Party secretary Sulhaddin Akper charged that, contrary to Aliev's assertion, it is the leadership, not the opposition, that demonstrates hostility. 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