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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 172, Part I, 4 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 * SERGEEV CONFIRMS YELTSIN'S PLEDGE TO REDUCE TROOPS IN NORTHWEST * CHUBAIS ASKS WESTERN BANKS FOR EMERGENCY LOAN * MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN STEPANAKERT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA SERGEEV CONFIRMS YELTSIN'S PLEDGE TO REDUCE TROOPS IN NORTHWEST... Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has confirmed President Boris Yeltsin's pledge to unilaterally cut by at least 40 percent ground and naval forces in northwestern Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1997). Sergeev said the reduction will be part of an ongoing overhaul of Russia's armed forces aimed at reducing the number of troops from 1.7 million to 1.2 million by 1 January 1999. He noted that the cuts will be made to ground forces in Kaliningrad Oblast and the Leningrad Military District as well as in the Baltic and northern fleets of the Russian Navy. The cuts were made possible because of stability in the region, he explained. Sergeev was speaking at a news conference following a meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels. JG ...CLARIFIES YELTSIN'S OFFER OF UNILATERAL CUTS IN NUCLEAR ARSENAL. Sergeev also clarified Yeltsin's 2 December statement that he is ready to cut Russia's nuclear arsenal by one- third. Sergeev said the proposed cuts will be discussed within the context of talks planned with the U.S. on a START III treaty. He added that Yeltsin was referring to prospective cuts "on a parity basis" under such a treaty. Meanwhile, the State Duma, which has yet to ratify the START II treaty, has invited Sergeev to attend its 5 December closed-door meeting to report on the state and combat- readiness of the country's strategic nuclear forces, ITAR-TASS reported. JG PRIMAKOV ON YELTSIN'S OFFER. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who is with Yeltsin in Sweden, said on 3 December that the president's pledge to reduce nuclear warheads by one-third should be viewed within the context of Russian-U.S. negotiations on a START III treaty. Primakov told reporters he wants Yeltsin's statement "to be interpreted in the right way," Russian news agencies reported. He noted that during talks in Helsinki in the spring, Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton had agreed that under a START III treaty, Russia and the U.S. would each have 2,000-2,500 warheads. Primakov said Russia has been raising the issue of lowering this figure and that Yeltsin's statement "should be viewed in this context." JG RUSSIA, SWEDEN SIGN PROTOCOL ON GAS PIPELINE. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Swedish Economy Minister Anders Sundstroem have signed a protocol on the construction of gas pipeline that will link Russia and Western Europe. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the protocol provides for Russian-Swedish consultations on Sweden's possible participation in the project. He added that while an exact route for the pipeline has not been agreed, it will most likely run through Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Sundstroem made it clear at the signing ceremony that Sweden's final decision on a pipeline project will be based exclusively on economic, not political, considerations. Nemtsov said economic considerations are also a top priority for Russia and noted that if the two sides fail to reach an agreement, it "will be not be a disaster" for Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. JG CHUBAIS ASKS WESTERN BANKS FOR EMERGENCY LOAN. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has met with the heads of at least four Western banks and asked them to prepare an emergency loan of up to $2 billion to cover the budget deficit and pay off public-sector wage arrears, the "Financial Times" reported on 3 December. None of the banks would comment on the report, the newspaper added. Also on 2 December, Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin summoned the heads of 10 leading Russian commercial banks to discuss the country's financial situation . A spokeswoman for the Central Bank said after the meeting that the banks had pledged to jointly back the ruble. She said Dubinin reassured the bank heads that he is ready to assist them, since "for the Central Bank, the collapse of any of the largest banks would be undesirable." JG DUBININ SAYS CENTRAL BANK TO REVIEW INTEREST RATES SOON. Central Bank Chairman Dubinin said on 3 December that the Central Bank will review its benchmark refinancing rate in the next few days and is keeping a close watch over the government securities market, Russian news agencies reported. Dubinin told a Moscow conference on credit and investment in Russia that there will be no devaluation of the ruble and that the Central Bank has "adequate reserves" to handle capital outflows over the next several months. He said total gold and foreign currency reserves now amount to about $18 billion. Earlier, Dubinin had told reporters that, as of 21 November, Central Bank foreign currency reserves amounted to $21.5 billion, Interfax reported. JG DUMA WANTS REPORT ON GOVERNMENT MEASURES FOR FINANCIAL STABILITY. The Duma on 3 December asked Central Bank Chairman Dubinin and Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov to report to the lower house on 5 December on measures taken by the government to ensure the stability of Russia's financial market. The Duma also intends to ask Yeltsin to put off the re-denomination of the ruble by at least six months, until the financial market becomes stable. A resolution to that effect was drafted on 3 December and will be put to the vote at the 5 December closed-door session, ITAR-TASS reported. JG DUMA GIVES INITIAL APPROVAL TO DRAFT AMNESTY. The Duma on 3 December approved in the first reading a draft decree providing for an amnesty of some 360,000 prisoners sentenced for less serious crimes. Under the draft, which was proposed by Yeltsin, some 35,000 inmates will be released from prison while the sentences of the remainder will be commuted by as much as one- third. In a 26 November letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Yeltsin said the amnesty would ease the burden on Russia's over- crowded jails. JG FSB CHIEF ON RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON. Nikolai Kovalyov, head of the Federal Security Service, said on 3 December that Moscow does not want to aggravate relations with Washington over a U.S. citizen detained on suspicion of espionage, Russian news agencies reported. Kovalyov said Richard Bliss will be freed if it is proven that he has committed no crime. At the same time, Kovalyov said evidence available to the security service is sufficient to bring espionage charges against him. Bliss was detained on 25 November in Rostov Oblast while conducting land surveys with a global positioning device. The authorities have until 5 December to file formal charges. JG RYBKIN IN GROZNY. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin met with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov in Grozny on 3 December to discuss President Yeltsin's proposed visit to Chechnya in January, Russian agencies reported. Rybkin conceded later that "Russia is not doing very well" in honoring earlier agreements signed with Grozny, including pledges to provide economic assistance. Rybkin will return to Grozny on 6 December, and Yeltsin and Maskhadov will discuss the proposed visit by telephone within the next few days. LF DUMA WANTS INVESTIGATION OF FAILED DUDAEV OUSTER. The Duma on 3 December adopted a resolution condemning the creation in fall 1994 of "illegal armed formations" aimed at ousting then Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. With Russian military backing, the formations of the opposition Provisional Council launched an abortive assaults on Grozny (see "RFE/RL Daily Report," 17 October and 28 November 1994). The second attack in November precipitated the full-scale Russian military intervention on 11 December. The Duma resolution called on the Prosecutor-General's Office to identify and bring to justice those responsible for the creation of the military units in question. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN STEPANAKERT. The U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group were in Stepanakert on 3 December to meet with Naira Melkumian, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Prime Minister Leonard Petrosian, and Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. President Arkadii Ghukasyan, who is reportedly sick, did not attend the meeting. A senior Nagorno-Karabakh diplomat told an RFE/RL correspondent in Stepanakert that the Minsk Group's plan "predetermines a status full of dubious ambiguities" for the disputed region, adding that even the plan's authors cannot explain how it would be implemented. In an interview with Turan on 3 December, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov condemned what he termed "bellicose and unconstructive" statements by unnamed Armenian and Karabakh officials. He also said the Karabakh Armenians' position is "illogical." LF ARMENIAN MEDIA STAGE ONE-DAY STRIKE. Almost all major newspapers, nine news agencies, and one radio station staged a strike on 3 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Among the newspapers taking part was the state-owned daily "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun." Editors issued a joint statement demanding tax exemption for the press, the free-of-charge handover of state-owned premises to the media currently leasing them, and the restructuring of the state agency for newspaper distribution. They also demanded a meeting with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan. The strike was precipitated by the surprisingly high number of unsold newspapers in recent weeks. The strikers blamed that development on the allegedly inefficient work of the Haymamul state agency, which has a monopoly on newspaper distribution. LF GEORGIAN TERRORISM TRIAL AGAIN POSTPONED. The trial of Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani and 14 of his subordinates has again been postponed, Caucasus Press reported on 4 December. The reason for this latest postponement is that one of the defense lawyers is unwell. All 15 men face charges related to the August 1995 attempt to assassinate parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. The trial was adjourned shortly after it began on 1 December because the defendants protested having to sit in steel cages. National Security Council Deputy Secretary Rusudan Beridze told Caucasus Press that the caged defendants "were not a pleasant sight," but she insisted that the requirement does not violate the prisoners' rights. LF GEORGIANS PROTEST RUSSIAN MILITARY PRESENCE. Some 100 members of the youth organization of the Union of Citizens of Georgia, the majority party within the parliament, staged a demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi on 3 December to demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The UCG had staged a demonstration on 29-30 November in protest at Russian border troops' unilateral decision to move a control post from Russian to Georgian territory. Also on 3 December, some 200 residents of the village of Muganlo, southeast of Tbilisi, demonstrated outside the Russian military base at Vaziani to protest the deaths of three villagers on 1 December. The three, including a small child, were killed trying to dismantle a mine they had found in a nearby field. LF AZERBAIJANI PASSPORT SCANDAL CONTINUES. Jean-Luc Viala, the head of the French national printing office, has denied Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry claims that his office delivered 4 million passports to Baku, which the Azerbaijani authorities then rejected as substandard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). Viala told AFP on 3 December that his office signed a contract with Azerbaijan in 1994 and delivered 19,000 specimen passports the following year. Later, he said, the contract "was broken for commercial reasons." LF AZERBAIJAN TO PRIVATIZE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev on 3 December issued a decree privatizing six state-owned construction companies and another three related enterprises, Interfax reported. The construction branch is one of the last still under state ownership, along with the oil and petro-chemical industry, road maintenance, and medical services (see "End Note," in "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1997). LF UZBEK OPPOSITION PARTY ASKS PRESIDENT TO ALLOW LEADER'S RETURN. At a plenary session in Tashkent at the end of November, the banned opposition party "Erk" drew up a letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov asking that Erk chairman Muhammed Salih be allowed to return from self-imposed exile in Turkey. Salih told RFE/RL's Uzbek service on 2 December that he would like to return and that Erk Secretary-General Otanazar Oripov is discussing with the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent on ways to facilitate that process. Erk also asked the Uzbek president for permission to re- register the party. BP KARIMOV DECREES AMNESTY ON ANNIVERSARY OF CONSTITUTION. Meanwhile, Uzbek President Karimov has decreed an amnesty for some criminals, RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent reported on 3 December. The decree coincided with the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Uzbek Constitution. Women who either have children or are expecting a child, people over 60 years of age, and those convicted of some non-violent crimes are covered by the amnesty. Those who do not qualify for may be eligible for a 25- 50 percent reduction in their sentences. A special commission has been formed to decide who qualifies for the amnesty. The commission's report is due within three months. BP INFLATION IN KAZAKHSTAN LOWER THAN EXPECTED. Kazakhstan's National Statistics Agency reports that annual inflation for this year will be lower than predicted, Interfax reported on 3 December. Monthly inflation stood at 1.5 percent in November, up from 1.2 percent the previous month. Consumer prices increased by 9.8 percent from to January and November 1997, compared with 24.8 percent in same period last year. The government is now predicting annual inflation will not exceed 12 percent. Earlier forecasts put the annual rate at 17 percent. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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