|There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. - Graham Greene|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 174, Part I, 8 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 * PLANE CRASH CAUSES CARNAGE IN IRKUTSK * DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN FIRST READING * RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN FRONTIER DISAGREEMENT CONTINUES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PLANE CRASH CAUSES CARNAGE IN IRKUTSK. Rescue workers in Irkutsk have confirmed that at least 62 people were killed when an An-124 military cargo plane crashed into several apartment buildings shortly after takeoff on 6 December, an RFE/RL correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 8 December. Some 28 people are still missing. The plane was carrying 100 tons of fuel and two fighter jets intended for delivery to Vietnam. President Boris Yeltsin has appointed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to head a government commission investigating the cause of the crash. Chernomyrdin flew to Irkutsk on 7 December to chair the first meeting of that commission. Several scenarios will be investigated, including whether the plane was loaded with contaminated fuel, which could cause engine failure, and whether the wings were properly de-iced before takeoff. In Irkutsk, as in many Russian cities, the airport is near a residential area. LB DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN FIRST READING. The State Duma on 5 December approved the 1998 budget in the first reading by 231 to 136 with six abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Just before the vote, President Boris Yeltsin paid a surprise visit to the Duma and appealed to deputies to pass the budget, promising the document will be revised before later readings. The Our Home Is Russia, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Russian Regions factions unanimously supported the budget, as did most Agrarian deputies, Interfax reported. All Yabloko deputies and most members of the Communist and Popular Power factions opposed it. The 1998 budget calls for 367.5 billion new rubles ($61 billion) in revenues, 499.9 billion rubles in spending, a deficit of 132.4 billion rubles (4.7 percent of GDP, which is estimated at 2.84 trillion rubles), and an annual inflation rate of 5.7 percent. LB COMMUNIST VOTES KEY TO BUDGET PASSAGE. Some 29 Communist Duma deputies, about one-fifth of the Communist faction, voted to pass the budget in the first reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Without their support, the budget would have fallen short of the 226 votes needed for a Duma majority. The budget vote is expected to undermine the credibility of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who announced on 4 December that his faction had unanimously agreed to vote against the budget. Zyuganov claimed on 5 December that he and the rest of the "Communist leadership" voted to reject the budget. However, those who supported passage in the first reading included several prominent members of the Communist faction, such as Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, faction coordinator Sergei Reshulskii, and Zyuganov adviser Aleksei Podberezkin. LB YAVLINSKII DOUBTS GOVERNMENT CAN ADHERE TO BUDGET. Speaking to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 5 December, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii predicted that the government will be unable to abide by the 1998 budget, just as it was unable to fulfill revenue and spending plans for 1997. Yavlinskii charged that a trilateral commission of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives, which revised the budget after the Duma rejected an earlier draft in October, had only made the budget worse. He argued that the trilateral commission agreed to add more than 27 trillion rubles ($4.5 billion) in expenditures but did not provide realistic plans to increase revenues accordingly. Yavlinskii also criticized the government for trying to boost 1998 revenues by raising various taxes rather than by taking strong measures to improve tax collection. LB YELTSIN PROMISES TO SIGN LAW ON GOVERNMENT. While in the Duma on 5 December, Yeltsin pledged to sign the law on the government, Russian news agencies reported. The president vetoed that law earlier this year and then refused to sign it even after both houses of the parliament overrode his veto, prompting the Federation Council to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In October, Yeltsin indicated he would sign the law only if certain passages are amended. However, his remarks on 5 December did not appear to make signing the law conditional on any amendments. The law on the government would increase parliamentary influence over the composition of the cabinet. In particular, it would require the whole government to step down if the prime minister resigned or were dismissed. The Duma would then have to confirm a new prime minister before other cabinet members could be named. LB NEMTSOV IN CHILE... First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov met with Chilean President Eduardo Frei and high-ranking economic officials during a visit to Santiago, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Chilean capital reported on 6 December. Among other things, Nemtsov is studying Chile's experience with non-governmental pension funds. Such funds exist in Russia, but a law regulating their activities has not yet been passed. Nemtsov, who flew to Mexico on 8 December, is likely to miss an upcoming report by the government on its activities to Yeltsin. Some Russian commentators have argued that by sending Nemtsov abroad at this time, Yeltsin signaled that he does not plan to sack the first deputy premier. LB ...SAYS THERE'S NO 'RUSSIAN PINOCHET.' While in Chile, Nemtsov did not meet with General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean leader from 1973 to 1990 and currently commander of the armed forces, RFE/RL's correspondent in Santiago reported. But in an interview with RFE/RL, Nemtsov said Pinochet had played a major role in leading Chile to economic growth. Nemtsov noted that some Russian generals aspire to become political leaders, but he argued that no "second Pinochet" will be found in Russia. He added that "I simply do not know of any general" who would conduct the correct economic policies for Russia. Nemtsov's comments were presumably directed at former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who has founded a movement to support the armed forces and defense industry. LB SERGEEV REASSURES DUMA ON MISSILE REDUCTION PLANS. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 5 December that neither Yeltsin nor the Defense Ministry has proposed unilateral cuts in the Russian nuclear arsenal, Reuters and Interfax reported on 5 December. Speaking to reporters after closed Duma hearings on arms control and military reform plans, Sergeev said the Defense and Foreign Ministries worked jointly on the disarmament initiatives announced by Yeltsin in Stockholm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 December 1997). He stressed that further reductions in Russia's nuclear warheads will be "in parity" with U.S. cuts. The defense minister also called on the Duma to ratify the START-2 arms control treaty. LB LEBED BLASTS YELTSIN ON MILITARY, CHECHNYA POLICY. Former Security Council Secretary Lebed on 5 December slammed Yeltsin's recent proposals on troop reductions in the Russian northwest and further cuts in Russia's nuclear arsenal, Interfax reported. Lebed said president should resign, and he predicted that Yeltsin's planned trip to Chechnya in January will achieve nothing. He charged that Russia has not held Chechen officials to the August 1996 Khasavyurt accords, which called for postponing a decision on Chechnya's status for five years. (Lebed negotiated the Khasavyurt accords.) Lebed also told Interfax that he is willing to form an alliance with Yabloko leader Yavlinskii and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000. LB LUZHKOV SAYS HE WON'T RUN FOR PRESIDENT... Moscow Mayor Luzhkov has again denied that he plans to contest the next presidential election, Interfax reported on 6 December. In particular, he ruled out running for president in an alliance with Lebed. The same day, Luzhkov attended the second congress of the Russian Movement for New Socialism and told reporters that Russians increasingly support socialism--not as a step toward communism, but as a system to benefit the "absolute majority." LB ...MEETS WITH LUKASHENKA. Meanwhile, Luzhkov met with and praised Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka during a 5 December visit to Minsk, ITAR-TASS reported. The mayor reached agreement with a Minsk factory on annual imports of 20,000 engines for Moscow trucks and buses. Luzhkov also charged that although Yeltsin has taken steps toward unification with Belarus, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, and former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii are against the Russian-Belarusian union. LB ACCUSED U.S. SPY RELEASED PENDING INVESTIGATION. U.S. businessman Richard Bliss was released by the Federal Security Service on 6 December but must remain in Rostov Oblast while his case is investigated. The previous day, Bliss was charged with espionage. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Foley said there is "no credible reason" for the case against Bliss, Reuters reported. Foley said Vice President Al Gore telephoned with Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to discuss the Bliss case. Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, who coordinates U.S. policy toward Russia, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also discussed the case with Russian officials in Washington. ITAR-TASS on 5 December quoted unnamed FSB officials as claiming that Bliss had admitted to illegally importing satellite equipment to Russia. However, Qualcomm, Bliss's employer, said it had licenses for all equipment used in connection with a cellular telephone project in Rostov. LB COMMISSION BLAMES CRUSHED OXYGEN TANK FOR MINE BLAST. A government commission believes that a crushed oxygen tank caused the recent explosion that killed 67 coal miners at the Zyryanovskaya mine in Novokuznetsk (Kemerovo Oblast), ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. According to the preliminary conclusions of the commission investigating the disaster, an oxygen tank intended for use in emergencies fell between mining machinery, where it was depressurized. A spark subsequently set the oxygen tank on fire, which, in turn. ignited coal particles and methane gases in the mine. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin arrived in Novokuznetsk on 8 December for a meeting of the government commission on the mining disaster. LB RYBKIN RETURNS TO GROZNY. Russian Security Council Ivan Rybkin held further talks in Grozny on 6 December with the Chechen leadership on preparations for Yeltsin's planned January visit, Russian agencies reported. Agreement was reached on installing a telephone hot-line between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev told Interfax that no new Russian-Chechen agreements will be signed until existing accords have been implemented. On 7 December, Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told the same news agency that Chechnya will guarantee Yeltsin's security during the visit only if Yeltsin is officially invited by Maskhadov. Arsanov further claimed that some leading Russian politicians, including Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, are "making every effort" to prevent Yeltsin visiting Grozny. LF STROEV, CHERNOMYRDIN ON GUAM. Federation Council chairman Fedor Stroev told journalists in St. Petersburg on 7 December that the new alliance between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova does not constitute a threat either to Russia's national interests or to those of the CIS, according to Interfax. But Prime Minister Chernomyrdin expressed his disapproval of the "dispersal to different corners" of CIS member states, Turan reported on 5 December. Chernomyrdin said that Russia has embarked on "serious work" to expedite integration within the CIS. He also predicted that the 23 January CIS summit will constitute a "landmark" in that body's development. The possibility of creating a free trade zone within the CIS is currently under discussion, Chernomyrdin commented. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN FRONTIER DISAGREEMENT CONTINUES. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze sent a letter to Russian President Yeltsin on 5 December protesting the unilateral decision to move a Russian frontier post 1 kilometer into Georgian territory, Russian agencies reported. Shevardnadze called for the immediate resumption of bilateral talks on the demarcation of the border, but the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement the same day arguing that the border demarcation commission should not resume its work until the post is moved back to its original position. On 6 December, Russian border guards used force against some 50 young Georgian demonstrators who had begun a protest demonstration at the frontier two days earlier. The same day, the Russian Foreign Minister issued a statement condemning allegedly biased pronouncements by Georgian officials that reflect "an openly nihilistic view" of bilateral relations, according to ITAR-TASS. LF OSCE MINSK GROUP CHAIRMEN IN YEREVAN ... Following talks on 3-4 December in Stepanakert with the leadership of the Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, the three co-chairmen of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group returned to Yerevan to meet with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, ArmenPress reported. They evaluated the current stage of the peace process prior to the 18-19 December OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Copenhagen. LF ...AND BAKU. On 5 December, the co-chairmen met in Baku with Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov and President Heidar Aliev,. who expressed his regret that it appears unlikely a settlement of the Karabakh conflict will be reached before year's end, Interfax reported. Aliev said the most recent OSCE peace plan, which calls for a phased solution to the conflict, should be approved by all parties to the conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh has rejected that plan and continues to insist on a "package" solution. Arriving in Paris on 7 December for an official visit, Armenian Prime Minister and former Nagorno- Karabakh President Robert Kocharyan similarly said he supports a "package" solution rather than the "phased" approach, AFP reported. LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES FURTHER BUDGET DEBATE. Following discussions that lasted three days, the National Assembly on 5 December voted to postpone a vote on the 1998 draft budget until after 20 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Most factions have expressed reservations about the draft, including the majority Hanrapetutytun faction, which objects in particular to a provision enabling the government to spend an unspecified sum at its discretion on "emergency situations." Finance and Economy Minister Armen Darbinian rejected the argument that Armenia needs a budget that functions "like clockwork," arguing that the country's economy does not yet do so, ArmenPress reported. Darbinian also warned that by the end of 1998, Armenia's foreign debt will reach the maximum limit of 50 per cent of GDP. In 1996, that debt amounted to 34.9 percent and is estimated to total 46.3 percent in 1997. LF ARMENIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES. Kocharyan met in Yerevan on 4 December with editors and other media representatives to discuss demands made during the one-day media strike on 3 December, Armenian agencies reported. Kocharyan reasoned that it is not feasible to exempt the press from payment of taxes since that could lead to "intractable violations." But he did say he will propose that the parliament include in the 1998 budget a provision on financial aid for the media, to which the editors agreed. Kocharyan said he had been informed that media outlets were already exempt from paying rent for the premises they occupy in addition to maintenance charges. That exemption was one of the strikers' demands. LF GEORGIA, TURKMENISTAN FAIL TO REACH GAS AGREEMENT. During his one-day visit to Ashgabat on 5 December, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, signed a cooperation agreement and reaffirmed their interest in "mutual partnership" with the aim of "overcoming economic difficulties", ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides failed, however, to negotiate the resumption of Turkmen gas supplies to Georgia. Those supplies were suspended in March 1997 because of Georgia's inability to pay outstanding debts totaling $465.2 million for gas imported since 1993. Although Georgia has agreed to begin repayments, the resumption of gas imports from Turkmenistan is precluded by Gazprom's refusal to allow Ashgabat to use its pipeline network. LF WORLD BANK TO LEND $20 MILLION TO TAJIKISTAN. The World Bank is preparing to lend Tajikistan $20 million over the next two months, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. The bank's board of directors will meet on 16 December to approve the first $10 million credit, which the government will use to pay off wage and pension arrears. The board will convene again in late January to approve another $10 million credit to help restore and maintain the communications and social infrastructure in the Karagetinskaya region. BP EBRD, IFC TO GRANT LOAN TO KAZAKH STEEL COMPANY. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation are to issue loans worth $450 million to the Ispat-Karmet steel company in Karaganda to go toward upgrading equipment, Interfax reported. Representatives of the two financial organizations signed the relevant documents in Almaty on 5 December. The EBRD is loaning $285 million and the IFC the remainder, Ispat-Karmet will put up $300 million. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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