|The trouble with being punctual is that nobody's there to appreciate it. - Franklin P. Jones|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 175, Part I, 9 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 * 'COUNCIL OF FOUR' MEET IN KREMLIN * NEXT CLINTON-YELTSIN SUMMIT TO BE HELD AFTER START- 2 RATIFICATION * NEW RUSSIAN PLOT TO KILL SHEVARDNADZE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA 'COUNCIL OF FOUR' MEET IN KREMLIN. President Boris Yeltsin again urged parliament to pass the 1998 budget during a 9 December meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin's chief of staff Valentin Yumashev also attended the meeting of the "council of four," who discussed preparations for roundtable talks on the land code, scheduled for 11 December. Presidential, government, and parliamentary representatives will take part in the roundtable talks. Personnel changes in the government were reportedly not discussed at the "Council of Four" meeting. However, ITAR-TASS quoted Seleznev as saying that Yeltsin agreed to consider a proposal, to be prepared by Seleznev and Stroev, on procedures for forming a government that would have the support of a majority in parliament. LB GOVERNMENT REPORT TO YELTSIN POSTPONED AGAIN. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 8 December that the government's report to Yeltsin has been postponed until January 1998 at the earliest, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The report was originally scheduled for 1 December, then postponed for a week to 10 days. Yastrzhembskii said a second delay was imposed because Yeltsin wants to hear the government assess its work for all of 1997. The president is expected to reshuffle the cabinet after hearing the government report, particularly if, as appears likely, the government fails to pay all wage arrears to state employees by the end of the year. LB SPOKESMAN CLARIFIES YELTSIN'S INTENTIONS ON LAW ON GOVERNMENT. Yastrzhembskii also announced on 8 December that Yeltsin intends to sign the law on the government, but only after parliament has approved a package of amendments to that law, Russian news agencies reported. While addressing Duma deputies on 5 December, Yeltsin said he would sign the law on the government. At that time, he appeared to be consenting to sign the version of the law that has been passed twice by the parliament. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 December, the amendments demanded by the Kremlin would remove, among other things, a provision granting the Duma the right to confirm deputy prime ministers. (Currently the lower house of the parliament has the right to confirm only the prime minister.) Yeltsin's public statements are frequently modified by spokesmen or other top officials. LB ZYUGANOV ALLY DEFENDS COMMUNISTS ON BUDGET VOTE. Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin defended the Communist Party stance regarding the recent budget vote in an interview with ITAR-TASS on 8 December. Podberezkin, an adviser to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, was one of 29 members of the Communist Duma faction who voted to approve the budget in the first reading on 5 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). Contrary to those who depict the vote as evidence of a "schism" or "retreat" within the Communist Party, Podberezkin argued that the budget vote reflected the "democratic" practice of the Communist faction, which, he said, is willing to take minority views into account. Podberezkin argued that Yeltsin's visit to the Duma shortly before the vote influenced the position of several Communist deputies who might otherwise have voted against the budget. LB CAUSE OF PLANE CRASH STILL UNKNOWN. Fuel samples and black boxes from the military cargo plane that crashed in Irkutsk on 6 December have been sent to Moscow for analysis, RFE/RL's correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 8 December. Investigators are concentrating on four scenarios that could explain why at least two, and possibly all four, of the plane's engines malfunctioned. Pending the results of the investigation, the Defense Ministry has banned all flights of the An-124 military cargo planes, although the ban does not apply to civilian An-124 aircraft, Russian news agencies reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 December, the plane that crashed in Irkutsk was scheduled to have an overhaul earlier this year, but the overhaul was never carried out. Meanwhile, families whose apartments were destroyed in the crash are to receive 50 million rubles ($8,400) from the Irkutsk Oblast budget, along with housing vouchers from the Finance Ministry. LB NEXT CLINTON-YELTSIN SUMMIT TO BE HELD AFTER START-2 RATIFICATION. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said on 8 December that the next summit between Russian President Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton, to be held in Russia sometime in 1998, should take place only after the Russian parliament ratifies the START-2 arms control treaty, Russian news agencies reported. The U.S. Congress has ratified START-2, which was signed in 1993, but there is considerable opposition to ratification in the Russian State Duma. Yeltsin and Clinton are to discuss negotiations on the START-3 treaty during their next summit. LB FSB QUESTIONS U.S. BUSINESSMAN CHARGED WITH SPYING. Investigators from the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 8 December questioned U.S. businessman Richard Bliss, who was charged with espionage on 5 December, Interfax reported. No details about the interrogation were released. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists that the Kremlin does not plan to get involved in the FSB's investigation of Bliss, Reuters reported. Yastzhembskii also discounted suggestions that the case against Bliss, who works for the telecommunications firm Qualcomm, could deter foreign investment in Russia. Earlier in the day, U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley called on Russian authorities to drop charges against Bliss, warning that the case could have a "chilling effect" on U.S. investment. Some 28 U.S. Senators signed a letter to Yeltsin saying the charges against Bliss pose "a major threat to the future of U.S.-Russian relations," AFP reported. LB GOVERNMENT PROPOSES SALES TAX. The government has submitted to the Duma a law that would establish a sales tax of 5 percent on retail purchases of alcohol and tobacco products and 3 percent on other goods and paid services, "Segodnya" reported on 9 December. Food, medicine, and children's products would be exempt from the new sales tax, as would payments for rent, medical services and utilities. The proposed sales tax would not replace or affect the value-added tax of 20 percent already levied on most Russian goods. The Duma is expected to consider the law on the sales tax on 17 December, the same day deputies are scheduled to vote on other government-backed tax laws. LB NEW PRIMORE LEGISLATURE TO BE LESS LOYAL TO GOVERNOR. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko has enjoyed the firm support of the Primore legislature in recent years, but the situation will change dramatically following 7 December legislative elections in the krai. Candidates backed by the Communist Party won 14 out of the 39 seats in the legislature, and supporters of Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov--Nazdratenko's bitter rival--won 8 seats (all in Vladivostok districts). Figures loyal to Nazdratenko will now hold only a minority of seats in the legislature. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Aleksandra Zolotova, a sociologist in Primore, said Cherepkov's allies did surprisingly well, particularly in light of the fact that recent opinion polls in Vladivostok have put Cherepkov's approval rating in the 12-15 percent range. LB HALF OF SEATS IN KRASNOYARSK LEGISLATURE UNFILLED. In Krasnoyarsk Krai, which has a mixed electoral system, a winner could be declared in only one out of 21 single-member districts following 7 December elections, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya" reported on 9 December. The winner was Anatolii Bykov, the controversial chairman of the board of directors of the Krasnoyarsk aluminum factory. Runoff elections will be held in the other 20 single-member districts. Meanwhile, 20 seats in the Krasnoyarsk legislature were allocated using a proportional representation system. Those seats were divided only among parties that gained more than five percent of the party-list vote: eight for a Communist- led alliance (24 percent of the vote), five for Aleksandr Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement (14 percent), four for a bloc representing the oblast authorities (13.5 percent), and three for Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko movement (7.5 percent), "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported. LB INDEPENDENTS DO WELL IN SAMARA... In the 7 December elections in Samara Oblast, candidates representing the Communist Party or allied groups won four out of 25 seats in the legislature, while candidates running as independents won the other 21 seats, Russian news agencies reported. The independents included eight officials in the regional or local governments, seven directors of factories or companies and four businessmen. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov was reportedly concerned that the new legislature would be less willing to support his initiatives. As a result, he sought to hurry approval of the oblast's 1998 budget. The budget was passed by the Samara legislature on 5 December, during the final session prior to the election, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 December. LB ...AND IN OTHER REGIONS. Although 24 out of 25 seats in the Murmansk Oblast legislature were filled in 7 December elections, just four seats were won by candidates representing political parties, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. Of those, the Communist Party gained two seats, and Our Home Is Russia and Yabloko each gained one. The majority of the winners were entrepreneurs. In Khabarovsk Krai, winners were determined in 23 out of the 25 seats in the legislature, and 14 seats were won by prominent businessmen or by regional and local officials, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 December. Communist-backed candidates gained eight seats in Khabarovsk. LB COMMUNISTS DO WELL IN PENZA. The Communist Party gained a working majority in the Penza Oblast legislature following 7 December elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. Communist-backed candidates won more than a third of the 45 seats, and some 10 other successful candidates are considered likely to cooperate with the Communists in the legislature. LB LDPR COMES UP SHORT IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS. Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia was wiped out in the regional elections held on 7 December, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. Zhirinovsky's party did not win a single seat in the legislatures of Khabarovsk and Krasnoyarsk Krais, or in Samara and Murmansk Oblasts, despite fielding numerous candidates in all of those regions. The result is consistent with the party's electoral history. The LDPR fielded 184 candidates in single- member districts during the 1995 elections to the State Duma-- more than any other party. However, only one LDPR candidate won a seat in a single-member district. Similarly, the LDPR has contested many gubernatorial races but met with success only once, in Pskov Oblast in November 1996. LB NEMTSOV PROPOSES CREATING ALTERNATIVE "OPEC." Following a meeting with Mexican government officials in Mexico City on 8 December, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told journalists that he favors creating an organization to protect the interests of oil-producing countries that are not members of OPEC, Reuters reported. Mexican Energy Minister Luis Tellez commented that Nemtsov's proposal "merits study." Russia, a non-member of OPEC, is the world's third largest oil producer. In January 1995, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev had suggested that Russia and Kazakhstan might form the nucleus of an alternative organization of oil-producing countries. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin similarly advocated in May 1996 that the CIS create its own OPEC-style organization. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT DELEGATES SOME POWERS. Aslan Maskhadov, who under the Chechen Constitution also serves as Prime Minister, announced on 8 December that he has delegated to acting First Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basaev responsibility for chairing cabinet sessions, reviewing correspondence and management of the economy, according to Interfax. In February 1997, Maskhadov offered Basaev, whom he had defeated in the presidential elections, the post of first deputy prime minister. Basaev resigned from that post in July but was again designated acting First Deputy Prime Minister in November during Maskhadov's trips to Turkey and the U.S. Maskhadov has repeatedly denied rumors of tensions between himself and Basaev, and conceded that he "cannot work without him." LF TATAR PRESIDENT SUPPORTS RIGHT TO SELL, BUY LAND. Mintimer Shaimiev stated on 8 December that the lack of the right to the free sale and purchase of land is one of the weakest points of the Russian agrarian legislation, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Addressing an inter-regional conference on land legislation in Kazan, Shaimiev argued that the Land Code adopted by the Russian State Duma contradicts both the Constitution and the Civil Code of the Russian Federation. He added that Tatarstan will adopt legislation permitting the private ownership of land no later than January 1998. Saratov Oblast has already enacted such a law. Conference participants called on the federal authorities to adopt a framework for land legislation that would permit individual federation subjects to adopt their own specific land laws, rather than endorse the code adopted by the Duma, according to "Segodnya" on 9 December. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN LEADERS MEET. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met on 8 December with visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, Russian agencies reported. The two men discussed bilateral relations, including the tensions that have arisen as a result of the moving of a Russian frontier post into Georgian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). Serov handed Shevardnadze a response from Russian President Yeltsin to Shevardnadze's letter of 5 December protesting that move. Serov subsequently told journalists that the situation on the Russian-Georgian frontier "is not a conflict but a misunderstanding that must be cleared up," according to ITAR-TASS. In his traditional Monday radio address, Shevardnadze said on 8 December that the moving of the border post may have been undertaken by unspecified Russian circles interested in exacerbating relations between Georgia and the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia, Interfax reported. LF NEW RUSSIAN PLOT TO KILL SHEVARDNADZE? Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 8 December, Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliament commission for defense and security, claimed that the confrontation on the Russian- Georgian frontier was masterminded by Russian security services in order to destabilize the internal situation in Georgia. He said that unnamed Russian forces are plotting to assassinate Shevardnadze in order to expedite the return to power in Georgia of pro-communist forces, and are trying to discredit other leading Georgian political figures, including parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania. Adamia added that the latest demands by the Meskhetians to be allowed to return to Georgia, whence they were deported by Stalin in November 1944, is part of this campaign. Also on 8 December, parliament deputy Eldar Shengelaya said the Georgian parliament will not ratify the September 1995, bilateral treaty permitting Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia, Interfax reported. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES LUSTRATION. Former Georgian Interior Minister Eduard Shevardnadze categorically opposes opening KGB archives dating from the Stalinist period and lists of KGB agents, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December. Shevardnadze argued that during 70 years of Communist rule "tens of thousands" of people were constrained to collaborate with the KGB. He said that opening archives "at this juncture" would inevitably give rise to "a new wave of resistance, mistrust and hatred" and would "reopen old wounds." LF FORMER SOUTH OSSETIAN PRIME MINISTER ARRESTED. Oleg Teziev, who served from 1991-3 as Prime Minister of the secessionist Republic of South Ossetia in northern Georgia, was arrested on 5 December in Vladikavkaz for illegal possession of a firearm, RFE/RL's correspondent in the North Ossetian capital reported on 8 December. Teziev, now a businessman living in Poland, was detained by the Russian Prosecutor's office in connection with a June 1992 attack on a military store in Vladikavkaz. Several people were killed in the attack. Teziev was subsequently released. He is also implicated, together with former South Ossetian Supreme Soviet deputy Chairman Alan Chochiev, in large-scale embezzlement from the region's budget. Moreover, he supports one of 11 candidates challenging incumbent Akhsarbek Galazov in the presidential elections scheduled for 18 January, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December. LF ARMENIAN INFORMATION DEPARTMENT HEAD DISMISSED. Garegin Chukazizian, the chief of the government's Department of Information and Book Publishing, was fired on 6 December following the 4 December one-day strike by most of Armenia's print and electronic media. Chukazizian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 8 December that the strike means that the media have lost their confidence in him, and that it was organized by unspecified forces that sought his dismissal. Also on 8 December, the Council of Mass Media Organizations of Armenia issued a statement expressing concern that Chukazizian's dismissal will delay still further a solution to the media's problems, and denying that the strike was in any way directed against him personally, Noyan Tapan reported. LF OIC FOREIGN MINISTERS ADOPT RESOLUTION ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH. Meeting in Tehran on 6-7 December prior to the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, foreign and deputy foreign ministers of 49 OIC member states on 7 December adopted a resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported from the Iranian capital on 8 December. No details of the resolution were divulged. Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev told journalists in Baku on 8 December prior to his departure to attend the summit that the OIC has condemned "Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan" several times in the past, and expressed the hope that the summit would again affirm its support for Azerbaijan, Interfax reported. LF KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VETOES MEDIA LAW. Askar Akayev has vetoed the Media Law passed by the parliament on 11 November and asked parliament to make several amendments to it, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service reported on 8 December. Presidential spokesman Kanybek Imanaliyev told journalists in Bishkek that Akayev had said that the law "considerably curtails media rights and freedoms." The Kyrgyz president specifically objected to the article of the law that forbids journalists to publish information on ongoing legal proceedings until a verdict has been handed down. The law also limits the permitted volume of advertising media outlets may contain and pegs the rate of tax newspapers are required to pay to the size of their print runs, regardless of how many copies are actually sold. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION TO GET 14 GOVERNMENT POSTS. The Tajik leadership and United Tajik Opposition representatives have reached agreement on which government ministries the opposition will head in a new government, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 December. They include the posts of first deputy prime minister and deputy prime minister, ministers of defense, agriculture, and foreign economic relations, plus the heads of the Customs Committee, the Committee for the Oil and Gas Industry, the Committee for the Meat and Dairy Industry and the Committee for Industrial Affairs. The Democratic Party of Tajikistan will head the Ministries of Labor and of Land Reclamation and Water Resources, plus the Committee for Precious Metals and the State Technical Oversight Committee. The Islamic Renaissance Party will receive two government posts. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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