|A disagreement may be the shortest cut between two minds. - Kahlil Gibran|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 176, Part I, 10 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 * ATTEMPTED HIJACKING OF RUSSIAN PASSENGER PLANE * ZYUGANOV WANTS WEEKLY MEETINGS OF 'BIG FOUR' * KAZAKH PARLIAMENT BEGINS WORK IN NEW CAPITAL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA ATTEMPTED HIJACKING OF RUSSIAN PASSENGER PLANE. There was an attempted hijacking of a Russian passenger plane flying from Magadan to Moscow on 10 December. First reports indicated three individuals aboard the plane were demanding passage to Switzerland and $10 million to release the 157 people, including the crew, on the Il-62 plane. On the ground at Moscow's Sheremetovo-1 airport, Russian security forces surrounded the plane but did not close the airport. After releasing 48 passengers, 59 year-old Gennadii Todikov came out to negotiate with Russian security agents and was captured. Todikov turned out to be the only hijacker and the bomb he claimed to have was fake. Todikov, a pensioner from Magadan, is described by ITAR-TASS as "a psychologically unbalanced person." BP MINISTER PUTS DEATH TOLL OF PLANE CRASH AT 67. Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu announced on 10 December that the recent crash of a military cargo plane into a residential area in Irkutsk claimed 67 lives, RFE/RL's correspondent in Irkutsk reported. Rescue operations were discontinued the previous day, and demolition of the buildings destroyed in the crash has begun. Shoigu estimated that the disaster caused some 1 trillion rubles ($170 million) in damages. He confirmed that three of the plane's four engines failed shortly after takeoff but said investigators have not yet determined why. ITAR-TASS on 9 December quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry official as speculating that a poor mixture of fuel may have caused the malfunction. Shoigu, Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin, and Irkutsk Mayor Vladimir Yakubovskii attended a public mourning ceremony for the crash victims on 10 December. LB SELEZNEV, STROEV ON GOVERNMENT FORMATION PROPOSAL. Following a meeting of the "Big Four" in the Kremlin, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said President Boris Yeltsin agreed to consider a proposal on forming a government that would have the support of a parliamentary majority, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 9 December. Seleznev said the president noted that such procedures for the cabinet's formation are at odds with Russia's constitution and, even if approved, would not take effect until after the next presidential election. Meanwhile, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev told Russian news agencies that he supports the idea of a "government of accord" rather than a coalition government, as some opposition leaders have demanded. Stroev said the president should retain the right to appoint ministers but should also be aware of parliament's opinion of his appointees. LB SPEAKERS URGE CREATION OF COMMITTEE ON DEFENSE INDUSTRY. During their meeting with Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Seleznev and Stroev also called for the creation of a special committee to supervise the defense industry, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. Chernomyrdin said the government is considering that issue, according to Seleznev. The Ministry of the Defense Industry was eliminated during a cabinet reshuffle in March, and its duties were transferred to the Economics Ministry, which is headed by Yakov Urinson. Last month, the Federation Council voted to ask Yeltsin to remove the military-industrial complex from the competence of the Urinson's ministry and to appoint a deputy prime minister to coordinate defense industry issues, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 November. Seleznev and Stroev also raised the issue in a recent joint letter to Yeltsin, according to the 6 December "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LB ZYUGANOV WANTS WEEKLY MEETINGS OF 'BIG FOUR.' Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 9 December that the "Big Four" should meet every week, ITAR-TASS reported. In October, the Kremlin promised to call regular meetings of the president, prime minister and parliamentary speakers, a key demand of the Communist opposition. In return, the Communist Duma faction dropped a planned vote of no confidence in the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1997). LB MANEUVERING ON LAND REFORM AHEAD OF ROUNDTABLE TALKS. Zyuganov also said that during 11 December roundtable talks on land reform, the opposition will try to persuade Yeltsin to sign the Land Code passed by the Duma, Interfax reported on 9 December. Yeltsin vetoed that code in July because it would prohibit the purchase and sale of farm land. The Duma overrode his veto in September, and the Federation Council has postponed consideration of the issue pending the roundtable talks. On 9 December, Seleznev and Stroev encouraged Yeltsin to sign the Duma's version of the code. But State Land Committee Chairman Ilya Yuzhanov said that the government supports revising the code and in the meantime adopting a law on land relations that would allow regions to decide how to regulate the buying and selling of farm land on their territory, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 December. LB OFFICIAL SAYS AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON GOVERNMENT AGREED. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, told ITAR-TASS on 9 December that presidential, government, and parliamentary officials have agreed on a package of amendments to the law on the government. In particular, Kotenkov said they agreed that since the president is the commander-in-chief, it should be his prerogative to determine who leads the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 December, the current version of the law on the government would give the Duma the right to confirm presidential appointments of the foreign minister and the "power ministers" (defense, interior, security services). Kotenkov said Yeltsin will not sign the law until he receives written guarantees that parliament will adopt the amendments. Both the Duma and the Federation Council approved the law on the government in the spring LB YELTSIN PLEASED WITH RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS. Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 9 December praised the Japanese government for switching its emphasis in relations with Russia from political to economic, Russian media reported on the same day. Yeltsin said Japan's earlier insistence on solving the Kuril Islands territorial dispute kept the two countries from developing better relations but that Japan has realized "you will never get anywhere with Russia like that." Officials from both countries are still confident that a peace treaty ending Russian-Japanese hostilities from World War Two will be ready before the end of the century. Russian officials also say the next (13th) round of fishing talks with Japan may be the final round. In a related story, the Japanese government has raised 500 million yen ($4 million) to give Japanese language lessons to Russian inhabitants of the southern Kuril Islands BP ROKHLIN SLAMS YELTSIN FOR STOCKHOLM PERFORMANCE. Speaking to supporters in St. Petersburg, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin charged that "only a sick person" could make mistakes such as those made by Yeltsin during his recent visit to Stockholm, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 9 December. Rokhlin said "a healthy person" could not refer to Germany and Japan as nuclear powers or say that Russia will carry out a unilateral reduction in its nuclear arsenal. He accused the president of lacking a sufficient command of the Russian language and argued that Yeltsin's public remarks frequently have to be explained away by officials from the Foreign and Defense Ministries. LB OIL COMPANY PROTESTS DECISION TO SEIZE PROPERTY OF SUBSIDIARY. Executives of the Sibneft oil company have vowed to fight attempts to seize and sell property of the Omsk Oil Refinery, owned by Sibneft, in order to pay tax debts, ITAR- TASS and Reuters reported on 9 December. The government's emergency commission for strengthening tax and budget discipline approved the seizure at an 8 December session chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. The Omsk refinery owes some 525.8 billion rubles ($88 million) to the budget. Sibneft is part of the business empire of former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, a leading opponent of Chubais. The government commission also ordered the seizure of assets of the Angarsk Petrochemical Company, which owes 766 billion rubles to the federal budget. That company is owned by the Sidanko oil company, which is controlled by Oneksimbank. Oneksimbank president Vladimir Potanin is considered close to Chubais. LB YUKOS ACQUIRES CONTROLLING STAKE IN EASTERN OIL COMPANY. The oil company Yukos spent some 4.8 trillion rubles ($800 million) to acquire more than 44 percent of the Eastern Oil Company in a special cash auction of 50 percent minus one share in the company, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 December. Since Yukos owned 9 percent of the Eastern Oil Company prior to the auction, it now has a controlling stake. Yukos is part of the Rosprom-Yukos group headed by Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the founder of the Menatep bank. According to the Russian Federal Property Fund, the special cash auction for shares in the Eastern Oil Company attracted a total of 5.188 trillion rubles. Ninety percent of the proceeds will go to the federal government and 10 percent to regional governments. LB ADMIRAL GETS SUSPENDED SENTENCE IN CORRUPTION CASE. The military court of the Pacific Fleet on 8 December convicted Admiral Igor Khmelnov, former chief of staff of the Russian Navy, of abusing his office and gave him a suspended sentence of four years in prison, plus two years of probation, Russian news agencies reported. The court lifted embezzlement charges against Khmelnov, who was commander of the Pacific Fleet between 1992 and 1995. Citing sources in the military prosecutor's office, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 9 December that investigators could not confirm allegations that Khmelnov illegally sold 64 ships from the Pacific Fleet to India and South Korea. Despite the relatively light sentence imposed, Khmelnov's attorney Boris Kuznetsov has vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court's Military Collegium in order to have all charges against his client dropped. LB INGUSH PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR SECOND TERM. Speaking at a conference of the Daimokh (Motherland) Union on 9 December in Nazran, Ruslan Aushev announced that he will run, after all, for reelection in the 1 March 1998 presidential poll, Interfax reported. In late November, Aushev had told Ingush administration heads that he "had worked enough" and wanted "to make way for others," according to "Segodnya" of 25 November. To date, the republican Central Electoral Commission has registered six initiative groups which will collect the required number of signatures to register their respective candidates. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KAZAKH PARLIAMENT BEGINS WORK IN NEW CAPITAL. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev chaired the first session of parliament in the new capital of Kazakhstan, Akmola, on 10 December , RFE/RL correspondents there reported. The first order of business for the parliament was adopting the resolution which confirms the change of the capital from Almaty. Housing for many of the newly arrived government officials has not been completed, forcing deputies to temporarily live in hostels. About 150 local construction workers in Akmola staged a demonstration on 9 December over their working conditions, ITAR-TASS reported. BP ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER IN PARIS. On the second day of his official visit to France, Armenian Prime Minister Robert Kocharian met on 9 December with French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee palace, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported from the French capital. The meeting was scheduled to last 30-40 minutes, but continued for well over an hour. Kocharian subsequently told reporters that the two sides had discussed the Nagorno- Karabakh issue, and that the French president had presented his ideas on possible ways of peacefully resolving the conflict. Kocharian refused to give more details, but emphasized that France does not exert economic pressure on Armenia to make concessions. He characterized the talks as open and frank. LF STEPS TO DEFUSE GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TENSIONS. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 9 December after the second session of the Russian-Georgian Economic Commission, Georgian Minister of State Niko Lekishvili and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov announced that agreement had been reached on the joint control by Russian and Georgian border guards of goods vehicles wishing to enter the Russian Federation from Georgian territory, Russian agencies reported. Since the early summer of this year, Russian border guards had unilaterally refused to permit vehicles carrying alcohol to enter Russia. Two bilateral commissions on border issues will resume their work. Georgian and Russian officials also signed agreements on the mutual convertibility of their respective currencies. LF OIC OFFICIAL AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR AZERBAIJAN. In an exclusive interview with Turan on 9 December, Organization of the Islamic Conference General-Secretary Azeddine Laraki said that "The OIC will always come out in favor of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan." On 8 December, Laraki met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, who expressed the hope that the ongoing eighth OIC summit in Tehran will adopt a resolution on "Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan." Laraki assured Aliev that the OIC will provide "multi-lateral assistance and support" to Azerbaijan. Aliev also met in Tehran on 8 December with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. LF CASPIAN MAIN EXPORT PIPELINE ROUTES UNDER DISCUSSION ... Ilham Aliev, son of the Azerbaijani president and deputy president of the state oil company SOCAR, told journalists on 8 December that Baku "cannot consider" routing the main export pipeline for its Caspian oil via Armenia, "no matter what concessions Armenia makes over Nagorno- Karabakh," Interfax reported. Ilham Aliev added that Baku will begin negotiations in January 1998 with all countries through which the main export pipeline may be routed. The decisive factors in the final choice of route will be transit tariffs and security guarantees. The Azerbaijan International Operating Company that is currently exploiting three Azerbaijani Caspian oil fields declared earlier this year that the economic factor would be decisive. LF INCLUDING GEORGIA, ROMANIA OPTIONS. Following a meeting on 9 December with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Lukoil President Vagit Alekperov, who travelled to Tbilisi with the Russian government delegation, said that his company plans to invest $15 million in Georgia in the near future, Interfax reported. He said Lukoil is interested in participating in construction of an oil export pipeline via Georgia, and in building a network of gas stations in Georgia and other countries in the Eurasian transport corridor. Also on 9 December, Romanian Presidential envoy Dan Capatine met in Baku with Deputy Foreign Minister Albert Salamov and handed him a proposal from Romanian President Emil Constantinescu on shipping Azerbaijani oil exported via the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa via the Danube port of Constanta to Trieste, ITAR-TASS reported. LF AZERBAIJANI, TURKMEN PRESIDENTS SEEK TO RESOLVE OIL DISPUTE. Meeting in Tehran on 8 December on the eve of the OIC summit, Heidar Aliev and Saparmurat Niyazov agreed to set up a bilateral commission jointly headed by the two countries' foreign ministers to delineate the border between their sectors of the Caspian Sea, Turan and Russian agencies reported. The commission will hold its first meeting in late December. In July, Turkmenistan had protested a contract concluded between Azerbaijan and two Russian oil companies to develop the Kyapaz (Serdar) deposit, to which both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan lay claim. Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov said that Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have already reached agreement on the median and horizontal divisions between their respective sectors of the Caspian. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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