|The fool wonders, the wise man asks. - Benjamin Disraeli|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 177, Part I, 11 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 FALLS ILL, CHECKS INTO SANITORIUM * ROKHLIN CALLS FOR IMPEACHING YELTSIN * ARMENIANS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST KARABAKH CONCESSIONS * End Note: ARE RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SAFEGUARDS SAFE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN FALLS ILL, CHECKS INTO SANITORIUM. President Boris Yeltsin on 10 December checked into the Barvikha sanitorium. His spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists that the president has a respiratory infection and is likely to stay at Barvikha for 10 to 12 days so that he does not develop the flu. However, the "Washington Post" on 11 December quoted unnamed sources as saying that Yeltsin has in fact been hospitalized with heart problems and is being attended by Renat Akchurin, the surgeon who performed bypass surgery on Yeltsin in November 1996. A statement issued by the presidential press service on 11 December said the president's doctors have advised him not to record his regular weekly radio address. The Kremlin also said Yeltsin is receiving anti-inflammatory and anti-viral drugs. Because of his poor health, Yeltsin spent the better part of eight months out of public view after he was re-elected in July 1996. LB ROUNDTABLE TALKS POSTPONED. Roundtable talks on land reform, which were scheduled to take place on 11 December, have been postponed indefinitely due to Yeltsin's illness. The president was supposed to attend the talks, at which opposition leaders had hoped to persuade him to sign the parliament's version of the Land Code. LB MARKETS SLUMP ON NEWS OF YELTSIN'S ILLNESS. Russian stock and bond markets declined on 10 December after Yeltsin's latest illness was announced, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 December. Values of the most liquid stocks, such as LUKoil and Mosenergo, declined by more than five percent. Prices fell for Russian bonds denominated in rubles and especially for bonds denominated in foreign currencies. According to "Kommersant-Daily," reports that Yeltsin will be at Barvikha for 10 to 12 days sparked widespread selling of Russian bonds by Russian banks as well as by foreign holders, who have traditionally reacted negatively to news of Yeltsin's health problems. LB ROKHLIN CALLS FOR IMPEACHING YELTSIN. State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin on 10 December urged the Duma to create a commission to begin impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin, Russian news agencies reported. Speaking before Yeltsin's illness was announced, Rokhlin warned that under Russia's current leadership, "Planes will continue to crash in Russia, coal mines will continue to explode and the economy will continue to fall apart." He also charged that corruption is widespread in the Air Force and slammed its commander, Petr Deinekin. The Duma did not vote on Rokhlin's proposal, and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov declined to support or oppose Rokhlin's initiative pending discussions within the Communist faction, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 December. Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, discounted Rokhlin's proposal, noting that he had not accused Yeltsin of anything specific. Under the constitution, the president can only be impeached for committing treason or other high crimes. LB LUZHKOV PROMISES HELP FOR BLACK SEA FLEET. While visiting Ukraine, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov promised that the city of Moscow will help the Black Sea Fleet and do "everything possible" to make sure that Russian sailors in the fleet "do not feel cut off from their motherland," ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Luzhkov noted that Moscow has funded construction of some 500 apartments in Sevastopol, where the fleet is based. He also called for restoring economic cooperation between Russia and Ukraine at least to 1987 levels. Luzhkov has repeatedly claimed that Sevastopol is a Russian city. He recently appointed Konstantin Zatulin as his adviser on CIS matters, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 6 December. Zatulin, former chairman of the Duma's CIS Affairs Committee, has long championed the cause of ethnic Russians living abroad. He campaigned unsuccessfully for the Duma in 1995 on the party list of the Congress of Russian Communities. LB PASSENGERS DID NOT KNOW PLANE WAS HIJACKED. Passengers aboard the Il-62 airplane which 59 year-old Gennadii Todikov attempted to hijack on 10 December said they were unaware anything was amiss, Reuters reported. (See "RFE/RL Newsline" 10 December). Some said it was only when they deplaned and found themselves surrounded by anti- terrorist commandos that they knew something was wrong. Todikov is in police custody and may face 15 years in jail. Authorities are still investigating whether other passengers aboard the flight may have been involved. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, while saying "All's well that ends well," added that all people who engage in such activity will "come to a bad end." BP WILL RUSSIA BORROW $2 BILLION FROM FOREIGN BANKS? Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov announced on 10 December that Russia will not borrow $2 billion from foreign banks this month, Russian news agencies reported. Zadornov said Russia hopes that in the coming weeks, the World Bank will approve loans to Russia worth more than $1 billion, and the International Monetary Fund will issue a $700 million loan tranche. Russia had been negotiating with Credit Suisse First Boston, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, Salomon Brothers and Chase Manhattan over the possible $2 billion loan. Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Reuters on 9 December that Russia has suspended negotiations with those banks. However, ITAR-TASS on 10 December quoted Luigi La Ferla, director of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, as saying that the four banks are ready to lend Russia $2 billion and will present the credit to the Russian government "within the next three weeks." LB AGRARIAN LEADER EXPLAINS STANCE ON LAND SALES. Mikhail Lapshin, the leader of the Agrarian Party, says allowing the purchase and sale of farmland would be a "devious mechanism" for "taking land away from the peasants," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 10 December. Lapshin said farmland should belong to the peasantry and vowed that his party will not allow another redistribution of land in Russia. The Kremlin supports land legislation that would grant rural dwellers full land ownership rights. Agrarian and Communist politicians, among others, warn that legalizing the purchase and sale of farmland would allow speculators to buy up large quantities of land and convert it from agricultural use. LB DUMA BLASTS GOVERNMENT ON CHILD ALLOWANCES. The Duma on 10 December passed a resolution denouncing the government's efforts to clear backlogs in payments to citizens with children, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution said the government owed some 14 trillion rubles ($2.4 billion) in child allowances as of November 1997. It asked the government to submit to the Duma a plan on settling the debts and to consider amending the 1998 budget to provide more funds for those with children. Earlier this year, the Duma twice voted down government-backed laws that would have made only poor families eligible to receive child allowances and other social payments. LB MEDIA-MOST FORMS HOLDING COMPANY. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company has combined its media assets into a new company called NTV-holding, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 10 December. NTV-holding includes the influential television network NTV, the satellite network NTV- plus, the radio station Ekho Moskvy, the satellite company Bonum-1, and TNT-teleset, which will provide programming and financing for some 50 regional television stations beginning in January 1998. NTV President Igor Malashenko has been appointed general director of NTV-holding. Yevgenii Kiselev, the anchor of the weekly program "Itogi," will chair the board of NTV-holding. Asked what role Gusinskii will play in NTV-holding, Malashenko told RFE/RL, "Gusinskii carries out the main function: the function of the owner." LB ECONOMICS MINISTER SAYS 86 COAL MINES TO BE CLOSED. Yakov Urinson says 86 out of some 200 coal mines in Russia will be shut down in 1998, Interfax reported on 9 December. Addressing a meeting of the Russian Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners, Urinson said the government will provide adequate funding for mine closures, including social payments to employees of those mines. (Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 9 December signed a government directive on providing financial assistance to workers affected by mine closures, ITAR-TASS reported.) Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Igor Kozhukhovskii told the union representatives that wage arrears to coal miners totaled 3.5 trillion rubles ($590 million) as of December 1, and overall debts to coal miners totaled 9 trillion rubles. Kozhukhovskii said energy producers owe most of that debt. He also charged that some 30 percent of government funds earmarked for the coal industry are misappropriated. LB UNION LEADER SLAMS UNSAFE CONDITIONS FOR MINERS. Vitalii Budko, leader of the Russian Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners, claimed on 9 December that every Russian coal mine is as unsafe as the Zyryanovskaya mine in Novokuznetsk, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 December. A recent explosion at that mine claimed 67 lives. According to Budko, the mine's managers had sought to economize on safety equipment. He added that unsafe conditions make Russian mines unattractive to potential investors. During a recent visit to Novokuznetsk, Chernomyrdin promised that the government will seek to enhance safety in mines. Restoration work has begun at the Zyryanovskaya mine, but it will not be reopened for at least two months, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. LB LUKOIL, YUKOS CONTEND NORTH CASPIAN TENDER RESULTS. On 10 December the Russian government commission conducting the tender for the "Northern" section of Russia's sector of the Caspian named Russia's largest oil company, Lukoil, as the winner, Russian agencies reported. Lukoil received 14 votes, and Yukos, which ranks second to it in size -- seven. Yukos immediately protested the decision, citing alleged "flagrant procedural violations," and announced that it will appeal the ruling in an international court, Interfax reported. An earlier meeting of the commission on 2-3 December had failed to declare a winner. Lukoil has to date concluded contracts worth $120 million to develop various Caspian oil deposits, according to "Izvestia" on 10 December. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIANS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST KARABAKH CONCESSIONS. On 10 December, several thousand people participated in a demonstration in Yerevan convened by opposition parties to demand that the Armenian leadership reject any Karabakh peace accord that would restore Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 9 December, the Armenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing opposition parties of adopting a "demagogic" and "adventurist" stance on Karabakh, and appealing to the Armenian people to "refrain from extremism" in the runup to the 18-19 December meeting of Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe foreign ministers in Copenhagen. The statement affirmed that the Ministry "fulfills its obligations before the people, the country's leadership, and future generations, and is not dependent on outside influence," Noyan Tapan reported. LF KARABAKH ARMENIANS CALL ON YEREVAN LEADERSHIP FOR SUPPORT. On 9 December, a dozen Karabakh political parties issued a statement affirming their commitment to independent status for the disputed enclave, Noyan Tapan reported. The signatories expressed the hope that the Armenian leadership "will find the courage and strength" to defend the position of the leadership and people of Nagorno- Karabakh in the international arena, and called on international NGOs and government organizations to respect the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination and security. LF ARMENIAN TELEPHONE NETWORK PRIVATIZED. The Armenian government press service announced on 9 December that a Greek consortium has won the tender to acquire the national telephone network Armentel for $142.5 million, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian government owns a 51 percent stake in Armentel, and will retain a 10 percent stake; the remaining 49 percent is owned by the U.S. Trans-World Telecom Corporation. The Greek consortium is headed by the partly privatized OTE state telecommunications company together with the Greek Levantis Group. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development may acquire a 10 percent stake in Armentel in the near future, according to Asbarez-on-Line on 9 December. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ON OIC . . . Addressing the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Tehran on 9 December, Heidar Aliev listed as the basic goals of that organization the protection of the rights of Muslim minorities and communities, safeguarding the territorial integrity of Muslim countries and the "stable progress" of the Muslim world, Turan reported. Aliev expressed appreciation for aid provided by several Islamic nations to Azerbaijanis displaced during the Karabakh conflict. Aliev reaffirmed his country's commitment to a peaceful solution of that conflict, which would create conditions for Azerbaijan "to become a prosperous state and provide aid to its Muslim brothers." Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in his address to the summit likewise called on the OIC to redouble its efforts to solve the Karabakh conflict within the framework of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 11 December. LF . . . AND TIES WITH IRAN. In an interview with Turan on 10 December, Aliev denied that Azerbaijan's relations with Iran have recently cooled, but expressed his displeasure at the flourishing ties between Iran and Armenia. Aliev said that during his 9 December meeting with Iranian President Muhammed Khatami, "we agreed on the necessity to develop relations in all spheres." Aliev added, however, that he could not predict whether Iran would drop its objections to dividing the Caspian Sea into national sectors. But he argued that "there is no alternative" to all Caspian littoral states doing so. He said no negotiations have yet begun on the possibility of building an export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Iran. Aliev also met on 10 December with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who affirmed that "reliance on Islam is the prerequisite for the success of any government in Azerbaijan," IRNA reported. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY SPLITS. Several former prominent members of the Musavat Party, including former Prosecutor-General Ikhtiar Shirinov, on 10 December announced the creation of a new opposition party named National Congress, Turan reported. The defectors from Musavat have accused the party's leader, Isa Gambar, for his allegedly authoritarian manner, and have demanded a review of his role and that of former president Abulfaz Elchibey in the collapse of the Popular Front leadership in June, 1993. In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, however, Gambar said that the split in his party's ranks was triggered by the offer by President Heidar Aliev of government posts to Shirinov and a second former Musavat party member. LF RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS TO REDUCE TAJIK CONTINGENT. The commander of the Russian Border Guards, Colonel-General Andrei Nikolaev, announced in Moscow on 10 December that border guard forces in Tajikistan would be cut, ITAR-TASS reported. Though Nikolaev noted the cut from 16,000 to 14,500 would be "insignificant," he also said the role of the guards had changed with the establishment of peace in Tajikistan. He said their role is now focused on narcotics interdiction. The general added that the position of forces still in Tajikistan allows a rapid reinforcement of any area which may be threatened. BP UZBEK SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT IN MOSCOW. The speaker of Uzbekistan's parliament, Erkin Khalilov, was in Moscow on 10 December and met with top officials of the Russian government, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Khalilov discussed inter-parliamentary relations with Russia's Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev. Stroev encouraged a more visible Uzbek presence in the Russian market and extended an invitation for Uzbekistan to send a representative to future CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly meetings though Uzbekistan is not a member. Khalilov also met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to consult on the latter's trip to Uzbekistan at the end of December and next year's exchange of presidential visits. Khalilov also saw Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. The two reviewed CIS relations and the situation in Central Asia. BP ARE RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SAFEGUARDS SAFE? By Paul Goble The American intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government currently has reasonably effective control over its stockpile of nuclear warheads and missiles. But at the same time, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency said, Washington is "very concerned" about the status of Russian safeguards against the illegal sale of the components needed to manufacture such weapons. In a report released in early December by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, George Tenet said that he did not believe that Moscow had lost control over any warheads or nuclear missiles, although the reason he gave for that is not entirely encouraging. "We do not believe that Russian ICBMs are as vulnerable to theft or sales as missile components," Tenet said. "A conspiracy of many government officials would be necessary to purloin an entire ICBM." Instead, Tenet said his institution feared that Russia might be losing control over the components needed to make a bomb, including large and widely dispersed stores of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Tenet argued in the report that Russia's "continuing social and economic difficulties, corruption in the military and the potential activities of organized crime groups" put government control of these materials at risk. And he pointed out that "Russia's ability to enforce export controls remains problematic because of resource shortages, weak customs enforcement and corruption." Tenet's report is likely to trigger a new debate on how to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons after the Cold War. At the very least, it seems certain to introduce a new clarity into just what the problem is. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union six years ago, Western analysts and governments have debated whether Moscow has been able to control the nuclear weapons and materials on its territory. In general, that discussion has focused on the question of whether the Russian government has control of nuclear weapons rather than on whether it has control of the nuclear materials needed to make weapons. That debate flared anew most recently when Aleksandr Lebed, a former Russian general and aide to Boris Yeltsin, made a dramatic suggestion that Moscow might have lost track of dozens of "suitcase- sized" nuclear weapons. Tenet's report suggests that Lebed's claims are almost certainly untrue. But if that conclusion is reassuring, Tenet's discussion of Moscow's gradual loss of certain control over the components of nuclear weapons is frightening in the extreme. The CIA report notes that there are some 1,200 tons of highly enriched uranium and 200 tons of plutonium stored in a large number of sites spread across the Russian Federation. Because producing such materials is the hardest part of building a bomb and because only a few pounds of either substance are needed to make one, any loss of control over even a small part of such stockpiles could quickly lead to disaster. Obviously, both Russia and the entire world have a vested interest in making sure that the Russian authorities maintain effective control over such materials. But how that is to be done remains very much an open question. In contrast to nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, the movement of such materials is far more difficult to monitor and thus extraordinarily difficult to prevent -- especially in a country as troubled as Russia now is. Tenet's report may now prompt both Moscow and the West to explore some new means of making sure that the safeguards over nuclear materials are just as effective as those over nuclear weapons. If that does not happen, his report strongly implies, the dangers of future proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will only increase. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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