|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 178, Part I, 12 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 * DOCTORS TERM YELTSIN'S HEALTH 'SATISFACTORY' * BEREZOVSKII TERMS CHECHEN WAR "A TRAGIC MISTAKE" * ARMENIAN FM SLAMS OPPOSITION KARABAKH STATEMENTS * End Note: SLOW PROGRESS ON NEW CONVENTIONAL ARMS TREATY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DOCTORS TERM YELTSIN'S HEALTH 'SATISFACTORY.' The presidential press service on 12 December issued a statement saying that doctors met with President Boris Yeltsin earlier in the day and described his condition as "satisfactory." The statement said Yeltsin's temperature has returned to normal, and that the president is working on documents at the Barvikha sanitorium while recovering from a respiratory infection. Yeltsin cancelled plans to record a radio address on 11 December. Soundless television footage broadcast that day showed him looking tired while meeting with his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev. Also on 11 December, Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Renat Akchurin, who performed bypass surgery on Yeltsin last year, both denied reports that the president's latest illness is linked to his past heart problems. LB YELTSIN ISSUES DECREE ON CUTTING FEDERAL SPENDING . . . Yeltsin on 11 December signed a decree ordering several cost-cutting measures, Russian news agencies reported. The decree calls for unspecified reductions in both the number of enterprises that receive budget funding and the number of employees in budget-financed organizations. Beginning in the first quarter of 1998, budget-funded organizations will have to submit monthly reports on their receipts and expenses, as well as quarterly reports on their facilities, maintenance and utility charges. By 1 April 1998, the government must draw up an inventory of federal buildings, and federally-funded construction or purchases of buildings will be halted in 1998 and 1999. In addition, the decree instructs the government not to take steps in 1997 or 1998 to increase payments if those increases would cause federal spending to rise above the level outlined in that year's budget. LB . . . RESTRICTS USE OF GOVERNMENT PLANES. The decree issued by Yeltsin on 11 December also stipulates that only six officials will be entitled to use government planes when they travel, Russian news agencies reported. Those officials are the president, prime minister, foreign minister, Security Council secretary, and speakers of the State Duma and Federation Council. All other officials will be required to fly on commercial flights. Since joining the government in March, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev have both called for saving money by restricting use of government aircraft. LB CHERNOMYRDIN MARKS FIVE YEARS IN OFFICE. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin congratulated his cabinet colleagues when opening a session of the government on 11 December, nearly five years to the day since he was appointed prime minister, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Chernomyrdin is the only person to serve as Russian prime minister since the collapse of the USSR. Prior to his appointment in December 1992, Yegor Gaidar served as acting prime minister. Only three other ministers have served in the cabinet during Chernomyrdin's entire tenure: Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, and Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov. LB AIR FORCE COMMANDER RESIGNS. Petr Deinekin requested to be transferred to the reserve on 11 December, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin accepted his resignation, despite Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's request that Deinekin be allowed to continue to serve after he turns 60 on 14 December. (The president has the power to make exceptions for soldiers who reach the mandatory retirement age of 60.) There was speculation in the Russian media that Deinekin would resign following the 6 December crash of a military cargo plane in Irkutsk. In a speech to the State Duma on 10 December, which was published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" the next day, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin alleged that military aircraft are poorly maintained. He also accused Deinekin of facilitating corruption in the Air Force and charged that military planes have repeatedly been rented to private firms at a huge financial loss to the state. LB MILITARY PLANE COLLIDES WITH HELICOPTER. Eight people were killed on 11 December when the helicopter in which they were riding collided with an An-12 military cargo plane on an airport runway in Naryan-Mar (Nenets Autonomous Okrug). ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed sources as saying that the collision was caused by poor communication between civilian and military air traffic controllers, who cleared both the helicopter and plane for landing within minutes of each other. LB INVESTIGATION OF ACCUSED SPY COULD TAKE THREE MONTHS. A representative of the Federal Security Service (FSB) says his agency may take up to three months to complete its investigation of U.S. citizen Richard Bliss, who has been accused of espionage, Interfax reported on 11 December. Bliss, an employee of the telecommunications firm Qualcomm, was arrested in Rostov Oblast on 25 November. He has been released from custody but could still face trial. U.S. officials have asked Russian authorities to resolve the case quickly and drop all charges against Bliss. In an interview with an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow on 11 December, U.S. Ambassador James Collins commented, "I think [the Bliss case] is based in part on a conflict between what I suspect are existing Russian laws and a man who ended up as a victim, because he was using modern technologies, which those laws never contemplated." LB AUDIT CHAMBER SEES GROUNDS FOR ANNULLING AUCTIONS. The Audit Chamber announced on 11 December that there are grounds to annul four controversial privatization auctions, Interfax reported. An investigation found that the August auction for 38 percent of Norilsk Nickel was rigged, allowing an Oneksimbank affiliate to buy the shares for below market value. The chamber determined that currency rules were violated in the July sale of a 25 percent stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest. The chamber also found that 51 percent of the oil company Sibneft was sold in May for too little in an unfair auction. Finally, the chamber said the winner of a July auction for 40 percent of the Tyumen Oil Company paid too little and has not fulfilled its obligations to pay debts of that company's subsidiaries. The government frequently ignores the Audit Chamber's recommendations and is unlikely to ask a court to annul the auctions. LB JUDICIAL CHAMBER REPRIMANDS JOURNALISTS ON BOOK SCANDAL. The President's Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes determined on 11 December that journalists Aleksandr Minkin and Sergei Dorenko violated the law on the mass media when they accused First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais of bribe-taking and money- laundering in connection with a scandal over book fees. Minkin made the allegations on Ekho Moskvy, and Dorenko echoed the charges on Russian Public Television (ORT). The chamber ruled that Minkin and Dorenko were entitled to report on the book deal, in which a publisher linked to Oneksimbank paid Chubais and several co-authors $90,000 each, but should not have used "insulting" terms and epithets. The chamber did not support Chubais's request that ORT be reprimanded as well. The chamber is merely a consultative body. A Moscow court is scheduled to hear Chubais's slander suit against Minkin and Ekho Moskvy in February. LB SELEZNEV SLAMS PRO-PRESIDENTIAL MEDIA BIAS. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev charged that the Russian media "serves only one power: presidential power," ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Speaking during an official visit to Paris, Seleznev claimed that Russian newspapers and electronic media often send journalists to Duma press conferences but then publicize either distorted information or no information at all. However, he said he is pleased with the first few editions of "Parlamentskii chas," a program on state-run Russian Television, adding that the parliament is receiving some air time on state-run Radio Rossii and Radio Mayak. Seleznev also said the Duma and the Federation Council will launch a newspaper in January and have already begun publishing a magazine. In October, the government persuaded the Duma not to hold a no-confidence vote, in part by promising to give parliamentary activities more air time in state-controlled media. LB CONSTITUTIONAL COURT FINDS VIOLATIONS IN TAMBOV CHARTER. The Constitutional Court has ruled that several articles in the Tambov Oblast charter are unconstitutional, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 11 December. The oblast legislature adopted the charter as part of a long- running battle with Tambov Governor Aleksandr Ryabov. The court appeal was filed on behalf of Yeltsin. The court struck down articles in the charter giving the Tambov legislature the right to fire ministers in the oblast government and giving the speaker of the legislature (rather than the governor) the power to sign laws into effect. Judges also struck down an article providing for the early termination of the governor's authority if he takes up permanent residence outside Tambov Oblast. The court ruled some points in the charter legal; for instance, the Tambov legislature may determine the basic structure and financing of organs of the executive branch. LB JUSTICE MINISTER ASSESSES REGIONAL LAWS. Sergei Stepashin has charged that thousands of laws adopted in the regions violate federal legal norms. In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 11 December, Stepashin said the Justice Ministry has evaluated some 9,000 laws adopted by regional authorities, and has found that more than a third of them contradict either the Russian constitution or federal legislation. He expressed regret that regional authorities sometimes ignore his ministry's recommendations on changing such laws. Stepashin said the Justice Ministry is preparing a government appeal to the Constitutional Court against some regional laws and will take steps to better monitor the activities of regional legislators. LB NEMTSOV IN VENEZUELA. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov met in Caracas on 11 December with Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, ITAR-TASS reported. Nemtsov handed Caldera a letter from Russian President Yeltsin calling for broader political and economic relations. Nemtsov also discussed the possible sale of Russian military helicopters to Venezuela and cooperation in the oil sector. Nemtsov subsequently told journalists that Russia is particularly interested in reviving the oil swap agreement whereby Venezuelan oil is refined in Cuba in return for Russian oil refined in Germany, an RFE/RL correspondent accompanying Nemtsov reported on 11 December. LF YELTSIN AGREES TO RESTRUCTURE FEDERAL BORDER SERVICE. Meeting on 9 December with the head of the Russian Federal Border Service, Colonel-General Andrei Nikolaev, Yeltsin issued a decree removing the border service from its present subordination to the Ministry of Defense and designating it a state special service, "Russkii telegraf" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 and 11 December respectively. Yeltsin also agreed to Nikolaev's request to increase federal funding for the border service in 1998. Nikolaev had complained that only 3 trillion rubles ($505 million) had been allocated for his service's needs rather than the minimum 8 trillion rubles needed. LF BEREZOVSKII TERMS CHECHEN WAR "A TRAGIC MISTAKE." Former Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii admitted on 11 December that the war in Chechnya could have been avoided if Moscow had realized that "the problem of the Caucasus will remain with Russia forever," and endeavoured to establish new relations with the regions taking into account specific ethnic factors, Interfax reported. Berezovskii said the war was "a tragic mistake," and criticized what he termed the Russian government's inability to conclude a final peace agreement with Grozny. LF CHECHNYA CRACKS DOWN ON OIL THEFTS. About one thousand metric tons of crude oil has been confiscated from thieves since President Aslan Maskhadov announced a major crackdown on 7 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 December. Maskhadov's press secretary Kazbek Khadzhiev told Interfax on 8 December that Chechnya's oil output had increased in recent months from 1,500 to 4,000 metric tons per day, but that during Maskhadov's November trip to Turkey and the U.S. the incidence of illegal tapping of pipelines had again risen sharply. Maskhadov estimated the weekly financial loss from such thefts at 5 billion rubles (more than $830,000). Stolen Chechen oil is increasingly being illegally sold to middlemen in North Ossetia for refining there into gasoline, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 11 December from Vladikavkaz. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN FM SLAMS OPPOSITION KARABAKH STATEMENTS. Alexander Arzoumanian on 11 December criticized as "illiterate" and "misleading" two statements addressed by the Armenian opposition to the country's leadership and to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The statements, demanding that the Armenian leadership reject any proposed settlement of the Karabakh conflict that returns Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani jurisdiction, were adopted at an opposition rally in Yerevan on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1997). Arzoumanian said his ministry will continue to defend Armenia's national interests despite the dissemination by the opposition of "slander, lies and suspicion." On 10 December Arzoumanian met with his Nagorno-Karabakh counterpart Naira Melkumian to discuss the Karabakh peace process, Armenian agencies reported. LF CHEVRON TO BUILD ITS OWN TRANS-GEORGIA PIPELINE? The U.S. oil company Chevron plans to begin construction in 1998 of a pipeline from Baku to the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi to export crude from Kazakhstan's Tengiz field, according to "Finansoviye izvestiya" of 9 December. The pipeline will cost an estimated $600 million and have an annual throughput capacity of 5 million tons. It is not clear how the transport tariffs for oil exported through Georgia to Batumi would be shared between the central Georgian government and the autonomous Republic of Adjaria, of which Batumi is the capital. Chevron President Richard Matzke visited Tbilisi and Batumi in October 1996, to discuss the planned export of Tengiz oil via Georgia. LF KYRGYZ MUFTIAT DENOUNCES WAHHABISM. The six senior members of Kyrgyzstan's Muftiat met in Bishkek on 10- 11 December to discuss the activities of Wahhabis in the country, RFE/RL correspondents report. Members of the Muftiat have been especially vocal in their denunciation of Wahhabism since the Kyrgyz weekly newspaper "Kyrgyz Rukhu" printed an article in early December alleging two deputies of the Mufti Absatar-Agy Majitov, as well as the former head Mufti Sadykjan Kamalov, were disseminating the sect's ideas. The Muftiat stated that it is not responsible for activities of Kamalov's International Center for Islamic Cooperation located in Osh and excluded the center from the Muslim community of Kyrgyzstan. The members also reviewed the activities of Imams in Kyrgyzstan and discussed the formation of an expert commission to translate the Koran into Kyrgyz. BP PROTEST AT TURKMEN EMBASSY IN MOSCOW. Demonstrators gathered in front of Turkmenistan's Embassy in Moscow on 11 December to protest what they claim is the oppressive rule of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The "Memorial" human rights organization and the Turkmen opposition Diaspora in Moscow coordinated the demonstration. Some people carried signs calling on Niyazov to free political prisoners and stop using psychiatric hospitals as a place to incarcerate dissidents. Participants were able to hand a letter of protest to officials at the Embassy. The demonstration took place on the eve of the second anniversary of Turkmenistan's recognition by the United Nations as a "Neutral State" such as Switzerland. BP UZBEK-CHINESE RELATIONS. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov met with his Chinese counterpart Qian Qichen in Beijing on 11 December, according to ITAR-TASS and Xinhua. The two ministers expressed their satisfaction at the course of bilateral relations and noted that the volume of trade between the countries was not yet big enough, but has grown steadily in recent years. Agreements were signed on civilian and criminal judicial assistance and environmental protection. Qian said the two countries are still neighbors even though they do not share a common border. BP SAUDI EMBASSY OFFICIAL KILLED IN KAZAKHSTAN. The second Secretary of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Kazakhstan was found dead from multiple stab wounds in his apartment on 11 December, RFE/RL correspondents reported. According to neighbors, Ahmed Assaui hosted a party on the night of 10 December and police concluded it was later that night or early the next morning that he was murdered. BP SLOW PROGRESS ON NEW CONVENTIONAL ARMS TREATY by Roland Eggleston Negotiators in Vienna hope that a new treaty limiting the danger of an arms build-up in Europe can be achieved by the end of next year, although they warn considerable political will to reach agreement will be required on the part of some countries. The negotiators are revising the 1990 CFE treaty between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, which placed limits on the number of tanks, artillery, armored cars, war planes, and battle helicopters located between the Atlantic and the Urals. The new treaty will replace the bloc-to-bloc ceilings imposed on both alliances with national and territorial ceilings. National ceilings place a limit on the size of each country's armed forces, while the territorial ceilings impose a limit on the overall number of military forces deployed in any single country. In most cases, the territorial ceilings will be higher than the national ones, but the actual limits are still being worked out. A senior negotiator told RFE/RL that the national and territorial ceilings on the number of tanks, artillery, and other weapons are among the most difficult issues to resolve. "They go to the heart of the security of individual states, many of which remain suspicious of each other" he said. "Each government wants to be certain that the treaty allows it enough forces to meet its legitimate defense requirements." Thirty countries are participating in the negotiations, including the U.S., Russia, and most of the states of Western, Central and Eastern Europe, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. The neutral countries and Central Asian states, with the exception of Kazakhstan, are not involved. Gregory Govan, the chief U.S. negotiator, told RFE/RL that the talks are proceeding "slowly but methodically." He said one of the biggest political problems is Russia's attempts to impose conditions that would limit the effects of NATO enlargement. For example, Russia wants to restrict the degree to which the original 16 members of NATO can deploy forces on the territory of the alliance's new members, either permanently or temporarily. NATO believes fixed limits should be established only for ground forces, while Russia wants also to include fixed limits for warplanes and battle helicopters. NATO argues that including aircraft and helicopters is unrealistic. It is relatively easy for inspectors to determine whether ground forces are within the limits set by a treaty. But aircraft and helicopters can be flown in and out of a territory within minutes, making effective inspection virtually impossible. NATO diplomats say the alliance considers Russia's fears of a possible buildup of Western military power in countries near its borders to be exaggerated. However, it understands those fears and is trying to quell them. To this end, the U.S. has proposed the creation of a "zone of stability" in which the size of military forces would be limited. However, it insists that the zone include other countries as well as the new NATO members. Under the U.S. proposal--which has now been accepted by NATO as a whole--the "zone of stability" would include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, northern Ukraine, and Kaliningrad. The U.S. suggests that territorial limits in this zone would be the same as the present national limits, effectively preventing a build-up of foreign forces in any of those countries. The same conditions would apply until the next review of the treaty, scheduled for 2001. The U.S. further proposes that the treaty be reviewed every five years. Govan says that, in addition to political issues, there are many technical problems to be resolved. Among them is the system for checking that signatories are honoring the treaty. "One of the best features of the 1990 CFE treaty was its system of verification and transparency," he said. "Everyone agrees that it worked well and should be continued. The problem is how to maintain the same degree of assurance and confidence in a much more complicated treaty." According to Govan, the attitude of some countries is also a problem. "One group of countries at the talks has strong ideas on how a future treaty on conventional forces should look," he said. "There are other countries that don't have this outlook. Some have difficulties adjusting to a new kind of treaty that is not based on a bloc-to-bloc approach. Govan did not identify any countries but acknowledged that some NATO countries are among those nostalgic for the ease of decision-making under the old system. Originally, the new CFE treaty was expected to be ready by summer 1998, but few diplomats believe this timetable is realistic. Most now hope the negotiations can be completed by November 1998, allowing the new treaty to be signed in December by the heads of government attending a summit meeting of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, the signing ceremony is still many months and many problems away. The author writes regularly for RFE/RL. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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