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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 182, Part I, 18 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN SAYS HE'LL LEAVE HOSPITAL SOON * PRIMAKOV DISCUSSES RUSSIA-NATO COOPERATION * KAZAKH OPPOSITION, PRESIDENT COMMEMORATE 1986 UNREST xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN SAYS HE'LL LEAVE HOSPITAL SOON... President Boris Yeltsin on 18 December told journalists that he is leaving the Barvikha clinic and will go back to work on 19 December, Russian news agencies reported. Speaking before a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin denied his illness is related to past heart problems, saying that he "had a cold and there was a danger of complications." On 17 December, Yeltsin met with his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, and spoke by telephone with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii confirmed that the president still plans to visit Chechnya and India in January. Also on 17 December, Naina Yeltsin said her husband is feeling better but added that "he should work less because he never finishes his treatment," ITAR-TASS reported. LB ...SIGNS LAW ON GOVERNMENT. Yeltsin on 18 December signed the law on the government, which would strengthen parliamentary oversight of the cabinet, Russian news agencies reported. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said the executive and legislative authorities have already agreed on a set of amendments to that law. Among other things, the amendments would confirm that the "power ministries" remain subordinated directly to the president. Yastrzhembskii described Yeltsin's action as "unusual," since the parliament has not yet approved the amendments. But he said State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has promised Yeltsin that the amendments will be adopted shortly. Yeltsin's earlier refusal to sign the law prompted parliamentary deputies to appeal to the Constitutional Court. The law on the government is a federal constitutional law, and Article 108 of the constitution requires the president to sign such laws within 14 days of their approval by two- thirds of Duma deputies and a three-quarters majority in the Federation Council. LB PRIMAKOV DISCUSSES RUSSIA-NATO COOPERATION... Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met in Brussels on 17 December with NATO foreign ministers and Secretary- General Javier Solana to discuss the 1998 work program for the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. Primakov advocated transforming NATO into an organization "aimed mainly at peacekeeping and at the strengthening of stability and security by political means," Interfax reported. An unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry source also told Interfax that Primakov proposed that "the combined level of armaments of an enlarged NATO would not exceed the ceiling set for the Alliance for its present composition by the [Conventional Forces in Europe] Treaty." A NATO spokesman denied Interfax's claim that NATO has agreed to Russia's request to hold talks in 1998 on the modernization of military facilities in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, which are scheduled to become NATO members in 1999. LF ...EXPRESSES OPTIMISM ON START-2 RATIFICATION. Meeting on the sidelines of the NATO talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Primakov said he is hopeful that the State Duma will ratify the Start-2 treaty in 1998. The U.S. Senate has already ratified that treaty, which limits Russia and the U.S. to a maximum of 3,500 warheads each. Also on 17 December, Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev, the commander of Russia's strategic rocket forces, told journalists in Moscow that Russia is fully complying with the START-1 treaty. He added that its ratification could be expedited if the economic benefits of START-2 were explained to Duma deputies. Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev failed in September to overcome opposition within the Duma to ratification of START-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1997). LF COMMISSION GIVES COMPANIES ONE WEEK TO PAY TAX DEBTS... At a 17 December meeting chaired by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, the government's emergency commission on tax and budgetary discipline ordered the Omsk Oil Refinery and the Angara Petrochemical Company to pay their debts to the federal budget in full by 25 December, Russian news agencies reported. The Omsk refinery's debts are estimated at 470 billion rubles ($79 million), while the Angara company owes at least 700 billion rubles. If they fail to meet that deadline, steps including the possible seizure of property of those companies will be taken, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson said. An 8 December meeting of the government commission, which was chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, called for the seizure of property of Angara and the Omsk refinery. But government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov said Chernomyrdin considered that decision "hasty." LB ...OR PARENT COMPANIES WILL BE HELD RESPONSIBLE. Urinson told journalists on 17 December that the companies that own the Omsk Oil Refinery and Angara Petrochemical Company will be held responsible if those companies do not pay their tax debts by 25 December, Russian news agencies reported. The Sibneft oil company, part of Boris Berezovskii's business empire, owns the Omsk refinery. The Sidanko oil company, part of Vladimir Potanin's Oneksimbank empire, owns the Angara company. Urinson also said the government commission on tax and budgetary discipline has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to examine whether "individuals who are to blame for the nonpayment of taxes to the federal treasury" may be liable. In addition, the commission ordered the majority state-owned electricity utility Unified Energy Systems to pay its debts to the federal budget by 31 December. LB DECISION COULD AFFECT ROSNEFT AUCTION. The commission's decision comes as Berezovskii and Potanin are gearing up to bid for a stake in the oil company Rosneft in early 1998. Mikhail Khodorkovskii has announced that his Rosprom-Yukos group and Sibneft have formed an alliance for the Rosneft auction, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 December. Khodorkovskii recently visited New York and Houston, reportedly to look for a foreign partner to join his and Berezovskii's consortium. Oneksimbank and British Petroleum announced in November that they have formed a consortium to bid for Rosneft shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). Being forced to pay substantial tax arrears could put Sibneft and Oneksimbank at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the third major consortium that intends to bid for Rosneft: an alliance between the gas monopoly Gazprom and the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell. LB 'NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA' BLAMES FOREIGN PRESSURE FOR DECISION. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, on 18 December slammed the decision of the government commission under the headline "Why does Russia need its own government?" The article alleged that Chernomyrdin recently received letters with "ultimatums" from IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus and World Bank President James Wolfensohn. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Camdessus listed "preconditions" for the issue of a $700 million loan tranche from the IMF in January and noted that he "attaches enormous significance" to the government commission's 8 December decision on tax debtors. The newspaper said Wolfensohn informed Chernomyrdin that in order to secure the approval of two World Bank loans worth a total of $1.6 billion, Russia must confirm that commission's 8 December decision. LB GAZPROM ANNULS AGREEMENT WITH EX-IM BANK. Gazprom has annulled a memorandum signed with the U.S. Ex-Im Bank in November 1994 whereby the U.S. bank was to provide Gazprom with a $750 million credit for purchases of equipment, Russian agencies reported on 17 December. Interfax quoted an unnamed Gazprom representative as saying Gazprom has decided to annul the contract rather than risk that Ex-Im Bank will renege on the agreement as a way of pressuring Gazprom. The Russian gas monopoly may face sanctions from the U.S. government in retaliation for the $2 billion contract it signed in September with Iran. Under that contract, Gazprom, France's Total, and Malaysia's Petronas will jointly develop Iran's South Pars Caspian gas deposit. LF CHUBAIS IN INDIA. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais attended the fourth session of the Indian-Russian commission on trade, economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation in Delhi on 17 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais and Indian Finance Minister Palaniappin Chidambaram held talks on ways to improve trade between the two countries. They noted bilateral trade this year will reach $1.2 billion but that possibilities exist to increase that figure to $5 billion "in the near future." Chubais is also laying the groundwork for Yeltsin's visit to India in late January. BP DUMA PROPOSES FEDERAL AGENCY FOR RELIGION... The Duma on 17 December asked Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to form a federal agency for religion, Russian news agencies reported. The proposed agency would oversee the implementation of Russia's law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations, which was adopted in September. It would draw up rules for the registration of religious groups and monitor those groups' compliance with the law. The Duma's request argued that the registration rules should not contain loopholes for "destructive sects and pseudo-religious organizations." Russian officials and leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have argued that the religion law is mainly directed against cults, but human rights defenders have warned that the law sanctions official persecution of some minority religious groups. LB ...ASKS GOVERNMENT ABOUT MOSTOVOI APPOINTMENT. Also on 17 December, the Duma voted to ask the government about the recent appointment of Petr Mostovoi as first vice president of the state-controlled diamond monopoly Almazy Rossiya-Sakha, Russian news agencies reported. Mostovoi, former head of the Federal Bankruptcy Administration, was among several officials sacked in November over a book fees scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1997). LB ANOTHER REGION GAINS PERMISSION TO ISSUE EUROBONDS. Yeltsin on 17 December granted Chelyabinsk Oblast permission to issue Eurobonds, ITAR-TASS reported. Chelyabinsk becomes the 11th Russian region to receive such permission from the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). Meanwhile, Leningrad Oblast Governor Vadim Gustov told Interfax on 16 December that his oblast, which is among those allowed to issue Eurobonds, has postponed its foreign borrowing plans until the situation on the world financial markets stabilizes. LB ZHIRINOVSKY ALLEGES CAMPAIGN VIOLATIONS IN REGIONS... Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky announced on 17 December that deputies representing his party will not participate in State Duma proceedings for three days in protest of what he described as official attempts to hinder his party's candidates in regional elections, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He claimed LDPR candidates are being blocked from campaigning for legislative elections in Novosibirsk Oblast and a presidential election in the Republic of Chuvashia. Both elections are scheduled for later this month. The LDPR has generally done poorly in regional elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1997), but the party has a strong organization in Novosibirsk. The LDPR gained more seats than any other party on the Novosibirsk city council in December 1996 elections. LB ...FAILS TO TURN UP IN COURT FOR SLANDER SUIT. Also on 17 December, a slander suit filed against Zhirinovsky by the private network NTV and one of its journalists, Yelena Masyuk, was postponed for the second time after neither the LDPR leader nor his lawyer turned up for court hearings, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Masyuk became famous for her reports on the Chechen war and conducted interviews with several prominent Chechen field commanders. In December 1995, Zhirinovsky accused Masyuk of taking bribes from Chechens to broadcast favorable reports about them. LB CHECHNYA REPEATS TERRITORIAL CLAIMS ON DAGESTAN. A 17 December congress of First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov's Islamic Nation party has repeated calls for Chechnya to annex territories in neighboring Dagestan populated by some 70,000 Akkin Chechens, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. The party wants to create an independent state in the North Caucasus. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said Chechnya intends to "liberate" Dagestan from its present "unworthy" status as a Russian colony. Nadirshah Khachilaev, the chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia, expressed his support for the concept of an independent Dagestan. But Dagestani Security Council secretary Magomed Tolboev said that Chechen attempts to "export its ideology" are "impermissible." He added that he would like Russia to give Dagestan greater autonomy in acknowledgment of its loyalty to Moscow. LF DAGESTAN DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY. Following the interruption of natural gas supplies from Turkmenistan, the Dagestani government on 17 December declared a state of emergency and issued an appeal for assistance to Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Gazprom chairman Rem Vyakhirev, Interfax reported. Gazprom promised to supply additional gas, but Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Batyr Sardzhaev denied responsibility for the shortage, claiming Turkmenistan has never exported gas to Dagestan. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KAZAKH OPPOSITION, PRESIDENT COMMEMORATE 1986 UNREST. The Azat movement and the Union of Participants in the December 1986 Uprising held a demonstration in Almaty on 17 December to mark the 11th anniversary of the spontaneous uprising against the election of ethnic Russian Gennadii Kolbin as first secretary of the Kazakhstan Communist Party's Central Committee, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Dozens of people were killed when police used violence to dispel the 1986 unrest. President Nursultan Nazarbaev unexpectedly joined the commemorative meeting to participate in prayers for those killed. He then told the demonstrators that he is realizing the political aspirations of those Kazakhs killed in 1986 and during the Stalin era. Some demonstrators responded by criticizing the president's economic policies, prompting Nazarbaev to make a hasty departure. LF POLICEMEN MURDERED IN EASTERN UZBEKISTAN. RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent report that three policemen were killed in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan on 16 December. These latest murders follow the killing in late November of a senior police official in the area. And on 12 December, a couple were murdered in a village outside Namangan. Police have questioned a number of people in connection with those crimes but have not yet arrested or charged anyone. BP UZBEK, RUSSIAN AIRLINES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT. The managing director of Uzbekistan's national airlines on 17 December, signed a cooperation agreement with the managing director of Russia's Transaero, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, entitled the "CIS Alliance," aims to increase contacts between the national airlines of former Soviet republics in order to compete against foreign carriers. The two directors emphasized they hoped other newly independent states would join the alliance. BP BOMB EXPLODES IN ABKHAZIA, TALKS DELAYED. Three people were injured on 17 December when a bomb exploded in a passenger train in Abkhazia's Ochamchire Raion, Russian agencies reported. Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba blamed "Georgian sabotage groups" for the incident. The same day, adverse weather conditions prevented the Georgian delegation from flying to Sukhumi for talks with Russian, Abkhaz, U.S., and European representatives on implementing the decisions of the November UN-sponsored talks on establishing working groups on security issues in the border region and on repatriating Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 hostilities, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said in Tbilisi on 16 December that he has received a letter from U.S. President Clinton expressing the U.S.'s readiness to play a more active role in mediating a political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, according to ITAR-TASS. LF FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENCY. In an interview with Turan on 17 December, former Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev announced his candidacy for the 1998 presidential elections. Guliev said he is not intimidated by the parliament's 16 December decision to strip him of his deputy's mandate. He charged that violations of the constitution "have become the norm rather than the exception." Guliev did not say when he plans to return to Azerbaijan from the U.S., where he currently lives. LF REGIONAL AFFAIRS RECORD LOW TEMPERATURES IN AZERBAIJAN... In Azerbaijan, the temperature has fallen to minus 50 degrees Celsius, the lowest recorded in that country for 25 years, ANS Press reported on 18 December. All the country's airports were closed the previous day because of heavy snow and high winds. State Committee for Refugees chairman Gulabbas Gakhramanov said the adverse weather has not affected conditions in the 12 refugee camps where families made homeless by the Karabakh conflict are spending their fifth winter in tents. Meanwhile, storms off the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk have delayed the loading of tankers with the first consignment of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil, Caucasus Press reported on 18 December. LF ...AND IN RUSSIA. Record-breaking cold temperatures in Moscow have killed 22 people in recent days, Reuters reported on 17 December. A state of emergency was declared in Krasnodar Krai when a winter storm brought down power lines and shut off electricity supplies to many cities, ITAR-TASS reported. Schools have been closed in many other Russian regions as temperatures dropped below minus 40 degrees Celsius. LB FREEZING WEATHER CREATES HAVOC IN EASTERN EUROPE. Snow, ice, and temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius have disrupted traffic in several parts of Serbia and severely strained power supplies, local media reported on 17 December. Twenty people were reported xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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