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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 184, Part I, 22 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN SAYS WILL RETURN TO KREMLIN * RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF RESIGNS * ARMENIA BLOCS ADOPTION OF KARABAKH DOCUMENT IN COPENHAGEN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN SAYS WILL RETURN TO KREMLIN. President Boris Yeltsin told journalists on 22 December, "Tomorrow I'm going back to the Kremlin and to work. There are no traces of the illness left," ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin has been at the Barvikha clinic since 10 December, reportedly for treatment of a respiratory infection. On 19 December, after the president was examined at the Moscow Cardiological Center, Kremlin doctor Sergei Mironov and cardiologist Yurii Belenkov announced that the president's heart has not been affected by his recent illness. Nonetheless, they recommended that Yeltsin spend five or six more days at Barvikha, although Mironov said he would not be surprised if the president decided to leave the clinic sooner. Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy on 21 December quoted presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying that Yeltsin may take an unscheduled vacation at the end of December or at the beginning of January. LB RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF RESIGNS... Yeltsin on19 December accepted the resignation of Federal Border Service head Colonel-General Andrei Nikolaev, Russian agencies reported. Meeting with Yeltsin on 9 December, Nikolaev had complained that the1998 budget provides inadequate funding for the border troops. Several observers suggest that Nikolaev was dissatisfied with the Russian government decision to transfer the disputed Verkhnii Lars post on the Russian- Georgian border back to its original position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 1997). Yeltsin's Press Spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that Yeltsin was "seriously displeased" with many aspects of the border guards' work, including Nikolaev's alleged failure to coordinate with other power ministries. LF ... FOR REASONS UNCLEAR. Former Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed charged that Nikolaev's resignation was due to pressure from Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, and that it would result in a increase in the import of illegal alcohol into the Russian Federation, Interfax reported. Lebed characterized Nikolaev as " a strong-willed and smart man with exceptional organizational abilities." But ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed Russian government sources as claiming that Nikolaev was dictatorial and had numerous disagreements with government ministries. The Russian State Duma instructed the heads of its Security, Defense and Foreign Affairs Committees to investigate the circumstances of Nikolaev's resignation, which Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky claimed was "engineered by the Georgian mafia." LF ZHIRINOVSKY THREATENS NOT TO SUPPORT BUDGET. Duma deputies from Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) say they will not vote for the 1998 budget unless Andrei Nikolaev is reinstated as head of the Border Service, Interfax reported on 20 December. In a press release, Zhirinovsky also said LDPR deputies will not support the budget unless top civil aviation officials in Russia are sacked. If the LDPR withheld its support, it would be extremely difficult for the government to secure approval for the budget in the Duma. Even with the unanimous support of the LDPR faction, the budget was passed in the first reading by just five votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). The second reading of the budget is scheduled for 24 December. LB DUMA APPROVES TAX LAWS... The Duma on 18 and 19 December approved a package of tax laws in the third and final reading, "Kommersant-Daily" and ITAR-TASS reported. On 18 December, deputies approved a law that would force regional branches of corporations to pay property taxes in the regions where they operate rather than where company headquarters are located (usually in Moscow). The same day, deputies backed changes to the land tax and a law raising the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5 percent to 1 percent. On 19 December, the Duma approved changes in income taxes that would charge the maximum rate of 35 percent on all income above 8 million rubles per month ($1,345). The same day, the Duma passed amendments to the law on excise duties, which introduced an excise duty on oil transport. The Duma also approved laws introducing taxes on water, alcohol production and industrial use of animal products. LB ...AND CHANGES 1997 BORROWING PLAN. The Duma on 19 December approved changes to Russia's 1997 borrowing program, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The amendments to the 1997 budget allow the government to reduce its planned domestic borrowing this year by $1.1 billion and to increase its foreign borrowing from $9.8 billion to $10.9 billion. The government proposed the changes following turmoil on Russian financial markets, which has made internal borrowing significantly more expensive. When debating the amendments, Communist Duma Deputy Valentin Romanov warned that loans from abroad often come with political strings attached. Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of the pro- government faction Our Home Is Russia, argued that the government should borrow where it is cheaper. LB YELTSIN WANTS TO CHANGE ELECTORAL SYSTEM... Yeltsin has called for changing Russia's electoral law to eliminate the proportional representation system now used to elect half the 450 State Duma deputies, Russian news agencies reported on 19 December. In a letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, the president charged that the current system is unrepresentative, because in December 1995 roughly half of voters backed groups that gained less than 5 percent of the vote and consequently did not win any of the seats distributed proportionally. Yeltsin also claimed that the current system is to blame for what he called "the over- politicization and bellicose nature of the present parliament." Although the president now wants all 450 deputies to be elected in single-member districts, he introduced the mixed electoral system in an October 1993 decree. He also signed the 1995 law on parliamentary elections, which retained the mixed system. LB ...BUT DUMA IS UNLIKELY TO SUPPORT HIS PROPOSAL. The Duma is almost certain to reject Yeltsin's request to change the electoral system. Several prominent Duma deputies, including Seleznev and Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov, denounced the proposal on 19 December. However, the president's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, has expressed confidence that the next parliamentary elections will be conducted using only single-member districts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 December. Kotenkov did not explain how Yeltsin would be able to force changes in the electoral system. The president does not have the right to issue a decree overriding a federal law. The Constitutional Court has up to now refused to consider appeals charging that the proportional representation system violates the rights of voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). LB YELTSIN VETOES ANTI-CORRUPTION LAW. Yeltsin has vetoed a law on fighting corruption, which was passed by the Duma in November and by the Federation Council earlier this month, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 December. The law would bar officials from accepting various forms of gifts and payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997). Yeltsin's veto message to the speakers of both houses of parliament charged that the law violated the constitution, the Civil Code, and several federal laws. Meanwhile, the Duma on 19 December failed to override a presidential veto of amendments to the law on police, Interfax reported. Those amendments would have provided for police forces to be funded from local budgets and would have allowed police to search individuals if "there are sufficient reasons to believe" that those individuals are carrying illegal weapons or drugs. Yeltsin charged that the amendments were unconstitutional. LB DUMA WANTS HELP FOR NUCLEAR CENTERS... The Duma on 19 December passed a resolution asking Yeltsin to intervene to help solve the problems of nuclear weapons producers, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution cited wage arrears to nuclear arms designers and a federal debt of 175 billion rubles ($29 million) to the Federal Nuclear Center in Arzamas-16 (also known as Sarov, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast). Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin visited Sarov in July, shortly before a gubernatorial election in Nizhnii Novgorod, and promised that the government would support the nuclear research center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997). LB ...MORE REGULATION OF PRIVATE ELECTRONIC MEDIA. Also on 19 December, the Duma passed a resolution "on state regulation on the television company NTV and other non-state television and radio companies," "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The resolution, proposed by LDPR leader Zhirinovsky, accused NTV of "stoking political confrontation in society," broadcasting "erotic and pornographic programs" and ignoring "the religious feelings of believers." The Duma urged the government to charge NTV more for the use of transmission facilities. According to Interfax, the resolution also recommended that the government impose "extremely tough sanctions" against private radio and television companies that violate the terms of their broadcasting licenses. The resolution also instructed the Duma's committees on the budget and on information policy to draft a law on taxing private radio and television companies. LB WORLD BANK APPROVES TWO MORE LOANS FOR RUSSIA. The World Bank announced on 19 December that its board has approved two new loans to Russia: an 800- million- dollar structural adjustment loan, and an 800-million-dollar loan earmarked for supporting the coal industry, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The structural adjustment loan is to finance reform of Russia's natural monopolies, banking, trade policy, and privatization projects. The coal loan will help finance restructuring of the coal industry, which is to involve the closure of many unprofitable mines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November and 11 December 1997). First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais announced on 20 December that the first 400-million-dollar tranche of the coal loan will arrive in Moscow within three or four days, and that the government will allocate $118 million to the coal industry by the end of December, ITAR-TASS reported. LB YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW STATE PROPERTY MINISTER. Yeltsin on 20 December appointed Farit Gazizullin, up to now first deputy state property minister, to head the State Property Ministry, Russian news agencies reported. He replaces Maksim Boiko, who was fired last month after it emerged that he received $90,000 from a publisher linked to Oneksimbank for a book on privatization that has not yet been published (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). Gazizullin held various high posts in the government of the Republic of Tatarstan before being appointed first deputy chairman of the federal State Property Committee in June 1996. That committee became a ministry on 30 September. LB GOVERNMENT APPROVES PENSION REFORM PLAN. The government on 18 December approved a pension reform program, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Beginning on 1 February 1998, state pensions will depend in part on how long individuals have worked (the government hopes to create an incentive for delaying retirement). Other aspects of the reform plan will take effect in 2000. Pensions for individuals will be provided in part by the state and in part out of individual contributions to the Pension Fund. (Details on this part of the plan are sketchy.) Individuals may also make voluntary contributions to private pension funds. Although Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk on 15 December said the pension age will gradually be increased, Deputy Prime Minister and Labor Minister Oleg Sysuev indicated on 18 December that the government's plan does not foresee an increase in the retirement age. A previous pension reform plan was rejected at an October cabinet meeting, at which Prime Minister Chernomyrdin sharply criticized Sysuev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 31 October 1997). LB RUSSIA-IRAN UPDATE. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov was in Tehran last week for talks with Iranian Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdollah Nouri on combatting drugs and arms smuggling and terrorism, Russian agencies reported. Meeting on 19 December with Nouri and First Vice President Hassan Habibi, Kulikov also expressed Moscow's gratitude to the Iranian leadership for forestalling an attempt by Turkey to include Chechnya on the agenda of the 9-11 December Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, Interfax reported. LF RUSSIA WILL GO AHEAD WITH S-300 SALES TO CYPRUS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov on 19 December rejected as "groundless and misleading" a "Financial Times" article claiming that Yevgenii Primakov had announced at the OSCE Foreign Ministers' meeting in Copenhagen that Russia is prepared to suspend the planned delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Greek Cyprus in exchange for finncial compensation from NATO, Interfax reported. Tarasov reiterated Moscow's position that the S-300s are "a purely defensive weapon." LF HOSTAGE ORDEAL IN MOSCOW ENDS WITH DEATH OF TERRORIST... A six-hour hostage ordeal in Moscow ended when a terrorist and was killed in the early morning of 20 December outside the Swedish Embassy. The terrorist, identified as 34-year-old Sergei Kobyakov from Chelyabinsk Oblast, took Swedish Embassy worker Jan Olaf Nystrom hostage on the evening of 19 December when Nystrom returned to his car, parked near the embassy. Kobyakov had a pistol and a grenade and demanded $3 million and a plane for the release of Nystrom. He later agreed to trade the Swede for a member of the Alpha force (antiterrorist unit). Kobyakov's behavior became erratic later and commandos decided to open fire. Kobyakov was killed in the exchange. BP ...AND SECURITY FORCE OFFICER. The terrorist Kobyakov swapped the Swede for Alpha unit's Colonel Anatoly Savelev. But when Kobyakov placed a noose around Savelev's neck the colonel appeared to suffer a heart seizure, the Alpha force commandos attacked. Kobyakov was killed outright. Savelev was wounded, according to some accounts several times. Savelev died at a hospital officially of a heart attack but footage of the action and accounts by some present at the scene raise the possibility the Colonel died of gunshot wounds. BP OLD DEFENSE MINISTERS NEVER DIE, THEY SIMPLY GET NEW, CUSHIER JOBS. Former Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev is likely to become an advisor to Yevgenii Ananev, named in August as head of the arms export concern Rosvooruzhenie, Russian media reported on 18 December. "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 December reported that Grachev has already begun work in that position, which he owes to his former school friend, Rear Admiral Oleg Belavintsev, who is Rosvooruzhenie's first deputy general director. LF YELTSIN APPROVES NATIONAL SECURITY CONCEPT. Yeltsin on 17 December signed into law the Russian National Security Concept, "Izvestia" reported on 21 December. That concept makes provision for the first use of nuclear weapons (see "End Note", RFE/RL Newsline, 30 April 1997). LF CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER PASSES DEATH SENTENCE ON YELTSIN. Addressing a 3,000-person rally in Grozny on 20 December, Salman Raduev threatened to execute Yeltsin during the Russian president's visit to Chechnya next month in accordance with a death sentence pronounced by the "Supreme Caucasus Sharia Court" on Russian officials deemed responsible for the 1994 invasion of Chechnya, AFP reported. The Russian Presidential Press Service termed Raduev's statement appalling and charged it aimed to derail dialogue between Moscow and Grozny. Rally participants also passed a vote of no-confidence in Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and the Chechen government and called on the latter to resign, Interfax reported. Raduev's supporters had issued a similar demand at a rally in Grozny five weeks ago (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1997). LF MASKHADOV, RYBKIN OUTLINE PRIORITIES FOR CHECHNYA. Addressing the first session of an international conference on Chechnya, Maskhadov on 19 December again called on Yeltsin to sign a full-scale treaty recognizing Chechnya's independence and establishing diplomatic relations, Interfax reported. But Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told the final session of the conference in Kazan on 20 December that the 43 agreements already signed between Moscow and Grozny constitute "a rich contractual basis" for structuring bilateral relations, and that the primary problem facing Chechnya is restoring its economy. Rybkin warned against "over-hasty" decisions on Chechnya's status, expressing the hope that the conference, attended by experts on international law, would make it possible to find a formula acceptable to both parties. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA BLOCS ADOPTION OF KARABAKH DOCUMENT IN COPENHAGEN. The Armenian delegation to the OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Copenhagen on 19 December blocked a decision reiterating the principles of the 1996 Lisbon OSCE summit. It also blocked a statement by the current OSCE chairman couched in virtually identical terms, Noyan Tapan , a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service, reported. The 1996 Lisbon statement had affirmed that a solution to the Karabakh conflict must be based on autonomous status for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. The Armenian delegation in Copenhagen likewise registered its disapproval of the OSCE's preference for a "phased" settlement of the conflict, which the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership categorically rejects. LF CORRUPTION TERMED 'MOST DANGEROUS' CRIME IN ARMENIA. Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian on 18 December characterized corruption and economic crime as the most serious problem facing his ministry, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said that growing ties between state officials at various levels and the criminal underworld are "extremely dangerous" and "weaken the country." Sarkisian complained that present legislation does not permit his ministry to combat these evils effectively. He also said that although no attempts have been made during his tenure as minister on the life of President Levon Ter- Petrossyan, the security ministry and presidential guards "have had numerous occasions to be worried," according to Interfax. LF HAPPY BIRTHDAY COMRADE STALIN. Admirers of Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili (Stalin) congregated in his hometown of Gori on 21 December to mark the 118th anniversary of his birth there. Stalin's great-great-grandson was baptized the same day in a nearby monastery. Similar celebrations organized by the Stalin Society and other organizations took place in Tbilisi and Kutaisi. LF WAHHABIS BLAMED IN NAMANGAN KILLINGS. The Uzbek government is blaming the murders of four policemen in Namangan on members of a Wahhabi sect (See "Newsline" 18 December), according to RFE/RL corespondents and Reuters. One suspect killed in the 17 November gunfight with police has been identified as a Wahhabi. Police in eastern Uzbekistan are now looking for other members of the sect. Mikhail Ardzinov, the chairman of the Independent Organization for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, says authorities in the Namangan area have detained or arrested hundreds of people in connection with the killings of police officers. " He said the town is under semi-siege. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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