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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 186, Part I, 29 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 Note to readers: "RFE/RL Newsline" will not appear on 31 December or 1 January, which are public holidays in the Czech Republic, or on 2 January. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN SECOND READING * OFFICIALS AGREE TO SEEK COMPROMISE ON LAND REFORM * TURKMENISTAN, TURKEY SIGN AGREEMENTS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN SECOND READING. The State Duma approved the draft budget for 1998 in the second reading on 25 December by a vote of 231 to 155 with three abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The previous day, deputies approved the document provisionally, but then on two successive votes the budget fell just short of the 226 votes needed for approval. The Duma again failed by a small margin to pass the budget in the second reading on the morning of 25 December, but later in the day, after some lobbying in the corridors, the budget was finally approved. The budget, which faces another two readings in the Duma, calls for 367.5 billion new rubles ($62 billion) in revenues and 499.9 billion rubles in spending. The planned budget deficit of 132 billion rubles totals 4.7 percent of estimated 1998 GDP. LB LIMITED COMMUNIST SUPPORT KEY FOR BUDGET PASSAGE. Although Communist deputy leader Valentin Kuptsov announced on 23 December that his party would vote against the budget, 35 Communist Duma deputies supported the budget in the final, successful attempt to approve the document in the second reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 December. As on 5 December, when the Duma approved the budget in the first reading with some Communist support, Communist Party leaders including Gennadii Zyuganov voted against the budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). The Our Home Is Russia, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Russian Regions factions voted nearly unanimously for the budget on 25 December, as did most Agrarian deputies and some members of the Popular Power faction. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction voted unanimously against the budget. LB OFFICIALS AGREE TO SEEK COMPROMISE ON LAND REFORM. Top officials in the executive and legislative branches agreed on 26 December that the government and parliament will revise the Land Code and submit it to the president within three months, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In his speech to open the roundtable talks in the Kremlin, Yeltsin argued that the current version of the land code, which he vetoed in July, must be amended. While not explicitly prohibiting private land ownership, he said, the code bans citizens from selling, giving away, or mortgaging farmland. "What kind of private property is that?" he asked. A protocol adopted by the roundtable participants and signed by Yeltsin calls for strict state regulation of farmland transactions, which, among other things, would ban foreigners from buying farmland and would restrict new owners from quickly re-selling such land or converting it from agricultural use. LB PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON GOVERNMENT. The Duma on 25 December voted by 404 to zero with one abstention to approve amendments to the law on the government, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and ITAR- TASS reported. Before the vote, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin urged deputies to pass the amendments. Among other things, the amendments stipulate that the president directs the work of the so-called "power ministries" (defense, interior, and security services), as well as ministries and agencies dealing with questions of security, foreign affairs, and emergency situations. Yeltsin recently signed the law on the government after Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev promised that the Duma would approve the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1997). The Federation Council also passed the amendments on 25 December, but the legislation was put to a vote three times before the necessary three-fourths majority was achieved, according to ITAR-TASS. LB YELTSIN RULES OUT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. While meeting with Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Mikhail Komissar on 25 December, Yeltsin said, "As long as I am president, I will not allow any changes to the constitution," Russian news agencies reported. Duma Speaker Seleznev recently sent the president several proposals on constitutional amendments, but Yeltsin argued that "attempts to change [the constitution] can only lead to the destabilization of the situation" in Russia. The Communist Party, of which Seleznev is a member, has long advocated constitutional amendments to reduce the power of the presidency and increase the power of the legislative branch. LB NEMTSOV UPBEAT ON YELTSIN'S HEALTH. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 25 December denied rumors that Yeltsin is seriously ill, saying the president "is in better shape than I am," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. On 24 December, exactly two weeks after he was brought to the Barvikha clinic with a respiratory infection, Yeltsin checked out of the clinic and held a partly-televised meeting with Nemtsov at the Kremlin. He also made trips to the Kremlin on 26 and 29 December. He has spent the rest of his time at his residence at Gorky-9, outside Moscow. Aides have not said when the president will return to work full- time. LB DUMA CALLS FOR NEMTSOV'S DISMISSAL... The Duma on 26 December passed a resolution calling for Yeltsin to fire Nemtsov for making "irresponsible" comments during a visit to Sweden earlier this month, Russian news agencies reported. The resolution accused Nemtsov of trying to scare potential foreign investors away from regions with "red governors," who were elected with the backing of the Communist opposition. Meanwhile, the Federation Council, which is made up of regional executive and legislative leaders, voted on 24 December to summon Nemtsov to explain his comments in Sweden and his more recent remarks on the drive to pay wage arrears to state employees. Nemtsov has charged that regional governors-- not the federal government--will be to blame if the wage debts are not cleared by the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). LB ...NEMTSOV SAYS HE WAS MISUNDERSTOOD. In a letter sent to the Duma and Federation Council on 25 December, Nemtsov claimed the comments he made in Sweden have been misinterpreted, Russian news agencies reported. He denied having implied that "red governors" would "liquidate" invested foreign capital. Rather, in reply to a question about which regions were most promising for foreign investors, he merely noted that regions in Russia's "red belt" have seen less foreign investment than other regions, such as Moscow and Moscow Oblast, St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, the republics of Karelia and Tatarstan, Novgorod, Samara, Tyumen, Nizhnii Novgorod and Sakhalin Oblasts. Nemtsov told the Duma and Federation Council that such information is "confirmed by statistical data" and that he hopes more regions will create an attractive environment for both foreign and domestic investors. LB FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES SEVERAL TAX LAWS. The Federation Council on 24 December approved six out of nine draft laws aimed at increasing 1998 budget revenues, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation approved includes a law outlining a new income tax scale, a law raising the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5 to 1 percent, and laws establishing an excise duty on oil transports and fees for alcohol production licenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). Also on 24 December, the Council rejected proposed changes to the law on excise duties, on the grounds that the high duties that law would set on alcohol production would unintentionally encourage the black market in alcoholic beverages. LB YELTSIN SIGNS LAW CHANGING 1997 BORROWING PLAN. Yeltsin on 26 December signed a law amending the 1997 budget, ITAR-TASS reported. The changes, which were approved by the Federation Council on 24 December, will allow the government to borrow $1.1 billion less on the domestic market this year and $1.1 billion more abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). LB NTV TO CONTEST HIGHER TRANSMISSION CHARGES. The private network NTV will appeal to the Moscow Arbitration Court against a decision to charge it higher fees for using state-owned transmission facilities, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 23 December. Under an agreement with the Communications Ministry, NTV has paid government rates for its transmissions since January 1996. However, the State Anti-Monopoly Committee recently ordered that NTV be charged the commercial rates paid by other private electronic media. Igor Malashenko, the president of NTV-holding, thinks the order violates Article 8 of the constitution, which guarantees equal conditions for all enterprises, whether they are state-owned or private. Some observers believe First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, who oversees the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, is behind the decision to charge NTV higher rates. Since this summer, the network's news coverage has frequently portrayed Nemtsov and especially First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais in an unfavorable light. LB DUMA DEMANDS ACTION AGAINST 'PROPAGANDA OF VICE.' The Duma on 26 December approved a resolution calling for the government to take legal action against NTV and other Russian television companies that allegedly broadcast "the propaganda of vice, sadism, blasphemy, permissiveness and crime," Interfax reported. Such legal action could include revoking the broadcast licenses of some companies, the resolution said. It specifically condemned NTV for broadcasting the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" and declared the Duma's "complete solidarity" on this issue with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Duma recently passed a separate resolution calling for more regulation of NTV and other private electronic media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). LB GAZPROM FORMS MEDIA SUBSIDIARY. The gas monopoly Gazprom has formed a subsidiary, Gazprom- Media, to manage its media assets, Russian news agencies reported on 27 December. Viktor Ilyushin, up to now Gazprom's vice president in charge of public relations, was elected chairman of the board of Gazprom-Media. Ilyushin, a longtime aide to Yeltsin dating from Yeltsin's time as secretary of the Communist Party committee in Sverdlovsk Oblast, served as first presidential adviser from 1992 until August 1996, when he was appointed first deputy prime minister. He joined Gazprom soon after losing his government job in a March 1997 cabinet reshuffle. Gazprom owns shares in Russian Public Television, NTV, the Prometei network of regional radio and television stations, and the newspapers "Trud" and "Rabochaya tribuna." LB ACCUSED SPY GOES HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. U.S. citizen Richard Bliss, who is being investigated on spy charges, arrived in San Diego, California, on 25 December after Russian authorities allowed him to go home for Christmas. Bliss was arrested on 25 November while carrying out a land survey using satellite technology for a cellular telephone project involving his U.S. employer, Qualcomm. He was released from custody on 6 December after promising not to leave Rostov-na-Donu. Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told Interfax that the authorities may summon Bliss back to Russia in January, depending on the outcome of the investigation. U.S. officials including Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have called on Russian authorities to drop the charges against Bliss. LB ZHIRINOVSKY SHIPS HUMANITARIAN AID TO IRAQ. A plane carrying 21 members of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia landed in Baghdad on 25 December with a consignment of five tons of medical supplies. The plane had been detained in Iran on 22 December as it lacked authorization from the U.N. Security Council's Sanctions Commission to enter Iraqi air space, but allowed to proceed after the Russian Foreign Ministry requested permission from the U.N. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov on 24 December denied media reports that the ministry had been informed in advance about the LDPR's planned mission. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TURKMENISTAN, TURKEY SIGN AGREEMENTS. Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz completed his three-day visit to Turkmenistan on 28 December by overseeing the signing of several agreements between the two countries, ITAR- TASS reported. The most significant document was a memorandum of understanding for a gas pipeline across the bed of Caspian sea and via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey and further to Europe. Prior to Yilmaz' departure to Baku on 28 December, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrived in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, and discussed with Yilmaz and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov the Turkmen- Iran-Turkey-Europe pipeline. Khatami and Niyazov attended the opening ceremony of the first stage of this route, the 200-kilometer Korpedzhe-Kurdkui pipeline, on 29 December. BP DELAYS IN TAJIKISTAN. Tajikistan will hold a national referendum on amendments to the constitution in the first half of 1998, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Possible amendments are being discussed by the National Reconciliation Commission but some members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) favor waiting to name a date for the referendum until its members have officially taken up positions in the Tajik government. The announcement of which positions the UTO representatives will receive is already overdue. The last 650 fighters of the UTO still in Afghanistan awaiting transportation back to Tajikistan also have been delayed by weather, logistics and lack of finances, and may not return before mid-January. BP AZERBAIJAN, KARABAKH ASSESS COPENHAGEN SUMMIT. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov told Interfax on 22 December that he was satisfied with the outcome of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe Foreign Ministers' meeting in Copenhagen, Interfax reported. Hasanov said the meeting laid the foundation for resolving the conflict via negotiations. In an interview with the independent Armenian newspaper "Azg" on 23 December, Hasanov termed Armenia the instigator of the conflict and called on Yerevan to "withdraw its forces from Azerbaijani territory" and negotiate Karabakh's status. But the Prime Minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Leonard Petrossian, and the enclave's Foreign Minister, Naira Melkumian, both complained that "nothing was done" in Copenhagen to expedite the resumption of negotiations, Interfax and Noyan Tapan reported. Melkumian noted that the meeting also rejected Karabakh's request to be recognized as a "conflict party" for the entire duration of the negotiating process. LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 1998 BUDGET. The National Assembly on 27 December voted overwhelmingly to pass the 1998 draft budget, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputies agreed to the government's proposed increase in excise tax on gasoline in return for a wage hike for government employees and other provisions that had figured in the1995 election program of the ruling Hanrapetutyun coalition. The budget forecasts a 5.2 percent increase in GDP and an annual inflation rate of 13 percent, which will reduce the budget deficit to 5.5 percent from its current level of 6.7 per cent. LF GEORGIAN-SOUTH OSSETIAN TALKS CANCELLED. Talks in Moscow under joint Russian and OSCE auspices between Georgian and South Ossetian representatives on an interim agreement on the breakaway region's political status within Georgia have been cancelled because of the Ossetian side's maximalist approach, Interfax reported on 23 December quoting Georgian presidential representative for resolving conflicts, Irakli Machavariani. Machavariani said that the South Ossetian leadership had reverted to its original demand, modified three years ago, of independence from Georgia and unification with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation. Both Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his South Ossetian counterpart Lyudvig Chibirov had expressed confidence that their meeting in mid-November had given fresh impetus to the search for a compromise settlement of the conflict. LF AZERBAIJANI PM IN GEORGIA. Visiting Georgia on 26-27 December, Artur Rasi-Zade and the President of the Azerbaijani state oil company, Natik Aliev, assessed progress in reconstruction of the Baku-Supsa oil export pipeline, which is scheduled for completion in late 1998. Aliev subsequently told journalists that the choice between Russia and Georgia as the main export route for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil will depend on how those countries meet the obligations they have signed to date. An agreement signed in September between Russian, Chechen and Azerbaijani officials on the transit of Azerbaijani oil via Chechnya is valid only until 31 December. Following a brief meeting in Baku on 28 December with Turkish Prime Minister Yilmaz, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev again endorsed the western export route via Turkey, ITAR-TASS reported. LF NEW IMF LOANS FOR AZERBAIJAN. The IMF has approved further loans to Azerbaijan totalling approximately $64 million, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 23 December. The loans are intended to support the country's ongoing transition to a market economy and to prepare for the anticipated influx of revenues from offshore oil production. The IMF is apprehensive that while increased oil revenues will relieve constraints on growth, they may also drive up the value of the manat and crowd out development in the non-oil sector. LF THE PARTY'S OVER; THE NOMENKLATURA ISN'T By Paul Goble Six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the communist party has largely disappeared in most of the successor states. But one of its most unfortunate creations -- the nomenklatura -- continues to exist in most of them, albeit in a somewhat modified form. In Soviet times, the communist party used a variety of institutions to control society -- the army, the secret police, and so on. But one of its most effective levers was a system of control over personnel appointments in virtually all aspects of public life. Party committees at various levels had the final word over who could be appointed to this or that post and over who would be pushed up the career ladder or be cast aside. Known as the nomenklatura, this group of people selected by the party formed the real elite of the Soviet Union. At each level, they tended to interact only with each other. And they formed a ruling class every bit as tightly defined as any other in history. Some of the members of this group were committed to communist ideology, but by the end of Soviet times, most were driven by careerist motives. And not surprisingly, many of its members were largely indifferent to the fate of communism at the end of the Soviet Union. Indeed, in their pursuit of individual and collective self-interest, some of them viewed the demise of the Soviet system as a golden opportunity to enrich themselves, to own what they used to merely control. Or as one shrewd Estonian observer of this situation once put it, "1991 was less about democracy and freedom than about giving the nomenklatura the retirement plan." The continuation of the nomenklatura class, if not the nomenklatura system of appointments, has taken a variety of forms which cast a shadow over the life of these countries. The first and most important is simply the continuity of individuals in office, people used to working together and working together in the peculiar style of the Soviet past. Ten of the 12 presidents of the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States were senior members of the nomenklatura. And even one of the three Baltic presidents -- Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania -- is as well. On the one hand, that should come as no surprise: these were the most politically active members of Soviet society, and after only six years, these are the people one might expect to be in power. But on the other hand, whatever they choose to call themselves -- democrats, reformers, or something else -- their experiences of the hard school of the Soviet nomenklatura are likely to dominate much of their behaviour with each other and with the rest of society. Indeed, many things that are otherwise inexplicable about the ways in which senior officials in these countries interact with each other -- the kinds and extent of corruption, the secrecy, the power of shadowy figures occupying no clear post -- become clear considering the positions these same people occupied in Soviet times. The continuing role of the nomenklatura even has an impact on the way in which the governments of CIS states deal with each other. Armenian officials have pointed out that Russian President Boris Yeltsin, himself a senior nomenklatura member, deals very differently with the presidents of Georgia and Azerbaijan, both of whom share that tie, than with the president of Armenia who does not. And this lack of nomenklatura ties, these officials suggest, limits rather than enhances the special relationship that exists between the Russian Federation and Armenia. At the very least, they say, it colors the way in which the Russian president receives the Armenian president when the latter comes to Moscow. And yet a third example of the way in which the nomenklatura works is its efforts to find and promote politicians who can function in the more open democratic marketplace but who are committed to defending the interests of the nomenklatura class defined now, as often as not, as the "new" Russians or the "new" generation of leaders elsewhere. One case of this very much on public view this month is in Lithuania. There, Arturas Paulauskas, who led the first round of voting for a new president, appears to be someone the old nomenklatura hopes to use to defend or even advance its privileges. The son of a KGB colonel with close ties with many of the former communist elite, Paulauskas, 44, presented himself as a man of a new generation -- even as an appointee of Vytautas Landsbergis, the man who led Lithuania's march to the recovery of its independence. Like some other former members of the nomenklatura, Paulauskas may be able to emancipate himself from its claims and its habits. But his candidacy and the support the old nomenklatura is giving it are yet another reminder that communism may in fact be gone but one of communism's most unfortunate creations is going to be around for a long time to come. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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