|To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else. - Emily Dickinson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 188, Part I, 5 January 1998
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 BEGINS VACATION * NEW RUBLES GO INTO CIRCULATION * SHEVARDNADZE SAYS GEORGIA MAY SEEK PRESSURE ON ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN BEGINS VACATION. President Boris Yeltsin on 4 January arrived at a state residence near the resort town of Valdai (Novgorod Oblast) for a two-week vacation, Russian news agencies reported. Spokesmen have said the president will do paperwork and hold some meetings with Kremlin officials during his vacation. Yeltsin spent two weeks in the Barvikha sanatorium in December to recover from a respiratory infection. The Kremlin has not announced when Yeltsin will return to Moscow, nor is it clear whether the president's planned visit to India will go ahead on 18-19 January. Meanwhile, unnamed sources in Moscow told Interfax on 4 January that Yeltsin's trip to Chechnya probably will not take place this month, as originally scheduled. LB NEW RUBLES GO INTO CIRCULATION... Three zeroes were removed from the Russian ruble on 1 January as the redenomination announced in August went into effect. Accordingly, the Central Bank set its official exchange rate for 2 January at 5.96 rubles to the U.S. dollar. The Central Bank has issued new bank notes worth 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 rubles. New coins have been issued with face values of 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopecks, and 1, 2, and 5 rubles. Old ruble notes will still be valid currency through the end of 1998, and banks will exchange the old notes through 2002. However, in an interview published on 31 December in the official newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin predicted that most old bank notes will be taken out of circulation by the summer. LB ...WHILE CENTRAL BANK HEAD SEEKS TO ALLAY FEARS. In his 31 December interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Dubinin warned against attempts to set two price scales so as to charge consumers more if they pay for goods in old ruble notes. Dubinin said such dual pricing will be considered swindling and will be punished accordingly. Dubinin also promised that there will be no "secret emission" of new bank notes, which would increase the money supply and in turn could spark higher inflation. Government officials have promised that the redenomination will not cause significant price rises. However, many Russian commentators have predicted that inflation will increase as shopkeepers round up prices (for instance, to charge 5 rather than 4.7 new rubles for a product that previously cost 4,700 rubles). LB MINISTERS SAY WAGE ARREARS PAID. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 31 December announced that the federal government has kept its promise to pay all back wages to state employees by the end of 1997, Russian news agencies reported. They said the Central Bank worked until 2:00 a.m. on 31 December in order to complete the necessary transfers of funds. Chernomyrdin told journalists on 30 December that the federal government transferred a total of 14.5 trillion rubles ($2.4 billion) to Russian regions to cover the wage arrears. That figure includes 3.2 trillion rubles in aid to regions that were unable to cover their share of the wage debts on their own. LB YELTSIN WANTS BETTER ECONOMIC RESULTS. In an interview released by Russian news agencies on 30 December, Yeltsin blamed the government for disappointing economic results in 1997 and urged the government to do more to secure economic growth in 1998. Yeltsin said, "We need breakthrough ideas and new approaches." He added that he has said "several times that the state should play a more active role in the economic sphere. Not by giving orders, but by creating favorable [economic] conditions." Addressing the Federation Council in September, Yeltsin called for a "new economic order," to involve a greater role for the state in managing the economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). The president's latest comments increased speculation that he will soon dismiss First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who has been in charge of economic policy. Yeltsin took the Finance Ministry portfolio away from Chubais in November. LB GOVERNMENT TO ASSESS PERFORMANCE IN FEBRUARY. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov announced on 31 December that the government will meet on 26 February to assess its performance during 1997, Russian news agencies reported. By mid-February, final official economic data for 1997 should be available, he said. Shabdurasulov added that no date has been scheduled for the government to report to the president on its performance, but he suggested that the report may also take place on 26 February. Yeltsin initially ordered the government to brief him on its performance on 1 December, but the briefing has been postponed twice. LB CHUBAIS DEFENDS 1997 ECONOMIC ACHIEVEMENTS. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais argued in a 30 December interview with Russian Television (RTR) that the government made substantial economic achievements in 1997. He said the government was able to collect most taxes owed by the country's largest tax debtors, such as the gas monopoly Gazprom, the car manufacturer Avtovaz, and the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems. Chubais also claimed that in 1997, unemployment and mortality rates declined while real wages and industrial production increased. He promised that the government will pay wages to state employees and pensions on time in 1998. Other major tasks for the year include tax reform, measures to increase pensions, and steps to solve the problem of massive non-payments, Chubais said. News coverage on fully state- owned RTR is mostly favorable to Chubais. LB 'IZVESTIYA' SLAMS LIVSHITS. Writing in the 30 December edition of "Izvestiya," economist Andrei Illarionov argued that Chubais has managed Russian economic policy far more effectively this year than Aleksandr Livshits did as finance minister from August 1996 until March 1997. Illarionov said several important economic indicators showed improvement in 1997, thanks to Chubais. For instance, he argued that Chubais helped the government collect more taxes in cash, while under Livshits taxes were more frequently collected in the form of money surrogates. Illarionov also noted that while Livshits was finance minister, Russia's budget deficit increased and an unrealistic budget for 1997 was adopted. Livshits recently criticized alleged information leaks from the Russian government to Western financial institutions, and various Russian media have blamed Chubais for those leaks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 December 1997). Oneksimbank, which is close to Chubais, is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya." LB BASAEV TO FORM NEW CHECHEN GOVERNMENT. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has dismissed the current government and asked First Deputy Premier Shamil Basaev to form a new cabinet, Interfax reported on 1 January. Basaev is to submit a list of nominees by 10 January, and Maskhadov is expected to appoint the new cabinet by 20 January. Speaking on Chechen Television on 3 January, Basaev pledged to resign as prime minister in six months if his government has not solved Chechnya's serious social problems. A former field commander, Basaev gained fame in Russia when he led the Chechen raid on Budennovsk (Stavropol Krai) in June 1995. Meanwhile, Chechen Security Service chief Apti Batalov resigned on 30 December. No successor has been named to date. PG/LB CHECHNYA TO ISSUE NEW PASSPORTS. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told Interfax on 1 January that Grozny will issue new passports in the next few weeks. The documents, which have already been issued to some 200 top Chechen officials, feature Chechnya's flag and emblem. They are printed in the Chechen and English languages. Passages in Chechen are written in Latin, rather than Cyrillic, script. Although Chechen officials say the new passports will be valid for travel abroad by Chechen citizens, Russian news agencies on 2 January quoted an unnamed source in the Russian Security Council as saying the documents will not be recognized by Russia or by foreign countries. LB KIDNAPPED CHECHEN JOURNALISTS RELEASED. Seven Chechen journalists who were taken hostage on 22 December in Dagestan were released unharmed on 31 December, Russian news agencies and Reuters reported. The journalists, all residents of Chechnya, are employed by Russian Public Television, the Russian private network NTV, the news agencies Reuters, Associated Press, and Chechen-press, and the Worldwide Television News network. They disappeared while in Dagestan to cover the recent attack on a Russian tank unit in Buinaksk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). The People's Volunteer Corps of Dagestan, the little- known group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping the journalists, had called for exchanging them for several Dagestani police who are allegedly being held prisoner by Chechens. However, no Dagestani hostages appear to have been released in Chechnya. In the first half of 1997, several journalists were taken prisoner in Chechnya and released only after large ransoms were reportedly paid. LB SOME RELIGIOUS GROUPS BANNED IN DAGESTAN. The Dagestani parliament on 30 December voted to amend the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations to curtail the activities of some religious groups in the region, Interfax reported. Under the amendments, local administrations are empowered to ban religious groups and prevent groups that have violated public order from re- registering. The amendments come after the recent attack in Buinaksk, in which Wahhabi extremists allegedly took part Meanwhile, Magomedali Magomedov, the chairman of the Dagestani State Council, called on the Chechen leadership to begin talks with Dagestan on bilateral relations and security. He stressed that while no one wants problems with Chechnya, it must be taken into account that "gunmen come from Chechnya and hide there, too." BP YELTSIN SIGNS LAW CHANGING INCOME TAX SCALE... Yeltsin on 31 December signed a law establishing a new income tax scale, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the new scale, Russians with annual incomes of less than 20,000 rubles ($3,400) will pay a 12 percent income tax. Tax rates on annual incomes between 20,000 rubles and 100,000 rubles will gradually increase from 12 percent to roughly 26 percent. Russians in the top tax bracket, who have annual incomes exceeding 100,000 rubles, will pay 20,400 rubles on their first 100,000 rubles of income, plus a 35 percent tax on all income over 100,000 rubles. LB ...AND AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON GOVERNMENT. Also on 31 December, Yeltsin signed a law amending some passages of the federal constitutional law on the government, ITAR-TASS reported. The amendments, which were approved by both houses of parliament on 25 December, confirm that the president oversees the activities of agencies and ministries dealing with defense and security questions. Yeltsin agreed to sign the law on the government only after receiving assurances that the parliament will approve the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1997). LB JAPAN, RUSSIA FINALLY CONCLUDE FISHING AGREEMENT. Following 13 rounds of talks over the past three years, Russian and Japanese officials have agreed on a six-page, 10-article document defining fishing rights around the Kuril Islands, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 30 December. Japanese fisherman now have quotas for the number of fish they can catch. The bulk of Japanese payments for fishing rights, which are estimated at $3 million annually, will be used to develop the four Kuril Islands. The Russian and Japanese governments are now reviewing the agreement, and the official signing ceremony is expected at the end of this month. BP ZHIRINOVSKY CALLS FOR CLOSER TIES WITH LIBYA... Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 30 December called for closer ties between Russia and Libya, Interfax reported. Having returned from Tripoli, where he met with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Zhirinovsky said Russians can find markets, jobs, and recreation facilities in Libya. The LDPR has repeatedly proposed boosting Russian/Libyan trade. Zhirinovsky also has visited Iraq several times to meet with that country's leader, Saddam Hussein. On 25 December, an airplane carrying Zhirinovsky and other LDPR members landed in Baghdad with a shipment of medical supplies for Iraq. LB ...REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE TO JOURNALIST. Also on 30 December, Zhirinovsky said he will not apologize to NTV reporter Yelena Masyuk, whom he has accused of taking money from Chechen rebels in exchange for broadcasting favorable reports about them, Interfax reported. Rather, he said he will appeal a Moscow municipal court ruling on 29 December that Zhirinovsky slandered Masyuk. The court ordered Zhirinovsky to pay her 25 million rubles ($4,200) and publicly retract his allegation. Masyuk had asked for 100 million rubles in damages. The court rejected a lawsuit filed against Zhirinovsky by NTV. Neither Zhirinovsky, who was in Libya, nor his lawyer attended the court proceedings. The LDPR leader and his attorney also did not appear at two previous court hearings in the slander case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1997). LB NO SLANDER CHARGES TO BE FILED AGAINST LEBED. The Prosecutor-General's Office has refused to open a criminal case against former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed for slander, "Segodnya" reported on 27 December. Last summer, Boris Berezovskii requested that prosecutors press slander charges against Lebed after Lebed had accused Berezovskii of having profited from the war in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1997). Berezovskii became deputy secretary of the Security Council following Lebed's dismissal in October 1996. He was involved in official negotiations with Chechen officials until his firing in November 1997. He may still file a civil suit against Lebed. LB ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR SETTLES SUIT AGAINST SOBCHAK. Vladimir Yakovlev has agreed to drop his 50 million ruble ($8,400) slander lawsuit against former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 December. Yakovlev, who defeated Sobchak in a June 1996 election, filed suit in summer 1997, soon after an interview with Sobchak appeared in the weekly "Sovershenno sekretno." The newspaper quoted Sobchak as alleging that Yakovlev has ties to St. Petersburg's so-called Tambov criminal group. Yakovlev agreed to drop his lawsuit provided that "Sovershenno sekretno" print a partial retraction to make clear that Sobchak was merely referring to an accusation made by an anonymous caller during a radio show with Anatolii Ponidelko, the head of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast branch of the Interior Ministry. Sobchak has been in Paris since November. He is reportedly recuperating from heart trouble (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 1997). LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SHEVARDNADZE SAYS GEORGIA MAY SEEK PRESSURE ON ABKHAZIA. Speaking on 1 January, President Eduard Shevardnadze said that he is in favor of settling the Abkhaz dispute through dialogue but that "the leadership of our country plans to raise the question of other variants" if no progress is made soon, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 January. The Georgian leader said the number of people in Tbilisi urging the use of pressure--including the introduction of international forces--was growing. PG BAKU APPEALS TO AZERBAIJANIS ABROAD. On 31 December, Azerbaijan marked the Day for Solidarity with Azerbaijanis Throughout the World, ITAR-TASS reported. First organized in 1989 to protest Moscow's refusal to allow Azerbaijanis in the Soviet Union to meet with Azerbaijanis abroad, this holiday remains laden with political meaning: Far more Azerbaijanis live abroad than in Azerbaijan itself. PG PIPELINES, POLITICS IN CASPIAN BASIN. A pipeline linking a port and a rail terminal in Dyubendy went into commission in the presence of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. The facilities are a trans-shipment point for oil from the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan brought to Dyubendy by ship and then transported by train to Batumi. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and the U.S. agreed on 31 December to increase their cooperation in the development of Uzbekistan's oil and gas industry, Interfax reported. But the previous day, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry told Interfax-Kazakhstan that Akmola has "serious concerns" about a Russian tender offer and demands that the tender be "annulled," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. PG UZBEKISTAN, TAJIKISTAN REACH ACCORD ON DEBT. Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his visiting Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, have signed agreements to settle debts between their two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. Karimov said Tashkent will oppose any efforts by the Tajik opposition to transform that country into an Islamic state. The two presidents are to join the their counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan for a Central Asian summit in Ashgabat on 5 January. That meeting will have no specific agenda, according to Interfax. PG BURGLARS WOUND IRANIAN DIPLOMAT IN KYRGYZSTAN. Thieves seeking to steal a satellite television dish from the Iranian consulate in Bishkek attacked the consul and his son, IRNA reported on 4 END NOTE ONE COUNTRY, TWO FOREIGN POLICIES by Paul Goble Conflicting statements by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his foreign minister, Yevgenii Primakov, on the state of relations between Moscow and the West raise some questions about Russian foreign policy intentions in 1998. In his New Year's messages to foreign leaders, Yeltsin said Russia's inclusion in the G-7 group of major economic powers--which now becomes in effect the G-8--and progress on disarmament issues by the U.S. and Russia were evidence of "effective Russian-American cooperation." But in his year-end assessment at a 30 December press conference, Primakov adopted a very different tone by suggesting that Moscow's effort to form a strategic partnership with the West has failed. He commented that the idea of such cooperation has "lost its luster with time" and that "such ties have started turning into those between patron and client." Russia could never find such a relationship acceptable, he stressed. Primakov went on to say that Russia not only remained opposed to any eastward expansion of NATO but was actively considering the extension of Russian security guarantees to those countries in Central and Eastern Europe not offered membership in the Western alliance. Despite coexisting in the same government, the two men have often been at odds in the past on a wide variety of foreign policy issues. But seldom has the distance between the two been so great on an issue of such fundamental importance. This raises three interrelated questions. First, does the latest difference between Yeltsin and Primakov presage a break between the two? Second, is it simply a tactic designed to compensate for Russia's current weakness? And third, what does it portend for Russian foreign policy, especially if Yeltsin is incapacitated for lengthy periods this year? In virtually any other country, such a deep division between the president and his top foreign policy aide would presage the rapid departure of the latter from office. No president with executive responsibility for foreign affairs could be expected to tolerate what must appear to other leaders as open insubordination. One explanation for Primakov's continued survival is that he represents a part of the Russian political spectrum that Yeltsin cannot or will not challenge even if he personally disagrees with it. Yeltsin appointed Primakov to placate the nationalists within the State Duma and more broadly among the Russian population; he may not be able to fire him even if he wants to. A second interpretation is that Primakov may be in political trouble and that he is speaking out now precisely to drum up support for himself among his traditional allies. If that is the case, Russia may have a new foreign minister sooner rather than later. Another interpretation, increasingly heard both in Moscow and the West, is that this public disagreement is simply a clever tactic, with Yeltsin agreeing to play the part of the sympathetic good cop while Primakov acts out the bad cop. Each would stand to gain as a result. Yeltsin could approach the West as a friend with a warning--in the form of the voice of Primakov--that another, less sympathetic Russia is possible if the West does not give him what he wants. If this interpretation is correct, the two men have more in common than a superficial reading of their speeches might suggest. Moreover, no one should expect a fundamental change in the direction of Russian foreign policy anytime soon. But even if the two men are playing such roles--which is far from certain--they do have very different ideas, at least as far as can be judged on the basis of their public remarks. That in turn raises the issue of just where Primakov might take Russian foreign policy if Yeltsin were incapacitated for an extended period, as was often the case last year. If Yeltsin were to disappear from the political arena, a new Russian government might decide either to replace Primakov or to back him fully. But if Yeltsin is not in full control of the situation, Primakov may be able to act ever more independently. That could have the effect of making Primakov's New Year message a self-fulfilling prophecy, thereby undercutting Yeltsin's more hopeful one. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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