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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 189, Part I, 6 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'S TRIP TO INDIA POSTPONED * NEW CHECHEN GOVERNMENT TO HAVE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT * GEORGIA, RUSSIA REMAIN AT ODDS OVER ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN'S TRIP TO INDIA POSTPONED. The presidential press service on 6 January confirmed that Boris Yeltsin's trip to India, scheduled for mid-January, has been postponed "by mutual decision" and will be rescheduled for later this year. Interfax on 5 January quoted unnamed Russian diplomatic sources as saying the trip has been delayed because of "important domestic political events in India," which is due to hold general elections in February. Last month, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin's trip could go ahead in January, since the domestic political situation in India does not affect Russian- Indian relations. The postponement is likely to increase speculation about Yeltsin's health, although unnamed diplomatic sources quoted by Interfax said the president still plans to visit Italy in either late January or early February. LB FINANCE MINISTER ON OTHER WAGE ARREARS PROBLEM...Mikhail Zadornov told reporters on 5 January that the government has kept its promise to pay all back wages to state employees, Interfax reported. However, he noted that Russian enterprises currently owe wage arrears totaling some 40-45 trillion rubles, not taking into account the recent redenomination of the ruble ($6.7-7.5 billion). Many of those enterprises cannot pay their employees because they are owed huge debts by their own consumers. The government has not announced specific measures aimed at reducing the level of non-payments in the Russian economy. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told a cabinet meeting in November that solving the non-payments crisis will be the government's main task in 1998 and 1999, Interfax reported on 6 November. LB ...AND ON RUSSIAN BORROWING PLANS. Although he acknowledged that tax receipts in the first few months of 1998 will likely be lower than during the fourth quarter of last year, Zadornov announced on 5 January that the government will not borrow any more money through short- term treasury bills (GKOs) until the cost of borrowing through GKOs drops to "an acceptable level," ITAR-TASS reported. The turmoil on world financial markets in recent months caused many Russian and foreign investors to sell GKOs, making it far more expensive for the government to borrow on the domestic market. The government consequently took out more foreign loans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 December 1997). LB 'NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA' SAYS GOVERNMENT FAILED TO PAY DEBTS. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" charged on 31 December that amid the noisy campaign to pay wage arrears to state employees, the government has been quiet about its debt of some 12 trillion rubles ($2 billion) to the armed forces. In a separate article published the same day, the newspaper said the government has also failed to pay for numerous state orders. Consequently, many industrial workers are still owed large wage arrears. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," financed by Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, has strongly criticized the cabinet ministers who are most directly associated with efforts to clear wage arrears by the end of the year: First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. LB FINANCE MINISTER BLAMES MILITARY LEADERSHIP FOR WAGE DEBTS. Zadornov claimed on 5 January that the Defense Ministry received 31.7 trillion rubles ($5.3 billion) in funding in 1997, some 1.8 trillion rubles more than the planned spending level. He did not specify whether he was speaking about the original 1997 budget targets or about planned expenditures after the government imposed a "sequester," or reduction in spending, in May. Zadornov blamed the Defense Ministry leadership for wage arrears to military personnel, adding that order in paying soldiers' wages can be restored only after the Defense Ministry's bank accounts are moved from commercial banks to a federal treasury. Many accounts for government agencies have been transferred from "authorized" commercial banks to the treasury, but an exception was made for Defense Ministry accounts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 1997). LB HAS INFLATION BEEN CONQUERED? The annual inflation rate in Russia was 11.3 percent in 1997, down from 21.8 percent the previous year, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January, citing the State Statistics Committee. The government has forecast that inflation will fall to 5.7 percent in 1998. But in an interview published in "Trud" on 4 January, Igor Gadzhinsk, the head of the Economics Ministry's department on price monitoring, argued that it is too early to proclaim victory over inflation. He noted that the inflation rate has declined primarily because of a sharp reduction in the money supply. Gadzhinsk argued that federal transfers of 14.5 trillion rubles ($2.4 billion) toward paying wage arrears in December will cause inflation to rise in the first quarter of 1998. He added that costs for certain essential goods and services have risen faster than the overall inflation rate. LB NEW CHECHEN GOVERNMENT TO HAVE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT. The government being formed by Prime Minister-designate Shamil Basaev will have only some 20 ministries and agencies, rather than the 63 it has now, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. But one of those structures will be devoted to defense issues. Basaev is scheduled to present his cabinet on 10 January. Chechen officials have indicated that the new government will not change Chechen insistence that Russian recognize its independence at any future talks between Moscow and Grozny. PG DAGESTANI AUTHORITIES DETAIN WAHHABI LEADER. Police officials in Dagestan have arrested Mukhamed-shafi Dzhangishiev, the leader of the Kavkaz Center, on suspicion that he and his group, which includes Wahhabi Muslim radicals, were involved in the recent attack in Buinaksk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997), Interfax reported on 5 January. PG YELTSIN PROMISES TO IMPROVE HUMAN RIGHTS. Yeltsin has promised UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Russia will "strengthen [its] human rights legislation" in 1998, AFP reported on 31 December. In a message to Annan released by the Russian presidential press service, Yeltsin said that "special importance is attached to protecting the rights of refugees and forced migrants and improving prison conditions." Yeltsin issued a decree last April declaring 1998 the "Year of Human Rights in the Russian Federation." The same month, Amnesty International released a report criticizing Russia's human rights record, particularly prison conditions and asylum procedures. The State Duma recently approved an amnesty aimed at alleviating the problem of prison overcrowding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April and 30 December 1997). LB CHERNOMYRDIN FAVORS NEW POLICY ON SUPPORT FOR MEDIA. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says government concessions for the media should be given only those outlets that need financial support. In an interview with the magazine "Zhurnalist," which was also published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 December, Chernomyrdin argued that the 1995 law on state support for the mass media is unfair because it grants tax breaks to all media, from small local newspapers to publications financed by wealthy bankers. Those tax breaks remain in effect, but journalists have voiced objections to the government's proposed tax code, which would revoke the media's special privileges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 1997). Editors of some 20 Moscow-based newspapers signed an appeal in October urging the government to retain the tax breaks. LB GROMOV FORMS NEW VETERANS' MOVEMENT. Duma deputy Boris Gromov was unanimously elected chairman of a new movement called Brotherhood of Fighters at its founding congress in Moscow on 26 December, "Trud" and "Segodnya" reported the next day. The movement seeks to unite veterans of all wars and military conflicts since the Second World War. Gromov, a retired colonel-general who oversaw the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, has said Brotherhood of Fighters' only political goal is to seek changes in government policy toward veterans. Other politically active retired generals--most notably Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin--were not invited to the congress, nor did any Kremlin officials attend. However, "Komsomolskaya pravda" argued on 25 December that the Kremlin may support Gromov as a potential magnet for some Lebed voters in future elections. LB ROKHLIN'S MOVEMENT SEEKING YELTSIN'S OUSTER. The second congress of Rokhlin's Movement to Support the Army, which took place in Moscow on 25 December, approved a political platform outlining the movement's main goal: the ouster of Yeltsin before his term ends in 2000. Rokhlin announced he will seek to indict Yeltsin and bring the case to the Supreme Court, although he acknowledged that he would certainly lose such a court battle, Interfax reported. The Justice Ministry has so far declined to register Rokhlin's movement, which held its founding congress in September. "Segodnya" predicted on 26 December that the platform adopted at the congress the previous day virtually guarantees that Rokhlin's movement will not be registered. Rokhlin was elected to the Duma in December 1995 on the party list of the pro-government movement Our Home Is Russia, but he has sharply criticized the government and Yeltsin since late June 1997. LB COURT SAYS CIVIL CODE CAN'T PUT WAGE PAYMENTS BEFORE TAXES... The Constitutional Court on 23 December struck down a passage in Article 855 of the civil code saying that enterprises must pay their employees' salaries before making tax payments and contributions to non-budgetary funds such as the Pension Fund. The court ruled that enterprises have the right to decide whether to pay taxes or wages first. However, tax authorities have the right to demand immediate payment of tax arrears. According to the 24 December edition of "Kommersant- Daily," the controversy arose after an August 1996 presidential decree ordered that banks transfer taxes owed by enterprises before transferring funds earmarked for wages. The Duma in October 1996 adopted a resolution saying the civil code should take precedence over other tax regulations. In December of that year, the Supreme Court upheld the Duma's position but asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of Article 855. LB ...WHILE OFFICIALS WELCOME DECISION. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin hailed the Constitutional Court's ruling, saying that Article 855 had caused losses to the federal budget totaling tens of trillions of rubles in tax revenues in 1997, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 December. He added that in Russia, people evade taxes whenever possible, "especially when there is a loophole in the legislation." (The court found that Article 855 created opportunities for financial abuses, whereby enterprises artificially maintained wage debts so as to avoiding making tax payments, ITAR- TASS reported on 23 December.) Yeltsin also welcomed the court's ruling, the presidential press service told Interfax on 24 December. LB FORMER PRISONER WINS SUIT AGAINST VORONEZH AUTHORITIES. A district court in Voronezh Oblast has ruled that the local administration must fulfill its financial obligations to former political prisoner Georgii Kusurgashev, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 January. Kusurgashev filed suit after the Voronezh authorities ceased in March 1997 to issue compensation payments to former political prisoners, of whom there are an estimated 10,000 in the oblast. Under a Voronezh government directive issued before Governor Ivan Shabanov was elected in December 1996, victims of political repression during the Soviet period received monthly payments of up to 34,000 rubles ($6). The Voronezh administration plans to appeal the court ruling. Shabanov was elected governor with the support of the Communist Party. LB SAFE SEX CAMPAIGN DISCONTINUED IN MOSCOW. The Moscow city authorities have discontinued an advertising campaign that sought to halt the spread of the AIDS virus by promoting the use of condoms, "Segodnya" reported on 24 December. In June, the Russian Health Ministry and the international organization Doctors Without Borders launched the campaign, which involved billboards, posters, and television commercials using the slogan, "Safe Sex--My Choice." The Moscow authorities did not give an official explanation for the decision to discontinue the campaign. The television network TV-Center, which is controlled by the Moscow city government, has also stopped airing the commercials promoting safe sex. However, other major television networks continue to broadcast those advertisements. In addition, billboards on safe sex have appeared in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, and Doctors Without Borders will soon launch a similar campaign in Nizhnii Novgorod. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA, RUSSIA REMAIN AT ODDS OVER ABKHAZIA. Georgia and Russia remain deeply divided over what should be done in Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze wants the international community to deploy a Bosnian-style force if necessary to end the Abkhaz conflict and to do everything in its power to allow refugees to return. Russia, in contrast, opposes the use of such a force. A Russian commander in Abkhazia said on 5 January that deploying international peacekeeping troops would end all hopes for a solution to the conflict and possibly lead to a larger war. Meanwhile, Georgian and Russian defense officials met in Tbilisi on 5 January to discuss how to improve military cooperation. PG CENTRAL ASIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN ASHGABAT. The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met behind closed doors in Ashgabat on 5-6 January, RFE/RL correspondents and Russian media reported. Among the issues on the agenda were regional cooperation, gas and oil pipelines, and the situation of the Aral Sea. According to RFE/RL, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, backed by Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, called for improved border security, particularly along the Turkmen frontiers with Iran and Afghanistan, to stem the flow of narcotics into their countries from Afghanistan. ITAR-TASS reported that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a declaration to step up cooperation toward exporting gas and oil. BP FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT IN TAJIKISTAN. Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived in Dushanbe on 5 January for a "working visit," ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Rabbani has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy during the last two weeks, visiting Tehran and Islamabad in a bid to pressure all sides in the Afghan conflict to begin negotiations. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is attending the Central Asian summit in Ashgabat but is expected to meet with Rabbani upon his return to Tajikistan. ITAR-TASS speculated that Rabbani will propose Dushanbe as a possible venue for Afghan peace negotiations. BP KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN DISCUSS ENERGY SUPPLIES. Kyrgyz First Prime Minister Kamelbek Nanayev arrived in Tashkent on 5 January to hold talks with his Uzbek counterpart, Ismail Jurabekov, on energy and water supplies, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The two signed an agreement on Uzbekistan's natural gas deliveries to Kyrgyzstan in 1998; those supplies almost meet the Kyrgyz yearly requirement. No information has so far been released about Uzbek payments for water from Kyrgyz reservoirs. Uzbekistan is opposed to such payments, while Kyrgyzstan claims they are necessary to maintain its reservoir systems. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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