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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 190, Part I, 7 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 * SPOKESMEN STRESS YELTSIN'S BUSY SCHEDULE * KULIKOV PROPOSES PREEMPTIVE STRIKES AGAINST CHECHNYA * RUSSIA OPPOSES "BOSNIAN VARIANT" FOR ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA SPOKESMEN STRESS YELTSIN'S BUSY SCHEDULE. A presidential spokesman told Reuters on 7 January that Boris Yeltsin will have a "full schedule" when he returns to work on 19 January. The previous day, Interfax reported that the president will not hold any official meetings before 19 January. However, unnamed officials from the presidential press service issued several statements saying Yeltsin is keeping up an active schedule while vacationing in the resort town of Valdai. Officials on 6 January said the president sorted through his mail, held telephone conversations with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and went ice fishing and snow-mobiling. According to Reuters, a Kremlin spokesman could not confirm an Interfax report saying Yeltsin was planning to go swimming in an indoor pool on 6 January. No pictures of Yeltsin's outdoor activities in Valdai have been released. LB CONFUSION SURROUNDS YELTSIN'S MEETING WITH CHERNOMYRDIN. An unnamed presidential spokesman said on 6 January that a meeting between Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin scheduled for this week will not take place. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov, however, denied that any such meeting was scheduled, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the premier has not scheduled any trip to Valdai to meet with the president. Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin hold regular weekly meetings when both men are in Moscow. LB AIDE HINTS YELTSIN STILL CONSIDERING THIRD TERM. Appearing on Ekho Moskvy on 5 January, presidential legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov said Yeltsin will decide whether to run for re-election in 2000 only after the Constitutional Court rules on whether he is legally entitled to seek a third term. Last fall, the State Duma asked the court to rule on the issue after several presidential aides hinted that Yeltsin may run again. Krasnov's comments may be aimed at quelling speculation about the president's health. Krasnov has previously criticized the Duma's court appeal, saying it reflects "unhealthy suspicion" on the part of the Duma and even "contempt" toward Yeltsin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). Anna Malysheva, the head of the Constitutional Court's press service, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 6 January that the court has not set a date for considering the Duma's appeal. LB CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS REGIONAL LEADERS RESPONSIBLE FOR WAGE PAYMENTS. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin says that regional leaders are responsible for ensuring that funds earmarked to pay wages to state employees are spent for that purpose, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a statement issued by the presidential press service, Chernomyrdin told Yeltsin during a 6 January telephone conversation that although the federal government transferred enough funds to pay back wages by 31 December, people are still waiting for wage payments in some localities. "Everything depends now on the efficiency of regional authorities," he added. Federal officials have frequently blamed regional leaders for persistent wage arrears, saying funds meant to settle wage debts are often misallocated after arriving in the regions. LB NEWSPAPER SAYS MANY DEBTS STILL OUTSTANDING. "Novye izvestiya" charged on 6 January that triumphant reports about the payment of wage arrears to state employees are misleading because federal and regional authorities still owe other massive debts to citizens. By way of example, the newspaper cited non-payment of child allowances and wage arrears owed to workers at private enterprises that have not been paid for state orders. "Novye izvestiya" is reportedly partly financed by former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. LB CONFLICTING REPORTS ON GOVERNMENT DEBT TO MILITARY. Government spokesman Shabdurasulov on 6 January said that the government has allocated sufficient funds to pay wage arrears and financial benefits to military personnel, ITAR-TASS reported. However, he acknowledged that many soldiers are still owed various payments in kind, which, he added, they will receive sometime in 1998. Shabdurasulov argued that media reports on debts owed to the military often confuse monetary payments with payments in kind. He also noted that the Defense Ministry is responsible for making sure funds allocated toward paying debts to soldiers are not misused. Meanwhile, "Trud" reported on 6 January that most army personnel have not received their wages for December. The newspaper also said officers have only just received their year-end bonuses from 1996 and will not receive those for 1997 until summer 1998. "Trud" is financed by the gas monopoly Gazprom. LB KULIKOV PROPOSES PREEMPTIVE STRIKES AGAINST CHECHNYA. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov on 6 January argued that the 22 December attack by Chechen militants on a Russian military base in neighboring Dagestan is justification for the Russian security forces to carry out "precautionary operations" against the hideouts of "gangsters" in Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov, however, told ITAR-TASS that Kulikov was expressing his personal opinion and that the possibility of such preemptive strikes has been neither discussed with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin nor suggested to President Yeltsin. In Grozny, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov condemned Kulikov's statement as a provocation aimed at undermining the peace process. Also on 6 January, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov proposed that Kulikov and himself be given emergency powers to take measures aimed at stabilizing the situation in the North Caucasus. LF FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS U.S-TURKISH-ISRAELI NAVAL MANEUVERS... Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 6 January, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said the upcoming U.S.-Turkish-Israeli naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean "may aggravate mistrust" and undermine efforts to bring stability to the region, Russian agencies reported. Tarasov pointed out that the exercises have already been postponed several times because of Egyptian and Syrian protests that they constituted a move toward creating a military axis between Israel and Turkey. Such a configuration would threaten the security of Arab countries, he added. LF ...PRAISES RELATIONS WITH JAPAN. Also on 6 January, Tarasov said the Russian-Japanese agreement on fishing rights around the Kuril Islands is evidence of a growing partnership, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. He said "the positive experience gained from the talks" will help boost cooperation, particularly "joint economic activities." Since the early November meeting between Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japanese investment in Russian projects has grown rapidly, particularly in the off- shore oil fields near Sakhalin Island. BP JAPAN'S HASHIMOTO RETURNS COMPLIMENT. Hashimoto, for his part, told the Japanese cabinet on 6 January that one of the country's priorities in 1998 is developing relations with Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. In his New Year's address, he also said Russia's participation in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group would further strengthen economic and political relations among member countries, Japan's NHK television reported. At the same time, Hashimoto said a peace treaty with Russia could not be signed until territorial disputes are resolved. ITAR-TASS on 7 January dismissed that statement as "designed to appease Japanese public opinion." Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Minoru Tamba is to visit Moscow later this month to discuss concluding a treaty formally ending Second World War hostilities. BP AMNESTY FOR SOME OFFICERS CHARGED WITH CORRUPTION. Deputy Military Prosecutor-General Yurii Yakovlev announced on 6 January that the amnesty recently approved by the Duma will apply to about half of the 30 generals and admirals who have been charged with corruption, Interfax reported. The amnesty covers veterans of the Chechen war and other combat operations. It also applies to those who served in the Russian armed forces in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, and the Baltic States after 1 December 1991 . However, Yakovlev said the amnesty will not apply to former Deputy Defense Minister Konstantin Kobets, who was arrested last May. Kobets faces charges on bribery, abuse of office, and illegal possession of firearms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1997). LB MINISTER OUTLINES OIL COMPANY PRIVATIZATION PLANS. State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin announced on 6 January that auctions will be held in January for stakes in the Tyumen, Eastern, and Slavneft oil companies, Russian news agencies reported. An auction for a 19.68 percent stake in Slavneft was canceled in December, as no bids were offered, Interfax reported on 25 December. The previous month, officials called off a tender for a 34 percent stake in the Eastern Oil Company because only one bid was submitted for that tender. They also postponed the sale of a 48.68 percent stake in the Tyumen company pending a court challenge to the auction. Gazizullin said that before the end of January, a resolution will be approved on the sale of a 50 percent plus one share in the Rosneft oil company during the first quarter of 1998. A 46.15 percent stake in Rosneft will be sold in a special cash auction later, and the remaining shares are to be distributed to Rosneft employees. LB YELTSIN HERALDS "RETURN TO ROOTS" IN CHRISTMAS ADDRESS. In an address broadcast on Russian Television on 6 January, Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve, Yeltsin said the celebration of Christmas "marks the restoration of our lost cultural values and traditions, a return to our roots." While noting that Russia is a secular state, Yeltsin remarked that more and more churches are being restored or built, which reflects how "people are striving to find lost moral values." In a year-end radio address broadcast on 26 December, Yeltsin had said "spiritual values and civic responsibilities" have been neglected in Russian society. He noted that while concentrating on economic reform in recent years, the authorities "overlooked certain things" and "forgot [about] the ethics of entrepreneurship." It is unclear whether the president recorded his Christmas address before leaving for a two-week vacation on 4 January. LB PATRIARCH CALLS FOR UNITY WITHIN CHURCH. In his Christmas message, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said unity within the Orthodox Church is "the most important concern" and called for increasing the Church's social, educational, and missionary activities, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Orthodox Church has come into conflict with other Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine, and Estonia. Aleksii strongly supported a religion law adopted in September 1997, which puts restrictions on religious groups that cannot prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years. Critics of that law say it discriminates against denominations and faiths that were banned or repressed during the Soviet period. In a Christmas message to Aleksii, Yeltsin praised the historical role of the Russian Orthodox Church and expressed hope that the Church will help promote morality, civic peace, and accord in Russian society. LB OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER CRITICIZES REDENOMINATION. "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 6 January argued that the redenomination of the ruble, which took effect on 1 January, will inevitably increase inflation and thereby hurt most Russian citizens. The newspaper said that the money supply will increase as old and new ruble bank notes are circulated simultaneously. Government officials have denied that the redenomination will be accompanied by an increase in the money supply (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1998). "Sovetskaya Rossiya" questioned the need to remove three zeroes from the ruble, noting that countries such as Italy and Japan have never carried out a redenomination. It also charged that issuing new ruble notes will facilitate swindling, money laundering, and counterfeiting. It went on to quote an article in the "Financial Times" that argued that issuing new bank notes will not in itself make the ruble a stable currency, since Russia's most pressing economic problems remain. LB MURMANSK SITE OF WORST DYSENTERY OUTBREAK IN 50 YEARS. Sources in the Health Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 6 January that 573 people contracted dysentery in Murmansk Oblast between 23 and 31 December. More than 400 people were hospitalized in the worst outbreak of dysentery in Russia since the Second World War. Investigators from the Health Ministry concluded that contaminated dairy products from a local collective farm were the source of the outbreak. The farm's factory continued to produce goods in unsanitary conditions after equipment failures deprived the factory of hot and cold running water. The outbreak was contained several days after dairy products from the farm were recalled from local shops. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA OPPOSES "BOSNIAN VARIANT" FOR ABKHAZIA. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov on 6 January rejected the "constructive use of coercion" to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. Tarasov argued that it would be "dangerous" if options that have proved justifiable in one conflict region would be systematically applied in another. The use of violence in Abkhazia would lead to new bloodshed, he argued. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had said on 1 January that he plans to raise the possibility of a Bosnian-style operation in Abkhazia at the next NATO Euro-Atlantic Council summit, which is scheduled for May. Meanwhile, Abkhaz Presidential Representative Anri Djergenia told Interfax on 6 January that the "potential of the Abkhaz-Georgian peace process has been exhausted." Djergenia said Abkhazia will continue to insist on equal status with Georgia. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER IN ISRAEL. Azerbaijani government sources have given contradictory explanations for the ongoing visit to Israel of Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade. Turan on 5 January cited an unnamed diplomat as claiming that Guluzade is on a "working visit" at the invitation of Israeli State Adviser for Foreign Policy Uzi Arad. The diplomat stressed the trip is not intended as preparation for President Heidar Aliev's planned visit to Israel. However, Interfax the next day quoted an unnamed Azerbaijani government source as saying the primary purpose of Guluzade's trip is to prepare for Aliev' s visit. LF INDEPENDENT AZERBAIJANI NEWS AGENCY UNDER FIRE. Reporters sans Frontieres on 6 January wrote to President Aliev to express concern at Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov's criticism of the independent news agency Turan. Hasanov had claimed on 22 December that Turan's coverage of Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian's speech to the 18-19 December Copenhagen meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe constituted "anti- government activities." Hasanov subsequently accused Turan of disseminating false information about the meeting. On 23 December, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov threatened to bar Turan employees from entering the ministry building. LF NEW POLITICAL PARTY FOUNDED IN AZERBAIJAN. Equality, a political party representing the estimated 780,000 Azerbaijanis forced to flee their homes during the war for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, will hold its founding congress in late January at a camp for displaced persons, Turan reported on 5 January. The party currently claims some 4,000 members. It aims to protect the political and economic rights of displaced persons and to fight worsening corruption and the stratification of Azerbaijani society. LF CENTRAL ASIAN LEADERS RELEASE STATEMENT. In a statement released on 6 January following the end of the Ashgabat summit, the leaders of the five Central Asian countries that belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States said that the CIS is an "acceptable model for cooperation at the transitional stage" but stressed that each individual country must decide for itself what level of participation best suits its needs. The five said they will improve relations among themselves "based on long-term partnership." Turkmenistan, citing its neutral status, declined an invitation to join the Central Asian Union, formed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; but Tajikistan's bid to join found support among the member countries and Turkmenistan did not rule out an observer role later. The five presidents again said they favored negotiations to end the Afghan conflict. Help was also offered to Tajikistan to establish a "democratic, secular regime." BP FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT IN TAJIKISTAN. Burhanuddin Rabbani has met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Abdullo Nuri, the chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, in an attempt to enlist their support in mediating the Afghan conflict, Reuters and ITAR- TASS reported on 6 January. Rabbani proposed that an international conference under the aegis of the UN be held and that all parties involved in the conflict send representatives. He noted that all major groups in Afghanistan support such a conference, except the Taliban movement, which currently controls the majority of the country. Rakhmonov and Nuri said they are in favor of such a conference. BP CHINA COMPLAINS ABOUT TREATMENT OF CHINESE IN KAZAKHSTAN. Kazakh Television on 6 January broadcast a statement by the Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan complaining about the treatment of Chinese citizens in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The embassy expressed concern about the increasing number of crimes committed against Chinese traders at markets in the Kazakh capital. Those crimes include thefts and beatings. The statement added that Kazakh border guards and militia have on occasion taken part in such crimes. BP REGIONAL AFFAIRS CIS JANUARY SUMMIT CANCELED. The CIS summit scheduled for 23 January has been canceled, Interfax reported on 6 January, citing a source within the CIS Executive Secretariat. However, the next summit, planned to take place on 16 March, will go ahead as scheduled, according to the same source. Interfax reports that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma proposed postponing the January summit in a letter to his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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