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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 191, Part I, 8 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 * NEMTSOV ADVOCATES MAJOR RESTRUCTURING OF ECONOMY * KULIKOV CRITICIZED OVER PROPOSED CHECHEN RAIDS * TENSIONS IN DUSHANBE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NEMTSOV ADVOCATES MAJOR RESTRUCTURING OF ECONOMY. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says that in order to secure economic growth in 1998, the Russian government must pursue "major structural transformations" this year. He told Interfax on 7 January that taxes must be reduced and social benefits means-tested so that resources can be allocated for the truly needy. The government had sought to enact a new tax code by the end of 1997, but the State Duma did not approve that document. Duma deputies also voted down government-backed legislation that would have reduced spending on various social benefits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 1997). Nemtsov also called for reducing interest rates in order to stimulate investment in Russian industry. The Central Bank raised those rates during last fall's market turmoil to prevent the significant devaluation of the ruble. LB GOVERNMENT OVER-FULFILLS PLAN ON PRIVATIZATION REVENUES. Revenues from sales of state property in 1997 totaled 23.6 trillion rubles, not taking into account the redenomination of the ruble ($3.97 billion), Interfax reported on 7 January, citing the Russian Federal Property Fund. Of that figure, the federal government received 18.5 trillion rubles, 2.8 times more than 1997 budget targets. The government accelerated privatization sales to compensate for huge revenue shortfalls caused by poor tax collection. State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin told Interfax on 6 January that some 3,100 enterprises were privatized in 1997. He added that his ministry will over- fulfill the plan on privatization revenues for 1998 as well. The draft 1998 budget calls for 8.1 billion redenominated rubles ($1.4 billion) in proceeds from sales of state property, along with 1 billion rubles in dividends on state-owned shares and 300 million rubles in rent from leased federal property. LB NEMTSOV SAYS PRIVATIZATION 'NOT GOAL IN ITSELF.' Nemtsov told Interfax on 7 January that privatization "is undoubtedly neither a goal in itself" nor the "main means to achieve economic growth." He added that "creating competitive conditions is more important and healthier for society than privatization. Monopoly is far more frightful for both the moral and economic health of society than the sale of this or that package of shares." In recent months, Nemtsov has repeatedly advocated "people's capitalism" and a "democratic market." He has also accused powerful bankers, including Boris Berezovskii, of seeking to profit from high-level political connections and to obstruct fair play in the economy. LB KULIKOV CRITICIZED OVER PROPOSED RAIDS ON CHECHNYA. On returning from talks with Chechen leaders in Grozny on 7 January, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin condemned Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov's proposal to launch preemptive strikes against Chechen guerrillas, AFP reported. Rybkin said that "hitting first and thinking afterwards" was an "old Bolshevik principle." Rybkin's former deputy Boris Berezovskii likewise termed such attacks "inadmissible," adding that the federal authorities still have not learned to assess in advance the possible impact of their actions, Interfax reported. Berezovskii argued that some Russian leaders believe it is possible to pay for peace in Chechnya "with human lives rather than money." In Grozny, First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov warned that a Russian attack on Chechnya would reignite the war, while President Aslan Maskhadov denied that any guerrilla bases exist. To hunt for them would be a waste of effort, he commented. LF CHECHEN PREMIER-DESIGNATE TO PRESENT CABINET LINEUP. Speaking on Chechen Television on 7 January, Prime Minister-designate Shamil Basaev said he has drawn up a list of government ministers that he will submit to President Maskhadov by 10 January, Interfax reported. The new government will comprise only 22 ministries and departments, compared with the previous 48. It will, however, include but including a defense department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1998). That agency is likely to be headed by former field commander Ruslan Gilayev. Basaev's brother Shirvan, currently prefect of Vedeno Raion, may head the fuel and energy department, according to Interfax. In his 7 January television broadcast, Shamil Basaev saidthat he will resign if his new government fails to solve social problems within six months. LF YELTSIN'S GRANDDAUGHTER LAMENTS PRESIDENT'S WORKLOAD. President Boris Yeltsin's granddaughter Katya Okulova told the French weekly "Paris Match" that Yeltsin "works too much and it wears him out," Reuters reported on 7 January. She added that she wishes Yeltsin would leave politics, since "he is no longer very young and I see how all that exhausts him." In recent days, Kremlin officials have announced the postponement of a presidential visit to India and a CIS summit, both of which were planned for January. However, officials have stressed that Yeltsin is keeping busy during his vacation and will have a packed schedule of meetings from 19 January, when he will return to work, until the end of the month. LB FORMER SECURITY OFFICER DEFENDS 'KOMPROMAT'... Valerii Streletskii, the former head of the department on high-level corruption in the Presidential Security Service (SBP), has defended the practice of publishing compromising information on high officials in the Russian press. Speaking to the latest issue of the weekly "Argumenty i fakty," Streletskii said efforts by law enforcement agencies to curb high-level corruption are routinely obstructed, leaving the press as the "only means" of publicizing corruption cases. He acknowledged that he taped a notorious June 1996 conversation between Anatolii Chubais and Viktor Ilyushin, a transcript of which was published in November 1996. In that conversation, Chubais and Ilyushin, who were at the time advisers on Yeltsin's re-election campaign, discussed ways to impede the investigation of two associates caught by SBP officers carrying $538,000 in cash out of a government building. That incident cost SBP head Aleksandr Korzhakov his job in June 1996. The criminal investigation involving those funds was closed in April 1997. LB ...COMMENTS ON CHUBAIS, BANK WAR. Streletskii, who is considered close to Korzhakov and an opponent of First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, told "Argumenty i fakty" that Chubais's current attempts to "restrain" powerful Russian bankers are "useful for the country" and consistent with the state's interests. However, he said that "like every Bolshevik," Chubais created "with his own hands the system that will destroy him." Streletskii said the rival financial groups behind the current war of compromising information in the Russian media "robbed the country but then fought over property and started a fight for a place at the state trough." Streletskii also said he is not afraid of being sued for accusations made in his new book, which reportedly accuses many high officials of corruption and even treason. LB OFFICIAL VIEWS EFFORTS TO REACH LAND REFORM COMPROMISE... State Land Committee Chairman Ilya Yuzhanov says forging a compromise on the land code will be difficult, since the current draft of that document is fraught with legal flaws, internal contradictions, and violations of constitutional norms. Yeltsin vetoed the code last June, but during roundtable talks chaired by the president on 26 December, executive and legislative officials pledged to reach a compromise on land reform within three months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). In a lengthy interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 4 January, Yuzhanov slammed many provisions in the land code, which was drafted by the Duma's Agrarian faction. For instance, one vaguely worded clause would ban sales of land below which there are systems such as telephone lines or water pipes. That would, in effect, ban all sales of land in cities and industrial complexes. LB ...CONSIDERS BAN ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP NOT 'SERIOUS'... Yuzhanov told RFE/RL that he is not concerned about the agreement reached during the 26 December roundtable talks to prohibit land sales to foreigners. Yuzhanov noted that he considers such a ban economically unwise and detrimental to Russian efforts to create a favorable environment for foreign investment. However, he argued that such a ban would not be "serious," since it could easily be circumvented by foreign companies. For instance, those companies could gain the right to buy land by establishing subsidiaries in Russia and registering them as Russian companies. Yuzhanov added that "we could pass hundreds of bans [on foreign ownership of land] in our internal legislation" but that those bans would contradict the terms of bilateral agreements Russia has signed with several countries. LB ...UNIMPRESSED BY SARATOV LAND REFORM MODEL. Yuzhanov also told RFE/RL that the land law recently adopted in Saratov Oblast is not an ideal model for land reform. Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has hailed the legislation as an example for other Russian regions to follow, and Yeltsin has praised it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1997). However, Yuzhanov said the Saratov law is merely a revised version of the land code passed by the State Duma, which, he said, is much improved but still contains many flaws. Yuzhanov said several other regions, which he did not name, have passed land laws far superior to Saratov's. LB HARVEST UP IN 1997, BUT PROBLEMS REMAIN. Russia's grain harvest was 88.5 million metric tons in 1997, up nearly 20 million metric tons from the previous year, dpa reported on 5 January, citing Agriculture Ministry official Anatolii Kolenko. The government is not importing grain and is even seeking to export up to 10 million tons of grain. However, Agriculture Minister Viktor Khlystun has said that 70 percent of Russian agricultural enterprises lost money in 1997 (compared with 80 percent the previous year). In December, Deputy Agriculture Minister Vyacheslav Chernoivanov estimated that some 12 million metric tons of grain were lost in Russia in 1997 because farmers lacked equipment to bring in the harvest, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 December. Chernoivanov warned that shortages of tractors and harvesters will worsen in the coming years, as equipment is overused and farmers do not have sufficient funds for maintenance. LB RUSSIA NOT YET ASKING BLISS TO RETURN. Moscow has still not asked U.S. citizen Richard Bliss to return to Russia, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 7 and 8 January. Bliss was accused in late November of espionage in the Rostov-na-Donu area, where he was carrying out a surveying project for Qualcomm Inc., a U.S. company contracted to install a cellular phone system there. Local authorities detained Bliss on espionage charges but allowed him to return to the U.S. for the Christmas holidays after he promised to return by 10 January. Bliss has said he will honor that promise, but both Qualcomm and U.S. officials have appealed to Moscow to drop the charges. However, speaking to Interfax on 8 January, Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin said the charges have not yet been dropped, while Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich commented that Bliss could be asked back "if investigators require that." BP "ALTERNATIVE SERVICE" DIFFICULT TO OPT FOR. The weekly "Ekspress-Khronika" reports in its latest issue that it is not very easy for Russians to be accepted for "alternative" rather than military service. Article 59 of the Russian Constitution provides for other forms of service in cases where personal convictions or religious beliefs prevent military activity. Over the past four years, the Duma Defense Committee has repeatedly shelved a law on alternative service, leaving those who decline military service at the mercy of local militia document checks aimed at determining whether an individual has been called up. "Violators" are usually brought to militia headquarters, sometimes more than once, to explain their actions. BP MINISTER ON RISING DRUG ADDICTION, DRUG- RELATED CRIME. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has estimated that Russia has more than 2 million drug addicts, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. Kulikov, who chairs a government commission on fighting the drug trade, told a meeting of that commission that the number of officially registered drug addicts has tripled over the last five years to some 250,000. During the same period, he said, drug use among Russians under 20 has tripled and drug addiction among women has increased more than sixfold. Kulikov also claimed that drug-related crimes nearly tripled in Russia in 1997, even though the overall crime rate dropped by 9 percent. LB MINERS WANT GOVERNMENT COMMISSION IN KEMEROVO SOON. Anatolii Chekis, the chairman of the council of the federation of trade unions in Kemerovo Oblast, told ITAR-TASS on 8 January that his council still demands that a government commission come to Kemerovo before 15 January. On 5 January, the oblast administration had announced that a federal government commission will arrive in Kemerovo on 19 January to examine problems in the coal sector. An emergency congress of coal miners in the Kuznetsk basin recently threatened to call a general strike if the federal government does not take steps to help the coal sector in Kemerovo by 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1997). LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TENSIONS IN DUSHANBE. RFE/RL correspondents in the Tajik capital report that on the outskirts of Dushanbe on 6 January, members of the militia sought to detain an armed oppositionist who refused to give up his weapon. He was subsequently disarmed by a larger group of militia and detained until an armed oppositionist group appeared at the militia station and successfully demanded his release. On 7 January, a similar incident occurred at a bazaar, also on the outskirts of the capital, when two opposition members refused to hand over their weapons. A brief skirmish broke out, and shots were fired. The militia left the scene and returned with tanks and armored vehicles. Correspondents report that the standoff continued on 8 January. BP RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DELEGATION IN GEORGIA. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Defense, held talks with ranking Georgian defense officials in Tbilisi on 5-8 January. Topics discussed included the possible transfer to Georgia of former Soviet military property in that country and of several vessels from the Black Sea fleet. Last month, Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze demanded that Russia pay Georgia compensation for weaponry worth $10 billion that had been illegally removed from Georgia in 1992-1993. Ivashov told Interfax that his demand is "unreasonable." He also inspected the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki, which he called a key link in the CIS air defense system, according to Turan. On 7 January, Nadibaidze and Ivashov signed an agreement on military cooperation in 1998, but no details were released, Caucasus Press reported. LF HOSTAGE-TAKING IN ABKHAZIA. Unidentified gunmen abducted some 30 ethnic Georgians from a bus in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion on 7 January, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The gunmen subsequently released all female passengers. The Georgian government has asked the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia to help locate the hostages, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. Also on 7 January, Abkhaz security officials defused a 10 kilogram bomb at a power station in Gulripsh Raion, according to Interfax. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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