|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 194, Part I, 13 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 * START-2 RATIFICATION AT LEAST SIX MONTHS AWAY * RUSSIAN COMPANIES BUY MORE IRAQI OIL * GEORGIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN DISCUSSES "BOSNIA OPTION" FOR ABKHAZIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA START-2 RATIFICATION AT LEAST SIX MONTHS AWAY. State Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov announced on 11 January that the Duma will not ratify the START-2 arms control treaty during the next six months, ITAR-TASS reported. Ryzhkov, a member of the Our Home Is Russia faction, said the lower house of the parliament has not scheduled debate on START-2 for its spring session, primarily because "there have not been clear answers so far to the very many questions members of parliament are asking." Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov both support ratification of START-2, but there is substantial opposition to the treaty in the lower house. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev recently accused U.S. President Bill Clinton of trying to "pressure" the Duma on START-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 1997). LB DEFENSE BUDGET NOT FULFILLED IN 1997... According to Defense Ministry experts, military spending in 1997 amounted to just 55.6 percent of 1997 budget targets, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. Funding in many areas fell below that level. For instance, expenditures on medical services for military personnel totaled just 41 percent of planned levels and spending on clothing and equipment 23 percent. Similarly, only 50 percent of funds budgeted to buy food for soldiers were allocated. (It is not clear whether those figures refer to original 1997 budget targets or planned spending after the government enacted a "sequester," or spending cuts.) Military experts say underfunding is to blame for the Defense Ministry's debts to officers, since the armed forces have used money earmarked for soldiers' wages and other payments to pay for other necessities such as food. Other government officials have blamed mismanagement by top generals for the debts. LB ...WHILE SPENDING TO REMAIN LOW IN 1998. Pending the adoption of the 1998 budget, monthly federal spending this year has been set at one-twelfth of total 1997 spending (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1997). Consequently, various government agencies and ministries, including the Defense Ministry, will receive less money in the first quarter of 1998 than the level foreseen by the draft 1998 budget. (First Deputy Duma Speaker Ryzhkov has predicted that the budget will go into effect in March at the earliest.) Furthermore, military experts believe the planned 1998 Defense Ministry budget of 81.7 billion new rubles ($13.6 billion) would be insufficient even if it were paid out in full. According to the 10 January edition of "Segodnya," Defense Minister Igor Sergeev recently sent a letter to the government warning that the 1998 defense budget does not provide enough funding to meet the army's basic needs or pay for planned military reforms. LB RUSSIAN COMPANIES BUY MORE IRAQI OIL. Seven Russian oil companies, including Alfa Eko, Zarubezhneftegazstroy and Rosneft, signed contracts last week with the Iraqi state oil company for further purchases of oil under the UN-sanctioned oil-for-food program, Interfax reported on 12 January. The total volume of oil purchased is approximately 28.84 million barrels. LUKoil, Sidanko, Onako, and Tatneft are expected to sign similar agreements in the near future. LF DELAY IN ANNOUNCING NEW CHECHEN CABINET. ITAR- TASS on 12 January reported that Chechen acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev has asked President Aslan Maskhadov for another three days in which to complete drawing up his new cabinet, but First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov has said the line-up may be announced on 13 January. Also on 12 January, Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov told journalists in Moscow that regardless of Basaev's political status in Chechnya, the criminal investigation into his role in the Budennovsk hostage-taking in June 1995 will continue. LF ABDULATIPOV ON CHECHNYA, DAGESTAN. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov briefed journalists in Moscow on 12 January on his talks with Chechen leaders in Grozny two days earlier, Interfax reported. Abdulatipov said cooperation with the new Chechen cabinet is essential but also argued that President Yeltsin's planned visit to Chechnya should be postponed until "concrete results" have been reached in the ongoing Russian-Chechen talks. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 January also argued that a visit by Yeltsin to Chechnya is "inexpedient" at present, according to ITAR-TASS. Abdulatipov said the situation in his native Dagestan is "extremely complicated" and claimed that Dagestan's influence on the North Caucasus is greater than that of Chechnya. LF CAR BOMB DEFUSED IN MAKHACHKALA. Police cordoned off the center of the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, on the evening of 12 December following the discovery of a car loaded with 60 kilograms of explosives. The car had been parked close to the government building. Police succeeded in defusing the bomb, Russian media reported. LF OFFICIAL SAYS REDENOMINATION HAS NOT INCREASED MONEY SUPPLY. Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Arnold Voilukov told journalists on 12 January that the redenomination of the ruble has not led to an increase in the total amount of Russian money in circulation, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 12 January. Some commentators have warned that the currency reform will spark inflation as old and new banknotes circulate simultaneously. However, Voilukov claimed that since the begining of the year, 5.8 billion new rubles ($970,000) have gone into circulation, while old banknotes worth 7.5 billion rubles have been withdrawn. The total money circulating in Russia as of 1 January was 137 billion rubles, Voikulov said. LB PROSECUTOR-GENERAL VOWS TO COMPLETE HIGH- PROFILE INVESTIGATIONS... Yurii Skuratov told journalists on 12 January that his office will complete investigations into several high-profile criminal cases, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In particular, he cited the book scandal involving First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais and several of his associates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 November 1997). Skuratov also mentioned the alleged embezzlement of more than $180 million in state funds through a fraudulent contract with the State Committee on Precious Metals (Roskomdragmet). He said Russia has asked Greece to extradite Andrei Kozlenok, a prime suspect in the case, who was recently arrested. According to the 13 January edition of "Izvestiya," several prominent political figures may be implicated in the Roskomdragmet case, including former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, former top presidential adviser Viktor Ilyushin, and former First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko. LB ...COMMENTS ON SOBCHAK, STANKEVICH CASES. At the same 12 January press conference, Skuratov urged former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak to return to Russia, when his health permits, to answer questions concerning corruption allegations against his former associates, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 January. Sobchak sought medical treatment in France in November and remains abroad. No criminal charges have been filed against him. Skuratov also argued that the refusal of Polish authorities to extradite former presidential adviser Sergei Stankevich is "not based on the law," "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 13 January. He expressed the hope that Warsaw will soon make the "correct decision" to allow Stankevich to stand trial in Russia. Stankevich was arrested in Poland in April on charges of taking a $10,000 bribe in Moscow in 1992. LB SELEZNEV WANTS FIRST DEPUTY PRIME MINISTERS TO GO. Duma Speaker Seleznev on 12 January called for the cabinet's composition to be brought in line with the law on the government, which does not foresee the post of first deputy prime minister, Interfax reported. Yeltsin signed that law in December. The government's two current first deputy prime ministers, Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, have not held any other cabinet portfolios since November, when Yeltsin took away the Finance Ministry from Chubais and the Fuel and Energy Ministry from Nemtsov. "Izvestiya" speculated on 6 January that when the law on the government is implemented, Nemtsov will agree to stay in the cabinet at the rank of deputy prime minister, but Chubais will resign rather than be demoted. Speculation is still rife in the Russian media that Yeltsin will replace Chubais in the coming weeks. LB MOSCOW TO IMPLEMENT MORTGAGE SYSTEM. The Moscow city government and Harvard University have signed an agreement on developing a system to allow Moscow residents to acquire housing using mortgages, an RFE/RL correspondent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported on 12 January. Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed the deal on behalf of Moscow at a Russian-U.S. investment symposium at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Until now, Muscovites wishing to buy new housing have been forced to pay in lump sums that few can afford. Officials say the new system will give citizens access to low-interest, long-term loans. Corporations including Fannie Mae, the International Financial Corp., and Bank Boston will help Harvard experts draft laws and regulations related to the mortgage system within the next three months. LB WATCHDOG SAYS MEDIA SUFFERED "RETREAT" IN 1997. Aleksei Simonov, the president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, told ITAR-TASS on 12 January that 1997 was marked by the "retreat of the Russian press" from hard-won gains of recent years. He said new means of restraining the press were found by authorities at various levels. For instance, in the Russian regions, city and district newspapers are returning to control by municipal governments, Simonov said. He also warned that the Duma is drafting several laws that would curtail media freedom. Also on 12 January, Oleg Panfilov of the Glasnost Defense Foundation announced that 15 Russian journalists were killed in 1997, up from 14 the previous year. Panfilov said 21 Russian journalists were kidnapped in 1997, according to dpa. LB PRESIDENT TO CONSIDER ALL DEATH SENTENCES... Yeltsin has signed amendments to the criminal-procedural code giving the president the right to review all death sentences, even if a prisoner on death row has not asked for a presidential pardon, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January. No execution may be carried out without presidential approval. Abolishing capital punishment is a condition of membership in the Council of Europe, which Russia joined in February 1996. Yeltsin ordered a moratorium on executions in August of that year, but Russian courts continue to issue death sentences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1997). LB ...BUT RUSSIA NOT TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY. Anatolii Pristavkin, who heads the presidential commission on pardons, told ITAR-TASS on 11 January that Russia is obliged to adopt a legislative ban on capital punishment by February 1998, two years after it joined the Council of Europe. However, Duma First Deputy Speaker Ryzhkov announced the next day that Russia will not meet that deadline, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that no bill on abolishing the death penalty has been scheduled for consideration during the Duma's spring session. The Duma rejected such a law in March 1997, and Ryzhkov commented that it is "obvious that the Duma's mood [on capital punishment] has not changed." At the same time, he emphasized that the moratorium on executions in Russia will remain in effect and expressed the hope that the Council of Europe will "understand the situation." LB COURT REJECTS REGIONS' APPEAL ON FOREST RESOURCES. The Constitutional Court on 9 January upheld the legality of the Federal Forestry Code, which outlines the authority of the federal government and Russian regions in managing timber resources, ITAR-TASS reported. The Republic of Karelia and Khabarovsk Krai challenged the code on the grounds that the 1992 Federation Treaty, signed by federal and regional governments, stipulates that natural resources belong to the people who live on the territory where those resources are found. However, Article 72 of the 1993 Russian Constitution says that both federal and regional governments have jurisdiction over matters relating to the management and usage of natural resources. The court found that the constitution takes precedence over the 1992 treaty. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN DISCUSSES "BOSNIA OPTION" FOR ABKHAZIA... In his traditional weekly radio address, Eduard Shevardnadze on 12 January again argued that a "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia similar to that carried out by the international community in Bosnia would not violate UN statutes, Caucasus Press reported. He condemned the Abkhaz leadership's policy as "a cynical challenge to the world community" but added that "peace enforcement" should be considered only if negotiations fail to produce a political settlement. Shevardnadze also stressed that the "Bosnia option" does not imply the division of Abkhazia into ethnic enclaves. Before the mass exodus during the 1992-1993 fighting, ethnic Georgians constituted a majority in the southern raions of Abkhazia. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba warned on 8 January that any attempt at peace enforcement would inevitably lead to renewed hostilities in Abkhazia and involve a broader circle of participants, Interfax reported. LF ...ASSESSES RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA... Shevardnadze affirmed his commitment to resolving all outstanding problems in bilateral relations with Russia by means of negotiations, Interfax reported. But he conceded that "a lot of problems" surfaced during the 5-8 January talks in Tbilisi between Russian and Georgian Defense Ministry officials, noting it will probably take several years to resolve those problems. Colonel- General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Russian delegation, had rejected the Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze's demand that Russia pay compensation for military equipment and arms worth several billion dollars that were removed from Georgia in 1992-1993. The Russian and Georgian officials agreed, however, to draw up regulations for the transfer to Georgia of 10 sites belonging to the Russian Defense Ministry, according to "Izvestiya" of 10 January. LF ...RULES OUT REPATRIATION OF MESKHETIANS. Shevardnadze also affirmed during his 12 January radio address that under present economic conditions, it is not feasible to resume the repatriation to Georgia of the Meskhetians deported en masse by Stalin to Central Asia in 1944, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze signed a presidential decree in December 1996, giving the green light for the return to Georgia of the Meskhetians (predominantly ethnic Georgians who converted to Islam). Shevardnadze added, however, that he considers it was "a mistake" to halt the small-scale repatriation of the Meskhetians begun in the mid- 1980s (at which time Shevardnadze was first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party). Thousands of Meskhetians fled Uzbekistan during ethnic clashes in 1989. In October 1997, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev charged that Meskhetians are subject to blatant discrimination in Krasnodar Krai. LF GEORGIAN REFUGEE SPOKESMAN IN BOMB SCARE. Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile (which is composed of ethnic Georgian deputies in the Abkhaz parliament) told a news conference in Tbilisi on 12 January that an attempt to kill him and his family had been thwarted two days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian National Security Ministry has denied, however, that any such attempt took place. Nadareishvili claimed that unnamed Russian political circles wanted to eliminate "the legitimate Abkhaz authorities", because the latter had attempted to prevent the transportation of valuable property from Abkhazia to Russia during the 1992-1993 war. Nadareishvili ruled out any involvement in the alleged attempt to kill him by a rival organization representing the interests of ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia. Nadareishvili further claimed that only a face-to-face meeting between himself and Ardzinba could yield a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. LF AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST CAUTIONED. Eldar Zeinalov, the director of the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, was summoned on 12 January by Prosecutor- General Eldar Hasanov. Hasanov warned Zeynalov that an article on political prisoners published in the opposition newspaper "Azadlyg," to which Zeynalov had contributed information, constituted a violation of the Azerbaijani media law since "there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan." LF RASUL GULIEV DEFENSE COMMITTEES UNDER PRESSURE. Regional branches of the committee created to defend former Azerbaijani parliament speaker Rasul Guliev have complained that the Azerbaijani authorities are trying to prevent the collection of signatures in Guliev's support, Turan reported on 12 January. Some 8,000 signatures have been collected to date. Guliev was forced to resign as parliamentary speaker in September 1996 and has lived abroad since then. Following the Azerbaijani parliament's 16 December decision to strip him of his deputy's mandate, Guliev announced he plans to return to Baku to run in the 1998 presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 December 1997). LF TAJIK OPPOSITION UNHAPPY ABOUT DELAYS. A spokesman for Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), said on 12 January that the UTO is prepared to quit the National Reconciliation Commission, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Nuri, who is also chairman of the commission, claims the Tajik government has waited too long to anounce which cabinet posts will be given to the opposition under last June's peace agreement. Nuri said he may appeal to the UN secretary-general. The opposition expects a response from the government "in the next few days." BP INDONESIAN FIRM WINS KAZAKH CONTRACT. Indonesia's Central Asia Petroleum Ltd. has signed a contract with Kazakhstan to explore and develop 15 hydrocarbon sites in the Mangistausky region, Interfax reported on 12 January. Sagyn Krymkulov, the president of the Indonesian-Kazakh joint venture Mangistaumunaigaz, told journalists that production over 25 years is expected to total 106 million tons of oil and 10.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Investment over a 20- year period will be at least $4.1 billion, with $2 billion being invested in the first five years. The contract is valid for 31 years. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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