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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 8, Part I, 14 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 DEMANDS POLICIES TO STIMULATE ECONOMIC GROWTH * DUMA DELAYS THIRD READING OF BUDGET * ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP DIVIDED OVER KARABAKH? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN DEMANDS POLICIES TO STIMULATE ECONOMIC GROWTH. President Boris Yeltsin told First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 13 January that the government must provide for economic growth of 2-4 percent in 1998, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. During a meeting in Valdai, where Yeltsin has been vacationing since 4 January, the president instructed the government to implement several key policies to make 1998 the "year of economic growth." In particular, he called for reducing taxes and securing the adoption of a new tax code; tackling the problem of non- payments; restructuring social benefits so that only the needy receive financial support from the state; and lowering interest rates. Those policy priorities are virtually identical to the ones outlined by Nemtsov during an interview with NTV on 12 January. The government has previously predicted GDP growth of 2 percent in 1998. LB FINANCE MINISTER SKEPTICAL ON GROWTH PROSPECTS. Mikhail Zadornov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January that he is not optimistic that Russia will experience economic growth in 1998. He argued that the instability on Russian financial markets during the last quarter of 1997 set the country's growth prospects back at least half a year because of significant rises in interest rates. Zadornov added that those rates are unlikely to be lowered to a level that will facilitate borrowing by enterprises until the second quarter of 1998 at the earliest. He also argued that delays in implementing tax reform have taken their toll on prospects for economic growth. It will take at least six months for the government and parliament to work out a new tax code that could stimulate domestic industry, he said. LB FOOTAGE OF YELTSIN SHOWN ON TV. Major Russian television networks on 13 January showed brief clips of Yeltsin riding a snowmobile in Valdai and talking with Nemtsov. In the only footage in which Yeltsin's voice could be heard, the president was telling Nemtsov and other aides about ice fishing. It was the first television footage of Yeltsin in more than two weeks, not counting recorded holiday addresses. On 14 January, Communist State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Mikhailov called on the Duma demand a report on Yeltsin's health, but his proposal was not put to a vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB DUMA DELAYS THIRD READING OF BUDGET. The Duma Council decided on 13 January to postpone the third reading of the budget from 23 January to 4 February, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to Duma Budget Committee Acting Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov, the deputies need extra time to consider more than 3,000 proposed amendments to the document. The budget must pass four readings in the Duma before going to the Federation Council and then to the president. LB RUSSIA WELCOMES IRAN'S OLIVE BRANCH TO U.S. Moscow welcomes Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's 7 January affirmation that his country is ready to end its confrontation with the U.S. and step up bilateral dialogue, Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told journalists in Moscow on 13 January. Nesterushkin said that the normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations would impact favorably on the situation in the Middle East. He noted that Khatami had emphasized in his 7 January interview with CNN that Iran has no plans to develop nuclear weapons and that it condemns terrorism. LF RUSSIA DELIVERS MORE PLANES TO VIETNAM. A Volga- Dnepr Airlines cargo plane has transported two Su-27 fighter planes from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Vietnam, Interfax reported on 13 January. The first two were delivered in early December, but an An-124 cargo plane transporting two more crashed in Irkutsk later that month. Vietnam is to receive another two fighter planes, but a delay is being caused by the current ban on Russian Air Force An-124 planes while authorities investigate the Irkutsk crash. The director-general of the Sukhoi company that manufactures the fighter planes said if the ban is not lifted, he will contract Volga-Dnepr again. BP NEW DRAFT NORTH CAUCASUS POLICY ENDORSED. The Russian Ministry of Nationalities and Federal Relations on 12 January approved a draft concept on policy toward the North Caucasus. Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told journalists that the draft is intended to serve as a basis for adopting measures to overcome the protracted economic and social crises in the region. He added that it will help regulate Chechnya's relations with Moscow and the aftermath of the North Ossetian-Ingush conflict, according to Interfax. But "Izvestiya" on 14 January pointed out that the document affirms seemingly contradictory principles, a commitment to the inviolability of the present borders of the Russian Federation and the ethnic principle of developing Russian federalism, but also allows input from the Russian Foreign Ministry. The daily also cites State Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko as pointing out that the new North Caucasus policy is a 90 percent duplicate of one adopted in 1992. LF CHECHEN CABINET LIST SUBMITTED TO PARLIAMENT. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov will continue to hold the post of prime minister in the new cabinet, a list of whose members was submitted to parliament on 13 January, Interfax reported. The cabinet includes five deputy prime ministers, including current acting premier Shamil Basaev, who said that the new government's priorities will be restoring the economy and combating crime. Presidential adviser Mairbek Vachagaev commented that Maskhadov is likely to announce the composition of the new government on 15 January, shortly before he departs on a trip to unspecified countries in the Middle East. LF ATTACK ON CHECHEN ANTI-KIDNAPPING BRIGADE HQ. Some 100 armed men staged an attack on the Grozny headquarters of Chechnya's anti-kidnapping squad on 13 January but failed in their alleged aim of securing the release of suspected kidnappers detained there. A similar attack took place last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). There are currently 27 separate Chechen groups engaged in abductions, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 January, quoting the Chechen Prosecutor-General's office. Interfax quoted unnamed Russian government sources as claiming there are 300 armed groups in Chechnya with a combined strength of 2,500 men who are beyond the control of the Chechen authorities. The largest of these is the General Dudaev Army, commanded by maverick field commander Salman Raduev, which numbers approximately 1,000 troops. LF NEW HEAD OF TREASURY APPOINTED. Duma deputy Tatyana Nesterenko of the Russian Regions faction has been appointed head of the Federal Treasury to replace Aleksandr Smirnov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 January. Nesterenko headed the finance department of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug before being elected to the Duma, where she served on the Budget Committee. Mikhail Zadornov chaired that committee before he became finance minister in November. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Nesterenko's appointment demonstrates that Zadornov has significant leeway in personnel matters. The newspaper claimed that First Deputy Prime Minister and former Finance Minister Anatolii Chubais was displeased with Smirnov's work but unable to secure his removal. In addition, Zadornov's former top aide on the Duma Budget Committee, Mikhail Motorin, was recently appointed deputy finance minister in place of Sergei Shatalov, who oversaw the drafting of the tax code. LB BLAME GAME ON WAGE ARREARS CONTINUES... During their meeting in Valdai, Yeltsin supported a proposal by Nemtsov to survey mayors of some 2000 cities to find out whether federal funds are going astray in the regions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 January. Appearing on NTV the previous day, Nemtsov claimed the federal government has "over-fulfilled" its obligations on helping pay wage arrears. He again said regional leaders are responsible for the failure to pay the debts in a few regions. However, Vera Orlova, the deputy head of the Tomsk Oblast finance department, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview that chronic underfunding by the federal government in other areas sometimes forces regional authorities to divert funds from wage payments to essential needs such as coal and oil for heating during the winter. LB ...AS GOVERNOR SAYS REGIONS STILL OWED MONEY. Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel charged on 13 January that cabinet officials are not being truthful when they claim that the federal government has settled all its debts to the regions, ITAR-TASS reported. Rossel said the government has not fulfilled a commitment approved months ago by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to loan 400 billion old rubles ($67 million) to Sverdlovsk. Just 233 billion rubles have arrived in Sverdlovsk, and only in late December. Consequently, Rossel said, Sverdlovsk has had to borrow money from banks in order to pay all wage arrears to state employees, which totaled some 400 billion rubles at the end of 1997. He added that there is no telling when the government will pay its debts to the Urals military district or to the defense industry. Many manufacturers of military equipment are located in Sverdlovsk. LB REGIONS TO PAY BACK SOME LAST-MINUTE FUNDS FOR WAGES? Finance Minister Zadornov says that in 1998 regional governments will be obliged to return to the federal budget some of the funds they received in December 1997 in order to pay wage arrears. The federal government allocated some 14.5 trillion old rubles ($2.4 billion) to the regions to pay the back wages, including 3.2 trillion rubles in extra funds for regions that were unable to pay their share to settle the wage debts. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January, Zadornov said that the extra 3.2 trillion rubles were allocated in the form of loans that must be repaid in 1998. LB GOVERNMENT CREATES FEDERAL DEBT CENTER. The government has created a Federal Debt Center to oversee sales of property belonging to debtor enterprises, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 13 January. Such sales may be authorized by courts or certain institutions, such as the tax police. "Kommersant-Daily" argued that the Federal Bankruptcy Service lobbied for creating the center in response to Russia's new law on bankruptcy, which was signed by Yeltsin earlier this month. That law deprived the Federal Bankruptcy Service of the right to initiate bankruptcy procedures against enterprises. "Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration, reported on 14 January that the creation of the Federal Debt Center is linked to the recent controversy over the attempt by a government commission to order the seizure and sale of property belonging to persistent tax debtors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 December 1997). LB HEAD OF GAZPROM-MEDIA EXPLAINS GOALS. Viktor Ilyushin, the head of the media holding of the gas monopoly Gazprom, says Gazprom-Media will intervene in the editorial policy of media outlets it partly owns or finances. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 January, Ilyushin explained that Gazprom is "not indifferent as to who will govern the regions, who will pass laws, and what kind of government we will have." Asked why Gazprom created a subsidiary to manage its media assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997), Ilyushin said that "we should legalize our conjugal relations with certain mass media. We have had friendly relations, but you don't get far today on friendship alone." "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the main task of Gazprom-Media will be to support a presidential bid by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. In addition, Gazprom-Media is compiling a database of all Russian journalists. LB BOMB EXPLODES NEAR GOVERNOR'S CAR IN YEKATERINBURG. A bomb exploded on 14 January at the side of a Yekaterinburg road as a car carrying Sverdlovsk Governor Rossel passed by, RFE/RL's correspondent in Yekaterinburg reported. Rossel was not hurt in the blast. Police are investigating the explosion as a possible assassination attempt. Rossel, one of Russia's more prominent regional leaders, was sacked by Yeltsin as governor of Sverdlovsk in 1993 but regained the post in the August 1995 election. LB RUSSIA TO HOLD CENSUS NEXT YEAR. Russia will conduct a census in November 1999, the first to be held there since the Soviet census in January 1989, "Segodnya" reported on 10 January. In addition to specifying their age, gender, and occupation, respondents will be asked to designate their nationality (which is not included in the new Russian passports currently being issued), their fluency in foreign languages, and details of their employment and living conditions. In January 1989, the population of the RSFSR was 147,386,000, while on 1 November 1997, that of the Russian Federation totaled 147,200,000. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan will also conduct censuses in 1999. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP DIVIDED OVER KARABAKH? Serious differences emerged within the Armenian leadership during the 7-8 January Security Council meeting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 January, citing the independent daily "Aravot." The newspaper quotes an unidentified source as saying President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's conciliatory position was backed by Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian and parliamentary leaders. Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian supported the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which has rejected the most recent peace proposal of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. Presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian denied that Ter-Petrossyan threatened to split into two the Interior and National Security Ministry, headed by Karabakh-born Serzh Sarkisian. That threat reportedly prompted Kocharian, also a native of Karabakh, to tender his resignation, which Ter-Petrossyan refused to accept. LF GEORGIA ACCUSES ABKHAZIA OF GENOCIDE... The Georgian Foreign Ministry on13 January issued a statement claiming that the allegedly "barbaric" detention of ethnic Georgians in Gali Raion on 7 January is part of a "policy of ethnic purges and genocide" against the breakaway republic's ethnic Georgian population, Interfax reported. The Abkhaz police detained 30 Georgian bus passengers on 7 January to check their identity papers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 January 1998). The Georgian statement further appealed for stronger international support, primarily from the UN, for Tbilisi's efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict. LF ...WHILE ABKHAZIA DENIES CHARGES. Also on 13 January, Igor Akhba, Abkhazia's permanent representative in Moscow, rejected the Georgian Foreign Ministry's charges of genocide, saying the new Abkhaz passport checks introduced last month are aimed solely at combatting crime. The same day, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry condemned any attempt to resolve the dead-locked conflict by force. Since 1 January, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has twice suggested that the international community could mount a peace-keeping operation in Abkhazia similar to that in Bosnia. Meeting in Tbilisi in August1997, Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, rejected the use of force in resolving their differences. LF CHERNOMYRDIN IN TURKMENISTAN. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 13 January. The two signed an agreement avoiding double-taxation did not conclude an accord on shipping natural gas via Russia, which was Chernomyrdin's publicized reason for visiting Turkmenistan. Chernomyrdin was accompanied by a Gazprom delegation headed by the company chairman, Rem Vyakhirev. Turkmenistan has complained about the high costs of using Russian pipelines and that Russia buys Turkmen gas for half its real value. BP KUNAEV COMMEMORATED. A mass meeting took place in Almaty on 12 January to mark the 86th anniversary of the birth of Dinmuhammed Kunaev, former CPSU Politburo full member and First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Central Committee from 1964 to 1986, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the next day. Kunaev's ouster in December 1986 and his replacement by ethnic Russian Gennadii Kolbin sparked mass protest demonstrations in Almaty in which dozens of people were killed. Kunaev died in 1993. Also on 12 January, prayers were held at his grave in Almaty's Kentau cemetery. LF MAJOR INCREASE IN GOLD PRODUCTION IN KYRGYZSTAN. The state gold company Kyrgyzaltyn announced on 13 January that gold production reached 17 tons last year, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. That total is a major increase over the 1996 figure of 1.5 tons. The boost in production is attributed to the Kumtor mining operation, a joint venture with Canada's Cameco Corp., which began full operations last year. Although the gold produced in 1997 has an estimated value of $176 million, the Kyrgyz state budget received only about $8 million from the gold industry last year. BP REGIONAL AFFAIRS DATE OF NEXT CIS SUMMIT IN QUESTION? CIS Deputy Executive Secretary Stanislav Lebeznik told Interfax on 13 January that the schedules of all CIS heads of state must be coordinated in order to set the date for the next CIS summit. At the last summit in Moldova in October, it was agreed that summits should be held annually on 23 January and on 16 March. The January summit was canceled last week at the initiative of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to allow for "fundamental preparation of all the necessary documents," according to Labeznik. At that time, however, it was also announced that the March summit will go ahead as scheduled. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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