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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 11, Part I, 19 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 RAPS MINISTERS OVER WAGE ARREARS * REPORTS CONTINUE TO STRESS YELTSIN'S GOOD HEALTH * KARABAKH OFFICIAL ADMITS POLICY DIFFERENCES WITH YEREVAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN RAPS MINISTERS OVER WAGE ARREARS... On his first day back in the Kremlin following a two-week vacation, President Boris Yeltsin told top government ministers that they "failed to meet [their] obligations last year," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 19 January. During a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Yeltsin in particular cited the failure to pay all wage arrears to state employees. Chernomyrdin claimed that by paying an extra 3 trillion old rubles ($500 million) to regional governments in December, the government met and even exceeded its obligations on settling the wage debts, ITAR-TASS reported. But Yeltsin replied "that is not so." Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov announced on 16 January that wage debts have still not been settled in several regions, including Volgograd and Sverdlovsk Oblasts, Primorskii Krai, and the Altai Republic. LB ...DEMANDS ACTION TO CURB SHADOW ECONOMY. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 16 January announced that Yeltsin has given the government and Security Council one month to submit a plan to reduce the shadow economy, Russian news agencies reported. The instruction came after a report by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin claimed the shadow economy now accounts for some 40 percent of Russia's GDP and represents a threat to the country's economic security. LB REPORTS CONTINUE TO STRESS YELTSIN'S GOOD HEALTH. National television networks on 16 January showed Yeltsin skiing at the Valdai resort. Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, who met with Yeltsin at Valdai on 16 January, told ITAR-TASS the next day that the president appeared to be in good health. Prusak added that "I don't believe an ill person would be out skiing" or riding a snowmobile. Russian officials continue to emphasize that Yeltsin, who returned to Moscow on 17 January, will have a busy schedule through the end of the month. An official visit to Moscow by South African President Nelson Mandela, scheduled for early February, has been postponed, but the Russian Foreign Ministry said on 16 January that Pretoria requested the delay, Interfax reported. LB CHERNOMYRDIN ACKNOWLEDGES RECENT CHECKUP. In televised remarks on 16 January, Chernomyrdin acknowledged that he recently underwent a routine medical checkup, Reuters reported. Government spokesmen had denied reports that Chernomyrdin missed a 15 January cabinet meeting because he went to the Barvikha sanitarium. LB PRESIDENT APPROVED REDISTRIBUTION OF MINISTERIAL DUTIES. Yeltsin's spokesman Yastrzhembskii announced on 16 January that Chernomyrdin informed Yeltsin about his planned redistribution of duties among the deputy prime ministers, and Yeltsin approved the changes, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In his new assignment of duties within the cabinet, Chernomyrdin took some key supervisory roles away from First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). Citing an unnamed source in the government apparatus, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 January that Chernomyrdin originally planned to reduce the first deputy prime ministers' powers even further. However, following Nemtsov's meeting with Yeltsin in Valdai on 13-14 January, the president reportedly interceded with the prime minister, and the final version of the document approved by Chernomyrdin returned some responsibilities to Chubais and Nemtsov. LB BEREZOVSKII EMERGES AS 'REAL WINNER' FROM CHANGES? Most commentaries have named Chernomyrdin and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak as the beneficiaries of the new distribution of powers within the government. Bulgak replaces Chubais as supervisor of media-related issues and replaces former State Property Minister Maksim Boiko, a Chubais ally, as head of the collegium of state representatives at Russian Public Television (ORT). But in an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 16 January, political analyst Andrei Piontkovskii argued that the "real winner" from the shakeup is Boris Berezovskii, who will be able to maintain his extensive influence over editorial policy at 51 percent state- owned ORT. Chubais and Nemtsov pledged in recent months to "strengthen state control" over ORT and had looked poised to do so last November, when Berezovskii was fired from the Security Council and Boiko appointed to chair the collegium of state representatives at ORT. LB KULIKOV ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR REVENUES. According to the new distribution of duties in the government, Chubais and Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Kulikov will share responsibility for supervising revenue collection from the State Customs Committee, the State Tax Service, the Federal Tax Police, and the Federal Currency and Export Control Service. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, predicted on 17 January that Chubais and Kulikov are likely to become engaged in a bureaucratic battle for control over those agencies. LB DETAILS OF DUTIES ASSIGNED TO OTHER DEPUTY PREMIERS. The 16 January announcement did not significantly change the responsibilities of the cabinet's other deputy prime ministers. Ramazan Abdulatipov will continue to supervise the Nationalities Ministry and government policy toward the Far North. Valerii Serov will remain coordinator of relations with the CIS. Oleg Sysuev, who is also labor minister, will supervise non-budgetary funds such as the Pension Fund, as well as government relations with trade unions, political movements, and religious organizations. Farit Gazizullin, who is also state property minister, will oversee the Russian Federal Property Fund. Yakov Urinson, who is also economics minister, will supervise the State Land Committee. But RFE/RL's Moscow bureau noted that oversight of that committee's most crucial task--drafting land reform plans-- now belongs to Agriculture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khlystun, a Chernomyrdin loyalist. LB 'RUSSKII TELEGRAF' CRITICIZES CHANGES. "Russkii telegraf" on 17 January argued that Chernomyrdin reorganized the government with a view toward upcoming Russian elections. While other officials will be responsible for bringing in budget revenues, Chernomyrdin will directly supervise the Finance Ministry and, consequently, how government funds are spent. The newspaper noted that the purse strings are the "best means to influence the regions." "Russkii telegraf" added that a government geared toward elections is unlikely to implement key structural economic reforms, partly because such policies would incur social costs and partly because "natural monopolies" and financial groups are key potential "business partners" during election campaigns. The newspaper concluded that the redistribution of duties in the cabinet could cause the government to waste its "window of opportunity" for economic growth in 1998. "Russkii telegraf" is fully owned by Oneksimbank, which is considered close to Chubais. LB RUSSIA, CHECHNYA HOLD MORE TALKS. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Chechen Deputy Prime Ministers Movladi Udugov and Ahmed Zakaev met on 17 January at the residence of Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, outside Nazran, Russian media reported. Both sides later characterized the talks as "difficult." However, agreement was reached on appointing an investigative team to determine the reasons for Russia's failure fully to meet its commitment to fund reconstruction of Chechnya's shattered infrastructure. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the NDR Duma faction and a member of the Russian delegation to the talks, said the Chechen side insisted that Russia recognize Chechnya's independence before economic and other accords are implemented, according to ITAR-TASS. The two sides also agreed to intensify efforts to locate Russian prisoners of war held in Chechnya and Chechen fighters listed as missing in action. LF INCUMBENT DEFEATED IN NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Russian State Duma deputy Aleksander Dzasokhov garnered an estimated 75.7 percent of the vote in the 18 January North Ossetian presidential elections, Russian media reported. Incumbent Akhsarbek Galazov--who succeeded Dzasokhov as North Ossetian Obkom first secretary in 1990, when the latter was elected a full member of CPSU Central Committee secretariat and Politburo- -polled only 9.1 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 72 percent of the 429,000 electorate. The unexpectedly low vote for Galazov reflects popular dissatisfaction with the disintegrating economy and with his failure to resolve the deadlocked conflict over North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladikavkaz reported on 19 January. LF ANOTHER FATAL COAL MINE EXPLOSION. At least four miners were killed and five injured following a 18 January explosion of methane gas in the Tsentralnaya coal mine in the Vorkuta basin (Komi Republic), RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The explosion caused an underground fire and the collapse of a mine shaft. Efforts to rescue 23 miners trapped underground continued overnight, but spokesmen on 19 January expressed little hope of finding survivors, Reuters reported. A government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Urinson flew to Vorkuta on 18 January to investigate the causes of the disaster. According to ITAR-TASS, 103 people were killed in five separate disasters at Russian mines in 1997. A 2 December explosion at the Zyryanovskaya mine in Kemerovo Oblast killed 67 miners in what was the worst such incident last year. LB DUMA COMMISSION STILL CHECKING PRIVATIZATION AUCTIONS. The State Duma commission investigating four major privatization sales last year has requested that the deadline for completion of its work be extended until 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January . The commission was created last September and originally scheduled to complete its work by 1 November. The deputies are reviewing last May's auction for a stake in Sibneft, the July auctions for stakes in the Tyumen Oil Company and the telecommunications holding company Svyazinvest, and the August sale of a stake in Norilsk Nickel. The Audit Chamber investigated the same four auctions and recommended in December that the Sibneft, Norilsk Nickel, and Syazinvest sales be annulled. The chamber also concluded that the stake in the Tyumen Oil Company had been undervalued but did not recommend that the sale be declared void. LB RUSSIA TO SHUT DOWN MOST 'BABYFLOTS.' Ivan Valov, the first deputy head of the Federal Aviation Service, announced on 16 January that the number of registered Russian airlines will fall from 315 to no more than 53 over the next three years, Reuters reported. Valov said the Federal Aviation Service will enact tougher safety and financial standards for airlines, revoking the certification of those companies that fail to pass the new tests. When the process is completed, eight airlines will have federal status and 40-45 will be regional carriers. In 1992, the airline Aeroflot, which had a monopoly during the Soviet period, split up, and some 500 Russian airlines were created. According to Valov, more than 100 of those companies went bankrupt in 1996, and another 65 went out of business the following year. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KARABAKH OFFICIAL ADMITS POLICY DIFFERENCES WITH YEREVAN. Differences between Yerevan and Stepanakert on how to resolve the Karabakh conflict have deepened following the 7-8 January session of the Armenian Security Council, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 16 January, quoting an unnamed Nagorno-Karabakh official. The official criticized Yerevan for allegedly "joining with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Azerbaijan" in trying to push through the OSCE's latest peace plan, which he said is "unrealistic" and endangers Karabakh's security. He added that Stepanakert will take "more drastic steps to strengthen its independence," but he gave no details. Also on 16 January, the Security Council of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic convened in Stepanakert to discuss how to overcome its differences with Yerevan over the best approach to resolving the conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. LF ARMENIAN STRESSES ONLY OSCE CAN RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian on 15 January told Armenpress that Armenia would welcome efforts by various countries, including Iran, to promote confidence building measures among the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But Gasparian pointed out that the sole forum empowered to mediate a formal solution to that conflict is the OSCE. Iran is not a member of that organization. IRNA had cited Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzouamian as having told the Iranian ambassador in Yerevan on 5 January that Armenia and Azerbaijan would welcome Iranian mediation in the conflict. LF ARMENIA'S KURDISH POPULATION DWINDLING. Almost half of Armenia's 60,000 Yezidi Kurdish community has emigrated in recent years, primarily because of adverse socio- economic conditions, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 January, quoting Aziz Tamoyan, the chairman of the Yezidi National Union of Armenia. The Yezidi National Union of Armenia was formally registered by the Armenian Justice Ministry in November 1997. Kurds in Armenia have newspaper and radio broadcasts in their native language. The Yezidis are Zoroastrians, whereas most Kurds are Muslims. LF GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OF OBSTRUCTING ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT. Presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze told Interfax on 16 January that the Russian Foreign Ministry is obstructing implementation of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's August 1997 proposals for resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Aleksidze said that "intentionally or unintentionally," the Russian Foreign Ministry's actions are encouraging Abkhaz separatist forces and thus undermining Georgia's stability. On 17 January, Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Vazha Lortkipanidze told ITAR-TASS that Georgia is "extremely dissatisfied" with the lack of progress toward resolving the conflict and expediting the repatriation of ethnic Georgian displaced persons. He repeated President Eduard Shevardnadze's proposal that the international community launch a "Bosnia-type" operation to enforce peace in Abkhazia. LF ABKHAZIA REJECTS "BOSNIA OPTION." Meanwhile, Abkhaz presidential adviser Anri Djergenia told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 January that international intervention to enforce peace in Abkhazia is inappropriate, given that the situation in Abkhazia does not pose a threat to the international community. He argued that the UN statutes permit such an operation only in the case of aggression by one conflict party. Djergenia further denied Georgian charges that Abkhazia is obstructing the repatriation of Georgian fugitives. He claimed that some 100,000 Georgians have so far returned to Abkhazia, of whom half have settled in their former homes in Gali Raion. LF KAZAKH PRESIDENT SEES CUSTOMS UNION AS NUCLEUS OF EURASIAN UNION. Nursultan Nazarbaev told military cadets on 16 January that, in a telephone conversation the previous day, he and Russian President Yeltsin agreed that the only item on the agenda of the 22 January CIS Customs Union meeting will be the upgrading of that body to a full-fledged economic union comparable to the EU, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev said he is counting on the other three members of the CIS Customs Union to back his proposal, for a Eurasian union of CIS states. He first made that proposal in March 1994. LF TAJIK GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION EXCHANGE SWIPES. Following the 15 January decision by the United Tajik Opposition to suspend its participation in the National Reconciliation Commission, the UTO and Tajik government have accused each other of violating the 1997 peace agreement. The UTO has claimed, among other things, that the government had not yet amnestied all eligible UTO members and has failed to approve cabinet posts for UTO representatives, especially UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, who remains in Tehran. The government counters that the UTO continues to recruit new members and that former fighters of the UTO have hidden weapons rather than handing them over. Nonetheless, both sides have said all problems will be resolved shortly and that the work of the commission will resume. BP UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER IN TASHKENT. Ukrainian Prime Minister Valerii Pustovoitenko was in the Uzbek capital on 16 January to attend the second meeting of the Ukrainian- Uzbek cooperation commission, Tashkent Radio reported. The commission signed five agreements on cooperation in science and technology and improving communications between the two governments. Pustovoitenko also met with Uzbek Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov and reached a "preliminary agreement" on Uzbek shipments of up to 6 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine this year. They also discussed joint projects in passenger and cargo airplane construction and Ukrainian assistance in building new rail tracks in Uzbekistan. BP TURKMENISTAN RECEIVES SEAT ON UN SECRETARIAT. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov a letter on 17 January confirming Turkmenistan's seat in the UN Secretariat, ITAR-TASS reported. BP TURKMENISTAN READY TO BUY FRENCH OIL EQUIPMENT. The state-owned Turkmengeologiya corporation has made public its intention to purchase more than $9 million worth of equipment from the French company Sercel, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov ordered the Bank of Foreign Economics Activities to complete the necessary paper work to buy the equipment, which is expected to "increase the effectiveness of oil and gas prospecting and production" in Turkmenistan. BP FIRST KAZAKH OIL ARRIVES IN CHINA. A train carrying the first shipment of oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field to China arrived in western China's Uyghur Autonomous Republic on 17 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The 3,500 tons will be refined in western China. If Chinese experts approve the quality of the refined oil, Kazakhstan will ship up to 1 million metric tons of oil to China this year by rail. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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