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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 14, Part I, 22 January 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 14, Part I, 22 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * SEROV SAYS YELTSIN "SERIOUSLY CONCERNED" ABOUT CIS * CABINET MINISTERS DIFFER ON ECONOMIC GROWTH PROSPECTS *ARMENIAN RULING PARTY AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx REGIONAL AFFAIRS SEROV SAYS YELTSIN 'SERIOUSLY CONCERNED' ABOUT CIS... Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov told journalists on 21 January that President Boris Yeltsin is seriously concerned by the state of the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported. But Serov added that the Russian government has recently adopted a more "workmanlike" approach to CIS problems. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS that Yeltsin may propose new initiatives for strengthening CIS ties at a meeting on 22 January with the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, which are Russia's partners within the CIS Customs Union. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told Interfax on 21 January that the presidents will discuss creation of a common economic space, which he said all four support. LF ...BUT ADAMISHIN MORE UPBEAT. Appearing on NTV on 21 January, Russian Minister for CIS Relations Anatolii Adamishin argued that the time has come to determine whether the CIS should be a "consultative organ" or a forum for economic integration. He suggested that the center of gravity is increasingly shifting to the economic sphere, saying he believed agreement will be reached on the creation of a free trade zone. Adamishin conceded that the problems that have accumulated in inter-CIS relations do not mean that "the CIS is in need of rescuing." He expressed the hope that the March summit of CIS heads of state will yield agreement on a document outlining political relations within the CIS. LF PRIMAKOV UPBEAT ON RELATIONS WITH UKRAINE. Following a meeting in Moscow with his Ukrainian counterpart, Gennadiy Udovenko, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said Moscow and Kyiv have no problems "that would divide us or place us on different sides of a barricade," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Udovenko came to Moscow to prepare the ground for an informal meeting between Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 30-31 January. The two presidents are scheduled to have an official summit next month. Primakov dismissed speculation that the impromptu informal meeting was arranged because of problems related to February's official meeting. In addition, he predicted that the Russian State Duma will ratify the friendship treaty signed with Ukraine last May. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has also said the Duma will approve that treaty when it comes up for debate in early February. LB BALTIC PRESIDENTS CRITICIZE RUSSIAN STANCE ON 1940 ANNEXATION. The presidents of the three Baltic States have criticized an official letter reportedly sent by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev to the State Duma denying that the USSR forcefully annexed the Baltic States in 1940 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1998), according to Interfax on 21 January. Reports of the letter appeared recently in the Baltic media . Estonia's Lennart Meri is quoted as saying that Avdeev's letter shows "there are several people at the Russian Foreign Ministry who want to use the rhetoric of the past." According to BNS, Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas stressed that the "entire world" has acknowledged Lithuania was occupied from 1940 to 1990. Interfax reports that the Russian Foreign Ministry disagrees that the 1940 events can be viewed as occupation or annexation. It also declined to comment on whether the letter exists, saying "such information is confidential." JC VILNIUS ARGUES RUSSIA HAS ACKNOWLEDGED ANNEXATION. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry maintains that Russia has already officially acknowledged that the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania in 1940, BNS reported on 21 January, "The treaty between Lithuania and Russia, signed on 29 July 1991, states that the USSR will establish additional conditions for mutual trust between Lithuania and Russia after eliminating the consequences of the annexation of Lithuania in 1940," the ministry said in a statement. This, the ministry argued, indicates that the signatory countries acknowledged that Lithuania was annexed by the USSR. JC RUSSIA CABINET MINISTERS DIFFER ON ECONOMIC GROWTH PROSPECTS. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 21 January, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov predicted that Russia will achieve 4-5 percent economic growth this year. He added that growth is "as inevitable as the sunrise" but that the pace of growth will depend on how well the government, State Duma, and president coordinate their actions, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin told journalists that Russia is likely to register 2 percent growth in 1998, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 January, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the main threat to Russian economic growth this year is another potential crisis on Asian financial markets. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov recently cited domestic factors in explaining why he is not optimistic that Russia will achieve economic growth this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1998). LB DUMA ASKS COURT TO CLARIFY GROUNDS FOR ENDING PRESIDENT'S TERM. The Duma on 21 January asked the Constitutional Court to clarify Article 92 of the constitution, Interfax reported. Part 2 of that article says the president's term ends early if he resigns, is impeached, or shows "persistent incapacity to carry out his duties for health reasons." New presidential elections must then be held within three months. Part 3 of Article 92 says the prime minister will execute the president's duties "in all cases when" the president is unable to fulfill those duties. The Duma wants to know whether this provision refers only to the cases mentioned in part 2 or whether it foresees other circumstances under which the prime minister can become acting president. The Duma also wants the Court to clarify whether the president may resume his term after the prime minister has served as acting head of state. LB HEARINGS ON TROPHY ART CASE DELAYED. On 22 January, the Constitutional Court was to have considered the appeal by the Duma and Federation Council against Yeltsin's refusal to sign the trophy art law after both houses of the parliament overrode his veto. However, those hearings have been postponed indefinitely because the judge who was preparing the case for consideration has fallen ill, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 January. Article 107 of the constitution says the president is to sign a laws within seven days if both houses of the parliament override his veto. LB DUMA FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO ON BANKING LAW... The Duma on 21 January failed to override a presidential veto on amendments to the law on banks and banking activities, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Those amendments would have given regional branches of the Audit Chamber access to information on bank accounts of entrepreneurs whose companies receive money from regional budgets. It is widely believed that many companies misuse funds they receive from federal or regional governments. LB ...ASKS YELTSIN TO HELP PENSIONERS. Also on 21 January, the Duma adopted an appeal asking Yeltsin "to defend the older generation" in light of the upcoming revision of pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. As of 1 February, individual pensions will be recalculated, and the average monthly wage for the fourth quarter of 1997 will be used as a base for the new calculations. Earlier this month, the government issued a directive approving the Labor Ministry's estimate of that average at 760,000 old rubles ($127). However, the Duma's appeal cites data from the State Statistics Committee, which indicate that the average monthly wage from January to November 1997 was 945,000 rubles, while the average wage for December exceeded 1.2 million rubles. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov commented that the wage estimate approved by the government was based on contributions to the Pension Fund. LB YELTSIN ORDERS EQUAL TERMS FOR 'ALL-RUSSIAN' BROADCASTERS. Yeltsin has signed a decree ordering the government to provide equal conditions for "all-Russian television and radio broadcasting organizations," defined as media outlets that broadcast in more than half of the Russian regions, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. The decree names fully state-owned Russian Television, 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television (ORT), the private network NTV, and the state-owned Radio Mayak as "all-Russian television and radio broadcasting organizations." It also orders the government to charge such organizations equal rates for transmission services. LB DECREE IS VICTORY FOR NTV. Yeltsin's latest decree is a victory for the private network NTV, which will continue paying government rates for the use of state-owned transmission facilities, rather than the much higher commercial rates charged to other private broadcasters. The State Anti- Monopoly Committee recently ordered that NTV be forced to pay commercial rates, and NTV appealed that decision to the Moscow Arbitration Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). NTV gained the right to pay government rates for transmissions under a January 1996 agreement with the Communications Ministry. In subsequent months, the network strongly supported Yeltsin's re-election bid. NTV is 70 percent owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company and 30 percent owned by Gazprom. In recent months, the network's news coverage has been favorable to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and highly critical of First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov. LB UNPAID TEACHERS STAGE ONE-DAY STRIKE. Schools were closed in 78 Russian regions on 20 January as teachers staged a one-day strike to protest continuing wage arrears, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Teachers were supposed to have received all back wages by the end of 1997, but many are still owed several months' salaries. In addition, funds for textbooks and child allowances have not been paid out in many Russian regions. The situation is reported to be particularly bad in Krasnoyarsk Krai and in Sakhalin, Chita, Kamchatka, Orenburg, Perm, Vladimir, Voronezh, and Ulyanovsk Oblasts. LB NEWSPAPER SAYS GOVERNMENT FAILED TO PAY DEBTS. "Trud" charged on 21 January that according to State Statistics Committee data, "there was not a single region where debts to state employees were paid in full by the beginning of this year." The newspaper said debts to teachers totaled 1.382 billion new rubles ($230 million) as of 1 January. Workers in the health care sector were owed 574 million rubles, while debts to workers in science and culture totaled 530 million and 132 million, respectively. LB ANOTHER MAJOR OIL MERGER IMMINENT? Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 January that LUKoil and Sidanko may soon announce plans to merge. Spokesmen for LUKoil and for Oneksimbank, which owns a controlling stake in Sidanko, neither confirmed nor denied the report. LUKoil is the largest Russian oil company and ranks 224th on the Financial Times 500 list of corporations in terms of market capitalization, the "Financial Times" reported on 22 January. However, if the merger of the Yukos and Sibneft oil companies is approved, the new corporation Yuksi will surpass LUKoil in terms of oil production. In November, British Petroleum agreed to purchase 10 percent of Sidanko in preparation for a joint bid in the upcoming auction for Rosneft. The same month, LUKoil signed a memorandum of understanding with Gazprom and Royal-Dutch Shell on drawing up a joint proposal on participating in the Rosneft tender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). LB ROKHLIN ALLEGES 'PLOT' TO REMOVE HIM. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin alleged during an interview with ORT on 21 January that the president, government, and Communist faction in the Duma have plotted to remove him from the Defense Committee. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov on 21 January denied that any such plot exists, Russian news agencies reported. Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction in the Duma, recently announced that the heads of several Duma factions have agreed to replace Rokhlin when a January 1996 agreement on senior posts in the Duma is reviewed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). Meanwhile, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist, announced on 21 January that if Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov has agreed to allow Rokhlin to be replaced, "that does not mean that our whole faction agrees." LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN RULING PARTY AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT. In a one-page statement issued after its 21 January session, the Board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement--the senior member of the ruling Hanrapetutyun coalition--affirmed its support for President Levon Ter- Petrossyan's efforts to preserve constitutional order and guarantee the security and independence of the state. The board called on the Armenian authorities and on political forces in both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to avoid jeopardizing the continuation of talks under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on resolving the Karabakh crisis. It also requested they refrain from "representing differences that can be resolved as a standoff between two factions of the Armenian people" and from inappropriate and insulting behavior during political debate. They called for "resolute measures" to prevent further terrorist attacks. LF ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT NOT TO RESPOND TO CHARGES OF INDIFFERENCE. An Armenian government spokeswoman on 21 January told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that the government will not issue an official statement in response to accusations made earlier that day by leading members of the Armenian Pan-National Movement. Board members had accused the government of Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan of "indifference" in the wake of the recent attacks on the head of the presidential security service, the head of the internal troops, and the head of Yerevan's Avan district. The spokeswoman said it is "questionable" whether there is a connection between the three attacks. LF CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Newsline" on 21 January misquoted members of the Armenian Pan-National Movement as telling RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that they plan to call on President Levon Ter-Petrossyan to fire Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian and possibly the entire government. This report was based on a editorial error by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. STROEV VISITS TBILISI. On the first leg of a tour of the Transcaucasus States, Russian Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev met in Tbilisi on 21 January with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Stroev and Shevardnadze affirmed their shared commitment to resolving problems in bilateral relations, particularly the refusal by Russian border guards to allow trucks carrying alcohol to cross the frontier from Georgia to Russia. Shevardnadze expressed his appreciation for Russia's role in seeking to mediate a settlement of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts. LF GEORGIA WILL NOT FORMALLY RECOGNIZE CHECHNYA. Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Ukleba told Interfax on 21 January that Tbilisi will coordinate its Chechen policy with Moscow. Acting Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, speaking to the Georgian press on 18 January, said bilateral ties should be "invigorated" and that he would attempt to establish "official contacts" with the Georgian Foreign Ministry. In his New Year's address, Georgian President Shevardnadze affirmed that while Georgian relations with Chechnya must be normal and neighborly, they are nonetheless based on the principle of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. LF GEORGIA, ARMENIA DISCUSS REGIONAL COOPERATION. Meeting in Tbilisi on 21 January, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and Armenian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian discussed bilateral and regional cooperation. Their talks focused on the TRACECA project to create a transport corridor from Central Asia via the Caucasus to Europe and on possible joint projects within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Oskanian informed "RFE/RL Newsline" on 22 January. They also evaluated the potential for coordinating the two countries' policies on integration into European structures and agreed to intensify engagement in southeast European regional initiatives. LF GEORGIA WANTS MILITARY COOPERATION WITH CHINA, NATO. Georgian and Chinese military experts are drafting a series of agreements on military and military-technical cooperation between the two countries, Caucasus Press reported on 20 January. That announcement follows a meeting between Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and Chinese Ambassador to Georgia Zhang Yongquan. Nadibaidze has also suggested to German Ambassador to Georgia Norbert Bass that Georgia host the maneuvers scheduled for later this year under NATO's Partnership for Peace program. LF MKHEDRIONI TRIAL CONTINUES. Giving evidence at the trial of 15 members of the now banned paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, former Deputy Interior Minister Temuri Khachishvili denied any involvement either in the failed attempt to kill Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995 or in several political assassinations, Caucasus Press reported on 21 January. But Khachishvili said the Ministry of National Security had been aware of plans to kill Shevardnadze. He claimed that former National Security Minister Shota Kviraia and Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili had asked him to kill Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. He also said that the 1993 assassination of Shevardnadze's close associate Soliko Khabeishvili was contracted by a Georgian businessman living abroad. LF UN OFFICIAL ATTEMPTS TO BREAK TAJIK DEADLOCK. Gerd Merrem, UN special envoy to Tajikistan, is in Dushanbe attempting to persuade the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to resume their efforts toward cooperation, RFE/RL correspondents there reported. On 21 January, Merrem met with UTO leader and head of the National Reconciliation Commission Said Abdullo Nuri, who had suspended the UTO's participation in the commission on 15 January claiming the government was not fulfilling its obligations under the June 1997 peace agreement. Merrem secured a promise from Nuri to meet with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Merrem is scheduled to meet with Rakhmonov on 23 January. BP NAZARBAYEV WANTS CONSORTIUM CHIEF REPLACED. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 January that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is currently in Moscow for the CIS Customs Union summit, will seek the dismissal of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium director-general, Vladimir Stanev, in private meetings with his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" writes that the Kazakh leadership believes the consortium is "not operating efficiently and needs restructuring." "Rossiiskaya gazeta" suggests that U.S. oil companies involved in the project "managed to persuade Kazakhstan to take their side and demand Stanev's replacement by a U.S. representative." It adds that U.S. companies have "effectively ceased to fund work" within the consortium until Stanev is replaced. BP PENSIONERS DEMONSTRATE IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL. RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported that on 22 January, some 1,000 people picketed the government building. Most were pensioners protesting the parliament's rejection several days earlier of amendments whereby all pensioners would receive 500 som (about $30) a month. Currently, only those who retired after 1994 receive that amount; those who retired before 1994 receive 200 som a month. Government statistics show there are currently 547,000 pensioners in Kyrgyzstan, of whom 412,000 retired before 1994. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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