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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 15, Part I, 23 January 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 15, Part I, 23 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 "PLEASED" WITH CIS CUSTOMS UNION SUMMIT * YELTSIN BLAMES REGIONS FOR UNPAID DEBTS * ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ANTI-TERRORISM MEASURE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx REGIONAL AFFAIRS YELTSIN "PLEASED" WITH CIS CUSTOMS UNION SUMMIT. Meeting in Moscow on 22 January, the presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan focused on "eight global political problems." Their prime ministers, meanwhile, discussed and signed documents on joint customs tariffs, coordination of their tax systems, forming a transport union, and unified transit tariffs. But the four presidents failed to reach agreement on a draft proposal by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who was chairing the meeting, to create a "common economic space" modeled on the EU. That draft, published by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 January, will be amended and resubmitted for discussion at the next Customs Union summit on 3 April. Nazarbayev told journalists that Yeltsin "resolutely supports" further integration among the four Customs Union members. Yeltsin,. meanwhile, said he was "pleased" by the "serious negotiations" at the summit, adding that "we must strive to make the CIS as a whole work in this way." LF RUSSIAN, BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTS PRAISE UNION. Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka have hailed the results of a 22 January session of the Supreme Council of the Russian- Belarusian Union, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin commented that cooperation between the two countries is "serious, it is for a long time, and it is not to be played with." The council passed a union budget of 5 trillion old rubles ($830 million), and coordinated a common foreign policy for 1998 and 1999. Lukashenka, who is also chairman of the council, said he and Yeltsin are satisfied with the results of the Union for the first time since it was founded. Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the budget is for financing joint programs "in priority spheres of cooperation." He added that the introduction of a common currency is not "too distant." PB GOVERNMENT LEADERS IN RIGA FOR BALTIC COUNCIL SUMMIT. Eleven heads of government from the Baltic and Nordic countries have arrived in Riga for a summit of the Council of Baltic Sea States, which aims to promote regional cooperation. On the agenda for the 23 January talks are the development of economic and trade relations, fighting crime, and EU expansion eastward. EU Commission President Jacques Santer is attending the talks. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is making his first visit to the Baltics since those countries gained independence and is scheduled to hold separate meetings with the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian premiers. Russia's Viktor Chernomyrdin is the first premier of that country to visit Latvia since 1991. He is to meet with Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told BNS that Riga hopes the meeting will bring about agreement on signing the bilateral border accord. JC POLISH PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH CHERNOMYRDIN. Jerzy Buzek met with Russian Premier Chernomyrdin in Riga on 22 January, Interfax reported. It was the first meeting between the two men. Main topics discussed were the possibility of building a gas pipeline across Poland, new border regulations imposed by Poland that have angered Russians, and the formation of a working group to help provide security for the Brest to Warsaw railroad. PB MOSCOW SAYS RUSSIA NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WW2 EVENTS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told RIA-Novosti on 22 January that "it would be naive to hope that Russia could take all responsibility for the acts committed by the pre-war Soviet Union." Nesterushkin was answering a question about Baltic reactions to an alleged letter from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the State Duma denying that the USSR forcefully annexed the Baltic States in 1940 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 January). Nesterushkin commented that instead of digging up "pre-World War Two events," more attention should be paid to future Russian-Baltic relations and to concrete steps in increasing trust and understanding in the Baltic Sea region. JC PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY OF ORTHODOX STATES IN CHISINAU. Anti-Western and anti-NATO statements were made at a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodox Church States that took place in Chisinau on 21 January. Russian philosopher Valerii Alekseev said that NATO is a "serious danger to mankind" and its eastward expansion will bring about a division of Europe. Moldovan parliamentary deputy Vlad Cubreacov told an RFE/RL Chisinau correspondent that the meeting marked "the first serious attempt by Russia since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union to re-establish and expand its influence zone, taking advantage of the Orthodox community of faith." The meeting was attended by representatives of Orthodox Churches from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Georgia. MS RUSSIA YELTSIN BLAMES REGIONS FOR UNPAID DEBTS. President Yeltsin on 23 January charged that regional leaders are to blame for the failure to pay all back wages to state employees by the end of 1997. In a nationwide radio address, Yeltsin claimed that "the money left Moscow on time" but that "significant sums went astray" in the regions. He specifically cited allegations that money earmarked for wages was used for other purposes in Tyumen and Volgograd Oblasts, adding that those responsible must be found and punished. Yeltsin said he has already ordered officials to determine how the money was spent and tell him within a week "who sabotaged the presidential decree" on paying the wage debts. In a recent meeting with top government ministers, the president appeared to reject attempts to blame regional officials for the failure to settle the debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1998). LB RUSSIA TO INTENSIFY CONTROL OVER ARMS TECHNOLOGY EXPORTS. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told Reuters on 22 January that Russia will tighten control over exports of goods and services that could be utilized to manufacture nuclear weapons. Shabdurasulov added that the agreement was reached during a telephone conversation on 17 January between Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore. But he declined to confirm that it is part of an effort to prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear missiles. LF KOTELKIN TO BE FIRED AFTER ALL. Minister of Foreign Relations and Trade Mikhail Fradkov has said that Aleksandr Kotelkin, appointed as one of his first deputies in September, 1997, will be dismissed in March, Interfax reported on 22 January. Fradkov said the move is in accordance with a 27 December government directive reducing the number of his first deputies by one and his deputy ministers by two. Over the past week, Russian government officials, including Fradkov, have made contradictory statements on Kotelkin's future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 21 January 1998). LF RUSSIA, JAPAN FORM COMMISSION FOR "PEACE" TREATY. Grigorii Karasin and Minoru Tamba, the deputy foreign ministers of Russia and Japan, met on 22 January in Moscow, Russian and Japanese media reported. The two sides agreed to form a commission, headed by the countries' foreign ministers, that will flesh out details for a treaty officially establishing peace between Russia and Japan. The Soviet Union and Japan signed a declaration in 1956 ending the state of war that existed between them during the Second World War, but they never concluded a formal peace agreement. Japanese Foreign Minster Keidzo Obuchi is due in Moscow in February for the first session of those peace talks. BP TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS BETTER RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA... In an interview with the "Turkish Daily News" on 23 January, Ismail Cem affirmed that both Turkey and Russia stand to gain a lot from improving bilateral relations as much as possible. Cem acknowledged there are "some barriers" to doing so, including Turkey's displeasure over Russia's planned sale to Greek Cyprus of S- 300 missiles. But he acknowledged the validity of Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's argument that the deal is "purely commercial." Cem affirmed that Russia has "no intention, and no interest" in trying to prevent the export of Caspian oil via Turkey. He indicated he would not oppose Russia's receiving a share of the oil to be exported via the projected Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. "We are seeking a framework in which all the related countries will be given shares," he added. LF ...AS DOES PKK CHAIRMAN. Meanwhile, Abdullah Ocalan, chairman of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), said in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 22 January, that he recently discussed with a visiting Russian State Duma delegation the prospects for a "strategic partnership" between Russia and the PKK. Ocalan argued that Turkey's increasing investments in Russia present a threat to Russian interests. Ocalan also admitted that the Russian authorities have cracked down on Kurdish organizations in Russia since Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's visit to Turkey in December 1997. LF AIR FORCE CHIEF ORDERED DOWNING OF KAL-007. Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov, the newly appointed commander of the Air Force, admitted during a 22 January interview with NTV that he issued the order to shoot down KAL flight 007 in September 1983. Kornukov was commander of air defense forces on Sakhalin when he ordered the downing of the South Korean airliner, which had 269 people aboard, including a U.S. congressman. Soviet officials charged that the civilian airplane, which was in Soviet air space, had been on a spy mission. Kornukov told NTV that he is convinced his decision was correct, adding, "sometimes in front-line operations, battalions were sacrificed to save armies. In this particular situation, I am absolutely sure even now that [the KAL flight] was planned, with very definite intentions." LB OIL COMPANIES WANT REDUCTIONS IN EXCISE DUTIES. Leaders of seven large Russian oil companies on 22 January issued an open letter to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and the parliament asking that various excise duties affecting the oil industry be reduced, in light of falling prices for oil on world markets, ITAR-TASS reported. The letter, signed by executives from LUKoil, Yukos, Sibneft, Sidanko, Komitek, Surgutneftegaz, and Slavneft, calls for excise duties on oil, gasoline, and various fuels and lubricants to be cut by half or more. It also calls for abolishing the new excise duty on oil transports, which Yeltsin signed into law earlier this month. Commenting on the appeal, minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin told ITAR-TASS that current taxes on Russian oil companies are "very high" and should be reduced. He added that the government has long been divided on the issue. LB LUKOIL-GAZPROM-SHELL MAY SKIP ROSNEFT AUCTION. LUKoil issued a statement on 22 January saying the consortium of LUKoil, Gazprom, and Royal Dutch Shell may not bid for a stake in the Rosneft oil company, Interfax reported. The consortium was formed last November. The new terms of the auction have not yet been made public, but it is rumored that the government may sell 50 percent plus one share of Rosneft rather than 75 percent of the company. The LUKoil statement said such terms "substantially limit the investment attractiveness of the company" and "will not provide for effective management of the company's subsidiaries." ITAR- TASS quoted Gazprom as confirming that the consortium may not bid for Rosneft. Royal Dutch Shell also said the new privatization plan makes acquiring Rosneft less attractive. Two other major consortia plan to bid for Rosneft: Sidanko and British Petroleum, and Yukos and Sibneft. LB ZYUGANOV DENIES PLOT AGAINST ROKHLIN. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 22 January denied that he, Yeltsin, and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin are involved in a "plot" to replace Lev Rokhlin as Duma Defense Committee Chairman, Russian news agencies reported. In a 21 January interview with Russian Public Television, Rokhlin alleged that Zyuganov has agreed to support his ouster and that, in exchange, the government has agreed to accept Communist proposals on forming a coalition government. Zyuganov said "Rokhlin's information is absolutely untrue," adding that no one has promised the Communists any government posts. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction, recently announced that Duma leaders have reached agreement on replacing Rokhlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). LB AUTHORITIES SEEKING REFERENDUM ON ELECTORAL SYSTEM? The Kremlin wants to hold a referendum on whether Russia's electoral system should be changed, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 January, citing unnamed sources in the presidential administration. Under the current electoral law, half of the 450 State Duma deputies are elected from party lists using a proportional representation system, while the other half are elected in single-member districts. The Kremlin wants all Duma deputies to be elected in districts (thereby decreasing the influence of political parties). However, the Duma is likely to reject such changes to the electoral law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997 and 16 January 1998). Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative in the Constitutional Court, has proposed that the referendum question be phrased as follows: "Do you want to be represented in the federal parliament by [political] parties, or do you want to elect your deputies directly?" LB SUICIDE RATE IN MILITARY REMAINS HIGH. Chief Military Prosecutor Yurii Demin announced on 22 January that suicides accounted for 487 out of the 1,103 non-combat deaths in the Russian military in 1997, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 January. In 1996, 430 suicides were recorded out of a total 1,046 non-combat deaths in the military; in 1995 there were 459 suicides and 1,017 non-combat deaths. Demin argued that draft commissions are partly to blame for the high suicide rate, since they sometimes admit conscripts who "suffer from chronic and psychiatric illnesses." Afanasii Kim, the military prosecutor of the Federal Border Service, called for laws to hold draft commissions responsible for drafting people who are unfit for military service. Other commentators have attributed the high suicide rate to other factors, such as frequent delays in wage payments, widespread hazing of young soldiers, and poor food and working conditions in the armed forces. LB GOVERNMENT BACKS PRIVATIZATION OF SOME CULTURAL MONUMENTS. The government announced at a 22 January cabinet meeting that it will support the privatization of many cultural assets currently owned by local and regional governments, Russian news agencies reported. According to First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, less than 1 percent of some 70,000 buildings listed as cultural monuments have been privatized. Both Nemtsov and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who chaired the cabinet meeting, argued that privatization can attract funds needed to restore such buildings. At the same time, the government agreed to prohibit the privatization of cultural assets of national significance, such as the state cinema archives. It also decided to seek various non-budgetary sources to finance cultural programs. According to Culture Minister Natalya Dementeva, government spending on culture in 1997 totaled just 12 percent of budget targets. LB CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST FORMER HEAD OF HOCKEY LEAGUE. The Prosecutor-General's Office has dropped all charges against former International Hockey League president Robert Cherenkov, who was arrested last August on suspicion of ordering the April 1997 murder of Russian Hockey League President Valentin Sych. Prosecutors have also issued an official apology to Cherenkov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 January. Investigators say that they have solved the murder, and that five suspects are already in custody. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ANTI-TERRORISM MEASURES. Levon Ter-Petrossyan on 22 January called on Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian to take "exhaustive measures" to preclude further attacks on senior officials, adding that he fears for the lives of senior government members. Presidential security chief Roman Ghazaryan, who escaped unhurt when shots were fired on his jeep on the night of 18 January, told ITAR-TASS on 22 January that additional security measures have been taken to protect Russian Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev during his two-day visit to Armenia, which began that day. LF ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DIFFER OVER SHOOTINGS. Parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakian and Armenian Pan-National Movement board chairman Vano Siradeghian have both characterized the shootings over the past six days as "terrorist incidents." Prime Minister Robert Kocharian told Interfax on 22 January that it is premature to pass such a judgment. He said he does not believe the shootings are connected to internal differences of opinion within the Armenian leadership, which, he added, concern tactics rather than the long-term objective of achieving a settlement to the conflict acceptable to the Karabakh leadership. Sahakian , however, suggested a connection between the shootings and the discord within the country's leadership. He also commented that the current situation of "diarchy...cannot last long," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian told AFP on 22 January that the movement does not want Kocharian to resign but does want the president to ensure the efficient functioning of the government. LF NEW MOVEMENT FORMED IN AZERBAIJAN. Ilyas Ismailov, leader of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, told journalists on 22 January that he has reached agreement with former Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev on forming a new movement that will seek to prevent election fraud, Turan reported. Last month, Guliev confirmed his intention to contest the presidential elections, scheduled for October. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office recently accused him of planning a coup against President Heidar Aliev. LF CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL MEETS IN TBILISI. Georgian and Abkhaz delegations to the Consultative Council for regulating the Abkhaz conflict met in Tbilisi on 22 January, Caucasus Press reported. Vazha Lortkipanidze, the head of the Georgian delegation, rejected as "preposterous" allegations by his Abkhaz counterpart, Tamaz Ketsba, that Georgian intelligence is responsible for ongoing sabotage in Abkhazia. Revaz Adamia, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission on defense and security issues, said the Abkhaz agreed at the meeting to unspecified measures to counter terrorism. But he added that the problem of terrorism and crime in Abkhazia "will not be solved" until all ethnic Georgians forced to flee the region during the 1992-1993 hostilities have been allowed to return. LF AZERBAIJAN TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY. President Aliev on 22 January announced he will amend the criminal code to abolish the death penalty and hopes that the parliament will endorse that decision. Azerbaijan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1993. The 128 people currently sentenced to death in Azerbaijan will have their sentences commuted to prolonged prison terms. Abolition of the death punishment is one of the preconditions for full membership in the Council of Europe. Meanwhile, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 22 January quotes International Red Cross officials as warning that the incidence in Azerbaijani prisons of a strain of tuberculosis resistant to several medications has risen dramatically and constitutes a "time bomb" that threatens the entire country. The disease has also spread to refugee camps and military barracks. LF TAJIK COMMISSION RESUMES WORK. The National Reconciliation Commission has met for the first time since United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri suspended his group's participation in the commission on 15 January, ITAR- TASS reported on 23 January. According to the news agency, representatives from the contact group, made up of guarantor nations of the Tajik peace accord, took part in the meeting. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is scheduled to meet first with UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem and later with Nuri. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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