History is made out of the failures and heroism of each insignificant moment. - Franz Kafka
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 21, Part I, 2 February 1998



___________________________________________________________

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 21, Part I, 2 February 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


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MonacoNow available on the RFE/RL Web site,
RUSSIA'S FINANCIAL EMPIRES. This special report profiles the "big
seven" Russian commercial banks and gives background information on
Russia's banking system. The report is located at:

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Headlines, Part I


* RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ACTIVE IN IRAQI CRISIS


* YELTSIN'S DENIAL OF RE-ELECTION PLANS RAISES DOUBTS


* ARMENIAN RALLY DEMANDS 'RETURN TO COMMUNISM'


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RUSSIA


RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ACTIVE IN IRAQI CRISIS. Leading Russian officials are
attempting to find a peaceful solution to the standoff between Iraq and
some western countries over the right to inspect possible weapons sites
in Iraq. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov held talks with U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Madrid on 30 and though
Primakov said later that the talks were "useful," Albright still
described the situation as "very grave" and said diplomatic solutions
were "all but exhausted." Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met with
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Davos, Switzerland on 31 January and
repeated that Moscow objects to the use of force in the Middle East. On
1 February, President Boris Yeltsin sent his special envoy to the
Middle East, Viktor Posuvalyuk, to Iraq, his second trip there in a
week, to continue attempts to mediate the crisis. BP


YELTSIN, KUCHMA HOLD INFORMAL TALKS. Yeltsin and his Ukrainian
counterpart Leonid Kuchma found much to agree on during informal talks
in Moscow on 30-31 January, RFE/RL correspondents in Moscow and Kyiv
reported. Yeltsin announced that in the next Ukrainian presidential
election, scheduled for 1999, he will back Kuchma. In a joint statement
released on 31 January, the two presidents praised "the process of
positive changes in Russian-Ukrainian relations" and confirmed that
they will sign a program on economic cooperation during Kuchma's formal
visit to Russia, planned for late February. (Russia and Ukraine have
previously agreed to stop charging VAT on each other's imports as of 1
February.) However, the joint statement criticized "an unjustified
delay" in settling some issues, such as the demarcation of the
Russian-Ukrainian border and the implementation of agreements on
dividing the Black Sea Fleet, Russian news agencies reported. LB


YELTSIN'S DENIAL OF RE-ELECTION PLANS RAISES DOUBTS. Russian
commentators remain unconvinced that Yeltsin has ruled out running for
re-election in 2000. Yeltsin announced on 30 January that he will not
seek a third term as president because he "will not violate the
constitution," which says a president can serve only two consecutive
terms. However, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told NTV
the same day that the Constitutional Court will give "a new word in the
political life" of Russia when it decides whether Yeltsin may legally
seek re-election. Some presidential advisers have argued that Yeltsin
is entitled to do so, since the current constitution was not in effect
when Yeltsin was first elected president in 1991. "Russkii telegraf"
argued on 31 January that Yeltsin's recent statement leaves open the
possibility that he will seek re-election if the court rules that he
may do so. LB


CHERNOMYRDIN, CHUBAIS DOWNPLAY RUMORS OF RESHUFFLE...Prime Minister
Chernomyrdin announced on 30 January that First Deputy Prime Ministers
Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov will not resign from the government.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,
Chernomyrdin advised journalists to "wait and see" and declined to
comment directly on Yeltsin's statement that "one or two" faces in the
government may change (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998).
Yeltsin's comment renewed speculation in the Russian media that Chubais
or Nemtsov may soon be forced out of the cabinet. Speaking to reporters
in Davos on 30 January and in Moscow the next day, Chubais said major
changes in the Russian government are unlikely. LB


...EXPRESS OPTIMISM ABOUT RUSSIAN ECONOMY. Both Chernomyrdin and
Chubais were upbeat about the state of the Russian economy in speeches
delivered to the World Economic Forum, Russian news agencies reported.
Chernomyrdin described as "realistic" Russia's goal to attract $20
billion in foreign investment annually by 2000. Chubais again said the
financial crisis on Asian markets poses the greatest threat to the
Russian economy and the stability of the ruble. However, he expressed
confidence that the current financial crisis in Russia will last no
longer than 10 days. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, who also
attended the forum, dismissed the upbeat comments by Chernomyrdin and
Chubais as "forced optimism" designed to attract foreign investment,
RFE/RL's correspondent in Davos reported on 31 January. LB


REACTION TO INTEREST RATE HIKE. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin
confirmed on 30 January that the decision to raise the refinancing rate
to 42 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998) was intended to
"nip panic in the bud" and prevent a devaluation of the ruble, Russian
news agencies reported. The pressure on the ruble is reflected in the
continuing decline of Russia's gold and hard-currency reserves. Dubinin
announced on 30 January that those reserves totaled some $16 billion at
the end of January, down from $18 billion at the end of December.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 31 January, Chubais praised the
decision to raise the refinancing rate and denied that a ruble
devaluation is imminent, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, Duma
deputy Sergei Ivanenko of Yabloko told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 2
February that the interest rate hike and current high yields on Russian
treasury bills will reduce investment in Russian industry and make it
more difficult to fulfill the 1998 budget. LB


BEREZOVSKII ON NEED TO PREPARE FOR NEXT ELECTIONS. Former Security
Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told ITAR-TASS on 1 February
that Russia's major businessmen are already discussing the next
parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 1999 and 2000,
respectively. He said Russian business cannot afford a repeat of the
last election cycle, during which financial interests began preparing
for the 1996 presidential election only five months before the vote.
Berezovskii and several other powerful businessmen agreed to back
Yeltsin's re-election effort at the Davos forum in February 1996.
However, since mid-1997 fierce rivalries among those businessmen have
emerged over privatization. Financial and industrial groups now appear
unlikely to agree on a common candidate in the next presidential race.
LB


YELTSIN HOPES COURT WILL SUPPORT HIM ON ELECTORAL LAW. Yeltsin told
journalists on 30 January that he hopes the Constitutional Court will
support his stand on the electoral law, Russian news agencies reported.
The president is seeking to abolish the current proportional
representation system, under which half of the seats in the State Duma
are distributed among electoral blocs that receive more than five
percent of the vote. In November 1995 and again last November, the
court has refused to consider appeals claiming that the law is
unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). Yeltsin
introduced the proportional representation system in a 1993 decree
outlining rules for elections to the Duma that year. However, groups
that supported him and his government fared poorly in both the 1993 and
the 1995 Duma elections. The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the
current electoral system last April. LB


CHERNOMYRDIN BEGINS VACATION. Chernomyrdin began a two-week vacation on
2 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The premier plans to stay near Moscow
and will continue to sign government documents during his vacation.
Chernomyrdin said on 31 January that he will undergo routine medical
tests at the Barvikha sanitorium during his vacation, Reuters reported.
Chernomyrdin and government spokesman have denied recent speculation
that the prime minister may have health problems (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 15 and 16 January 1998). LB


COMMISSION RECOMMENDS BURYING LAST TSAR IN ST. PETERSBURG. First Deputy
Prime Minister Nemtsov announced on 30 January that most members of a
commission studying the remains of Nicholas II and his family have
recommended that Russia's last tsar be buried in St. Petersburg's Peter
and Paul fortress, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Nemtsov said
exhaustive scientific tests have confirmed the authenticity of the
remains. He added that living relatives of Nicholas II, who were
questioned by the commission, unanimously favor burying the tsar in St.
Petersburg, where all Russian monarchs since Peter the Great were
buried. The commission has also recommended that the burial take place
on 17 July, which will be the 80th anniversary of the murder of the
tsar's family. Yeltsin is to make the final decision on where and when
the burial will take place. LB


ROSSEL LOBBYING FOR YEKATERINBURG BURIAL. Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor
Eduard Rossel has continued to press his case for burying Nicholas II
and his family in Yekaterinburg, where they were killed in 1918. Rossel
argued for a Yekaterinburg burial during a 29 January meeting with
Yeltsin, who is a native of the oblast. Appearing on NTV the same day,
Rossel claimed that a scholar in Yekaterinburg knows where to find the
remains of Nicholas's son Aleksei and one of the tsar's daughters,
whose remains were not found with the bones of the rest of the family.
However, Rossel said, the scholar will not reveal the location of the
remains of the two children unless the tsar's family is buried in
Yekaterinburg. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1
February, Viktor Aksyuchits, an adviser to Nemtsov, characterized
Rossel's statements as attempted "blackmail." LB


PROSECUTOR GIVES GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS ON CRIME STATISTICS.
Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov announced on 30 January that the
number of registered crimes in Russia was nearly 9 percent lower in
1997 than in 1996, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Juvenile crimes
were officially down by nearly 10 percent, he added. However, Skuratov
acknowledged that the real crime rate in Russia is probably three to
four times higher than official statistics indicate, ITAR-TASS
reported. He noted that while the Interior Ministry registered
2,387,000 crimes in 1997, experts believe nearly 10 million crimes were
committed. He attributed the discrepancy both to the refusal of police
to register crimes (in order to keep statistics low) and the reluctance
of victims to report them. LB


CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST BASAEV STILL OPEN. Also on 30 January, Skuratov
said he sees no grounds for closing the criminal case against acting
Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.
Basaev is wanted in Russia on terrorism charges for leading a raid on
Budennovsk (in Stavropol Krai) in June 1995. Skuratov said the case
against Basaev will remain open until either the State Duma approves an
amnesty for him or Yeltsin pardons him. LB


AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATING MANAGEMENT OF ELECTRICITY GIANT. Skuratov
announced on 30 January that a criminal investigation into the
management of the state-controlled electricity giant Unified Energy
System (EES) is ongoing, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Following an
unsuccessful attempt by the EES board of directors to remove top
executive Boris Brevnov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998),
Brevnov and Anatolii Dyakov, the chairman of the EES board, accused
each other of financial improprieties. Skuratov said Brevnov is to
return 130 million old rubles ($22,000) to the EES budget for using a
company plane for his family's personal travel. Meanwhile, First Deputy
Prime Minister Nemtsov, who brought Brevnov in as EES head, on 30
January described the conflict as a clash between "the old semi-party
and semi-planned economy approach" to managing and a "new approach,"
Russian agencies reported. LB


VISIT TO GERMANY DOESN'T PUT SERGEEV AT EASE. Russian Defense Minister
Igor Sergeev was in Germany on 28-29 January, Russian media reported.
Sergeev met with his German counterpart Volker Ruehe and Foreign
Minister Klaus Kinkel in Bonn to discuss a range of issues. Sergeev
agreed that the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia should continue after
the SFOR mandate expires this summer. Sergeev expressed his country's
displeasure at NATO expansion, however, as it "doesn't threaten anybody
except Russia." He also objected to NATO plans for a
German-Danish-Polish corps in Szczecin, Poland. Ruehe said Germany will
stop financing a retraining program for retired Russian officers. More
than 30,000 have already been retrained for civilian jobs. BP


HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEMAND OUSTER OF KULIKOV. Representatives of
several human rights groups, including the Moscow Helsinki Group,
Memorial, the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, and the Glasnost Defense
Foundation, have called for the dismissal of Interior Minister Anatolii
Kulikov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 30 January. In particular,
the human rights activists criticized Kulikov's recent call for
preventive strikes in Chechnya. They also charged that Kulikov has
overseen extensive corruption and should be held responsible for the
"lawless" behavior of the police and the Interior Ministry troops. LB


RUSSIAN GARRISON ATTACKED IN DAGESTAN. An unidentified man threw a
grenade at the barracks of a Russian garrison in Buinaksk on 1
February, Interfax reported.  No one was injured. But Col. Valentin
Astafyev, the spokesman for the North Caucasian Military District, said
that the question "why do armed bandits feel safe in Buinaksk" remains
open. PG


TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA


ARMENIAN RALLY DEMANDS 'RETURN TO COMMUNISM.' More than 10,000 people
on 31 January participated in a communist-led rally calling for the
restoration of the communist system and the resignation of the current
government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Sergei Badalian, the
first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party, said that President
Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his government must resign and be replaced by
one that will end privatization and restore social security benefits.
In another indication of the problems facing Armenia, Yerevan Mayor
Vano Siradegyan has resigned, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February. Because
Siradegyan is also the head of the ruling Armenian National Movement
party, his departure will further complicate Ter-Petrosyan's political
standing. PG


AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT: IMPROVED U.S.-IRANIAN TIES KEY TO PEACE. Heidar
Aliev told visiting RFE/RL President Thomas Dine on 31 January that he
believes an improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations can contribute to
peace and stability in the Caucasus, RFE/RL reported. In other remarks,
he reaffirmed Baku's willingness to accept the OSCE Minsk Group plan
for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, and he urged the U.S. to
lift its restrictions on aid to his country. The Azerbaijani leader
indicated that he expects to win reelection in October, Interfax
reported. PG


UN EXTENDS MANDATE FOR OBSERVER MISSION IN GEORGIA. The United Nations
Security Council on 30 January extended the mandate of the UN observer
mission in Georgia for another six months, ITAR-TASS reported 31
January. The mission monitors the situation in and around Abkhazia. In
extending this mandate, the council called on all the parties of the
conflict to redouble their efforts to find a peaceful solution. PG


GERMAN PRESIDENT VISITS KYRGYZSTAN. German President Roman Herzog
arrived in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on 1 February for a three-day
visit, RFE/RL correspondents and dpa reported. Herzog and Kyrgyz
President Askar Akayev were present at the signing of a cooperation
agreement in the fight against drug trafficking. The German president
will also meet members of the German community in Kyrgyzstan, whose
numbers have fallen from 120,000 in 1989 to some 20,000. According to
dpa, Herzog is the first head of state from a western country to visit
Kyrgyzstan since it gained independence. BP


END NOTE


POST-COMMUNIST STATES DIVERGE ON HUMAN RIGHTS


by Paul Goble


        During 1997, some post-communist governments made significant progress
in improving the protection of the human rights in their countries.
Others failed to do so or even retreated from earlier gains. But all
continue to face challenges in bringing their domestic performance up
to their international commitments.

        That is the conclusion of the U.S. State Department in its annual
survey of human rights around the world, a document explicitly used to
guide American policy and carefully read by many as an indication of
both conditions on the ground and American concerns about particular
countries.

        As has been the case since its inception 20 years ago, this year's
report generally avoids any classification of countries according to
their political pasts. An exception is the survey's discussion of
countries included in a section called "Countries in Transition." But a
reading of its chapters on the post-communist countries suggests that
the U.S. has reached three more general conclusions about them.

        First, the report notes a growing divergence in the performance of
post-communist states, an acknowledgment by Washington that these
countries are moving in this area -- as in so many others -- along very
different tracks and at very different speeds.

        Second, the report explicitly delinks progress toward democracy and
progress toward free market reforms, and it notes that many of the
problems in these countries stem from the weakness of state structures
rather than ill-will on the part of leaders.

        And third, the report calls attention to the growing fear and
suspicion of minority groups in many parts of Europe -- both in the
traditional democracies and in former communist countries -- a
development that the report suggests is of particular concern.

        More specifically, the State Department report draws the following
conclusions about the countries monitored by "RFE/RL Newsline":

        RUSSIA. Noting that Russia "continues to be a state in transition,"
the report says that its democratization is slow, its judiciary weak,
and its leaders unable to implement their own laws and commitments. The
report sharply criticizes conditions in Russian prisons, targeting by
the police of darker-skinned people in general and citizens from the
Caucasus in particular, and restrictions on freedom of the press. But
it is especially critical of the new Russian law on religion, a law
already being used by some officials to harass certain religious
groups.

        TRANSCAUCASUS and CENTRAL ASIA. The report suggests that the three
Transcaucasian countries are moving in very different directions, while
the five Central Asian states are generally doing more poorly. It says
that Azerbaijan has made significant progress toward economic reform
but taken few steps toward democracy. It also criticizes conditions in
both Armenia and Georgia but notes that in Georgia, an increasingly
assertive parliament and population have restrained law enforcement
agencies.

        Across Central Asia, the report suggests that basic freedoms are
curtailed by legislatures and judiciaries still subordinate to powerful
presidents. But it indicates that conditions in Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan are not as bad as elsewhere.

        EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE. The status of human rights also varied widely
among the countries in this region, according to the report. It
suggested that Belarus, under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has
moved backwards in virtually all areas. The report gives a mixed
picture of Ukraine, identifying it as a country in transition with
problems arising from the inheritances of Soviet times and flowing from
the weaknesses of the country's political structures. It praised the
three Baltic countries for progress on most issues but noted their
continuing difficulties with prisons and, in the case of Latvia and
Estonia, with those ethnic Russians who lack citizenship. The report
gave generally high marks to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic,
while decrying growing popular hostility toward the Roma and other
minorities in the latter. It was more critical of conditions in
Slovakia.

        SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE. The State Department report found that the status
of human rights in Albania had declined sharply during the country's
general breakdown last year and had made only a modest recovery since
then. It suggested that Romania generally respects human rights but
criticized the government's lack of effective control over the actions
of police, poor prison conditions, and ill treatment of women and Roma.
It criticized Bulgaria for its inability to control its own officials.
Both of these countries, the report said, have passed laws that tend to
restrict religious freedoms.

        Concerning the successor states to Yugoslavia, the report praised
Bosnia-Herzegovina for significant progress on human rights. It also
gave high marks to Slovenia and Montenegro. But the report said that
the record remained mixed in Croatia and Macedonia. And it concluded
that the situation in Serbia was extremely bad with serious human
rights abuses on virtually every front.

        As in the past, those governments that received high marks are likely
to tout them as a mark of their standing internationally, while those
leaders that did not will criticize the report as biased or incomplete.
But as this year's report makes very clear, there are no easy answers
or final victories in the cause of human rights.




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