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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 26, Part I, 9 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 26, Part I, 9 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * RUSSIAN DEPUTIES AWAIT PASSAGE TO BAGHDAD * MINISTRY REVISES GROWTH FORECAST DOWNWARD * ARMENIAN ACTING PRESIDENT HOPES FOR MINSK GROUP SUCCESS * End Note: RUSSIA CRITICIZES PLANS TO CREATE NORTH-EAST NATO CORPS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIAN DEPUTIES AWAIT PASSAGE TO BAGHDAD. A Russian Il-86 plane carrying some 50 State Duma deputies and humanitarian aid to Baghdad is sitting on a runway in Yerevan, Armenia. The Russian Foreign Ministry informed the UN of the special flight on 5 February, but a report from the UN Sanctions Committee later that day said "some questions had arisen." Duma leaders voted to postpone the flight's departure by one day, until 9 February, but leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky reached an agreement with Armenian officials whereby the plane could land in Yerevan on 8 February. In the absence of any official word from the UN, both Azerbaijan and Iran have denied the flight passage through their airspace. BP DEPUTIES RESPOND TO FLIGHT DELAY. Zhirinovsky said delays in granting permission for the flight to continue to Baghdad are "humiliating and outrageous." He threatened to demand the Russian government's resignation if the plane is not allowed to reach Baghdad. He also commented that if the plane does not leave the Armenian capital, "it will mean America has declared a third world war." The deputies aboard the plane have declared a hunger strike until the aircraft is permitted to continue its journey. In Moscow, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said permission could come in "a day or a week." Deputies from the Yabloko, Russia is Our Home, and Russian Regions factions all opposed sending their members to Iraq. BP PRIMAKOV ON IRAQI CRISIS. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, speaking on Russian Television on 8 February, repeated Moscow's position that a strike by the U.S. and the UK against Iraq would serve no good purpose. He noted that, unlike in 1991, "almost all the Arab countries oppose force." Primakov said he is in favor of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visiting Iraq. He also advocated that the UN special commission investigating suspect sites in Iraq "close at least the nuclear file" to show Baghdad that there is "light at the end of the tunnel." Commenting on Russia's relations with the U.S., Primakov said just because Russia opposes the use of force against Iraq, "it doesn't mean we are against the United States." He added that we agree that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq must be eliminated...[but] we will not allow anyone to speak to us in a commanding tone." BP MINISTRY REVISES GROWTH FORECAST DOWNWARD. The Economics Ministry has revised its forecast for 1998 economic growth from 2 percent of GDP to 1.2 percent, "Russkii telegraf" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February. First Deputy Economics Minister Ivan Materov said the ministry changed its estimate in light of the turmoil on Russian financial markets and the recent increase in the Central Bank's refinancing rate to 42 percent. The draft 1998 budget assumes a growth rate of 2 percent. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says the government "must aim for growth higher than the original forecast" of 2 percent. In an interview published in the weekly "Interfax-AiF" on 9 February, the premier argued that last year, the government created "strong preconditions for economic growth." Yeltsin has demanded that the government provide for 2-4 percent GDP growth in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 22 January 1998). LB DUMA PASSES LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCEDURE... The Duma on 6 February approved a law outlining the procedure through which constitutional amendments may be adopted, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Segodnya" reported. Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of State Duma deputies, three-quarters of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in two-thirds of the Russian regions. An earlier version of the law, which was rejected by the Federation Council last December, included a provision on "silent assent," whereby regional legislatures would be considered to have approved proposed constitutional amendments if they did not vote on them within six months. The version approved on 6 February requires regional legislatures to submit written confirmation that they have approved proposed amendments. This revision will make it much more difficult to change the constitution, since regional legislatures may block amendments simply by refusing to vote on them. LB ...FAILS TO AMEND LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. Also on 6 February, the Duma failed to approve an amendment to the federal constitutional law on the Constitutional Court that would have made it more difficult for the court to refuse to consider certain appeals, "Segodnya" reported on 7 February. Yabloko deputy Yelena Mizulina had supported that amendment, which gained only 228 votes, well short of the 300 votes needed to approve changes to constitutional laws. Mizulina cited the court's refusal in July 1995 to consider a parliamentary appeal against a November 1994 presidential decree that authorized the deployment of Russian troops in Chechnya. By the time the case reached the court, Yeltsin had rescinded the decree, and the majority of judges ruled that it was beyond the court's jurisdiction to consider the decree's legality (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 1 and 2 August 1995). LB SCHISM EMERGES IN POPULAR POWER FACTION. The Popular Power faction is divided between supporters of its two most prominent members, faction leader Nikolai Ryzhkov and Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin. When the Duma considered the budget in the third reading on 5 February, 19 Popular Power deputies defied Ryzhkov's instruction and voted against the document. Following the budget vote, Popular Power deputies called a meeting at which 16 voted to replace Ryzhkov with Baburin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 6 February. Baburin's supporters accuse Ryzhkov of cooperating with the authorities--an accusation that Baburin has repeatedly leveled at Communist leaders. However, even if Baburin and his allies quit the 41-member faction, the Communist Party is expected to delegate enough deputies to keep Popular Power above the minimum requirement of 35 members. Baburin was recently replaced as Duma deputy speaker in charge of CIS-related issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). LB SELEZNEV SAYS ROKHLIN HINDERING IMPORTANT LEGISLATION. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has urged Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin to resign because his presence is hindering the adoption of important laws on military reform and the status of military personnel. In an interview published in the 5 February edition of "Vechernyaya Moskva," Seleznev said that since Rokhlin founded an opposition movement last year, it has become more difficult to get "laws that the army needs" approved. He noted that when the Kremlin is dissatisfied with a Duma committee's chairman, the presidential administration's legal department easily finds reasons to have Yeltsin return laws to the parliament. Communist leaders supported Rokhlin when he began to sharply criticize the authorities last year, but they recently agreed to let the pro-government faction Our Home Is Russia (NDR) replace Rokhlin as Defense Committee chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 January 1998). LB GOVERNMENT ISSUES REGISTRATION RULES FOR FOREIGN RELIGIOUS GROUPS. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 2 February signed a government directive on procedures for registering foreign religious associations with the Russian Justice Ministry and its branches in the regions, Interfax reported on 6 February. The directive follows from the religion law adopted last September, which Russian officials have promised not to implement in a discriminatory manner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 6 February 1998). Within the next six months, offices representing foreign religious groups must be registered as religious organizations or face closure. According to the directive, foreign religious associations that do not have the status of a religious organization are prohibited from engaging in religious activities. Registration certificates will be valid for three years but may be revoked if the authorities determine that a foreign religious organization is violating Russian legislation. LB FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER LOSES LIBEL LAWSUIT. A Moscow city court on 6 February rejected Valentin Kovalev's lawsuit against the weekly tabloid "Sovershenno sekretno," Russian news agencies reported. Kovalev was replaced as justice minister soon after an expose appeared in "Sovershenno sekretno" last June. The newspaper published photographs from a videotape allegedly showing Kovalev with nude women in the sauna of a club reportedly frequented by organized crime figures. Kovalev charged that the photographs were fabricated and harmed his reputation, but the court considered both them and the videotape to be authentic. Kovalev's attorney said he plans to appeal the ruling to the Moscow City Court. LB CHECHEN PRESIDENT THREATENS ANTI-MOSCOW MEASURES... Angered by the slow pace of negotiations with Russia and under pressure from radicals at home, Aslan Maskhadov told a television audience on 6 February that he plans to recall Chechen representatives from Moscow and ban Chechen travel to Russia. He also threatened to revise a Chechen-Russian accord on oil transit because Moscow has not lived up to its promises to help rebuild Chechnya. The same day, his government announced that it is responding to a Russian build-up along the Chechen-Dagestani border with one of its own. PG ...THEN BACKS DOWN. But on 7 February, Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told Ekho Moskvy radio that Maskhadov has not given such orders. The same day, Maskhadov told Interfax that he is still open to talks. He indicated that all problems between Chechnya and Russia could be solved, if only Moscow would recognize Chechen independence. Maskhadov's position, however, satisfied few people. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin denounced it as provocative, according to ITAR-TASS. Former Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, for his part, criticized Maskhadov for failing to press Moscow still harder. PG POLISH HOSTAGES RELEASED IN CHECHNYA. Five Polish aid workers taken hostage in Chechnya several weeks ago have been rescued, Reuters reported on 9 February. The aid workers were captured while delivering humanitarian aid in mid-December. A ransom of $3 million had been sought by the captors. Chechnya's National Security Service said two people have been arrested in connection with the abductions and will face the "harshest" punishment. PB PETITION CALLS FOR ELECTION IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA. More than 50,000 residents of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia have signed a petition to Yeltsin demanding that a presidential election be held in the republic, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 5 February. The petition drive was organized by managers of the local firm Merkurii, whose former head is considered a strong contender if presidential elections are held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1998). It has attracted significant support, considering that republic's population is estimated at 436,000. The current leader of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Vladimir Khubiev, has been the top official in the area for 18 years. In all other regions of the Russian Federation, leaders have been forced to face elections, but in 1995 Yeltsin issued a decree allowing elections in Karachaevo-Cherkessia to be postponed until 1999. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN ACTING PRESIDENT HOPES FOR MINSK GROUP SUCCESS... Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan said on 7 February that he hopes for a resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. But Kocharyan added it would be "correct" for the three Minsk Group co-chairmen to express their support for parallel direct talks between the Karabakh and Azerbaijani leaderships, which Baku has consistently rejected. Kocharyan's comments came during a meeting with RFE/RL President Thomas Dine. The Armenian Foreign Ministry also released a statement restating Yerevan's support for the Minsk process and suggesting recent reports that fighting might resume are incorrect. LF ...BUT CRITICIZES PREDECESSOR'S APPROACH TO TALKS. Kocharyan also said that the West had considered former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's policy of "concessions and exaggerated compromise" to be the best way of resolving the conflict but that this had proved not to be the case. He said Armenia's "softer" approach had deterred Azerbaijan from embarking on direct talks with the Karabakh leadership and caused the Karabakh leadership to lose trust in Armenia. He added that confidence-building measures are vital to resolving the conflict, including the deployment at the front line of observers who would clarify all violations of the existing cease-fire. LF ARMENIAN DASHNAK PARTY AGAIN LEGAL. The Armenian Justice Ministry on 9 February re-legalized the Dashnak Party (HHD), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That party was banned by Ter-Petrossyan in December 1994 on the basis of charges that it had maintained a clandestine terrorist arm. But subsequent trials failed to find a link. Dashnak leaders maintained that the ban was politically motivated and designed to limit opposition to Ter-Petrossyan. In a related move, the Armenian Supreme Court released Hrant Markarian, a prominent HHD member and Karabakh war veteran, after the court reduced his five-year sentence. PG MANUKIAN CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS AT POLLS... National Democratic Party (NDU) chairman and presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian told RFE/RL Newsline in Yerevan on 9 February that President Ter-Petrossyan's resignation creates a chance to expedite democratization in Armenia by ensuring the 16 March elections are perceived both by Armenians and the international community as wholly free, fair, and democratic. Both Manukian and Vigen Sargsian, editor of the NDU newspaper "Ayzhm," called for the deployment of the maximum number of international election observers to ensure such a ballot. Manukian said he opposes parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutyunian's proposal to amend the existing electoral law as the electoral campaign is so short. Manukian also categorically rejected Ter-Petrossyan's assertion that his resignation marks a victory for the "party of war." He said he believes neither Armenia, Azerbaijan, nor Nagorno-Karabakh has an interest in the resumption of hostilities. LF ...AS DOES KOCHARYAN. Kocharyan said on 7 February that his government would like to have "large numbers" of international monitors attend the 16 March presidential elections to ensure their fairness and transparency, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Meanwhile, acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL on 7 February that there will be unspecified changes in Armenia's Karabakh policy following the presidential elections. Oskanian said that Karabakh will be one of the key issues in the presidential election campaign. LF PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS BEGIN IN EARNEST... Leaders of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), who support former President Ter-Petrossyan, have said the party should find a way of participating in the upcoming presidential race, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 7 February. The HHSh's two deputy chairmen, Andranik Hovakimian and Ararat Zurabian, said the party should either declare their own candidate or endorse one of the other candidates. Their statements contradict the position of HHSh Chairman Vano Siradeghian, who said the previous day that he will quit if the party decides to participate in the vote. The two men said the HHSh's official line on the elections will be defined at a 16 February extraordinary congress. But Zurabian said he backs the candidacy of Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. Sarkisian's refusal to stand by Ter-Petrossyan's softer position on the dispute with Azerbaijan played a key role in the latter's resignation. PG ...WHILE PRESIDENTIAL FIELD TAKES SHAPE. Defense Minister Sarkisian told the "Respublika" newspaper on 7 February that he will not run for president in the 16 March elections. Acting President Kocharyan has said it is "unlikely" he will compete in the elections. But Armenia's small Communist Party has announced that the party's first secretary, Sergei Badalyan, will run. Soviet-era dissident Paruir Hairikyan has also indicated that he will compete. Given this mix of candidates, the front-runner is NDU leader Manukian, who lost to Ter-Petrossyan in 1996. Manukian has said he will seek to promote democracy and to limit the powers of the presidency. PG AZERBAIJANI SOLDIER REPORTED WOUNDED IN CLASH WITH ARMENIAN FORCES. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told the Turan news agency on 7 February that an Azerbaijani soldier had been wounded in an attack the previous day by Armenian forces near Nagorno-Karabakh. It provided no details. Neither Armenian nor Karabakh sources have confirmed that report. PG TAJIKISTAN TO PROVIDE HUMANITARIAN AID TO AFGHANISTAN. The Tajik government has promised to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and to allow international organizations to use its airports for such deliveries, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. Earthquakes last week in northern Afghanistan left more than 4,000 people dead and many more homeless. BP MOTHERS DEMONSTRATE IN KAZAKHSTAN. Some 500 women and children gathered outside the Kentau administration building on 6 February to demand payment of back wages, pensions, children's allowances, and sick leave compensation. TAR-TASS reported on 7 February. The protesters stood outside the building all night, and several pregnant women were taken to the hospital after fainting. Meanwhile, AFP reported on 6 February that 70 people taking part in a hunger strike in Janatas--also over unpaid wages--have been hospitalized. One of the strikers died last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). BP END NOTE RUSSIA CRITICIZES PLANS TO CREATE NORTH-EAST NATO CORPS by Jan de Weydenthal Germany, Denmark, and Poland are planning to establish a joint military force to guard the western approach to the Baltic Sea. Those plans have been criticized by Russia. The force is to be called the Multinational Corps North-East and is to consist of three divisions, each from one country. Totaling some 25,000 troops under a rotating command, the force will be headquartered in the northern Polish city of Szczecin. It will also be NATO's first-ever permanent military mission in East Central Europe. Last year, the alliance invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join its ranks. Andrzej Karkoszka, a former deputy minister of defense in the previous Polish government who was responsible for military and strategic planning, told RFE/RL on 4 February that the plans to establish the corps reflect the prevailing emphasis in NATO on creating multinational ties among separate members of the alliance. Those trends have been evident since the establishment in 1993 of the Eurocorps, which, though separate from NATO, brought together German and French rapid-reaction military units. Similarly, there is a German-Dutch NATO division based in western Germany as well as a German-Danish NATO unit also stationed in Germany. This pattern of transnational military cooperation is now being applied to Eastern European newcomers to NATO. Karkoszka said the experiment is currently limited to Poland, but there is a "theoretical" possibility that Czech military units will eventually be brought into the corps. The plans to establish the Multinational Corps North-East have met with criticism from Russia. Visiting Germany last month, Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeev was reported to have complained that the move amounted to NATO's "advancing toward the Russian border with weapons in its hands." Sergeev said there is no need to create such multinational military units in East Central Europe. Sergeev reportedly dismissed arguments by German officials that the corps will be purely defensive in nature and will not be equipped with nuclear weapons. Those officals had also pointed out that its operations will be relatively limited and that it will serve to promote regional stability through international integration and cooperation. That view has reflected Russia's long-time policy toward NATO. While ready to develop bilateral cooperative links with the alliance, Moscow has been consistently critical of NATO's decision to expand in the East. Its stance has not changed, although Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will almost certainly enter the alliance next year. Earlier this week, Canada and Denmark formally ratified the accord of those countries' accession to NATO. Russia has increasingly criticized specific integrative efforts by NATO member states aimed at facilitating the membership of East-Central European countries (particularly extending military multinational groups and joint command centers to include those countries). That approach appears to reflect a hope that persistent criticism of any such efforts may eventually affect their implementation and that NATO enlargement in the East will be reduced to mere political rather than full military integration. There is no indication, however, that Russia's criticism will affect the decision to set up the North-East corps. Rather, each of the three prospective partners appears to regard the new military force as a major step toward enhancing regional stability. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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