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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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


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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

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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.


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