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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 27, Part I, 10 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 27, Part I, 10 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 FIVE NEW LANGUAGES ADDED TO REAL AUDIO SCHEDULE Listen to one hour of news in Bulgarian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Romanian at the RFE/RL Web site: http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN, ITALIAN PREMIER SIGN 'PLAN OF ACTION' * GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT * ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS NO NEW DANGER OF HOSTILITIES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN, ITALIAN PREMIER SIGN 'PLAN OF ACTION.' President Boris Yeltsin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on 10 February signed a "plan of action" for Russian-Italian cooperation, an RFE/RL correspondent in Rome reported. The plan calls for bilateral cooperation over the next 10-15 years in various spheres, including aviation, space travel, telecommunications, and conversion of the defense industry, Interfax reported on 9 February. Several agreements between Russian and Italian companies are to be signed during Yeltsin's visit to Rome, his first foreign trip since he was hospitalized for two weeks in December. Italy is Russia's second-largest European trading partner, after Germany. Shortly after arriving in Rome on 9 February, Yeltsin met with Italian President Oscar Scalfaro. Few details about their talks have been released. LB RUSSIAN DEPUTIES AWAIT UN APPROVAL OF IRAQI VISIT... The plane bound for Baghdad with State Duma deputies and humanitarian aid aboard remains on the runway at Yerevan airport, Armenia. Russian representatives at the UN sought on 9 February to obtain official permission from the UN Sanctions Committee to fly to Iraq. But representatives from the U.S. and the U.K. have asked for a list of the plane's 207 passengers and requested that UN officials be allowed to inspect the humanitarian cargo. In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused the deputies in Yerevan of "theatrics" by departing Moscow before UN permission had been obtained. On 10 February, the Duma voted to reduce to 30 the number of people flying to Baghdad in order to facilitate UN official permission. BP ..WHILE REQUIRED LIST IS DRAWN UP. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 9 February that the list of passengers required by the UN is being prepared. Seleznev said there is nothing unusual in the request as "when 207 people appeared, naturally questions were asked." The speaker also said it would be difficult to file a protest with the UN if the plane is not allowed to land in Baghdad "because Russia also participates in the sanctions." Meanwhile on the ground in Yerevan, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said permission has been granted "in New York, Moscow, and Tehran" for the flight to continue but that air-traffic controllers in Yerevan have not yet been informed of this. BP YELTSIN PREMATURELY ANNOUNCES ANNAN VISIT TO IRAQ. President Yeltsin said on 9 February that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will soon travel to Iraq, Interfax reported. But in New York, Annan said that while he does not rule out making such a trip, he has no such immediate plans. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, accompanying Yeltsin on the trip to Italy, met with his counterpart, Lamberto Dini, to discuss the Iraqi crisis. While Dini said his country is concerned and would welcome a peaceful settlement, he also made it clear that Iraq must comply with UN resolutions. Diplomatic pressure toward that end is justified, he argued. BP RUSSIAN MILITARY SPECIALIST ON IRAQI CRISIS. An interview in the 10 February issue of the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" offers an alternative view of the U.S.'s motives for a possible attack on Iraq. Lieutenant.-General Leonid Gulev, described as one of Russia's "leading military specialists on the U.S.," says Washington is ready to replace military testing sites in the state of Nevada with new "firing ranges" in Iraq. Gulev said it is better for the U.S. to test the effectiveness of weapons on targets in Iraq because the "firing ranges" in that country are "inhabited by people." He added that the U.S. needs to test its smart bombs and stealth aircraft. According to Gulev, there are "significantly more" ground troops, planes, and naval vessels in the area than was the case during the 1991 UN operation against Iraq. BP GENERAL STAFF HEAD SAYS MILITARY NEEDS MORE FUNDING. First Deputy Defense Minister Anatolii Kvashnin said in Duma hearings on 9 February that the armed forces need a budget of 400 billion rubles ($67 billion), Russian news agencies reported. The draft 1998 budget, which the Duma recently approved in the third reading, foresees 81.76 billion rubles in expenditures for "national defense." The Duma also voted to allocate 1 percent of budget spending toward military reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998). Kvashnin noted that defense spending in the U.S. this year is projected at some $250 billion. According to "Izvestiya" on 10 February, experts in the Fuel and Energy Ministry have calculated that this year, the Defense Ministry will receive only 20 percent of the funds needed to pay for heating and electricity supplies to military installations. LB KULIKOV OPPOSES PLANS TO ABOLISH DRAFT... Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has sharply criticized the military reform plans endorsed by Yeltsin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February. Speaking to a meeting at the Academy of Military Sciences on 7 February, Kulikov spoke out against transforming the army into an all-volunteer force. Instead, he argued, the army should be 70 percent staffed with contract soldiers and 30 percent with draftees. Yeltsin pledged in 1996 to create an all-volunteer army by 2000, and top military officials have not backed away from that goal (although they have conceded that it will not be achieved by 2000). Kulikov also called for raising the draft age to 19 and conducting the draft year-round in response to the declining quality of conscripts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). ...DISAGREES WITH PRIORITIES OF MILITARY DOCTRINE. During his 7 February speech, Kulikov also criticized the idea that the Russian military should focus on preparing to fight small localized conflicts, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 February. He argued that "we are obliged to prepare the army and the state to conduct a prolonged war." Last May, Yeltsin said that Russia's military doctrine should focus on potential localized wars, not global conflicts, as the main military threat to the country. That concept was incorporated into a new military doctrine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1997). LB CHUBAIS'S LAWSUIT AGAINST JOURNALIST DELAYED. A Moscow municipal court on 9 February delayed proceedings in First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's libel lawsuit against the journalist Aleksandr Minkin and the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Russian news agencies reported. Neither Chubais nor his attorney, Mikhail Barshchevskii, turned up in court. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy last November, Minkin first raised the allegations that Chubais and several other officials each accepted a $90,000 honorarium from a book publisher linked to Oneksimbank. In the aftermath of that scandal, Chubais lost the post of finance minister and several of his associates were fired. Chubais is seeking 250 million old rubles ($42,000) in damages from Minkin for claiming that the book payments were bribes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1997). Chubais also wants Ekho Moskvy to retract the allegation. LB SUSPECT ARRESTED IN KHOLODOV MURDER. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 10 February confirmed reports that a suspect was recently arrested in connection with the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, ITAR-TASS reported. Kholodov, an reporter for "Moskovskii komsomolets" who was investigating military corruption, was killed when he opened a booby-trapped briefcase. Law enforcement officials have repeatedly claimed to be on the verge of solving the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 1997). The arrested suspect, a retired colonel, has not officially been named, but Interfax on 9 February quoted unnamed sources identifying him as Yakov Popovskikh, who formerly served in military intelligence. LB DEPUTY PROPOSES COMPROMISE ON ELECTORAL LAW. Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov has proposed a compromise over the electoral law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 9 February. Yushenkov, a member of the Russia's Democratic Choice party of Yegor Gaidar, favors electing half the Duma in single-member districts and half using proportional representation, as under the current system. But he has called for the seats allocated proportionally to be distributed among all groups that gain more than 5 percent of the vote or win more than 10 single-member districts. (Currently, those seats are divided only among groups that win more than 5 percent of the vote.) Yushenkov has also called for tightening the registration rules to make it more difficult for tiny groups to compete. Forty-three electoral blocs were registered for the December 1995 Duma elections, and 26 of them gained less than 1 percent of the vote. LB IS KREMLIN READY FOR COMPROMISE? No Kremlin official has commented on Yushenkov's proposal, but there are signs that Yeltsin may not insist that the 1999 elections to the Duma be carried out only in single-member districts. Although some officials have suggested holding a referendum on changing the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998), Mikhail Komissar, the deputy head of the presidential administration, recently argued that it might be better to improve the proportional representation system than do away with it. In an interview with "Russkii telegraf" on 7 February, Komissar said more criminals would win seats in the parliament if the entire Duma were elected in single-member districts. In addition, he argued that separatism would increase if the Duma consisted mostly of deputies who would lobby for narrow regional interests. LB RUSSIA TO STUDY CHECHEN BORDER ARRANGEMENTS. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Abdulatipov told ITAR-TASS on 9 February that the first meeting of the Russian Security Council interagency commission on Chechnya, scheduled for 11 February, will focus on guaranteeing security along the Chechen-Russian border. Abdulatipov also commented that the two sides are beginning "real work" to overcome the tragedy of the war, but he added that there are powerful forces in both Russia and Chechnya opposed to any peace agreement. Those forces, he said, continue to profit from the impasse. PG CHECHENS DEFINE NEGOTIATING APPROACH. President Aslan Maskhadov on 9 February said that all Chechen negotiating contacts with Moscow must be coordinated by the State Negotiating Commission, ITAR-TASS reported. That commission is headed by Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, who said he expects Russia and Chechnya to sign an accord by the end of this year, according to Interfax. PG RUSSKOE RADIO DENIED BROADCAST LICENSE IN BELGOROD. The Moscow-based private radio station Russkoe Radio, which broadcasts to more than 200 Russian cities, has been unable to broadcast in Belgorod for nearly two months, an RFE/RL correspondent in that city reported on 9 February. The Belgorod Oblast Commission on Television and Radio Broadcasting has denied the station a license, citing "the special mentality of residents of the oblast." The commission charged that Russkoe Radio programs "contradict the moral and ethical foundations of Belgorod residents" and harm the young generation. Supporters of Russkoe Radio, which broadcasts exclusively Russian music and mainly cultural news, have collected more than 3,000 signatures demanding that the station be granted a license to broadcast in Belgorod. They argue that the station is entitled to a license under the federal law on the mass media and the constitutional guarantee of free distribution of information. LB ST. PETERSBURG RESIDENTS INDIFFERENT TO LOCAL ELECTIONS. Elections to local government bodies in St. Petersburg on 8 February were declared valid in all districts despite an average citywide turnout of just 16.4 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. In the first attempt to elect local councils in the city's 111 districts last September, turnout reached the required 25 percent in just 32 districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1997). The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly subsequently abolished the mandatory turnout requirement so as not to waste funds on holding new local elections. LB LEGISLATURE IGNORES GOVERNOR'S OBJECTIONS ON CITY CHARTER. The St. Petersburg legislature recently defied the city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, when deputies adopted a new city charter and refused to adopt amendments to that charter supported by Yakovlev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 January. The charter gives the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly the power to confirm some of the governor's cabinet appointments and stipulates that the assembly will be a full-time legislature following elections to be held later this year. It also limits the governor's power to issue directives and retains a two-round system for gubernatorial elections. (Past elections in Russian regions show that incumbent governors tend to do better when elections are held in one round.) According to the 5 February edition of the "IEWS Russian Regional Report," the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is rare among Russian regional legislatures in that it has significant influence. LB FACTORY DIRECTOR WINS DUMA SEAT IN BASHKORTOSTAN. Vladimir Protopopov, the director of an automobile factory in Neftekamsk, easily won an 8 February by-election in Bashkortostan for a seat in the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. Protopopov gained 46.7 percent of the vote in a field of nine candidates. His closest rival, Communist-backed candidate Firgat Khabibullin, won just 23.9 percent. Proptopopov takes up the seat vacated following the death of Alzam Saifullin, who was elected to the Duma in 1995 as an Agrarian Party candidate. ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February that some local observers consider the by-election a "rehearsal" for the presidential election to be held later this year in Bashkortostan. Current President Murtaza Rakhimov has said he will not seek re-election. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Eduard Shevardnadze escaped unharmed from an assassination attempt against him while he was returning to his residence on 9 February. Two presidential guards and one attacker were killed during the attack, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Shevardnadze, who survived an assassination attempt in August 1995, told journalists that "international terrorism" was behind this latest bid on his life. He speculated that one possible motive is the desire of "very powerful forces" to prevent Caspian basin oil from transiting Georgia. The attack came shortly after Shevardnadze had said in his weekly radio address that "there is no alternative to peace and stability in the southern Caucasus." PG GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEMANDS BLOCKADE OF RUSSIAN BASES. In the wake of the assassination attempt on President Shevardnadze, the Georgian parliament called for a blockade of Russian military bases in the country, Georgian media reported. Deputies suggested that the possibility could not be excluded that those who launched the attack on Shevardnadze were dispatched to Georgia from Russia. Meanwhile, Shevardnadze went on national television to appeal for calm, and Georgian security agencies have sealed the border, according to Georgian media. PG ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS NO NEW DANGER OF HOSTILITIES. In a statement released on 10 February, the Armenian Foreign Ministry has denounced suggestions that new hostilities with Azerbaijan are imminent and stressed Yerevan is committed to observing the May 1994 truce, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said that predictions of new hostilities are a "deliberately distorted interpretation" of events in Armenia since the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. PG KOCHARIAN TO RUN FOR ARMENIAN PRESIDENCY. Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian said on 9 February that he will run in the 16 March presidential elections, ITAR-TASS reported. A native of Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharian would seem to face one major obstacle: the Armenian Constitution stipulates that the president must be an Armenian citizen. Meanwhile, Khosrov Arutyunyan, the speaker of the Armenian parliament, said that the recent political changes in Yerevan will not affect Armenia's close relationship with Moscow. PG EXXON AZERBAIJAN, SOCAR SIGN GAS EXPLORATION DEAL. Exxon Azerbaijan, a subsidiary of the U.S. petroleum company, and SOCAR, the state oil company of Azerbaijan, signed an agreement 9 February to explore the gas resources on Azerbaijani territory, Interfax reported. The research study is scheduled to last for one year. PG EIGHT PEOPLE KILLED IN WESTERN TAJIKISTAN. At least eight people were killed in the western city of Tursun Zade on 9 February. A group of armed men broke into the house of a Tajik businesswoman, killing her and her two sons. The gunmen then opened fire on a group of people waiting at a nearby bus stop; at least five were killed in that attack. An investigation is under way. During the five-year civil war in Tajikistan, Tursun Zade was often controlled by outlaw groups and was the scene of shoot-outs between rival gangs competing for possession of the aluminum factory there. That facility is Tajikistan's biggest money-making enterprise. BP KAZAKH OFFICIALS MEET WITH DEMONSTRATORS. Local officials in the southern city of Kentau met with demonstrators outside government offices on 9 February, AFP reported. The demonstrators, mostly mothers and their children, are protesting poor living conditions and unpaid wages and child support. The officials promised that overdue wages will be paid, but demonstrators remained skeptical about that promise and vowed to continue their protest. The same day, some 150 health-care workers who have not been paid in 10 months joined the demonstrators. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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