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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 28, Part I, 11 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 28, Part I, 11 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 * UN APPROVES RUSSIAN FLIGHT TO BAGHDAD * WORLD LEADERS CONDEMN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID * DASHNAK PARTY LEADER RELEASED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx UN APPROVES RUSSIAN FLIGHT TO BAGHDAD... Following maneuvering by Russian diplomats at the UN and the Russian State Duma's decision to limit the number of passengers on a plane bound for Baghdad, the UN on 10 February gave permission for the plane to continue its journey to the Iraqi capital. Only 30 of the 207 Duma deputies and journalists who originally boarded the plane will now make that journey. The aircraft, which is also carrying humanitarian aid, had been sitting on a runway at Yerevan airport since 8 February waiting for UN clearance. BP ...BUT PLANE REMAINS IN YEREVAN. Despite UN clearance, the plane had still not taken off from Yerevan airport by 1:00 p.m. CET on 11 February. Earlier that day, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev blamed Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, for further delays, ITAR-TASS reported. On 10 February, Zhirinovsky had said that "we are ready to [cut the number of passengers]" even though "it would be a humiliation." But on 11 February, Zhirinovsky attempted to bring 125 people on board, prompting the Armenian Foreign Ministry to refuse the plane permission to take off. ITAR-TASS reported that Zhirinovsky is insisting that all 125 people be allowed to fly to Iraq. BP YELTSIN, PRODI ON IRAQI CRISIS. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Italian Prime Minster Romano Prodi released a joint statement on the Iraqi situation following their talks in the Italian capital on 10 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders said there are "indications that the crisis can be resolved by diplomacy" but added that "it is mandatory that Iraq fulfill the UN resolutions in allowing inspections of all its territory." The statement called for intensifying diplomatic activity and said that if UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan were to visit Iraq, he could play a role in finding a solution to the crisis. BP YELTSIN, POPE HOLD 'FRIENDLY MEETING'... Following his talks with Italian Prime Minister Prodi, Yeltsin met with Pope John Paul II for nearly an hour on 10 February, an RFE/RL correspondent in Rome reported. The Vatican's press service said the meeting was held in a "very cordial atmosphere." The two men met for the first, and only other, time in December 1991. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told reporters that Yeltsin and the pope discussed the situation for Catholics in Russia and that John Paul thinks Catholics "do not encounter any obstacles" in Russia. Last year, the pontiff appealed to Yeltsin not to sign a controversial religion law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 1997). Yeltsin vetoed that law but signed a revised version in September. LB ...BUT DON'T DISCUSS PROBLEMATIC CHURCH RELATIONS. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin and Pope John Paul did not discuss problems in relations between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, RFE/RL's correspondent in Rome reported on 10 February. He added that the two men also refrained from discussing a possible trip to Russia by the pontiff. Before leaving for Italy, Yeltsin told journalists that he planned to invite John Paul to visit Russia. But a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said on 6 February that no meeting between the pontiff and Patriarch Aleksii II can take place until the two Churches settle outstanding disputes, such as Russian concerns about the situation for Orthodox believers in western Ukraine. The pontiff and Aleksii were scheduled to meet last June, but that meeting was called off (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 1997). LB ZADORNOV SAYS TIME RUNNING OUT FOR TAX CODE. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov on 10 February warned that if the government's proposed tax code is not adopted by mid-1998, tax reform will be delayed for another two years, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. Zadornov noted that comprehensive tax reform is unlikely to be adopted in 1999 or 2000, when parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled. He added that the new code "is a very big symbol for investors and failure to adopt it will delay economic growth," AFP reported. Zadornov said the code would cut the number of taxes from at least 50 to 29, simplify tax collection rules, and "scrap taxes throttling industrial production." The profit tax would also be reduced. LB WOULD NEW CODE REDUCE TAX BURDEN? Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin told journalists on 10 February that the proposed tax code would reduce the overall tax burden on the economy by 60 billion rubles ($10 billion) or some 2 percent of GDP, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. But "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 11 February that the proposed code would increase the tax load on most individuals by 3-5 percent. The newspaper noted that the code would maintain the value-added tax of 20 percent on most goods and maintain or raise excise duties on alcohol and tobacco products, gasoline, and some automobiles. (Unlike most taxes, VAT and excise duties are virtually impossible to evade since they are included in the prices of goods and paid at the same time as the goods are purchased.) Furthermore, "Kommersant-Daily" added, the new code would not reduce income tax rates. LB NEWSPAPER CLAIMS YELTSIN CAMPAIGN USED FOREIGN MONEY. "Moskovskii komsomolets" alleged on 11 February that U.S. money helped finance Yeltsin's expensive re-election campaign in 1996. The newspaper charged that in March 1996, $500 million in $100 bank notes was sent as a diplomatic shipment to the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Officials from the embassy told the newspaper that the shipment was planned to ensure that there were enough new $100 bank notes to meet demand in Russia. (The U.S. changed the format of the $100 bills in late 1995.) But "Moskovskii komsomolets" argued that if that were true, the money could have been stored at the Russian Central Bank rather than at the embassy. It claimed the $500 million was quickly "acquired by large Russian banks," which "played an active role in the Yeltsin campaign." Russian law prohibits candidates from accepting contributions from foreign donors. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. LB DUMA DELAYS CONSIDERATION OF RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TREATY. The State Duma Council on 10 February voted to delay consideration of the Russian-Ukrainian friendship treaty signed last May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February. The Duma was scheduled to consider the treaty on 6 February, but Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Georgii Tikhonov of the Popular Power faction told the newspaper that the treaty will not be debated in the lower house of the parliament before March. "Kommersant-Daily" argued that the delay was inspired by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Unnamed sources in the Duma Foreign Affairs and CIS Affairs Committees told the newspaper that the Foreign Ministry supports postponing ratification until after the Ukrainian parliament has ratified the agreement on dividing the Black Sea Fleet. The Ukrainian parliament ratified the friendship treaty last month but has yet to consider the agreement on the fleet. LB ENGINE FAILURE BLAMED FOR IRKUTSK PLANE CRASH. Air Force Commander Anatolii Kornukov announced on 10 February that a commission investigating the 6 December crash of a military cargo plane in Irkutsk has concluded that engine failure caused the disaster, Interfax reported. Nearly 70 people were killed when the huge An-124 plane crashed into an apartment block shortly after takeoff. Speculation initially focused on a poor mixture of fuel as the possible cause of the disaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1997). But Kornukov said three of the plane's four engines shut down because of defective engine design and the failure of high-pressure compressors. He added that engine failures had previously occurred in An-124 planes but that such problems had not led to a crash. Kornukov said the planes will be examined and equipped with new engines if necessary before their use is resumed. LB COMMANDER DISCUSSES MERGER OF AIR FORCE AND AIR DEFENSE TROOPS. Also on 10 February, Air Force Commander Kornukov announced that 122,000 military personnel will be discharged as a result of the upcoming merger of the Air Force and Air Defense Troops, "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February. That figure amounts to 45 percent of the total personnel and 40 percent of the troops currently serving in the Air Force and Air Defense Troops. Those to be discharged include 24 generals in the Air Force Command. Kornukov, who was recently appointed to head the Air Force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 23 January 1998), said the merger will be completed by the end of this year and will save more than 40 billion rubles ($6.6 billion) by 2003. LB CONFUSION SURROUNDS ARREST OF SUSPECT IN KHOLODOV CASE. The identity of the suspect recently arrested in connection with the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov remains unknown. While the Prosecutor-General's Office declined to name the suspect, Interfax identified him as Yakov Popovskikh, allegedly a former colonel in the Main Intelligence Department (GRU) of the General Staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1998). However, both a GRU spokesman and the press service of the Defense Ministry on 10 February denied that anyone named Yakov Popovskikh has been discharged from the GRU. "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 February identified the suspect as Pavel Popovskikh, a retired colonel who served as an intelligence officer in the Airborne Troops. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated the same day that all the reports about Popovskikh are false and that the arrested suspect is, in fact, a high-ranking officer in the General Staff. LB GOVERNOR BLASTS 'DISCRIMINATION' AGAINST SOME REGIONS... Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov says Russia's krais and oblasts currently enjoy fewer rights than the country's republics. In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 February, Ayatskov assailed various forms of "discrimination" against geographically based krais and oblasts, as opposed to republics, each of which has a titular nation and flag. He argued that the constitution guarantees equal rights for all regions and accused the Constitutional Court of "neglecting its duty" to interpret the constitution. He also claimed that the law on parliamentary elections does not guarantee equal rights for voters. Ayatskov expressed regret that Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev "does not attach significance" to the current discrimination against oblasts. In fact, Stroev has criticized Russia's regional policy, in part because, he says, it creates inequalities among regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1998). LB ...WANTS TO LIMIT FEDERAL OFFICIALS' TRIPS TO REGION. Saratov Governor Ayatskov announced on 10 February that the local airport will not accept special flights carrying federal officials to Saratov unless those flights have been cleared with him, ITAR-TASS reported. He said government ministers, State Duma deputies, and other high-ranking federal officials should coordinate with the governor in advance about visits to Saratov Oblast. An unnamed official in Ayatskov's administration told ITAR-TASS that "not all visits by bureaucrats are conducive to socio-economic stability in the region, and often their statements go against the activities of the oblast government." Last fall, Ayatskov issued an order prohibiting heads of raions in the oblast from leaving the town without notifying him, according to a Saratov journalist taking part in the November 1997 conference in Seattle, Washington, of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA WORLD LEADERS CONDEMN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID. Numerous world leaders, including the U.S., Russian, Abkhaz, Turkish, Kazakh, and Armenian acting presidents, have telephoned with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to express outrage over the 9 February attempt on his life. The Russian, Armenian, and Chechen Foreign Ministries issued statements condemning the assassination attempt. Shevardnadze himself said it was a "miracle" that he survived the second attempt on his life. At the same time, he confirmed his intention to serve Georgia "until the end." In a bid to qualify his 9 February accusation that "the hand of Russia" may have been involved, Shevardnadze said the attack was a "well planned and prepared military operation" by forces that "cannot forgive" the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Berlin Wall" and are seeking to prevent both the export of Caspian oil via Georgia and the implementation of the TRACECA transport corridor project. LF ASSAILANTS' IDENTITY REMAINS UNCLEAR. Georgian Security Minister Djemal Gakhokidze told Interfax on 10 February that the assassination attempt was prepared outside Georgia but that some Georgian citizens participated. Interior Minister Kakaha Targamadze said that the 10-15 attackers arrived in Georgia separately and unarmed. The Georgian commission formed to investigate the attack has established that Visamudin Djangaliev, the Dagestani Chechen killed by one of Shevardnadze's bodyguards, was a member of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus and had fought as a volunteer in the force that the confederation sent to support Abkhazia in its war against Georgia in 1992-1993, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tbilisi on 11 February. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov has rejected speculation that the assault was launched from the Russian military base at Vaziani, 30 kilometers outside Tbilisi, AFP reported. LF DASHNAK PARTY LEADER RELEASED. Vahan Hovanissian, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), was released from prison on 10 February, Armenian and Russian media reported. Hovanissian was sentenced in December 1997 to four years in prison on charges of calling for the violent overthrow of the Armenian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1997). On 9 February, the Armenian Ministry of Justice lifted the ban that former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan imposed on the party in December 1994. Hovanissian told journalists following his release that the political situation in Armenia is "excellent [and] healthy" and added that his party will decide shortly whether to propose him as its candidate for the 16 March presidential elections, Noyan Tapan reported. But RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 10 February that the party is likely to back the candidacy of Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan. LF KAZAKHSTAN HALTS OIL, GAS PRIVATIZATION. Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev on 10 February announced that his country will suspend privatization in the oil and gas industries, Interfax reported. Balgimbayev said the move is necessary until the government has selected a "strategic partner" for the national oil company. He denied that Kazakhstan is unable to fill quotas for oil to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium project, noting that the country last year produced a record 27 million tons of oil and expects that amount to grow to 170 million tons by 2020. He admitted that there are differences between the consortium's partners but said he hoped the 11-12 February meeting in Moscow will resolve some of them. BP KAZAKH GDP GREW 2 PERCENT LAST YEAR. Yeryan Utembayev, the chairman of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reform, said GDP grew 2 percent last year to reach 1.68 trillion tenge (about $22 billion), Interfax reported. Food production grew by 28 percent, ferrous metals by 24 percent, and natural gas by 20 percent. Inflation last year reached 11.2 percent (17 percent had been forecast). However, AFP reported on 2 February that the Finance Ministry released data showing production decreases of 17.5 percent in the oil refining sector, 14.7 percent in electricity, 29.8 percent in mechanical engineering, and 34.3 percent in the chemical industry. According to the same data, 55 percent of the country's industries made no profit in 1997. BP TAJIK GOVERNMENT FREES OPPOSITION PRISONERS. The Tajik government on 11 February released from jail170 people, mostly opposition supporters, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The United Tajik Opposition claims there are still more than 1,000 of its supporters in government jails. It also stresses that it has released all its government captives. Meanwhile Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri met on 11 February in an attempt to finalize which ministries will be allocated to UTO members. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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