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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 29, Part I, 12 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 29, Part I, 12 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 * RUSSIA DENIES ALLEGATIONS IN "WASHINGTON POST" * GAZPROM TO FORM 'STRATEGIC ALLIANCE' WITH ITALIAN GIANT * RUSSIA, U.S. TO HELP INVESTIGATE SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID * End Note: MOUNTING MOSCOW-GROZNY TENSIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA DENIES ALLEGATIONS IN "WASHINGTON POST." The Foreign Ministry has denied allegations in the "Washington Post" on 12 February that Russia has sold to Iraq equipment that could be used for producing biological weapons, Interfax reported. "Ministry sources" are quoted as saying that the Russian government has concluded no agreements with Iraq and that there have been no deliveries. The sources added this is "another attempt to shift the blame from the guilty to the innocent." The "Washington Post" reported that Russia signed a contract to deliver a 5,000-liter fermentation vat that is ostensibly for manufacturing animal feed but has the potential to produce biological weapons. BP RUSSIAN PLANE LANDS IN BAGHDAD. The Russian airplane carrying State Duma deputies and humanitarian aid finally landed in Baghdad on 11 February. On board were 12 tons of food and medical aid as well as seven Duma deputies, 15 journalists, and personnel to unload the cargo. Before the plane's departure from Yerevan, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, attempted to bring more than the 30 people approved by the Duma on to the airplane. Russian Ambassador to Armenia Andrei Urnov intervened, and a heated discussion broke out. Urnov denied, however, that Zhirinovsky hit him in the face, as some media reported. According to other reports, Zhirinovsky threw around drinking glasses in the airport lobby. BP U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE IN MOSCOW. William Cohen, who arrived in Moscow on 12 February, said his visit is not aimed at persuading the Russians "to come around to the U.S. position" on the Iraqi situation. Cohen said that his focus is the reduction of nuclear arms but that "if Iraq comes up, I will certainly make our position as clear as possible." BP GAZPROM TO FORM 'STRATEGIC ALLIANCE' WITH ITALIAN GIANT. The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and the leading Italian energy producer ENI on 11 February signed a preliminary agreement on forming a "strategic alliance" to search for oil and gas, an RFE/RL correspondent in Rome reported. The agreement is estimated to be worth more than $3 billion. In addition, ENI is expected to acquire a 3 percent stake in the Russian gas monopoly. (Total foreign ownership of Gazprom shares is limited to 9 percent.) The Gazprom-ENI agreement was the largest among more than a dozen business deals signed on the last day of President Boris Yeltsin's visit to Italy. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev recently announced plans for a three-way alliance between Gazprom, ENI, and Royal Dutch Shell, but a representative from ENI told journalists on 11 February that the deal signed in Rome was strictly a bilateral agreement. LB RUSSIAN, ITALIAN AUTO COMPANIES SIGN DEAL. Also on 11 February, final documents were signed on an $850 million joint venture between the Russian car manufacturer GAZ and the Italian firm Fiat, RFE/RL's correspondent in Rome reported. The project will involve the assembly of 150,000 Fiat cars annually at a GAZ plant in Nizhnii Novgorod and is expected to create thousands of jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1997). The Fiat-GAZ deal is among several projects involving Russian and foreign automobile companies that will qualify for tax breaks under a 5 February presidential decree. That decree applies to projects involving at least $250 million in investment in the Russian automobile industry and in which the share of Russian parts increases to at least 50 percent within five years. LB YELTSIN WOOS ITALIAN BUSINESSES. Addressing a group of Italian business leaders on 11 February, Yeltsin pledged to create "the most favorable conditions" for Italian businesses in Russia, Russian news agencies reported. The president also hailed the decision of a consortium of Italian banks to open a new $260-million line of credit to Russia. Russian officials have expressed the hope that following Yeltsin's Rome visit, annual trade turnover between Russia and Italy will increase from $6 billion to $9 billion, RFE/RL's correspondent in Rome reported. LB NEMTSOV WARNS OF DANGERS OF OLIGARCHY... First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says it is "dangerous" when a handful of large companies make up a large share of a country's GDP. In an interview published in "Russkii telegraf" on 11 February, Nemtsov argued that the recent financial crisis in Southeast Asia occurred because those countries developed "oligarchic" economic systems, in which large financial-industrial groups had close ties to the government. He argued against concentrating resources in a few large Russian corporations, which, he said, currently account for too great a proportion of GDP. During the last six months, Nemtsov has repeatedly pledged that the government will enforce a level playing field for all companies. He has also accused former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii of trying to use his government contacts to enrich himself and his LogoVAZ business empire. LB ...SAYS YELTSIN AGREES WITH HIM. In the same interview, Nemtsov claimed that Yeltsin "understands that Russia will never tolerate the arrogance of the super-wealthy." He added that the president has increasingly recognized the "danger of excessive closeness between business and the authorities" since bankers "violated" an agreement reached with the president last fall. (In September 1997, Yeltsin summoned six top bankers to the Kremlin and urged them to stop "slinging mud" at one another and at government ministers.) Nemtsov also denied that the recent redistribution of duties within the government had reduced his authority or that of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 January 1998). Oneksimbank fully owns "Russkii telegraf," which has provided favorable coverage of Nemtsov and Chubais since it began publication last September. LB GOVERNMENT WANTS MORE SPENDING ON COAL INDUSTRY. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais has sent a letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev requesting that the 1998 budget be amended to include an additional 500 million rubles ($83 million) in spending for safety measures in the coal industry, Russian news agencies reported on 11 February. The Duma rejected such an amendment while debating the budget in the third reading, according to "Segodnya" on 10 February. Chubais wants the Duma to cut other unspecified spending programs in order to provide extra funds for the coal industry while not increasing total planned 1998 expenditures. According to data compiled by the Miners of Russia association, 277 coal miners died in 1997, up from 174 the previous year. Since the beginning of 1998, accidents have claimed the lives of more than 40 miners. LB ZYUGANOV DISMISSIVE ABOUT CHERNOMYRDIN'S PRESIDENTIAL PROSPECTS. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 11 February said he thinks Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has "no prospect" of winning the next presidential election, Interfax reported. Zyuganov argued that the government will not change its policies before the next election and that the premier will not be helped by an endorsement from German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whom Zyuganov characterized as Chernomyrdin's "midwife." Zyuganov was the leading challenger to Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential election and is considered the Communist Party's likely nominee in the next election as well. Some politicians, including Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and media sympathetic to First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais have long alleged that Zyuganov and Chernomyrdin have a secret alliance. LB ARBITRATION COURT SUPPORTS NTV. The Moscow Arbitration Court on 11 February upheld a lawsuit brought by the private network NTV against the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, ITAR-TASS reported. Last December, the committee instructed the Communications Ministry to charge NTV commercial rates for using state-owned transmission facilities. Those rates would have more than doubled transmissions costs for the company, which since January 1996 had been charged government rates for transmission services. NTV's court case was likely bolstered by a recent presidential decree adding the network to the list of "all-Russian television and radio broadcasting organizations" and ordering the government to treat all such organizations equally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). NTV is 70 percent owned by Vladimir Gusinkii's Media-Most company and 30 percent owned by Gazprom. LB KULIKOV SAYS REMARKS ON MILITARY REFORM WERE MISINTERPRETED. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has denied that he and Yeltsin hold different views on military reform, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 February. Kulikov accused journalists of misinterpreting statements he made at a recent meeting of the Academy of Military Sciences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1998). Kulikov said that "as a military man, I fully share the ideas of the commander-in-chief on reforming the Russian army." He added that "certain forces" try to "distort" politicians' statements in order to discredit them in the eyes of society and their colleagues in the government. LB FOLLOW-UP ON KHOLODOV CASE. The headquarters of the Airborne Troops on 11 February confirmed that retired Colonel Pavel Popovskikh has been detained on suspicion that he participated in the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the opposition newspaper "Pravda-5" argued on 11 February that Popovskikh, who formerly headed the intelligence department of the Airborne Troops, had nothing to do with Kholodov's murder. The newspaper charged that Popovskikh was arrested in order to deflect attention from those responsible for the crime. LB LEBED TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR OF KRASNOYARSK. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 11 February notified the Krasnoyarsk Krai Electoral Commission that he plans to run for governor of the region in April, ITAR-TASS reported. Of the 16 candidates who have announced their intention to run, Lebed is considered the only serious challenger to the incumbent, Valerii Zubov. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 February, the Sayanogorsk aluminum factory in the neighboring Republic of Khakassia has founded a television station to broadcast to Krasnoyarsk during the gubernatorial campaign. Lebed's younger brother, Aleksei, is the top official in Khakassia. The Communist electorate in Krasnoyarsk is likely to be divided between two candidates: Duma deputy Valerii Sergienko, and Duma deputy Petr Romanov, former director of a chemical factory in the krai. The Moscow leadership of the Communist Party is backing Romanov. LB ABDULATIPOV FLOATS NEW SOLUTION FOR CHECHNYA'S STATUS. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 11 February, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov proposed the adoption of a law on the temporary status of Chechnya. That legislation, he said, would regulate the administrative borders between Chechnya and the rest of the Russian Federation and the interaction between federal and republican authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. Abdulatipov argued that such a law would expedite the financing of Chechnya's economic reconstruction, noting that no funds have been allocated for Chechnya from the1998 state budget. In Grozny, Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov again rejected Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin's offer of maximum autonomy for Chechnya as an associate member of the Russian Federation. "A chain remains a chain, however long," Udugov commented. LF TATAR PRESIDENT SACKS STATE RADIO, TV HEAD. Addressing the State Council on 11 February, Mintimer Shaimiev announced the sacking of State Radio and Television Chairman Nail Khusutdinov, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported . Shaimiev said he was outraged that state television coverage of his address to the State Council the previous day had omitted remarks criticizing the government in general and the industry department and economics ministry in particular. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA, U.S. TO HELP INVESTIGATE SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID. Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 February that Russian military officials have agreed to allow Georgian border guards to monitor all flights to and from Russia's military base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi. Some Georgian parliamentary deputies believe President Eduard Shevardnadze's attackers used that facility as a base. Russia has also tightened security measures at its frontier posts with Georgia. The U.S. has offered to send a team of experts to help in the investigation of the failed 9 February attack on Shevardnadze's motorcade. Two days later, on 11 February, Georgian police found the car and weapons used in the assault. The same day, Georgian Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili said he will again demand that Moscow extradite former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is suspected of master-minding the failed attempt on Shevardnadze's life in August 1995. LF ANKARA CONCERNED ABOUT SITUATION IN TRANSCAUCASUS. Turkish Minister of State Ahat Andican has expressed concern that instability in the Transcaucasus following the assassination attempt against President Shevardnadze may adversely impact on plans to build a Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for the export of Azerbaijani, Kazakh, and Turkmen Caspian oil, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 12 February. "Russkii telegraf" had reported the previous day that the Azerbaijani International Operating Committee may fail to meet its fall 1998 deadline for deciding whether to proceed with that project. Andican also said that the 3 February resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan will lead to a deterioration in Turkish-Armenian relations. He charged that "radicals headed by Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan do not want the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict solved. These are not favorable developments for Turkey and Azerbaijan." LF ARMENIAN COMMUNIST LEADER LAUNCHES ELECTION CAMPAIGN. Sergei Badalian, who polled 6.34 percent of the vote in the 1996 Armenian presidential elections, has unveiled his program for the 16 March poll, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 11 February. Badalian affirmed that, if elected, his first move will be to commit Armenia to membership of the Russia-Belarus union., which, he said, would help resolve the Karabakh conflict. Badalian also pledged to restore local soviets, halt privatization, and amend the constitution to curtail the power of the president and increase that of the parliament. Meeting on 11 February with members of the Fatherland parliamentary faction, Prime Minister and acting President Kocharyan called for the adoption of a new election law and of a statute differentiating between the status of a politician and that of a state official, Noyan Tapan reported. LF ARMENIAN SERVICEMAN SHOOTS DEAD SIX COLLEAGUES. A private serving with an Armenian military unit at Armavir, 30 kilometers west of Yerevan, shot dead five sleeping servicemen and an officer in the early morning of 11 February, Noyan Tapan reported. The private then fled the barracks. His body was found in Yerevan the next day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian told journalists that the killer had evaded military service for two years before he was drafted in late 1996. LF AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS PROTEST HARASSMENT. Mass media representatives protested to President Heidar Aliev on 11 February over the assault the previous day on a journalist from the private ANS TV company, Turan reported. The local administrator of Binagadi district had beaten up journalist Eldaniz Aliev, who was investigating complaints by displaced persons living temporarily in the district. LF AGREEMENT REACHED ON NEW GOVERNMENT LINEUP IN TAJIKISTAN. At their 11 February meeting, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri agreed on the ministries that are to be handed over to UTO representatives, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The peace agreement signed last year provided for 30 percent of all posts to be allocated to the UTO. Representatives of the UTO will become ministers of economics (Davlat Usmon), labor and employment (Khudaberdy Kholiknazarov), water resources and land improvement (Davlatbek Makhsudov), and the head of the customs committee (Rahim Karimov). BP FRENCH COMPANY SIGNS CONTRACT WITH TURKMENNEFT. The French company Schlumberger has signed a long-term contract with Turkmenistan's national oil company, Turkmenneft, Interfax and AFP reported on 11 February. Schlumberger will service wells and provide equipment for three fields in western Turkmenistan. No details have been released on the total value of the contract. BP END NOTE MOUNTING MOSCOW-GROZNY TENSIONS by Floriana Fossato Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was sworn in one year ago, on 12 February 1997. His victory raised hopes that relations between Moscow and the separatist North Caucasus republic would significantly improve following some 20 months of bloody military conflict. However, one year later, Chechen and Moscow officials are growing increasingly impatient with the lack of progress in their talks. Earlier this week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Abdulatipov said Moscow and Grozny are now beginning "real work" to overcome the tragedy of the war, but he added that there are powerful forces in both Moscow and Grozny opposed to any peace agreement. Abdulatipov said the first meeting of the Russian Security Council inter-ministerial commission on Chechnya would focus on guaranteeing security along the Chechen-Russian border. Chechen border guards officials have said the republic is reinforcing its borders with neighboring Russian regions, particularly Dagestan. Chechen officials were not expected to take part in that meeting. Abdulatipov also said Moscow and Grozny should work out together a "double compromise" on the status of Chechnya, but he did not elaborate. A cease-fire agreement in 1996 and a peace treaty signed last year left the republic's status undecided. Since the withdrawal of Russian troops in late 1996, Chechnya has considered itself independent, but Moscow insists that the republic is--and will remain--part of the Russian Federation. Maskhadov last week recalled all Chechen ministers and agency heads from Moscow and banned all flights from Grozny to the Russian capital. He accused the Kremlin of failing to meet its commitments under the peace accord that he and President Boris Yeltsin signed last May, which included agreements on customs and on direct international flights from Grozny. Maskhadov also said his government might be "obliged to review whether to go on safeguarding" the 150 kilometers of pipeline delivering oil from the Caspian Sea to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk "if Russia does not honor its commitments under the 1996 Khasavyurt accord and other agreements." More than 400 armed Chechens have guarded the pipeline since November, when oil started flowing. Chechen Information Minister Akhmed Zakayev has complained that the only agreement implemented by Moscow last year was on oil transit across Chechnya. He added that the agreement was implemented only because it was "advantageous for Russia." The oil-transit agreement expired at the end of last year and, according to Russian reports, a new one has still to be worked out. The daily "Russkii Telegraf" on 10 February quoted unnamed Russian oil officials as saying negotiations between Moscow and Grozny at the beginning of the year yielded no results and a date for new negotiations has yet to be set. The problem lies in determining the oil-transit fee. So-called early oil, or limited production capacity, from the Caspian started flowing on 12 November. Under the interim transit deal, a tariff of 43 cents a ton was established. Chechnya had demanded more than $2 a ton. Moscow insisted that 43 cents per ton is the normal transit fee for oil sent by pipeline across Russia. It thereby ignored Chechnya's request to be treated as an independent partner in the deal, instead of one of the 89 "subjects" of the Russian Federation. "Russkii Telegraf" quoted the new head of Chechnya's oil sector, Shirvani Basaev, as saying Chechnya expects oil to start flowing again at a tariff of more than $4 a ton. Economic and political issues are closely linked in the strained relationship between Moscow and Grozny. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov has said Chechnya's leadership "will be forced to take decisive steps if there is no breakthrough in the negotiating process in the near future." He has also insisted that a Moscow-Grozny treaty making clear Chechnya's status must be concluded this year. According to Udugov, if Moscow and Grozny do not sign such a treaty in 1998, "we will not be allowed to do so in 1999," when parliamentary elections are scheduled in Russia. Russian presidential elections are due to take place in the year 2000. The failed assassination attempt against Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze on 9 February seems likely further to strain Moscow-Grozny relations. Udugov reacted angrily at initial reports that one of the attackers was an ethnic Chechen from Dagestan. He blamed the attack on Russian secret services, which, he claimed, wanted to isolate Chechnya and damage its relations with Georgia. Udugov said he does not rule out that the assassination attempt was linked to plans to transit Caspian oil through Georgian territory, a route established as an alternative to the Chechen one. According to Udugov, forces behind the attack "are trying to prove to the world that the Caucasus is an unstable region and that the security of pipelines cannot be assured." Like Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials, Udugov noted that "it is unlikely a terrorist taking part in such an operation would carry identification papers with him." Udugov said it seemed more likely that the slain attacker was killed by his comrades and the passport planted on his body. No Russian reaction has followed Udugov's comments. The press secretary of Russia's Security Council, Igor Ignatev, declined comment in a telephone interview with RFE/RL. But he did say that harsh rhetoric does not help to create an atmosphere conducive for negotiations. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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