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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 31, Part I, 16 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 31, Part I, 16 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 * PRIMAKOV SAYS TIME IS RIGHT FOR ANNAN'S IRAQ VISIT * NEMTSOV STILL HAS EYE ON NATURAL MONOPOLIES * SUSPECTS DETAINED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID * End Note: WHY KILL SHEVARDNADZE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRIMAKOV SAYS TIME IS RIGHT FOR ANNAN'S IRAQ VISIT. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 13 February said his country considers the moment has arrived for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to pay a visit to Iraq. Primakov added that a "verdict of failure" cannot be passed on diplomatic efforts until Annan has visited Iraq. Meanwhile in Baghdad, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said on 13 February that the State Duma delegation has found no evidence that Iraq is producing weapons of mass destruction. Zhirinovsky and six other Duma deputies were allowed to tour whichever sites they wished, ITAR-TASS reported. On 15 February, the deputies visited the Al-Farum palace in Tikrit, 190 kilometers north of Baghdad, which is one of the eight suspect sites. The next day, the State Duma Council approved a plan to send a delegation to meet with U.S. congressmen "in Washington or Baghdad." BP COHEN WRAPS UP RUSSIAN VISIT. On the last day of his trip to Russia, the United States Secretary of Defense, William Cohen visited a nuclear weapons storage site at Sergeev Posad, Russian agencies reported on 13 February. Cohen said it is "essential" that the U.S. allocates $442 million for the next fiscal year to allow the continued implementation of the Nunn-Lugar program for dismantling nuclear weapons. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who accompanied Cohen to the site, said that the first stage of SALT I has ended and that 10,000 warheads have been dismantled. Both Sergeev and Cohen stressed the importance of U.S.-Russian cooperation in nuclear disarmament, following their different stands on Iraq the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). "Izvestiya" on 14 February commented that the storage and use of nuclear weapons constitutes one area of U.S.-Russian relations in which there is no conflict. But it also pointed out that there are no nuclear warheads stored at Sergeev Posad. BP RYBKIN, MASKHADOV MEET. At their 90-minute meeting in Grozny on 15 February, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin agreed on measures to locate and release people registered as missing in Chechnya as well as Chechens held in Russian jails. Rybkin made proposals for increasing both Russian and international investment in Chechnya The two men also discussed how to expedite work on drafting a treaty regulating bilateral relations, ITAR-TASS reported. In a television interview on12 February, Rybkin had castigated Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for his alleged loss of interest in Chechnya and warned that neglect of Chechnya's problems could aggravate the situation throughout the North Caucasus, Interfax reported. LF NEMTSOV STILL HAS EYE ON NATURAL MONOPOLIES... First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the government's program of 12 major tasks for 1998 gives him the authority to supervise government regulation of "natural monopolies" in the energy and transportation sectors, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 February. Nemtsov's authority in that area had appeared to have been weakened by the recent redistribution of duties in the government, which gave Prime Minister Chernomyrdin the power to oversee energy policy. However, Nemtsov told a 13 February meeting of the Federal Energy Commission that he will fight for further reductions in energy tariffs and charges for railroad cargo. He added that he still wants oil companies with gas reserves to be granted access to the pipeline system of the gas monopoly Gazprom. Nemtsov's efforts to reform Gazprom were largely seen to have failed last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 December 1997). LB ...WANTS INCREASED SUPERVISION OF MANAGERS' ACTIVITIES. During the same meeting of the Federal Energy Commission, Nemtsov called for more transparency in the budgets of regional electricity monopolies, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 February. He said supervisory councils should be created both in Moscow and the regions to oversee the utilities' activities. In particular, Nemtsov questioned why the heads of energy companies with partial state ownership often have luxurious offices and villas, as well as the funds to play the stock market and participate in the privatization of other firms. After outlining railroad reform plans at a 13 February session of the Duma, Nemtsov told journalists that the directors of large firms should be forced to disclose their real incomes. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said the tax inspectorate and tax police are already investigating some executives. He also repeated that he enjoys the "absolute support" of President Boris Yeltsin. LB DUMA RATIFIES CONVENTION BANNING FORCED LABOR. The Duma on 13 February ratified the 1957 convention banning all forms of forced labor, ITAR-TASS reported. The convention, which has been ratified by 119 countries, prohibits the use of forced labor as punishment for holding or expressing political views or for participating in strikes, as discrimination against workers on the basis of race, religion, or social or ethnic origin, or a as a means to enforce labor discipline or achieve economic development. During the Soviet period, forced labor in dangerous conditions claimed the lives of millions of prisoners. LB COMMUNISTS TO IMPROVE OUTREACH TO YOUTH. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) met in Moscow on 14 February to discuss strategy and, in particular, the party's policy toward young people. Gennadii Zyuganov, who has led the KPRF since its founding congress in February 1993, told delegates that the party's influence on youth is "obviously insufficient," Interfax reported. However, he said 70,000 of the KPRF's more than 500,000 members are below 40 and have joined during the last five years. After the plenum, Zyuganov told ITAR-TASS that delegates approved plans to create a broad Communist youth movement. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 14 February that the Komsomol, the successor to the Soviet youth movement of the same name, has failed to become a large or politically significant movement. Furthermore, its leader, Igor Malyarov, is preparing to found a new political party, the newspaper said. LB ZYUGANOV DISCUSSES NATIONALITIES QUESTION. Zyuganov says a nationalities policy that focuses on reviving the ethnic Russian nation is the only "serious answer" to separatism in the Russian Federation and must be a priority "if our goal is saving and strengthening the unity of the Fatherland." In a lengthy article published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 12 February, Zyuganov argued that ethnic minorities were the main beneficiaries of the Soviet nationalities policy of the 1920s and 1930s. He added that ethnic Russians are currently disadvantaged compared with other groups and are facing "genocide." According to Zyuganov, a presidential system is particularly unsuitable for multi-ethnic countries. He called for introducing a parliamentary system in which the legislature contained representatives of all ethnic groups and could overrule decisions adopted by regional authorities. He also called for providing equal social and economic rights to all regions of the federation. LB BABURIN URGES COMMUNISTS TO ALTER STRATEGY. Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin sent an open letter to the KPRF Central Committee plenum urging the party to alter its "cynical" and "mendacious" strategy toward the government. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 15 February, Baburin said he also distributed copies of the letter to Communist Duma deputies on 13 February. He again accused the KPRF leaders of "flirting with the authorities" and said his letter is aimed at "preventing the collapse of the left [opposition] movement." Baburin has long called for the Duma to vote no confidence in the government even if such action were to lead to the dissolution of the lower house of the parliament. His differences with KPRF leaders over strategy have caused a split within the Popular Power Duma faction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). LB 'IZVESTIYA' ACCUSES BEREZOVSKII OF DECEIVING INVESTORS. "Izvestiya" on 12 February reported that the Federal Public-State Fund for the Protection of the Rights of Investors and Shareholders has asked law enforcement agencies to take action against the founders of the All-Russian Automobile Alliance (AVVA). The main organizers of that alliance, which was founded in 1993, were LogoVAZ head Boris Berezovskii and AvtoVAZ chief executive Vladimir Kadannikov, "Izvestiya" said. The newspaper charged that AVVA sought to attract some $300 million by selling shares to citizens. The money was to be invested in the construction of a new factory but that facility was never built because the share issue attracted only $50 million. However, AVVA refused to return money to some 2 million investors who had purchased shares. Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya," and Berezovskii is a leading business rival of Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin. LB 'NOVYE IZVESTIYA' ATTACKS ONEKSIMBANK. "Novye izvestiya" on 11 February accused Oneksimbank of "constructing its own state" through "oligarchic" cooperation with regional governments. Oneksimbank has signed agreements with 18 Russian regions, most recently with Yaroslavl Oblast in late January. As a rule, those regions have either large enterprises in which Oneksimbank owns shares or such strategic natural outlets as ports. "Novye izvestiya" argued that unlike some commercial banks, Oneksimbank has not built a large network of branches in the regions. Rather, it has focused on gaining authorization to handle regional budget funds, which is a lucrative arrangement for it. Oneksimbank has also offered loans to regions with financial difficulties. Those loans are likely to ensure that regional leaders support the bank's objectives and eventually its favored candidate in the next presidential election, the newspaper charged. "Novye izvestiya," founded by journalists who quit "Izvestiya" last summer, reportedly receives financing from Berezovskii. LB MINISTERS PROMISE TO CLEAR DEBTS TO DEFENSE INDUSTRY. Economics Minister Yakov Urinson on 13 February announced that the government will this year settle debts accrued to the defense industry in 1997, Russian news agencies reported. Meeting in Voronezh with leaders of the "Black Earth" regions in European Russia, Urinson said the government will create a commission on the debts, to be chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who also attended the Voronezh meeting. According to Urinson, the government will likely pay only some 10 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) of its 19.9 billion rubles in 1997 debts to the defense industry. He said enterprises ran up the remainder of the debt by producing more goods than the state ordered. Last September, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov promised that the government would pay all debts to the defense industry by April 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). LB DEFENSE INDUSTRY IN STEEP DECLINE. Deputy Economics Minister Vladimir Salo announced on 6 February that production in the defense industry declined by 16.4 percent in 1997 and the production of arms and military hardware by 31.2 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. (Overall industrial production was up 3 percent for the year.) Salo attributed the decline to government debts to the sector. He noted that spending on conversion programs for defense enterprises totaled just 11 percent of budget targets in 1996 and virtually nothing in 1997. Duma Defense Industry Conversion Committee Chairman Georgii Kostin, a Communist, said on 3 February that output in the industry has fallen elevenfold over the last six years. He described the state of the industry as a threat to national security. According to "Izvestiya" on 14 February, the government is planning to reduce the number of defense enterprises from 1,700 to some 600 by the year 2000. LB FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER INJURED IN CAR CRASH. Pavel Grachev received a severe concussion in a car accident on 13 February in Ryazan Oblast, Russian news agencies reported. He remains hospitalized in serious condition, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. Grachev was defense minister from May 1992 until June 1996. He recently became an adviser to the arms exporting firm Rosvooruzhenie (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). LB FORMER PROSECUTOR RELEASED FROM PRE-TRIAL DETENTION. Former acting Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko was released from pre-trial detention on 15 February, exactly two years after he was arrested on bribery and corruption charges, ITAR-TASS reported. Officials confirmed that the charges against Ilyushenko have not been dropped and that he will still face trial for his alleged involvement in illegal dealing by the Balkar Trading company. Ilyushenko was released because two years is the maximum period of pre-trial detention. Yeltsin appointed Ilyushenko to head the Prosecutor-General's Office in February 1994 and kept him in that post until October 1995, despite the fact that the Federation Council twice refused to confirm the appointment. LB MORDOVIAN PRESIDENT SCORES LANDSLIDE ELECTION VICTORY. Preliminary returns indicate that incumbent Mordovian President Nikolai Merkushkin gained some 96.6 percent of the vote in the 15 February election, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Turnout was estimated at more than 75 percent. The Mordovian result was reminiscent of Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev's victory in last October's gubernatorial election in Orel Oblast. In both cases, incumbents won with more than 95 percent of the vote amid allegations that serious challengers were excluded from participating in the campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1997 and 13 February 1998). LB NIZHNII NOVGOROD GOVERNOR DEFIES COURT RULING. Ivan Sklyarov has issued a directive partially suspending a Constitutional Court ruling, according to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" on 12 February. Last December, the court struck down an article of the Civil Code stipulating that enterprises pay their workers before paying taxes. Sklyarov's directive says companies that owe wage to employees can use only half their income toward paying taxes to Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Enterprise directors support the measure, but oblast Prosecutor Aleksandr Fedotov told "IEWS Russian Regional Report" that any attempts to revoke Constitutional Court rulings are invalid. Sergei Speranskii, chairman of the Legal Committee in the oblast legislature, also condemned Sklyarov's directive as illegal. Yurii Spiridonov, the leader of the Komi Republic, ignored a recent Constitutional Court ruling on local government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1998). LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SUSPECTS DETAINED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID. Georgian security officials on 15 February announced the arrest of five suspects in connection with the recent assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze. Fifteen Georgians and three Chechens were said to have participated in that attack, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tbilisi the next day. Speaking on state television on 15 February, Shevardnadze said those arrested were supporters of ousted late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and were recruited and financed by unnamed circles outside Georgia. Shevardnadze also suggested that there is a connection between last week's attack and the failed bid to kill him in August 1995. Shevardnadze again demanded that former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is suspected of participating in the 1995 attack, be extradited from Moscow. Several members of the banned paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni are currently on trial for their alleged role in that attack (see also "End Note" below). LF ABKHAZ PRESIDENT SAYS GEORGIA PLANNING TERRORIST ACTS. Addressing a government session on 13 February, Vladislav Ardzinba accused the Georgian leadership of planning terrorist attacks against the estimated 10,000 ethnic Georgians who have returned to their homes in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Ardzinba charged that this action is intended to mobilize Georgian public opinion to press for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 January. Ardzinba said the so-called White Legion Georgian guerrilla organization, which he claimed is financed by the Georgian government, is distributing leaflets in Gali warning that Abkhaz military formations are planning to attack Georgians living there. LF DASHNAKS AFFIRM SUPPORT FOR KOCHARYAN. Vahan Hovanissian, one of the leaders of the recently reinstated Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), has expressed his party's conditional support for Prime Minister and Acting President Robert Kocharyan's presidential candidacy, Interfax reported on 13 February. Hovanissian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that although he personally respects National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian, his party believes Kocharyan can achieve greater progress in resolving the Karabakh conflict and in implementing democratization. But Hovanissian added that his party may withdraw its support for Kocharyan if the "power ministries" attempt to influence the elections in the latter's favor, according to Interfax. The Social-Democratic Party, the Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union, and the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen of Armenia (which until now supported former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan) have also pledged their backing for Kocharyan's candidacy, ArmenPress and Noyan Tapan reported. LF FORMER ARMENIAN COMMUNIST PARTY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. Karen Demirchyan, who was first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party from 1974-1988, announced on 13 February that he intends to contend the presidency. For the past 10 years, the 66-year-old Demirchyan has headed the Armelektromash research and production association, one of the largest of its kind in Armenia. To date, nine candidates have announced their intention to contend the poll. "Respublika Armeniya" on 14 February predicted that none of the three leading contenders--Kocharyan, Manukian, and Demirchyan--will receive the required absolute majority in the first round and that a runoff is therefore virtually inevitable. LF AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER DISMISSED. President Heidar Aliev told journalists in Istanbul on 14 February that he has fired Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov because of the latter's "criminal actions." A government investigation, whose finding were made public on 12 February, established that Hasanov diverted a Turkish loan intended to finance construction of an official Foreign Ministry hotel and used the money to turn the building into a luxury hotel and casino. Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namig Abbasov denied, however, that criminal proceedings have been brought against Hasanov, AFP reported. LF END NOTE WHY KILL SHEVARDNADZE? by Liz Fuller On 15 February, six days after unidentified assailants failed in their attempt to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze announced the detention of several people suspected of participating in the assassination bid. Shevardnadze disclosed later that day that the five suspects included supporters of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and that they had been trained outside Georgia. But the identity and motives of both the assailants and those who contracted them remain unclear. If Gamsakhurdia's supporters were indeed responsible, it is unclear whom they intended to install as president to replace Shevardnadze. Moreover, political figures in Tbilisi, Moscow, and Chechnya seeking to extract dividends from the assassination bid have made statements that divert attention from the discrepancies and contradictions between the various hypotheses. On 10 February, a Georgian Interior Ministry official announced that one of the hit squad killed by Shevardnadze's bodyguards was apparently a Muslim. But the passport found on him was reported stolen several months ago by its owner, Dagestani Chechen Visamutdin Djangaliev. Georgian parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania described the assailants as "highly efficient specialists," adding that there is no military unit within Georgia capable of operating with such professionalism and that they must therefore have been sent from outside Georgia. But a team of U.S. experts who arrived in Tbilisi on 12 February to assist in the investigation initially concluded that those involved were not high-class professionals. Shevardnadze initially blamed the attack on "external forces" intent on sowing "controlled chaos" throughout the Caucasus. The following day, he implicated unnamed forces "who cannot forgive Afghanistan, the [fall of the] Berlin Wall, Europe's liberation, oil pipelines, and the Eurasian transport corridor." But Shevardnadze also denied having referred to "a Russian connection" in the assassination bid, affirming that "Georgia needs Russia, just as Russia needs Georgia." But Zhvania, who over the past year has taken a consistently harder line on relations with Russia than has Shevardnadze, said that members of the hit squad had spoken Russian among themselves. He added that they may have been evacuated from Georgia on a Russian military plane that landed at the Russian military base at Vaziani, 30 kilometers east of Tbilisi, several hours after the attack on Shevardnadze and took off 90 minutes later. Russian journalists, however, pointed out that Vaziani and the site of the assassination attempt are located on opposite banks of the River Kura and that the assailants could not have reached the nearest bridge before it was closed off by Georgian security forces. Predictably, Russian officials have disclaimed any involvement in the attack and have suggested that it was planned inside Georgia, possibly by economic interest groups targeted by Shevardnadze's ongoing drive to eradicate corruption. But there are forces in Russia with a vested interest in eliminating Shevardnadze, although those forces are less likely to be motivated by revenge for Shevardnadze's actions as Soviet foreign minister than by the desire to keep Georgia within Russia's sphere of influence. The domestic chaos that would inevitably have followed Shevardnadze's assassination would have jeopardized the export via Georgia of Caspian oil, the TRACECA project to transport goods from Central Asia and the Transcaucasus to Europe without transiting Russian territory, and the planned creation of a Caucasian "Common Market" comprising Chechnya, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. (International financial circles including former European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jacques Attali are reportedly engaged in fund raising for the last-named undertaking.) Alternatively, some political circles in Moscow, either acting independently or in tandem with the radical wing of the Abkhaz leadership, may have wished to prevent the international community's further involvement in mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. While neither the UN nor NATO is likely to endorse the "Bosnia option," which foresees a peace-enforcing operation in Abkhazia and for which Shevardnadze has been lobbying in recent weeks, the prospect of an international force deployed close to the borders of the Russian Federation may have been unacceptable to those circles. By contrast, Chechen government involvement in the assassination bid is implausible. Since last summer, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has sought to expand economic relations with Georgia, which is Chechnya's sole outlet to the Black Sea. Shevardnadze, for his part, has proved amenable to such contacts, while stressing that he considers Chechnya an inseparable part of the Russian Federation. But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov has condemned the Georgian "flirtation" with Chechnya. And Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Commission on Defense Affairs, told RFE/RL that some members of the Russian Federal Security Service may have wanted to eliminate Shevardnadze in order to curtail the Chechen-Georgian rapprochement. Meanwhile, maverick field commander Salman Raduev's claim that the attack on Shevardnadze was perpetrated by his Caucasian Home organization was probably intended primarily to embarrass Maskhadov and enhance Raduev's own inglorious reputation. A final question is how the Georgian security service failed to forestall a second attempt on Shevardnadze's life within two-and-a-half years. Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has said he warned his Georgian counterpart in November 1997 that an assassination attempt was in the offing. And an RFE/RL delegation that met with Shevardnadze in Tbilisi earlier this month was struck by the stringent security precautions in effect at the Chancellery. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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