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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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/

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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?
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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.


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