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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 39, Part I, 26 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 39, Part I, 26 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 SEARCH RFE/RL NEWSLINE BY REGION Use the RFE/RL Web site's new search engine to limit your search to a regional section of RFE/RL Newsline, e.g. Russia or Southeastern Europe: http://www.rferl.org:8080/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN LEAVES CABINET SESSION WITHOUT SACKING MINISTERS * CHERNOMYRDIN CALLS FOR MORE CUTS TO DRAFT BUDGET * UN HOSTAGES FREED IN GEORGIA * End Note: FLIRTING WITH MADNESS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN LEAVES CABINET SESSION WITHOUT SACKING MINISTERS. President Boris Yeltsin left a 26 February government session without announcing the dismissal of several cabinet members, although he had been expected to do, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Opening the meeting, Yeltsin said three government ministers might no longer have their jobs by the end of the session. However, he left during an interval, and aides said he returned to the Kremlin to record his regular weekly radio address. During an hour-long speech before Yeltsin's departure, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin criticized various aspects of the government's performance in 1997, especially efforts to boost foreign trade, cooperation with other CIS states, and tax collection. The premier's remarks fueled speculation that Foreign Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, who is in charge of CIS issues, and State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok would be fired by day's end. LB CHERNOMYRDIN CALLS FOR MORE CUTS TO DRAFT BUDGET... Chernomyrdin announced at the 26 February cabinet session that some 50 billion rubles ($8.2 billion) in spending cuts are needed to make the draft 1998 budget realistic, Reuters reported. Minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin has also said the budget as currently drafted contains a "hole" of 50 billion rubles, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 February. A budget calling for 500 billion rubles in spending has been passed in three readings in the State Duma. After Yeltsin described that budget as unrealistic during a 17 February address to the parliament, the government proposed an amendment to allow it to withhold expenditures totaling 27.9 billion rubles in the event of revenue shortfalls. However, the Duma voted down that amendment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 23 February 1998). Deputies are likely to object even more strongly to the larger cuts proposed by Chernomyrdin. LB ...AND TAX REFORM. Also, Chernomyrdin urged again that a new tax code must be adopted this year, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the code recently submitted by the government to the Duma would greatly simplify the tax system since it envisages a total of only 30 taxes, including a reduced profit tax, as well as a simpler tax procedure for small businesses. In addition, he said, agricultural producers would pay a single land tax to replace several taxes currently levied on farms. The Duma passed a government-proposed tax code in the first reading last June, but it was stalled as committees examined several thousand proposed amendments. This year, the Duma may consider several alternative tax codes in addition to the government's version (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1998). LB PREMIER RAPS SOME REGIONAL LEADERS. Addressing the 26 February cabinet session, which was also attended by some regional leaders, Chernomyrdin charged that federal funds often are not spent on the programs for which they are earmarked, ITAR-TASS reported. He called for an end to that practice. (Some regional officials have argued that because of chronic underfunding from the federal government, they are occasionally forced to spend money intended for wages or pensions on other vital needs, such as fuel supplies.) Chernomyrdin criticized some regions for lagging behind on Pension Fund payments. He singled out the leaders of the resource-rich Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs and reminded them that during the Soviet period, the whole country invested in developing those regions. He said the government will in future make the allocation of some federal funds conditional on regional contributions to the Pension Fund. LB NEMTSOV SAYS YELTSIN HAS GOOD RE-ELECTION PROSPECTS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says the "self-preservation instinct" of Russians means Yeltsin has good prospects for re-election in 2000, if the Constitutional Court decides he is eligible to serve another term. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 February, Nemtsov argued that Russians do not want any "shocks" and that their desire to "live in a predictable country" is a strong factor in Yeltsin's favor. He added that neither competing financial groups nor potential candidates from within the "party of power" are likely to oppose Yeltsin if he decides to run again. Last year some Russian commentators viewed Nemtsov as a strong presidential contender. But Nemtsov has said he does not plan to run in 2000 and has praised a possible Yeltsin candidacy as a "stabilizing factor" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). LB ILYUKHIN WANTS CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST CHUBAIS, CHERNOMYRDIN. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a prominent member of the Communist Party, has called on the Prosecutor-General's Office to open criminal proceedings against Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 February. Ilyukhin charged that Chernomyrdin and Chubais illegally cut budget expenditures in the summer of 1997. The government reduced spending by some 65.8 trillion old rubles ($10.1 billion), he said, although the Duma never passed a law authorizing the cuts. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 February, Ilyukhin's accusations are based on an Audit Chamber report that concluded the government broke the law by cutting the 1997 budget without the Duma's approval. The newspaper also quoted unnamed Communist sources as saying that the Communists will no longer separate Chernomyrdin from their assessment of other government ministers. LB PROSECUTORS EXAMINE CHUBAIS'S ACTIVITIES. Government sources say the Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating some of Chubais's activities, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 February. In addition to examining last November's "book scandal," in which Chubais and several associates each accepted a $90,000 honorarium from a publisher linked to Oneksimbank, the Prosecutor-General's office is said to be checking documents related to the activities of the State Property Committee since 1991. Also under scrutiny are offers of apartments to those who moved to Moscow after accepting official posts, a land purchase by Chubais, and a bank loan he drew in order to build a dacha. And there is reportedly an inquiry into whether Chubais gave the IMF information on the economic situation in Russia, and if so, on what terms. LB URINSON UNDER FIRE FOR ALLEGED FAVORS TO BANK. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 25 February accused Economics Minister Yakov Urinson of using his government post to promote the interests of Strategiya Bank, which is headed by his brother. Among other things, the newspaper alleged that Urinson helped the bank obtain a license to carry out certain hard-currency transactions. Speaking to journalists on 25 February, minister without portfolio Yevgenii Yasin characterized the article as part of a concerted effort by some financial groups to "undermine" government ministers in charge of economic matters, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He acknowledged that he cannot characterize those ministers as "angels" but claimed that "those who have paid for the [media] attacks" against them have committed "far greater sins." LB ALLEGATIONS AGAINST KULIKOV PROVOKE CONTROVERSY. Also on 25 February, "Moskovskii komsomolets" charged that Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov is related to a formerly active member of an organized crime group who was murdered in 1996. The Interior Ministry issued a statement denying the accusations and denouncing the article as a "thoroughly planned action to discredit" Kulikov and his ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. (The trial of the men accused of the 1996 killing is scheduled to begin soon.) "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 26 February that the "Moskovskii komsomolets" report contains factual errors and unconfirmed information. LB SEROV REJECTS ACCUSATIONS OVER UZBEK DEBT TO RUSSIA. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov on 24 February refuted claims by "Moskovskii Komsomolets" that he has reduced Uzbekistan's debt to Russia by $1.5 million, ITAR-TASS reported. Serov said the agreement to reduce the Uzbek debt was made "in line with all procedures" and that the relevant sum was deducted from Russia's debt to Uzbekistan. "If we demand repayment from other states, we should pay our own debts," he commented. The Russian Interior Ministry, meanwhile, is investigating the allegations against Serov. BP IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Kamal Kharrazi met with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, in Moscow on 25 February to discuss bilateral relations, economic cooperation, and regional issues, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and the Caspian Sea, Russian agencies reported. Primakov later told journalists that bilateral relations are developing "fruitfully" and without the interference of third countries. Kharrazi said both countries oppose on ecological grounds any project to lay pipelines across the bed of the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have discussed such a pipeline to export Kazakh oil via Baku. Interfax cited unnamed Russian diplomatic sources as saying Moscow may go back on its commitment not to sell more arms to Iran if the U.S. resorts to force against Iraq. Tehran wants to purchase the latest generation of Russian combat helicopters and high-speed warships, according to dpa. LF RUSSIA APPOINTS NEW ENVOY TO NATO. Yeltsin has appointed career diplomat Sergei Kislyak as Russia's ambassador to Belgium and representative at NATO headquarters, Russian news agencies reported on 25 February. Kislyak replaces Vitalii Churkin, who is to be transferred to an unspecified new post. Last year, there was some speculation in the Russian media that Yeltsin would appoint former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev as Russia's representative or military envoy to NATO. Meanwhile, AFP reported that at a 25 February meeting with diplomats from the NATO council, Russian diplomats proposed setting up joint Russia-NATO anti-terrorism teams. LB RUSSIA TO CONTINUE HELP BUILDING CUBAN NUCLEAR PLANT. Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu has said his country will continue to help Cuba build the Juragua nuclear power plant, Interfax reported on 24 February. Shoigu said that whereas earlier projects with Cuba were financed entirely by the government in Moscow, future deals with that country will be financed by Russia's private sector. Cuba and Russia will continue to exchange sugar for oil, but Shoigu said new arrangements are being made for joint ventures to take over that trade. BP TRANSFER OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR PRISON SYSTEM DELAYED... The transfer of responsibility for the penitentiary system from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry is unlikely to take place by the appointed time, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 February. Under an October 1997 presidential decree, the transfer should be completed by 1 June. But according to the daily, the Interior Ministry is "in no rush" to complete that process as it will lose up to 35 percent of its state funding. In the meantime, the Justice Ministry says funds intended for improving conditions in Russia's overcrowded jails are being spent by the Interior Ministry for projects such as the construction of new barracks for its troops. The Duma must approve some 20 legislative acts before the transfer can take place. BP ...AS PRISON CONDITIONS WORSEN. Meanwhile, reports show that prison conditions are well below international standards, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 February. Pre-trial detention centers and prisons are so overcrowded that the minimum space per person currently amounts to 1.6 square meters, compared with the intenational standard of 2.5 square meters. Amnesty International said last year that overcrowding is so bad in Russia that in itself it amounts to torture. Some prisoners have been moved to penal structures built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Reuters on 24 February cited official figures showing one in 10 prisoners suffering from tuberculosis. BP TATAR PRESIDENT EXPLAINS CITIZENSHIP LAW. Mintimer Shaimiev told Interfax on 25 February that Tatarstan's new draft law on citizenship is based on an article of the republic's constitution that allows dual citizenship. Shaimiev said an earlier draft that would have enabled citizens of Tatarstan to renounce Russian citizenship was "too radical" and could have led to "undesirable repercussions." But Russian presidential representative for the Federation Council Anatolii Sliva told Interfax that it is "inadmissible" for federation subjects to introduce their own citizenship, given that the Russian Federation is in itself a subject of international law. LF RUSSIAN-TATAR DEFENSE INDUSTRY PROTOCOL SIGNED. Tatarstan Prime Minister Farit Mukhametshin on 24 February signed a protocol with visiting Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov on intensifying cooperation within the defense industry, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Tatarstan is to produce electronic identification systems for Russian aircraft. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA UN HOSTAGES FREED IN GEORGIA. The gunmen who abducted four UNOMIG observers in western Georgia on 19 February released their remaining hostages unharmed on 25 February. That move followed talks in Tbilisi between members of the current Georgian leadership, including President Eduard Shevardnadze, and Nemo Burchuladze, who was deputy parliamentary speaker under former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The Georgian authorities, which have demanded Burchuladze's extradition from Moscow on corruption charges, granted him immunity for the duration of the talks. Most of the estimated 20 hostage-takers surrendered to Georgian security forces several hours after their leader, Gocha Esebua, escaped with at least two accomplices. Esebua is believed to have crossed the internal border into Abkhazia. LF GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA REACH AGREEMENT ON ECONOMIC ISSUES. Meeting in Sukhumi on 23-24 February, Georgian Minister of State Niko Lekishvili and Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh reached agreement on restoring the high-voltage power line between Georgia's Inguri Hydro-electric power station and the Russian Federation and on building a gas pipeline to transport Russian gas to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The World Bank is to provide $50 million for repairs to the Inguri station; and the power it generates will be shared between Georgia and Abkhazia at a ratio of 40:60. The agreements must still be endorsed by Russia, Bagapsh told journalists on 24 February. Talks on restoring rail links were inconclusive and will be resumed only after the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons. Lekishvili also met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba. LF AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER ON STATE OF ARMY. In an interview with Turan on 24 February, Lieutenant-General Safar Abiev conceded that serious problems exist within the Azerbaijani armed forces, including the theft of state property by officers. But he denied charges that army personnel are "starving." Abiev noted that the military is capable of guarding the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline if President Aliev requests it to do so. Abiev added that Azerbaijan has anti-missile systems capable of neutralizing the "out-of-date, low-precision" Scud missiles that he claimed Russia has supplied to Armenia. He said that Russia has also supplied the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh with Krug and Osa air-defense systems, but he expressed doubts that they constitute part of the unified CIS air-defense system. LF IRAN DENIES SPYING ON KAZAKHSTAN. A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Almaty has denied that three Iranian nationals taken into custody by Kazakhstan's security service the previous day were spying on that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1998), Russia's NTV and AFP reported. "We absolutely deny that there are any Iranian secret agents in Kazakhstan," the spokesman said. The Iranian Embassy also informed the Kazakh Foreign Ministry that the three Iranian nationals have no links to the Iranian secret services. But the Kazakh National Security Committee said they "represent a threat to the country's security." Kazakh authorities claim one of the Iranians is a special agent from the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security and the other two are bodyguards. BP RETURN OF TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER DELAYED AGAIN. Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition, told RFE/RL correspondents that his planned return to Tajikistan on 25 February was held up owing to conditions at Dushanbe airport. Turajonzoda and an 18-member delegation from the UTO, including its leader Said Abdullo Nuri, were told at Tehran airport that the Iranian 727 Boeing they were about to board was too large to land at Dushanbe airport. This was disputed by Nuri. Later, Turajonzoda was told that the runway at Dushanbe airport had sustained damage in recent earthquakes. RFE/RL correspondents in the Tajik capital say large planes, including Russian military cargo aircraft, have been landing at the airport. Nuri has appealed to UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem, who likewise rejected the reasons for the flight's delay. BP END NOTE FLIRTING WITH MADNESS by Liz Fuller When Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan resigned on 3 February, he claimed that his departure from office constituted a victory for the so-called "party of war." Western reaction to his resignation largely seems to have given credence to that claim. Apocalyptic headlines--such as "Armenia Flirts With Madness"--testify to widespread apprehension that hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh will inevitably break out again in the near future. Yet Armenia's interim leadership remains whole-heartedly committed to resuming negotiations on finding a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. That commitment, however, does not preclude the possibility of another war erupting in the near future. Meeting with an RFE/RL delegation in Yerevan just four days after Ter-Petrossyan's resignation, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan explained his objections to the "phased" draft peace plan proposed last year by the three Minsk Group co-chairmen and accepted by Ter-Petrossyan as a basis for further peace talks. Kocharyan pointed out that the international community had regarded Ter-Petrossyan's policy of what Kocharyan called "concessions and exaggerated compromise" as the most promising approach to resolving the conflict. In fact, Kocharyan reasoned, Ter-Petrossyan's overt pragmatism alienated the Karabakh Armenian leadership, which, under the preliminary agreements reached by the Minsk Group, does not have the right to participate in negotiations on its future status and which felt abandoned by its sole ally. (In all fairness, it should be noted that Armenia has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to persuade the Minsk Group to upgrade Karabakh's status to a full party to the peace talks.) Moreover, Ter-Petrossyan's conciliatory stance encouraged Azerbaijan in its obdurate rejection of any direct talks with Stepanakert. It also buttressed Baku's assumption that it would be easier to extract substantive concessions in bilateral talks with Yerevan and that the international community would, in turn, exert pressure on the Armenian leadership to persuade Stepanakert to agree to the "phased" approach. Kocharyan said he hopes for the resumption of negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. But he added that it would also be "correct" for the Minsk Group co-chairmen to express their support for parallel talks between the central Azerbaijani government and the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, told "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 11 February that he hoped the Minsk Group co-chairmen would find a way at their 17 February meeting in Paris to amend the existing draft peace proposal so that it would be acceptable to both Yerevan and Stepanakert, although he conceded that it would not be easy for them to do so. (The official statement issued after the Paris meeting merely called for the resumption of negotiations and noted that the co-chairmen will visit Armenia and Azerbaijan after the 16 March Armenian presidential elections.) But even if the Minsk Group succeeds in drafting a revised peace plan that addresses the security concerns of the Karabakh Armenian leadership, the resumption of negotiations is largely contingent on domestic political developments. To date, 13 candidates have announced their intention of contending the Armenian presidential elections, although it is unlikely that each will succeed in collecting the 25,000 signatures necessary for registration. Moreover, some of those who do register may ultimately withdraw their candidacy in order to endorse a rival candidate. But given that Karabakh currently dominates Armenian domestic politics in general and the presidential election campaign in particular, there is a danger that candidates may vie with one another in adopting an increasingly militant stance on the Karabakh issue and may commit themselves to policies from which it would be difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to retreat. Moreover, even if Armenia's next president initially proves to be both moderate and flexible in his approach to the negotiating process, he may be subject to pressure from more hard-line element such as Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. In a series of interviews last fall, Babayan hinted that he considered the resumption of hostilities virtually inevitable in the light of Baku's refusal to compromise. And Azerbaijan, too, is gearing up for presidential elections scheduled for October. Azerbaijan's political opposition has consistently taken a tougher position than the country's leadership on the Karabakh issue; and last month, a group of pro-government parties broke ranks, registering its displeasure with official policy and castigating the Minsk Group for its alleged passivity in not taking "concrete steps to liberate occupied Azerbaijani territories." As in Armenia, presidential candidates in Azerbaijan could conceivably yield to the temptation to exploit the Karabakh issue in order to win votes and, having sown the wind, reap the whirlwind. As Alcuin, abbot of Tours, wrote to his patron, the future Emperor Charlemagne, some 12 centuries ago: "The tumultuousness of the crowd is always close to madness." xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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