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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 41, Part I, 2 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 41, Part I, 2 March 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 POLITICIZATION AND SELF-CENSORSHIP IN THE RUSSIAN MEDIA A new financial dependence on industrial or banking groups has led to a noticeable erosion of media autonomy in Russia. This paper is available on the RFE/RL Web site: http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumediapaper/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN FIRES THREE MINISTERS * LAST TSAR TO BE BURIED IN ST. PETERSBURG * GEORGIAN HOSTAGE-TAKERS RELEASED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN FIRES THREE MINISTERS. President Boris Yeltsin on 28 February followed through on his threat to remove three cabinet members, signing decrees to sack Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov (in charge of CIS issues), Transportation Minister Nikolai Tsakh, and Education Minister Vladimir Kinelev. Yeltsin's press service gave no explanation for the dismissals and did not clarify which "new jobs" the fired ministers were said to be taking, although government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told Interfax that Kinelev is to become director of a Moscow institute affiliated with UNESCO. Serov, Tsakh, and Kinelev all kept relatively low profiles in the government. Speculation about Serov's dismissal had circulated widely in the Russian media since a CIS summit last October, at which other CIS leaders criticized Yeltsin. Serov was also under investigation for allegedly writing off part of Uzbekistan's debt to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1998). LB RYBKIN TO SUPERVISE CIS AFFAIRS. Yeltsin announced after a 2 March meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that he has appointed Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin to replace Serov as deputy prime minister in charge of CIS issues, Russian news agencies reported. Rybkin told journalists that during a "transition period" he will continue to supervise relations between Russia and Chechnya. He declined to name his possible successor as Security Council secretary. Also on 2 March, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin has appointed Yurii Mikhailov as transport minister and Aleksandr Tikhonov as education minister. Mikhailov and Tikhonov previously served as deputies in those ministries. LB NTV SAYS RESHUFFLE DELAYED BECAUSE OF KUCHMA VISIT. Yeltsin had been expected to reshuffle the cabinet on 26 February, the day the government reported on its 1997 performance. According to NTV on 1 March, Yeltsin decided whom to fire before the cabinet session but postponed announcing his decision until after his meetings with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 26 and 27 February. LB COMMUNIST LEADERS DISAPPOINTED BY DISMISSALS. Commenting on the cabinet reshuffle, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax on 1 March that "the president and prime minister ... have opted to openly disregard public opinion." He said Serov's ouster is a victory for "the group opposing closer ties and friendship among CIS countries and hating all things Slavic." He also expressed regret that Yeltsin did not fire First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, or Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev. According to Zyuganov, Chubais and Urinson have "ruined the economy," while Nemtsov and Sysuev are incapable of solving problems in the energy sector or with its social policy. Speaking to ITAR-TASS while visiting Kuwait, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, also a prominent Communist, said he was "surprised" Urinson was not fired, since, in Seleznev's view, the Economics Ministry has "failed to implement" government policies. LB UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN SIBERIA. President Leonid Kuchma flew from Moscow to Kemerovo Oblast in Siberia on 27 February. Kuchma spent two days meeting with the oblast's governor, Aman Tuleev, and his administration, signing several trade agreements. Kemerovo will ship coking coal, rail tracks, chemical and electrical engineering goods to Ukraine and will receive cars and buses, light industry goods and foodstuffs. Kuchma told business leaders in Kemerovo on 1 March that Ukraine lost $3 billion in trade with Russia in 1997 but said agreements signed with Boris Yeltsin on 27 in Moscow ended the "trade war" between the two countries. Kuchma also visited relatives and his sister's grave in the village of Berezovskii before returning to Kyiv. BP CHECKPOINT OPENS ON RUSSIAN-CHINESE BORDER. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov attended the opening of the revamped border crossing at Zabaikalsk in Chita Oblast on 1 March. The fourteen-lane crossing point can handle 10,000 to 20,000 people and 1,500 cars daily. About 60 percent of trade between Russia and China passes through this point. Nemtsov pledged that entry requirements for Chinese citizens would be simplified soon to facilitate trade. In other related news, construction began on the Lianyungang nuclear power station in China's Jiangsu province. About 200 Russian companies are involved in the project. BP RUSSIA, CYPRUS DENY REPORTS OF TANK SALES. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov told ITAR-TASS on 27 February that recent press reports of the imminent delivery to Cyprus of Russian T-80U tanks are untrue. The Russian arms export company Rosvooruzhenie has similarly denied that Cyprus signed a contract with an Omsk defense plant to buy 40 T-80Us at a cost of $20 million, as has a Cypriot government spokesman. LF NEMTSOV REJECTS CALLS FOR SLOWING DOWN HOUSING REFORM. Meeting in Ulan-Ude (Republic of Buryatia) with leaders of many Siberian regions, Nemtsov rejected calls for delaying the completion of housing reform from 2003 to 2007, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 February. The federal government's reform program calls for citizens to pay the full costs of municipal services by 2003. A resolution on housing reform adopted by the Siberian Accord association on 28 February did not include a point to extend the restructuring through 2007. Like the federal program, the plan endorsed by Siberian leaders calls for granting subsidies for rent and utilities payments only to poor families. The housing reform program approved by the Moscow city government will not be completed until 2007 and imposes the sharpest increases in rent and utilities charges after 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 1998). LB LAST TSAR TO BE BURIED IN ST. PETERSBURG. The government decided on 27 February that Tsar Nicholas II will be buried in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress on 17 July, the 80th anniversary of the day he and his family were killed. Nemtsov said cabinet ministers unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the commission he headed, which studied the authenticity of the remains and considered various options for a burial place, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel had lobbied for the tsar to be buried in Yekaterinburg, where he and his family were killed. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov had advocated burying Nicholas and his family in the capital. LB CHURCH NOT CONVINCED TSAR'S REMAINS ARE AUTHENTIC. Although Nemtsov told journalists on 27 February that there are "no differences" between the government and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the decision to bury the tsar in St. Petersburg is at odds with a recommendation adopted by the Synod on 26 February. The Church called for burying what it called the "Yekaterinburg remains" temporarily in a "symbolic grave" until all doubts about their authenticity have been resolved, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Metropolitan Yuvenalii explained that the Church is to consider whether to canonize Nicholas II in the coming years and "cannot afford to make a mistake" about the authenticity of the bones. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which is not connected to the Moscow Patriarchate, has repeatedly claimed that the true remains of the last tsar are in Brussels. LB PROSECUTOR SAYS AUTHORITIES CLOSE TO SOLVING LISTEV MURDER... Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov told ITAR-TASS on 28 February that investigators are very close to solving the murder of television journalist Vladislav Listev. Skuratov said the Prosecutor-General's Office has obtained various documents from Switzerland, which shed light on the commercial activities of Listev and other associates of Russian Public Television (ORT). Listev was shot in an apparent contract killing on 1 March 1995. In November 1994, Yeltsin had appointed him to supervise the transformation of the network Ostankino into ORT, which began broadcasting in April 1995. Skuratov is to brief Yeltsin on 2 March about the Listev case and investigations of other high-profile murders. LB ... AS NEWSPAPER ACCUSES BEREZOVSKII OF HIDING FROM INVESTIGATORS. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 27 February charged that Boris Berezovskii, who is reportedly receiving medical treatment for a snowmobiling injury, in fact fled to Switzerland to avoid questioning in connection with the Listev case. Berezovskii, an influential figure at ORT, reportedly had a lengthy conversation with Listev on the day of the murder. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered very close to Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and has repeatedly published sharp criticism of Berezovskii during the last year. Meanwhile, an unnamed investigator involved in the Listev case on 28 February denied that Berezovskii is hiding from the police, Interfax reported. The investigator said Berezovskii responded to a police summons in connection with the Listev case last December and will be questioned again soon. LB LEFT OPPOSITION FORMS LOBBY FOR INDUSTRY. Prominent politicians from the Communist-led opposition participated in a congress of Russian commodity producers in Moscow on 27 February, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The congress formed a Coordinating Council of Domestic Producers, which will lobby for measures to support Russian industry. Addressing the congress, Nikolai Ryzhkov, the leader of the Popular Power Duma faction, charged that the policies of the 1990s have inflicted more economic damage than did World War II. He said Russia has stopped importing grain and begun limited grain exports only because of steep declines in the animal husbandry industry. Ryzhkov asked delegates to the congress, "Has what's happened in recent years been a coincidence [...] or the purposeful action of international economic institutions in close cooperation with the fathers of Russian democracy: [former acting Prime Minister Yegor] Gaidar, [First Deputy Prime Minister] Chubais, and other reformers?" LB AUSHEV RE-ELECTED PRESIDENT OF INGUSHETIA. Incumbent Ruslan Aushev polled 66.5 percent of the vote in the pre-term 1 March Ingushetian presidential poll, defeating eight other candidates, ITAR-TASS reported. His closest rival, Russian procuracy official Issa Kostoev, polled 13.36 percent, and LUKoil Vice President Mukharbek Aushev (no relation to Ruslan) -- 9.13 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 64 percent. Aushev told Interfax on 2 March he has reached agreement with North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov on the repatriation of Ingush displaced persons to North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, whence they fled during fighting in November 1992. He also affirmed that Ingushetia will never seek to secede from the Russian Federation, even if neighboring Chechnya is internationally recognized as an independent state, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported on 2 March. LF INGUSHETIAN REFERENDUM ON LEGAL, COURT SYSTEM CANCELLED. On 27 February, in response to a request adopted the previous day by the Congress of Peoples of Ingushetia, Aushev cancelled the referendum due to take place on 1 March on a new draft law on the legal and judicial system, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 February. Under that draft, which the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has termed unconstitutional, court chairmen and judges would be appointed by the president of Ingushetia, not the Russian president. Aushev and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will sign an agreement on 6 March on the division of responsibility for the legal and judicial system between Nazran and Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. LF PRIMORE AUTHORITIES FREEZE VLADIVOSTOK BANK ACCOUNTS. The bank accounts of the Vladivostok city government were frozen on 26 February on the orders of the Primorskii Krai justice department, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. The city administration is said to owe some 130 million rubles ($21 million) to individuals and legal entities that have won lawsuits against it. Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov says freezing the accounts is a "political provocation" designed to undermine his authority by paralyzing the city administration. He claims most of the city's debts piled up during the tenure of his predecessor, Konstantin Tolstoshein. The dispute is the latest turn in a long-running feud between Cherepkov and the Primorskii Krai authorities, who are loyal to Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Last November, Cherepkov announced plans to step down, but new mayoral elections, which were scheduled for late March, were postponed indefinitely in January. LB KOMI LEGISLATURE IN NO HURRY TO IMPLEMENT COURT RULING. The State Council of the Komi Republic has scheduled local elections for February 1999, the same day as republican-wide legislative elections, according to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" of 26 February. The Constitutional Court recently ruled that mayors in Komi must be elected rather than appointed by Komi President Yurii Spiridonov. However, Spiridonov questioned that decision, saying it contradicted the 1992 Federation Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January and 3 February 1998). The decision of the Komi legislature will allow Spiridonov's appointees to stay in office for more than a year after the Constitutional Court ruling. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN HOSTAGE-TAKERS RELEASED. The Georgian authorities have released twelve men detained for their role in the 19 February abduction of four UNOMIG observers in the western Georgian town of Zugdidi, Interfax reported on 27 February. The men have given written pledges not to leave the area. Speaking to journalists in Zugdidi, one of the twelve denied reports that Gocha Esebua, the leader of the group, had been killed, but admitted that he does not know Esebua's present whereabouts, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. Esebua escaped on 25 February from the village of Djikhaskari where the hostages were being held several hours before his accomplices released their remaining prisoners and surrendered to Georgian interior ministry forces. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ROUNDUP. In an interview with RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 28 February, former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan said that if elected president in the 16 March poll he aims to consolidate all political forces in order to promote democratization and the transition to a free market economy. He claimed his long acquaintance with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev could help expedite a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Demirchyan denied reports that he has concluded a secret agreement with Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan to ensure the latter's election as president. On 27 February, National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukyan told journalists that "the police, former KGB and government bodies" are pressuring people to vote for Kocharyan, but added that Kocharyan may be unaware of this. Manukyan said he will soon publicize evidence of numerous violations of the electoral law. LF ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON KOCHARYAN CANDIDACY. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 27 February, acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian evaluated the implications of Kocharyan's presidential candidacy, Interfax and RFE/RL reported. Kocharyan candidacy is controversial because he does not meet the election law requirement that candidates must have been citizens of the Republic of Armenia and have lived there for ten years. Oskanian reasoned that if Kocharyan is registered as a candidate, the international community may condemn that decision as based on the December 1989 resolution of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic's Supreme Soviet on the unification of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which has never been annulled. But not to register Kocharyan's candidacy, Oskanian argued, is tantamount to Armenian recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT TO JAPAN. Heidar Aliev and Japanese Prime Minister Rutaro Hashimoto signed joint statements on Friendship and Partnership and trade cooperation on 26 February, Turan reported. Rutaro stated that Tokyo will support Azerbaijan's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization, according to ITAR-TASS. Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Namik Nasrullaev and Japanese Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi exchanged notes on a grant of up to 400 million yen ($3.13 million) to develop Azerbaijan's food processing industry. The previous day, Japan's state-owned Export-Import Bank announced a 5.5 billion yen to Baku to finance the upgrading of a chemical plant. LF KAZAKH OPPOSITION GROUPS UNITE EFFORTS. Looking toward presidential elections in 2000, several opposition groups in Kazakhstan joined forces at a conference in Almaty creating the People's Front of Kazakhstan on 27 February, Interfax reported. The new organization is made up of representatives from the Communist Party, Socialist Party, the Workers Movement, Azamat, Lada, and Azat. Galym Abilsiitov of the Azamat movement was elected chairman of the organization and said the goal is to nominate a candidate for the presidency and "struggle against the regime of personalized power carried by President (Nursultan) Nazarbayev." Azamat Chairman Petr Svoik was named first deputy leader of the People's Front and Madel Ismailov deputy chairman. Svoik said following the conference that delegates attending the conference were detained by police, according to RFE/RL correspondents. BP PROTEST IN KAZAKHSTAN AGAINST RISE IN HEATING, ELECTRICITY COSTS. Some 1,000 people, mostly pensioners, held a rally on 28 February outside the offices of the Belgian firm Tractabel in Almaty protesting hikes in the company's utility rates, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Tractabel is the foreign partner in the joint venture Almaty Power Consolidated and the firm has complained several times in 1998 that the company is losing money and prices for heating and electricity need to be raised. BP TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER RETURNS HOME. Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), returned to Tajikistan on 27 February after five years of exile in Iran, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Government security forces erected fences around the airport but a crowd of several thousand still gathered to greet Turajonzoda outside the airport. Turajonzoda said he is prepared to work on implementing the peace process in Tajikistan but repeated an earlier statement on the need to hold a referendum to replace the words "secular government" in the Tajik constitution with "people's government." He said such a change would guarantee all political parties, including Islamic, the right to participate in the political process. 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