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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 43, Part I, 4 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 43, Part I, 4 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 RFE/RL CAUCASUS REPORT: A WEEKLY REVIEW OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS AND TRANSCAUCASIA FROM RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY This new email weekly covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia's North Caucasus. To subscribe, send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "subscribe" in the subject line or body of the message. The first issue (March 3, 1998) and all future issues will be online at the RFE/RL Web site. http://www.rferl.org/caucasus-report/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN FOURTH READING * RUSSIA REASSURES ISRAEL OVER IRAN * OSCE REGRETS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT'S FAILURE TO AMEND ELECTION LAW * End Note: FORMER COMMUNIST MAY HOLD KEY TO ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA APPROVES BUDGET IN FOURTH READING. The State Duma on 4 March approved the 1998 budget in the fourth and final reading by 252 to 129 with two abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Previously, deputies had twice refused to pass the document in the fourth reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1998). Before the 4 March vote, acting Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov of the Russian Regions faction described the compromises reached in negotiations with the government. In place of a government proposal to make expenditures totaling 27.9 billion rubles ($4.6 billion) conditional on receiving enough revenues to cover that sum, the budget contains an amendment allowing the government to cut spending if the Duma is informed within three days and if all budget items are cut proportionally. In 1997, the government cut funding for some programs by more than 50 percent. LB YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER. President Boris Yeltsin on 4 March appointed nuclear researcher Yevgenii Adamov to head the Atomic Energy Ministry, Russian news agencies reported. Adamov was involved in the Chornobyl cleanup and since then has been director of Russia's Power Technologies Research Institute. He replaces Viktor Mikhailov, an unexpected casualty of the recent cabinet reshuffle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1998). After meeting with Yeltsin, Adamov told journalists that the president has instructed him to preserve "parity" in nuclear weapons while making it possible to reduce funds spent on Russia's nuclear arsenals. Adamov also said Yeltsin told him to work on improving nuclear safety and spoke "warmly" of Mikhailov. ITAR-TASS speculated that Mikhailov had recommended Adamov as his successor. LB KOKOSHIN NOT TO OVERHAUL SECURITY COUNCIL. In his first press conference as Security Council secretary, Andrei Kokoshin announced on 3 March that he is not planning any "revolutionary" changes, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he does not intend to expand the Security Council staff, and he pledged to cooperate with the government apparatus and the presidential administration. Yeltsin has relieved Kokoshin of the post of chief military inspector, and the State Military Inspectorate, which was created last August, will now be subordinated to the Security Council. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that Kokoshin has a reputation for being flexible and not antagonizing colleagues. Interfax quoted an unnamed source as saying that Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin recommended that Yeltsin appoint Kokoshin to succeed him as Security Council secretary. LB NO MORE CABINET CHANGES FOR NOW? Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 3 March that to his knowledge, no more presidential decrees on personnel changes in the government are currently being prepared, Russian news agencies reported. The same day, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told journalists that "personnel rotation is a continuous process in the government." At the same time, Shabdurasulov said no further cabinet changes are expected in the near future, adding that dismissals "are possible only in the sense that they are always possible," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian media are still speculating about who was behind the recent government dismissals. "Russkii telegraf" reported on 3 March that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais was responsible for the decision to sack Transportation Minister Nikolai Tsakh and Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov. LB RUSSIA REASSURES ISRAEL OVER IRAN. Russian Presidential Press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 3 March that Moscow has provided Israeli Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky with information that should convince the Israeli government that Moscow has not supplied missile technology to Iran. Yastrzhembskii met with Sharansky in Moscow the previous day. Sharansky told journalists that improving ties with Russia is a "strategic goal" for Israel, Interfax reported. Following his meeting with Sharansky on 3 March, newly appointed Russian Deputy Prime Minister Rybkin underscored Israel's increasing importance in Russian foreign policy. Economic cooperation and joint measures to combat international terrorism were discussed at that meeting, ITAR-TASS reported. Annual trade turnover between Russia and Israel totals $400 million, according to dpa. LF POSUVALYUK TO RETURN FROM IRAQ SOON. Viktor Posuvalyuk, the presidential special envoy to Iraq, is expected to return to Russia following one month in Baghdad. The adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq "will speed up his return," Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said on 3 March. But while praising Russian diplomacy for defusing tensions over the Persian Gulf, Tarasov said Iraq must now fulfill its obligations or face "the most severe consequences." Meanwhile, Vladimir Lukin of the Yabloko faction, who is chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, has returned from Washington, where he met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and invited him to address the Duma in Moscow. Lukin hinted there was little agreement over Iraq in meetings he held with U.S. congressmen. He added that differences also surfaced over ratification of the START-2 treaty. BP RUSSIA REGISTERS DISPLEASURE OVER ISTANBUL CASPIAN TALKS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tarasov said on 3 March that Moscow has conveyed to Ankara its "legitimate bewilderment" and dissatisfaction at not having received an invitation to attend the 1-2 March talks in Istanbul between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, Interfax reported. Iran was also not invited to send a representative to the talks. Meanwhile, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko told journalists in Tokyo on 3 March that the route for the main export pipeline for Caspian oil should be chosen exclusively on economic grounds, according to the "Turkish Daily News." LF FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE "MORE ACTIVE" IN RUSSIA. Aleksandr Tsarenko, the deputy director of the Federal Security Service, said on 3 March that foreign intelligence services have become "more active" in Russia recently, ITAR-TASS reported. Tsarenko pointed to "traditional rivals" such as the U.S., U.K., and France but added that Iran, China, and North Korea have stepped up their foreign intelligence activities. He mentioned the case of an Iranian intelligence agent who was expelled last year while attempting to collect information on missiles. Tsarenko added that the large Chinese and North Korean communities throughout Russia, but particularly in Moscow, gave those countries an advantage in obtaining industrial and military secrets. BP DUMA DEPUTIES IN NO HURRY ON TREATY WITH UKRAINE. At State Duma hearings on 3 March, most Duma deputies spoke out against rapid ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian friendship treaty, which was signed in May 1997, Interfax reported. A group of deputies proposed delaying ratification until after the new Ukrainian parliament ratifies agreements on dividing the Black Sea Fleet. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma recently said he hopes Russia will ratify the treaty before the Ukrainian parliamentary elections, scheduled for 29 March. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov urged Duma deputies to ratify the treaty as soon as possible, as did Vladimir Yatsenko, the head of the Ukrainian parliamentary delegation at the hearings. Yatsenko promised that the Ukrainian parliament "will never make a choice in favor of NATO." Russian opponents of the treaty have charged that it opens the door to NATO membership for Ukraine by renouncing any Russian claim to Ukrainian territory. LB GOVERNMENT NOT TO PAY FOR CIRCULATION OF UKRAINIAN MEDIA. Russian government spokesman Shabdurasulov on 3 March denied reports that the Russian government will fund the distribution of Ukrainian media on Russian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. Shabdurasulov said Ukrainian Information Minister Zinovy Kulik had erroneously claimed that during Ukrainian President Kuchma's recent visit to Moscow, agreement was reached to have the Russian budget fund Ukrainian radio and television broadcasts and the circulation of some Ukrainian print media in Russia. Shabdurasulov added that "one can hardly imagine anything more absurd." LB ARMY OFFICER SENTENCED FOR BEATING RECRUIT TO DEATH. In Birobidzhan (in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast), Lieutenant Valerii Mantulenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison for "overstepping his authority," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. Mantulenko was found guilty of beating a 19-year-old recruit to death. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" on 3 March reported the case of one such youth who was fined 17,000 rubles (some $2,900) by a federal court for refusing to serve in the army. The youth was amnestied immediately because he claimed he wanted to carry out alternative service. The law on alternative service, however, has not yet been approved by the Duma. According to AFP, 40,000 youths dodged the draft last year. BP CHERNOMYRDIN TO REOPEN INVESTIGATION INTO IRKUTSK CRASH. Government spokesman Shabdurasulov announced on 3 March that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is to order further investigation into the causes of a December plane crash in Irkutsk, ITAR-TASS reported. A military commission concluded last month that engine problems caused the An-124 military cargo plane to crash soon after takeoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1998). However, representatives of the Motor-Sich company in Ukraine, which produces engines for An-124 planes, disputed that conclusion. Shabdurasulov said Chernomyrdin is to demand that civilian aviation officials and representatives of the Motor-Sich factory be represented on the commission that will continue to investigate the disaster. LB CRIMINAL CASE OPENED AGAINST EX-KEMEROVO GOVERNOR. The Kemerovo Oblast Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case against former Governor Mikhail Kislyuk for allegedly misappropriating funds from a World Bank loan in 1996-1997, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 3 March. Kislyuk is accused of misusing some 17 billion old rubles ($2.8 million) from the loan, which was earmarked for the coal industry. Officials from the presidential administration have arrived in Kemerovo to look into the charges against Kislyuk. Yeltsin replaced Kislyuk as governor with Aman Tuleev last July. Kislyuk was appointed to head the Federal Service on Regulating Natural Monopolies in the Transportation Sector the same month. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 March, Kislyuk denied wrongdoing and said the Finance Ministry was responsible for allocating funds from the World Bank loan. LB REGIONAL LEGISLATOR KILLED IN YEKATERINBURG. Georgii Stepanenko, a deputy in the Sverdlovsk Oblast Legislative Assembly, was shot dead on 3 March near his home in Yekaterinburg, an RFE/RL correspondent in Yekaterinburg reported. Sverdlovsk is to hold legislative elections on 12 April, and Stepanenko was campaigning for a seat. The Our Home-Our City movement, which is headed by Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, was backing his candidacy. Our Home-Our City is the main political rival of the Transformation of the Urals movement, headed by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. Some observers believe Stepanenko's murder was connected not to his political activities but to his work as a lawyer. One of his clients has been fighting for control over several enterprises in the oblast. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are still investigating a January explosion that occurred near a car carrying Rossel. LB RUTSKOI LOSES LIBEL SUIT. A Kursk district court on 3 March rejected Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi's libel lawsuit against "Rossiiskie vesti," the official newspaper of the presidential administration, and one of its correspondents, ITAR-TASS reported. Rutskoi was demanding 10 million old rubles ($1,700) in damages for an article published last November, which alleged that mismanagement by the oblast administration had caused part of the region's sugar beet crop to remain unharvested. The Kursk verdict is unusual, since many regional leaders have won libel suits against journalists who criticize their work. Ulyanovsk Governor Yurii Goryachev, for example, has won several such lawsuits, even when the articles allegedly defaming him did not mention his name. Last October, an Ulyanovsk court fined an "Izvestiya" correspondent for allegedly libeling Goryachev in an article questioning the allocation of agricultural subsidies in the oblast. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OSCE REGRETS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT'S FAILURE TO AMEND ELECTION LAW. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring mission in Armenia released a statement on 3 March expressing regret at the parliament's failure to include proposed amendments to the election law on its agenda. Those amendments would allow local Armenian observers to monitor the poll and the vote count. The OSCE statement also called on the Armenian authorities to ensure that all presidential candidates have equal access to state media, that government officials do not interfere in the voting, and that the elections are as transparent as possible, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE also called on the Central Electoral Commission to clarify procedures for Armenian citizens voting abroad. LF ARMENIA TO RETHINK ITS POLICY ON OIL TRANSIT. Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan on 3 March, acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that Armenia's next president will have to reconsider the impact of oil on the country's foreign policy, Interfax reported. Oskanian described oil as a key factor for stability in the Caucasus region, and predicted that Armenian policy on oil transit will change after the 16 March presidential poll. Former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan had rejected linking a solution to the Karabakh conflict to the routing of oil pipelines through Armenia. In February, the Armenian parliament ratified the April 1996 agreement on the unrestricted transit of oil throughout the CIS. LF KARABAKH FOREIGN MINISTER ASSESSES PEACE PROSPECTS. Naira Melkoumian told an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington on 3 March that she is "satisfied" with talks she held with Lynn Pascoe, the U.S. co-chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk group, at the U.S. State Department the previous day. Melkoumian predicted that a lasting solution to the Karabakh conflict could be achieved relatively quickly provided that the Azerbaijani leadership is prepared not only to demand but also to make concessions. A U.S. State Department official told RFE/RL that the financial benefits of a peace agreement are more important than concessions. "There is a lot of international willingness to help finance development in this long-troubled region," he said. LF ABKHAZIA INTERCEPTS GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS. Abkhaz Security Service head Astamur Tarba told Interfax on 3 March that his men have detained four Georgian guerrillas armed with explosives, anti-tank mines, and detonators in a village in Abkhazia's Ochamchire Raion. To date, the Georgian "White Legion" guerrilla organization has largely confined its activities to Gali Raion, located between Ochamchire and Abkhazia's border with the rest of Georgia. Tarba also said that an Abkhaz patrol boat opened fire on four Georgian fishing vessels that refused to comply with a request to leave Abkhaz territorial waters off Anaklia. The Georgian Border Guard Service has condemned that incident as an "outright breach of the cease-fire agreement" concluded in May 1994. LF U.S.-AZERBAIJANI JOINT VENTURE IN JEOPARDY? Reza Vaziri, president of RV Investment Group Services, has expressed concern at the Azerbaijani parliament's delay in ratifying an August 1997 contract between his company and Azerbaijan's Azergyzyl, Turan reported on 3 March. The joint venture would develop deposits in western Azerbaijan containing an estimated 400 tons of gold and 2,500 tons of silver. Vaziri said that the contract is still being examined by the Azerbaijani presidential administration. In January, the deputy head of Azerbaijan's State Precious Metals Institute said that Azerbaijan may unilaterally cancel the contract because the U.S. partner has not yet begun to implement it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1997 and 12 January 1998.) LF KYRGYZ, UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTERS IN TAJIKISTAN. Muratbek Imanaliev and Abdulaziz Kamilov, meeting with their Tajik counterpart, Talbak Nazarov, in Dushanbe on 3 March, expressed concern about the spread of religious extremism in Central Asia, ITAR-TASS reported. They also supported maintaining a "secular" Tajik government. Kamilov said the three countries will work together to "locate sources of this threat [of religious extremism] and coordinate efforts to combat it." He declined, however, to specify what those sources might be. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will support Tajikistan's entry into the Central Asian Union (whose third member is Kazakhstan) at the next meeting of that organization. BP HEAD OF RADIO ALMAZ COMMENTS ON CLOSURE. Rustam Koshmuratov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 3 March that although he completed the process of registering Radio Almaz last December, the National Agency of Communications (NAS), which was established in October 1997, had demanded additional documents. The station was also accused of piracy for broadcasting in translation programs originally broadcast by the Voice of America and RFE/RL's Russian Service. Koshmuratov, however, said he had submitted copies of letters giving him permission to rebroadcast programming from the two sources but was told by NAS officials that more documents were required. Radio Almaz was closed down on 23 February. BP KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER'S WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN. Madel Ismailov of the Almaty City Workers Movement has neither been seen nor heard from since he was taken into police custody following the founding conference of the opposition People's Front movement on 27 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Murat Auezov co-chairman of the opposition movement Azamat, said inquiries have been made at all Almaty's jails. Ismailov's colleagues fear he is being detained at a National Security Committee prison. BP END NOTE FORMER COMMUNIST MAY HOLD KEY TO ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE By Emil Danielyan The Armenian presidential race has taken a new twist. Former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian is increasingly gaining ground on the two front-runners, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian and his main opposition challenger, Vazgen Manukian. It is widely believed that Kocharian pressured Demirchian to run for the presidency in a bid to weaken the chances of the other opposition candidates. But unofficial surveys suggest that Demirchian has good chances of winning the 16 March presidential ballot because of widespread popular nostalgia for the "good old days." Thus Kocharian's and Manukian's pre-election confidence may prove premature owing to the emergence of a new heavyweight. Demirchian headed the Armenian Communist Party from 1974 to 1988, a period of stability and relative prosperity for the former Soviet republic. Since the end of Communist rule in Armenia in summer 1990, he has been director of one of Armenia's largest state enterprises but has kept a low public profile. Demirchian's growing popularity underscores public discontent with the current socio-economic situation in Armenia. Many Armenians want the former Communist boss to return to power in the hope that he will be able to re-establish the living standards they enjoyed 10 years ago. Industrial decline and war with neighboring Azerbaijan triggered the economic collapse of the early 1990s. As recently as two weeks ago, very few observers believed Demirchian would constitute a serious threat to Kocharian or any other leading candidate. At a closed-door meeting one day before Demirchian announced his candidacy, the two were rumored to have struck a deal whereby Demirchian would endorse Kocharian in an anticipated run-off election, thereby securing what they expected to be a significant number of additional votes for the acting president. Voters who had cast their ballots in September 1996 for Manukian and his center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) to protest the policies of Levon Ter-Petrossyan now have Demirchian as an alternative. The same holds true for former supporters of current Communist leader Sergei Badalian, for whom Demirchian's bid is likely to prove disastrous. Ironically, however, it is Prime Minister Kocharian who may ultimately suffer the most from Demirchian's unexpected popularity. Official opinion polls are notoriously misleading in Armenia. Thus, local observers rely largely on conversations with individual voters, which, combined with impressions of campaign volunteers collecting signatures for their candidates, suggest Demirchian and Manukian have the best chances of reaching a second round (which will be necessary if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote on 16 March). Demirchian told RFE/RL last weekend that, if elected, he will "consolidate all political forces" to establish democracy and a free market economy. He said he supports a "peaceful settlement" of the conflict with Azerbaijan. And he added that Nagorno-Karabakh must never be regain the status it had before1988, but he did not say what he would offer as an alternative. Demirchian also denied having colluding with the authorities over his decision to run in the elections. He gave the impression of being self-confident and showed no signs of poor health, despite allegations to the contrary. In the event of Demirchian's victory, Armenia would join the other two Transcaucasian states in having returned a Brezhnev-era Communist to power. Both Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia and Heidar Aliev of Azerbaijan are the linchpins of their countries' stability. Both know Demirchian well, having ruled the region at a time when it was one of the most well-to-do parts of the former USSR. Aliev and Shevardnadze rapidly adjusted to the new post-Soviet realities, and their pragmatism and flexibility helped them regain power. Whether Demirchian can do likewise will become clear very soon. But it is nonetheless quite remarkable that many Armenians are now turning to the former Communist boss after having condemned him in 1988 for not sufficiently supporting Karabakh's drive for secession from Azerbaijan. At the same time, Demirchian's conspicuous avoidance of the media has fueled suspicions about his possible involvement in pre-election deals with Kocharian. Some observers believe that the Armenian leadership has compromising information with which it could blackmail Demirchian into withdrawing his candidacy if he appears to be on his way to winning outright in the first round of voting. Those observers reason that Demirchian's last-minute endorsement of Ter-Petrossyan's presidential candidacy on the eve of the September 1996 election was highly suspicious following his decade of silence. Some think he may have made that endorsement under pressure from the then ruling party. Moreover, Demirchian lacks a credible political force on which he can rely (he collected only 37,882 signatures in support of his registration, as compared with Kocharian's 255,994 and Manukian's 303,096). Undoubtedly, his rivals will make full use of their campaign mechanisms in an attempt to bolster support for their candidacies. The author is an RFE/RL freelance correspondent based in Yerevan. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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