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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 44, Part I, 5 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 44, Part I, 5 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 * CHERNOMYRDIN THANKS DUMA FOR BUDGET VOTE * PRIMAKOV CONDEMNS POLICE ACTION AGAINST RIGA DEMONSTRATORS * FIVE PARTIES BACK KOCHARIAN'S PRESIDENTIAL BID xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN THANKS DUMA FOR BUDGET VOTE... Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 4 March thanked State Duma deputies for approving the budget in the fourth reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He expressed hope that the Federation Council will approve the document on 11 March and that President Boris Yeltsin will sign it soon thereafter. The draft calls for 500 billion rubles ($82 billion) in spending and 368 billion rubles in revenues, resulting in a deficit of 132 billion rubles. Speaking to journalists in Bonn, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said the budget approved by the Duma is "more realistic than the [draft] that was considered several weeks ago," ITAR-TASS reported. The revenue and spending targets have not been changed since then, but an amendment was added to allow the government to cut expenditures in the event of revenue shortfalls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1998). LB ...AMID WIDESPREAD SKEPTICISM ON BUDGET TARGETS. Virtually all Duma deputies expect the government to reduce planned spending this year, as it did in 1997, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 4 March. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told RFE/RL that the budget contains a "hole" of some 90 billion rubles ($15 billion). He predicted that the government will soon declare that it has to "sequester" budget spending. The Yabloko faction voted unanimously against the budget on 4 March, having done likewise in all previous readings. LB PROCEDURAL MANEUVER AIDED BUDGET PASSAGE. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist faction, helped secure approval for the budget in the fourth reading by calling a vote on the entire document without holding separate votes on each budget amendment, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. When the Duma last considered the budget in the fourth reading, on 20 February, separate votes were held on each amendment before the entire document was put to a vote. Most deputies had expected the same procedure to be followed on 4 March. Some opposition Duma deputies were angered by Seleznev's maneuver. LB ZYUGANOV EXPLAINS COMMUNIST STAND ON BUDGET. The backing of some Communist Duma deputies was crucial for the passage of the budget on 4 March, just as limited Communist support had provided enough votes to approve the budget in previous readings, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Although Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 3 March that his faction would vote against the document, 52 Communist deputies supported the budget the next day. Zyuganov explained that some of his colleagues were swayed by appeals from regional leaders, who argued that the budget must be passed in order to provide crucial finds for the regions. Nonetheless, Zyuganov predicted that "not a single budget article will be fulfilled" by the government. He confirmed that the opposition has formed a shadow cabinet but did not name any of its members. LB GOVERNMENT TO IGNORE BUDGET PROVISION ON OFFSETS. The budget approved on 4 March contains an article allowing the government to use offsets, rather than cash payments, to settle its debts to budget-funded organizations, including those in the science, health, and education sectors, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In February, the government sought to remove that provision from the draft, noting that a November 1997 presidential decree banned the use of offsets. However, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, who had previously suggested Yeltsin might veto the budget if the government's amendments were not approved, was unperturbed by the decision to leave the provision on offsets in place. He told Duma deputies on 4 March that the government will abide by the presidential decree and ignore the budget provision. LB NEMTSOV, KOKOSHIN WARN AGAINST NATO EXPANSION. Speaking in Bonn on 4 March, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov said a further eastward expansion of NATO to incorporate unspecified former Soviet republics would be "madness," ITAR-TASS reported. Nemtsov said that such a move would destabilize the situation in Russia and thus be "bad for the U.S. and Europe." Also on 4 March, newly appointed Russian Security Council secretary Andrei Kokoshin told Ekho Moskvy that Russia will have "an adequate response" if NATO deploys nuclear weapons in East-Central Europe. Addressing his new responsibilities, Kokoshin said that Russian national security requires amending existing laws to provide for a "smoother interaction" of the country's power structures. He also said the choice of countries to which Russia exports arms should be dictated not by commercial interests but by national security. LF ANKARA RESPONDS TO MOSCOW OVER CASPIAN MEETING. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli told journalists on 4 March that it is "out of the question" that Ankara would "exclude" Russia from projects to export Caspian oil, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 5 March. Atacanli was responding to charges made the previous day by his Russian counterpart, Gennadii Tarasov, over the failure to invite Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to a recent meeting in Istanbul at which the proposed Baku-Ceyhan main export pipeline for Caspian oil was discussed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3- 4 March 1998.) Also on 4 March, Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko said Moscow does not oppose the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, but he argued that it should be one of several that exports Caspian oil, Turan reported. LF SOROS DISCLOSES LOAN TO RUSSIA. U.S. billionaire George Soros told journalists on 4 March that he extended a short-term loan to the Russian government last June, Reuters reported. In an apparent reference to the government's promise to settle all pension arrears by 1 July 1997, Soros said the government needed money to pay wage arrears a week before it was due to receive the proceeds from its third Eurobond issue. He said that the government approached him for another loan last December but that he declined. The "Financial Times" recently reported that the Russia drew $950 million in loans from Western banks in late 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1998). Soros's Quantum Fund was part of a consortium that acquired a stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest last July, and Soros said on 4 March that he may bid for another stake in Svyazinvest later this year. LB PREPARATIONS FOR ROSNEFT SALE IN FINAL STAGES. First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman said on 5 March that the plan for privatizing the oil company Rosneft will be announced by 20 March, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Braverman told RFE/RL that foreign investors will be allowed to bid for Rosneft shares. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin is to decide whether the state will sell a 50 percent or 75 percent stake in the company. Potential investors have warned that they may skip the auction if less than a 75 percent stake is on offer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998). Meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree on 4 March paving the way for the Rosneft privatization, Russian news agencies reported. That decree removes Rosneft's authority to manage state-owned stakes in other oil and gas companies and to sell oil and gas extracted under production-sharing agreements with foreign companies. LB WOMEN'S MOVEMENT LEADER CONDEMNS STEREOTYPES ABOUT MEN. Yekaterina Lakhova, who co-founded the Women of Russia movement in 1993 and now chairs a presidential commission on women, children, and demographics, has assailed Russian stereotypes about men, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 3 March. She cited statistics showing that Russian men have a lower life expectancy than do women and far higher rates of disease, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. She attributed some of those problems to the "ancient stereotype" of the man as breadwinner. She also criticized the belief that "every man must be a warrior" and that the army is a "school for bringing up real men." Lakhova slammed "senseless brutality" in the army and argued that mandatory conscription of men in peacetime is discrimination on the basis of gender. She called for transforming the army into an all-volunteer force that is open to men and women. LB SOLDIERS' MOTHERS WANT AMNESTY FOR DESERTERS. Valentina Melnikova, the co-leader of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, favors an amnesty for soldiers who desert the armed forces if they turn themselves in, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 4 March. She estimated that 40,000 soldiers have fled the army in recent years. Melnikova claimed that some 70 percent of deserters are motivated by brutal hazing, adding that others commit suicide to avoid hazing or kill their tormentors. Hazing is believed to be a major cause of the high suicide rate in the military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998). However, military officials say only 20-30 percent of deserters are trying to escape hazing. Appearing at the same press conference as Melnikova, Colonel Sergei Zimin of the investigation department of the Moscow military district argued against amnesty for deserters, although he advocated lighter punishments for those who turn themselves in. LB CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST MEMBERS OF JAPANESE SECT. The Prosecutor-General's Office has closed a criminal case against three Japanese citizens who are members of the sect Aum Shinri Kyo, Russian news agencies reported on 4 March. The leader of the sect's Moscow branch was arrested in July 1995, and two other members were detained in early 1997. All three were subsequently released on bail. Vladimir Kazakov, head of the Prosecutor-General's Office's department on investigating serious crimes, told journalists that the case was closed because of "changes in the situation" surrounding the investigation into the sect in Japan and in Russia. However, he noted that Aum Shinri Kyo remains banned in Russia. That ban was imposed by a Moscow court in April 1995, shortly after the sect was accused of staging a gas attack on the Tokyo subway (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 19 April 1995). LB LEBED REGISTERED AS CANDIDATE IN KRASNOYARSK. The Krasnoyarsk Krai Electoral Commission on 5 March registered former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed as a candidate for the 26 April gubernatorial election, ITAR-TASS reported. Lebed is considered the strongest challenger to Governor Valerii Zubov. In recent comments to journalists, Zubov has sought to portray Lebed as an ambitious politician who wants to use Krasnoyarsk as a stepping stone for a presidential bid instead of working for the krai's residents. LB REGIONAL AFFAIRS PRIMAKOV CONDEMNS POLICE ACTION AGAINST RIGA DEMONSTRATORS... Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 4 March said Latvian police had committed a "glaring violation of elementary human rights" while breaking up a demonstration of largely Russian-speaking pensioners in Riga the previous day, Russian news agencies reported. Primakov added that he considers the use of force against the demonstrators "disgusting" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1998). Meanwhile, the Russian State Duma on 4 March rejected a proposal by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction to postpone a Duma delegation's visit to Latvia scheduled for 16 March, Interfax reported. Earlier the same day, the LDPR faction walked out of the Duma chamber after Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev took the floor away from LDPR deputy Yurii Kuznetsov, who had denounced Latvia as a "fascist regime." LB ...WHILE RIGA REFUTES ALLEGATIONS. The Latvian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, responded by issuing a statement saying that Russian politicians' attempts to "politicize developments during the unauthorized picket at Riga City Hall" are "inadmissible," BNS reported on 4 March. The ministry said it was "astonished" over the way Russian officials were trying to "interpret an administrative breach [to give it] a political and ethnic nature." It added that such attempts were detrimental to the development of bilateral relations, mutual trust, and understanding. Interior Minister Ziedonis Cevers has asked the police leadership to provide a detailed report of the demonstration as well as an evaluation of whether the police actions were in accordance with the law and police regulations. JC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA FIVE PARTIES BACK KOCHARYAN'S PRESIDENTIAL BID. Five mostly center-left parties have formed the Justice and Unity alliance to support Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan's candidacy in the 16 March presidential poll, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 March. The alliance is dominated by the nationalist Dashnak party (HHD) and the Yerkrapah union of Karabakh war veterans. In a statement released on 4 March, the new alliance affirmed its support for Kocharyan's efforts to "consolidate the entire Armenian nation," resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and establish democracy and social justice. The alliance will continue to exist after the presidential elections. LF KOCHARYAN UNVEILS PRESIDENTIAL PROGRAM. Unveiling his campaign program on 4 March, Kocharyan pledged to strengthen industry, create more jobs and favorable conditions for attracting investment, and continue his crackdown on the black market and tax evasion. He also promised to increase wages, reform the social security and pension systems, and introduce free health care for the most vulnerable social groups. Foreign policy priorities are unchanged and reflect the existing approach to balance developing ties with Russia, the CIS, and neighboring Georgia and Iran with strengthening relations with the U.S. and the EU. Kocharyan called for the consolidation of all Armenians to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict based on international law. Such a solution must allow for the self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh "within secure borders and with permanent geographic ties" to Armenia, he argued. LF GEORGIAN POLICE CONFISCATE WEAPONS IN MINGRELIA. Following the abduction in western Georgia last month of four UNOMIG observers, Georgian police are systematically confiscating arms from the population of Mingrelia, Caucasus Press reported on 4 March. That region has traditionally supported former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, some of whose supporters were responsible for the recent hostage-taking. LF INDEPENDENT JOURNAL CONFISCATED IN AZERBAIJAN. The Baku police chief has issued a statement on the 27 February confiscation from the city's newspaper stands of all remaining copies of the latest issue of the independent journal "Monitor." Turan on 4 March quotes the police chief as claiming that the issue contained disinformation and materials aimed at provoking a confrontation between various social groups. The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan reported on 27 February that the relevant issue of "Monitor" included an interview with former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, reports on the October presidential elections, and an article on torture in Azerbaijani prisons. LF IRAN REFUTES CHARGES OF ESPIONAGE IN KAZAKHSTAN. The Iranian Embassy in Kazakhstan released a statement on 4 March denying three of its citizens who are currently held by the Kazakh National Security Service have been involved in any espionage activities, ITAR-TASS reported. The embassy said that the Kazakh government has not given the names of those arrested on 24 February, nor have embassy personnel been allowed to meet with them. However, ITAR-TASS also reported on 4 March that Iranian officials met with the three detainees the same day and that the detainees claimed to be businessmen who were in Kazakhstan to establish business contacts. The three men were quoted as saying they consider the action of Kazakh security agents to be a "rude provocation." BP KAZAKHSTAN WANTS TO EXPORT GRAIN OUTSIDE CIS. Nurlan Smagulov, the chairman of the Kazakh State Food Corporation, said on 4 March that his country is "energetically searching" for new markets to export grain outside the former Soviet Union, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan plans to export at least 2.3 million tons of grain this year, but that amount could be raised to 3.1 million tons, Smagulov said. He added that Russia usually buys up to 70 percent of Kazakhstan's grain but that 5,000 tons of grain have been sent to Iran and 50,000 tons of barley to Saudi Arabia as samples. The corporation is building a grain terminal at the Caspian port of Aktau to facilitate shipments to Iran. BP IMAM WANTED FOR QUESTIONING IN UZBEKISTAN. Uzbek security forces on 5 March surrounded the house of Obidkhan Nazarov, the former imam of Tashkent's Tokhtabai Mosque, in a bid to take both him and another imam to the Prosecutor-General's office to answer questions about alleged interference in state affairs, RFE/RL correspondents report. Nazarov, however, was tipped off about the police action and left his home to seek a lawyer. The decision to question Nazarov may be connected to a 4 March presidential decree dismissing Bakhtiyar Ghulamov, presidential adviser for national security, and replacing him with Usmon Khudaykulov. Until now a first deputy at the Prosecutor-General's Office, Khudaykulov has a reputation as a hard-liner. BP UN NEEDS $34 MILLION TO IMPLEMENT TAJIK PROGRAMS. UN agencies working in Tajikistan say they need $34.6 million this year to implement their programs, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said 16 percent of the population is not receiving essential foods, and a shortage of clean water supplies has resulted in cholera and typhoid outbreaks. In addition, thousands of families are without shelter and clothing. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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