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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 47, Part I, 10 March 1998
RFE/RL Newsline. We are resending the March 10, 1998 edition (Vol. 2, No.47).] RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC ___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 47, Part I, 10 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 SAYS NO MISSILE TECHNOLOGY TO IRAN * CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN BAKU, LONDON * ARMENIAN POLICE ARREST FOUR AFTER RALLY MELEE * End Note: PLAYING THE ETHNIC CARD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS NO MISSILE TECHNOLOGY TO IRAN... Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 9 March, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said in reference to nuclear weapons technology that "we have not and will not transfer anything to Iran or other countries," ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Chernomyrdin arrived in Washington. to attend the 10th session of the bilateral Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. The Russian premier reassured U.S. officials that "we do not overstep any limit where missile technology and nuclear matters are concerned." He added that "Russia borders Iran, so we are aware of all responsibility...in fields like nuclear weapons, missile technology, and missile carriers." In fact, Russia does not border Iran, although the CIS states of Armenia and Azerbaijan do. BP ...HOPES FOR U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT THIS YEAR. On arriving in the U.S. capital, Chernomyrdin expressed the hope that the planned summit between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton will take place this year, ITAR-TASS reported. Both Russian and U.S. officials have called for holding the summit only after Russia has ratified the START-2 arms control treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 January 1998). Chernomyrdin said the government is seeking the State Duma's approval of that treaty. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko, a supporter of START-2, said after a recent visit to Washington that he sees no reason for "haste" in ratifying the treaty, Russian news agencies reported on 3 March. Lukin noted that both sides are one year ahead of schedule in implementing the START-1 treaty. LB YELTSIN SAYS HIS HEALTH IS FINE. Yeltsin announced on 10 March that doctors gave him a clean bill of health following routine medical tests five days earlier, Russian news agencies reported. He urged journalists to "close the subject" of his health, adding that he "would have said honestly if something had been left undone" during his November 1996 heart surgery. Journalists have long reported skeptically on official pronouncements concerning Yeltsin's health, which in past years often concealed serious health problems. Some Russian commentators expressed doubt that Yeltsin had suffered from nothing more than a respiratory infection when he spent two weeks in the Barvikha clinic last December--especially after the president canceled a planned trip to India in January. Erroneous statements made by Yeltsin during visits to Italy last month and to Sweden in December also fueled speculation about the president's health. LB MIKHAILOV RETURNS TO ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY. Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has appointed Viktor Mikhailov first deputy atomic energy minister and chairman of that ministry's scientific council, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 March. Mikhailov was dismissed as atomic energy minister earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 1998). Introducing Mikhailov's successor, Yevgenii Adamov, to the ministry's staff on 4 March, Chernomyrdin spoke warmly of Mikhailov's tenure and said "his experience must be preserved." LF INSPECTION UNDER WAY OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS STOCKPILES. Inspectors from the International Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons began on 5 March inspecting Soviet-era chemical weapons stockpiles outside the city of Dzerzhinsk, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. The weekly "Novaya gazeta" reported in its 2-8 March edition that there are eight sites in Russia where chemical weapons were produced and an estimated 40,000 tons of chemical weapons (compared with 30,000 tons in the U.S.), which are to be destroyed over the next 10 years The weekly writes that destruction of the weapons may prove as dangerous as their use for military purposes. It also points out that "acceptable limits" of toxins from various gases are still being debated. Russia ratified the convention prohibiting chemical weapons late last year and handed over initial reports on stockpiles in January. BP DUMA SUPPORTS EXTRA PENSION BENEFITS FOR RURAL DOCTORS... The Duma on 6 March overrode a presidential veto on an amendment to the law on state pensions granting extra pension benefits to doctors who work in rural areas, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction told RFE/RL that the amendment "deceives doctors" by promising them support that cannot be sustained by the Pension Fund. He noted that the Federation Council is far from certain to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override Yeltsin's veto. The Duma has recently criticized the way the government is calculating pensions, but government officials say pension benefits must correspond to the resources available to the Pension Fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 27 January 1998). LB ...AND PAY HIKE FOR SOLDIERS. Also on 6 March, the Duma overrode a presidential veto of the law on the status of those in military service, which would raise soldiers' wages and tie such hikes to increases in the minimum wage, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, said the 1998 budget cannot cover the expenditures foreseen by the law. Government officials including Prime Minister Chernomyrdin have promised to increase soldiers' pay this year, but Kotenkov said those increases would be more modest than the law envisages. Meanwhile, the Duma on 6 March also approved a law on military duty and military service but refused to include an amendment proposed by Yabloko deputy Yelena Mizulina, which would have barred conscripts from being forced to serve in "hot spots." LB DUMA WANTS LAWS PUBLISHED IN PARLIAMENTARY NEWSPAPER. The Duma on 6 March passed in the first reading amendments to a law on the procedure for publishing federal laws, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The amendments would transfer the right to publish laws from the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" to a parliamentary newspaper. The Russian parliament has not had its own newspaper since October 1993, but Yeltsin agreed last October to allow the parliament to found a publication. The 1998 budget calls for 31.4 million rubles ($5.2 million) in funding for "Parlamentskaya gazeta," which is scheduled to begin publishing in September. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that since laws cannot go into effect until after they have been published, Yeltsin benefits from the current arrangement, in which the loyal "Rossiiskaya gazeta" does not publish laws even when Yeltsin has not signed them within the time limit stipulated by the constitution. LB REALLOCATION OF TOP DUMA POSTS STALLED. Negotiations on reallocating the top Duma committee posts are at an impasse, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 March. Talks on revising the 1996 agreement between the seven Duma factions were set to resume after the Duma approved the 1998 budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). The main stumbling block is the Budget Committee, which Russian Regions faction member Aleksandr Zhukov has chaired since Mikhail Zadornov, formerly of Yabloko, became finance minister last November. Yabloko is unwilling to "give up" the chairmanship of that committee without gaining another prominent post. Zhukov has reportedly refused invitations to join either the Yabloko or the Our Home Is Russia factions in order to break the impasse. The government strongly objected to a proposal to divide the Budget Committee into two separate bodies, one chaired by Zhukov and the other by a Yabloko member. LB LOOPHOLES IN REQUIREMENTS ON INCOME DECLARATIONS. In accordance with revisions to a May 1996 presidential decree, judges and military personnel will not have to submit income and property declarations, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 6 March. All government and presidential administration officials must submit two documents by 1 April: one disclosing 1997 income and all property holdings, the other giving full information about bank accounts and holdings of stocks or other securities. Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has said the requirements will aid the battle against corruption, but "Russkii telegraf" questioned the legal basis for not requiring army officials to reveal their income and property holdings. The newspaper also noted that as before, officials will only be requested--not required--to declare their relatives' income and property, creating an easy method for hiding assets. Some top officials submitted suspiciously modest declarations last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 1997). LB GAZPROM-MEDIA PURSUES BROAD POLITICAL AIMS. Sergei Karaganov, board member of the gas monopoly Gazprom's subsidiary Gazprom-Media, says Gazprom will not restrict its political efforts to influencing the next presidential election. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 March, Karaganov said Gazprom-Media was founded in order to "build up [the gas monopoly's] political muscles in accordance with Gazprom's economic might" and to give Gazprom "proper means for influencing politics, regardless of any presidential elections." Gazprom, which has close ties to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, owns a 30 percent stake in the private network NTV and shares in many regional television stations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1998). The company is also a major financial backer of the newspapers "Trud" and "Rabochaya tribuna." Karaganov is better known as a foreign-policy specialist who is a prominent member of the non-governmental Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. LB JUSTICE MINISTRY REGISTERS NEW VETERANS' MOVEMENT. The Justice Ministry has registered Duma deputy Boris Gromov's Brotherhood of Fighters movement, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. Gromov, who commanded the last Soviet troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989, founded the movement in order to lobby for changes in government policy toward veterans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1998). He has said Brotherhood of Fighters will fund the work of a laboratory in Rostov-na-Donu that is trying to identify the bodies of Russian soldiers killed in Chechnya, and will seek the return of soldiers reportedly still held on Chechen territory, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 March. The Justice Ministry has to date refused to register the Movement to Support the Army, founded last year by Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who is seeking the removal of Yeltsin and the government. LB WIVES PROTEST WAGES PAID IN VODKA. A group of women whose husbands work for the Preobrazhensk Trawler Fleet in Primorskii Krai have demanded that the company stop paying employees' wages in vodka, Interfax reported on 8 March. In an open letter, the women accused the firm of "deliberately addicting" their husbands to alcohol, while the fishermen's families do not have enough money to buy food. They say company policies have caused an increase in alcohol-related accidental deaths. In recent years, many Russian firms have resorted to paying wages in consumer goods for lack of cash. LB CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN BAKU, LONDON. Aslan Maskhadov made a stopover in Baku on 9 March on his way to the U.K. In welcoming him, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev praised Chechnya for its role in exporting Caspian basin oil and pledged to increase assistance to Grozny. But the same day, Chechen officials said they may block a pipeline there if Russia continues to violate the peace accords, ITAR-TASS reported. That threat followed an exchange of fire on 9 March in which nine Chechens were killed. Following his arrival in London, Maskhadov attended a dinner hosted by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. PG NON-TATARS DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN KAZAN? The Kazan City Council has ruled that Tatar employees in the culture, education, and transportation sectors are to receive a 15 percent salary increase over those received by non-Tatars on the basis of their knowledge of the republic's two state languages (Tatar and Russian), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 March. Ethnic Russians are under-represented in the republican government, given their proportion of the population of Tatarstan. LF INGUSHETIAN POLICE CHIEF ARRESTED IN MOSCOW. Acting Ingushetian Interior Minister Daud Korigov was arrested in Moscow on 3 March on charges of abusing his authority and thwarting the work of the republic's prosecutor-general, Russian media reported. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said in a televised address on 7 March that he does not believe reports that Korigov is implicated in abductions, according to ITAR-TASS. Aushev said he has asked Korigov to establish contact with Chechen field commanders in an attempt to secure the release of hostages held in Chechnya. The previous day, Aushev described the arrest as a "purely political affair" aimed against himself. LF REGIONAL AFFAIRS RIGA TO OFFICIALLY RESPOND TO MOSCOW OVER PENSIONERS' RALLY. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrejs Pildegovics said on 9 March that Riga will send a diplomatic note to Moscow over the response by Russian officials to the 3 March pensioners' rally in the Latvian capital, BNS and AFP reported. "Latvia finds unacceptable the tone and manner of Russian statements...about the illegal picket," Pildegovics said. He added that because Russia has "politicized the incident" and "deceived the public," the Latvian Foreign Ministry must comment on those statements. Also on 9 March, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said his ministry is closely watching the deterioration of Latvian-Russian relations and will make its position known at a later date. And in Tallinn, the United Opposition-- the strongest opposition force in the Estonian parliament--issued a statement criticizing Russia's reaction to the rally and saying that "restoring and maintaining order on its own territory is an internal matter of any country" (see also "End Note"). JC RUSSIA OUTRAGED OVER TOMB DESECRATION IN LATVIA. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 9 March issued a statement denouncing the desecration the previous day of a tomb of Soviet soldiers in Liepaya, Latvia, Russian news agencies reported. The statement demanded that the perpetrators be punished and charged that the Latvian authorities failed to provide adequate protection for the memorial. It claimed that vandalism is a logical extension of "nationalism, Russophobia, and trampling on human rights" in Latvia. And it accused the Latvian authorities of encouraging "militant nationalism," singling out the breakup of the 3 March pensioners' rally in Riga. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN POLICE ARREST FOUR AFTER RALLY MELEE. Police arrested four people on 9 March in connection with their alleged role in the beating of several participants at an election rally staged by presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian the previous day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who are currently in Armenia to observe the presidential race there called on Yerevan to vigorously pursue the investigation of those involved. PG TBILISI CONDEMNS ABKHAZ ELECTION PLANS. In statements issued on 7 and 9 March, respectively, the Georgian parliament and Foreign Ministry have condemned the Abkhaz local elections scheduled for later this week, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian lawmakers said the election plans demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The Foreign Ministry said the planned poll is illegal and a "provocation," given that ethnic Georgians who fled during the 1992-1993 war are unable to participate. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT UNDECIDED ABOUT ATTENDING CIS SUMMIT. In his weekly radio address on 9 March, Shevardnadze said he has not yet made a final decision on whether to attend the CIS summit meeting in Moscow on 19-20 March. Noting that the trail of those who attempted to assassinate him last month disappeared in the Russian capital, Shevardnadze suggested he might be subject to another attack if he were to attend. The Georgian president also commented that an upcoming visit by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev might help resolve the question of Russian military bases in Georgia and thus ease tensions. PG TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER TAKES UP GOVERNMENT POST. Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition, has officially taken up his post as first deputy prime minister, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 10 March. Turajonzoda will be responsible for economic and trade relations with other CIS countries. BP END NOTE PLAYING THE ETHNIC CARD by Paul Goble Riga's handling of a demonstration last week and Moscow's response to it are an object lesson in how sensitive certain ethnic issues remain in the region and how quickly they can be exploited for broader political ends. Last Tuesday, police used batons to disperse a protest march by some 1,000 elderly residents of the Latvian capital against increases utility rate hikes. The Latvian authorities said the protesters lacked a permit and were blocking traffic, and the police insisted that they had not used excessive force. But because most of the demonstrators were ethnic Russians, their protest and even more the Latvian handling of it immediately set off a political firestorm in Russia. At least some in Moscow now appear to be using the incident to isolate Riga and to pressure Latvia on a broader front. The day of the demonstration, Russia's ORT television carried footage of the clash between demonstrators and the Latvian police but gave little space to statements by Latvian authorities that the police had acted within the law. That report generated a crescendo of statements and actions by Russian officials. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov denounced Latvia's handling of the protest as a "flagrant violation of human rights." On Thursday, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii described the Latvian action as a "blatant violation of elementary human rights," saying there "can be no talk" now about setting a date for a meeting between Yeltsin and Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis. Also on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov called for international pressure on Latvia to change its approach to ethnic Russians more generally. And some 60 people gathered in front of the Latvian embassy in Moscow to protest Riga's policy. On Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he was "indignant" at Latvia's behavior, for which, he said, there could be "no justification." The Russian Duma called on Yeltsin to take firm steps, including economic sanctions and political reprisals, to force Riga to change its policies. And finally on Saturday, Yastrzhembskii told Ekho Moskvy that Yeltsin's advisers now favor imposing economic sanctions on Latvia, thus setting the stage for a further escalation of the crisis. Throughout the week, Latvian officials repeatedly denied that the police had acted illegally and suggested that the Russian authorities were responding on the basis of insufficient information. To give but one example, Latvian Prime Minister Guntars Krasts on Saturday repeated that the police had acted "very correctly" and that they had not violated anyone's human rights. Regardless of what happens next in this crisis, the events of the past week yield three conclusions. First, relations between Russia and the Baltic States remain far more finely balanced than many on either side had believed. A single incident can suffice to shift that balance. Prior to the events of last Tuesday, relations between Russia and Latvia in fact had been on the upswing. As recently as 19 February, a Latvian government spokesman said Yeltsin had sent Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis a letter that was characterized as "hopeful and positive" about relations between the two countries. Second, many in the Russian government believe that they can play the ethnic card against Latvia and its neighbor Estonia because neither country gave automatic citizenship to all residents at the time that they recovered independence. Instead, both countries required a naturalization process for all those who moved onto their territories while they were under Soviet occupation. Although consistent with international law, as any number of authorities have concluded, their decision to do so has offended many in Russia and has on occasion left them vulnerable to criticism from abroad. Indeed, since 1992, Moscow has routinely sought to enlist Western support against these two states on this issue and, failing that, to isolate Latvia and Estonia from their Western partners by appealing to human rights concerns among Western populations. And third, and perhaps most disturbing, at least some in the Russian government appear to be willing to exploit such situations to generate support for themselves. Given recent polls suggesting that many Russians dislike, or are indifferent to, the current Russian government, some officials there may have concluded that the exacerbation of relations between Moscow and its neighbors could serve their personal interests. To the extent that some in the Russian capital have indeed reached that conclusion, protests from Moscow over the status and treatment of ethnic Russians outside the Russian Federation may soon be directed at other countries as well. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "unsubscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO RETRIEVE BACK ISSUES VIA EMAIL (1) Send an email to email@example.com with the letters "ls" as the subject or body of the message. This will retrieve a list of available files. 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