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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 53, Part I, 18 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 53, Part I, 18 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 ALL BROADCASTS FOR SIX SERVICES LIVE ONLINE All programs of RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian Services are online live in RealAudio. The Russian Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To tune in, go to: http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED * DOCTORS SAY YELTSIN CAN WORK AT HOME * WAS ARMENIAN VOTE FAIR AND FREE? * End Note: TRAPPED BY DEMOCRACY? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx REGIONAL AFFAIRS CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED. The Russian presidential press service on 17 March confirmed the postponement of the CIS Customs Union summit and the summit of CIS presidents, planned for 18 and 19-20 March, respectively, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. President Boris Yeltsin has instructed Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin, CIS Affairs Minister Anatolii Adamishin, and First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov to travel to CIS states to coordinate new dates for those meetings. CIS Executive Secretary Ivan Korotchenya told Interfax that the meetings are likely to be rescheduled for 23 and 24 April. A Kremlin statement said Yeltsin was eager to attend the summits but was forced to follow doctors' orders while he recovers from a respiratory infection. However, some Russian commentators believe Yeltsin's health was merely a pretext for postponing the summit. "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 18 March that the delay was prompted by a rapidly worsening "illness" of the CIS itself (see also item below). LB CIS LEADERS EXPRESS REGRET AT SUMMIT POSTPONEMENT... Several CIS leaders on 17 March said they wished Yeltsin a speedy recovery and called on CIS officials to use the extra month profitably, Interfax reported. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he hopes the "sudden interval" will give other leaders a chance to conduct a "deeper study of Kazakhstan's proposals." Nazarbayev was scheduled to speak at the CIS summit and the meeting of the four-country customs union. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said he was disappointed that the summit is delayed, as his country is due to be accepted into the four-country customs union. BP ...OFFER VARIOUS EXPLANATIONS FOR DELAY. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko said the postponement is due to technical and other reasons, not Yeltsin's illness, Interfax reported on 17 March. Buteiko said uncertainty about whether Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev would attend, conditions set by Georgia for its participation, and the Armenian presidential elections are the more likely the reasons. He also said Ukraine did not receive all the documents to be discussed at the summit. But Russian CIS Affairs Minister Adamishin said on 18 March that everything has been prepared for the summit and that all documents are in the appropriate hands, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He stressed that Yeltsin's health is the only reason for the summit's delay. BP RUSSIAN, MOLDOVAN PREMIERS MEET. Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Moldovan counterpart, Ion Ciubuc, met in Moscow on 17 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The two agreed to start work on an economic cooperation program for the years 1999-2008. Chernomyrdin commented that bilateral relations have progressed to the point where "we can plan for ten years of cooperation." An agreement was also signed on protection of investments. Chernomyrdin announced that negotiations on Transdniester will take place in Odessa on 20 March, according to the Russian news agency. He will attend along with the presidents of Ukraine and Moldova as well as the Transdniester leadership. BP COMMUNISTS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF USSR REFERENDUM. Supporters of several communist groups demonstrated outside the Moscow embassies of all former Soviet republics, except for Belarus, on 17 March, the anniversary of the 1991 referendum on preserving the USSR. In that referendum, 76 percent voted in favor of preserving the union. (They were not given the option of voting for independence from the USSR, and the referendum was boycotted by the Baltics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova.) Demonstrators did not picket the Belarusian embassy but sent instead a message of support to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Interfax reported that some of the 100 protesters outside the Latvian embassy in Moscow threw eggs at the building and shouted slogans denouncing "fascism" in Latvia, a reference to the recent rally by veterans of the Latvian SS Legion in Riga earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 March). LB GORBACHEV SAYS CONSIDERED FORCE TO PRESERVE USSR. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev says he considered using force to prevent the disintegration of the USSR. In an interview with Interfax on 17 March, Gorbachev said he decided to seek other ways to preserve the union in order to avoid bloodshed and dividing the country. He argued that the Soviet Union was not doomed, even after the failed August 1991 coup. Rather, Gorbachev believes that actions by the Russian leadership, led by President Boris Yeltsin, were "the key in deciding the fate of the Soviet Union." Gorbachev added that while he "fought for the union to the end," he does not currently favor efforts to restore the USSR. Instead, he supports an economic alliance which in the long term could become a confederation. LB BULGARIA, KAZAKHSTAN, TO COOPERATE ON OIL, GAS TRANSPORT. A Bulgarian-Kazakh governmental commission agreed late last week to work out plans for a partnership in the transportation of oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea to southern, central, and western Europe, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Bulgarian Transportation Minister Wilhelm Kraus said Kazakhstan has shown interest in the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas, which could be used for bringing Caspian oil and gas to European markets. MS TURKMENISTAN AGREES WITH RUSSIA ON GAS SHIPMENTS. Following telephone conversations that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had with Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, at least tentative agreement appears to have been reached on renewing shipments of Turkmen gas to Ukraine, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Niyazov and Chernomyrdin reportedly agreed on shipping 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Ukraine this year through Russian pipelines. But neither the price per 1,000 cubic meters of gas nor transit fees for use of Russian pipelines have been revealed. Both those issues were sticking points during negotiations in January, when Chernomyrdin and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev visited Turkmenistan. BP RUSSIA DOCTORS SAY YELTSIN CAN WORK AT HOME. The presidential press service announced on 18 March that Yeltsin's condition has improved, and doctors have said he may work while recuperating at his Gorky-9 residence outside Moscow. The statement said that Yeltsin is coughing less and has a normal temperature and that blood tests have shown his respiratory infection has been controlled. It is unclear when Yeltsin will return to work at the Kremlin. He has been resting at Gorky-9 since 13 March and four days later canceled all official meetings for this week. LB PROSECUTOR OPENS CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST ZHIRINOVSKY. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 18 March officially informed the State Duma that it has opened a criminal case against Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on charges of "hooliganism," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 17 March. Zhirinovsky caused a fracas during a Duma session on 11 March. The Duma need not give its permission for a criminal investigation against one of its members, but Zhirinovsky could not be prosecuted unless the Duma voted to lift his immunity. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction agreed to participate in the 18 March Duma session following the decision by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Some Russian commentators have noted that Zhirinovsky's recent antics dominated news broadcasts and thereby deflected attention from calls for pressing criminal charges against top government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). LB NEMTSOV DENIES PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has again denied that he intends to run for president in 2000. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 March, a year after he was appointed to the government, Nemtsov said he has no "clans, magnates, or groupings" to support him. He repeated his belief that Yeltsin would be better than other likely candidates for the post. In addition, Nemtsov accused bureaucrats and powerful businessmen of putting up "savage resistance" to reforms. Also on 17 March, Nemtsov published a long article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" arguing that Russia must reject "oligarchy" and "crony capitalism" in favor of a "democratic" market. He acknowledged that the federal government has in the past helped enrich "oligarchs," but he said several steps away from that policy were implemented in 1997. At the same time, Nemtsov slammed the Moscow city bureaucracy for dominating virtually all aspects of business in the capital. LB RUSSIA EXPELS TWO NORWEGIAN DIPLOMATS. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 17 March summoned the Norwegian ambassador in Moscow and informed him that Russia is expelling a counselor at the Norwegian embassy in Moscow and Norway's consul in Murmansk for "activities incompatible with their official status." That phrase is a diplomatic euphemism for spying, and the move is a tit-for-tat response to Norway's recent expulsion of two Russian diplomats, whom Oslo accused of spying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 March 1998). Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek said the Russian expulsions are "unnecessary, groundless, and regrettable," Reuters reported. At the same time, ITAR-TASS quoted Vollebaek as saying that Oslo "has no plans to react further." Meanwhile, Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov on 18 March began an official visit to the Troms region of Norway, where he is expected to sign an accord on economic and cultural cooperation. LB CONFLICTING VIEWS ON START-2 PROSPECTS. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist, told Interfax on 17 March that the majority of Duma deputies will vote against ratifying the START-2 arms control treaty if the document is submitted for ratification during the Duma's spring session. He cited "persistent" talk of NATO expansion as one issue making ratification of the treaty "problematic." On 14 March, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko expressed optimism regarding prospects for ratifying START-2, Interfax reported. Lukin said more and more Duma deputies, including those from the leftist opposition, are beginning to realize that the treaty is in Russia's interests. However, Lukin blamed the Duma Defense Committee, chaired by Lev Rokhlin, for attempting to delay consideration of a draft law on ratifying START-2. LB JOURNALIST TO BE FIRED FOR COVERAGE OF SLOVAKIA? The editor of "Kommersant-Daily" has told Marina Kalashnikova that she will likely lose her job at that newspaper next month, the Czech daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 17 March. Kalashnikova has written several articles portraying the actions of Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar in an unfavorable light. According to "Lidove noviny," one of those articles quoted Meciar as saying Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii is "Slovakia's ambassador to Russia." (Yastrzhembskii was Russian ambassador to Slovakia until summer 1996.) "Lidove noviny" said Yastrzhembskii called the editor of "Kommersant-Daily" to discuss "Russia's state interests." Kalashnikova told the Czech daily that Yastrzhembskii subsequently told her by telephone that "Russia's interests are closely tied to our support for the current government of Meciar." "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 March that 70 percent of Russian gas exports to the West transit Slovakia. LB IS GOVERNMENT RETURNING TO AUTHORIZED BANKS? First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Nemtsov have repeatedly hailed the government's move away from the use of "authorized" commercial banks to handle federal budget funds. However, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov announced on 17 March that the accounts of the Central Excise Customs Service have been transferred to Oneksimbank, Interfax reported. Oneksimbank, considered close to Chubais, held accounts of the State Customs Committee until late last year. "Kommersant-Daily," which is often critical of Oneksimbank, on 18 March noted that no auction was held to select the bank allowed to hold the Central Excise Customs Service accounts. However, Shabdurasulov said the decision is consistent with government policy because the Central Excise Customs Service deals with "advance payments" that only become "budget funds" following further transactions. Shabdurasulov also said those accounts contain far less money than the accounts Oneksimbank used to hold for the State Customs Committee. LB LUZHKOV SUPPORTS FORMER BORDER GUARD CHIEF FOR DUMA. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has endorsed the candidacy of former Federal Border Service Director Andrei Nikolaev for the State Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya" reported on 18 March. Nikolaev is one of more than a dozen candidates competing in an April by-election for a Duma seat representing a Moscow district. He announced on 17 March that he agrees with Luzhkov on the need for Moscow to maintain the residence permit system, which the Constitutional Court has declared unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12 and 13 March 1998). Some Russian commentators view Nikolaev as a promising presidential candidate. During his campaign for the Duma, he has received substantial favorable exposure on the private network NTV. That network broadcast a lengthy interview with Nikolaev on 15 March and strongly praised his campaign strategy in a news report two weeks earlier. LB TWO HOSTAGES FREED IN CHECHNYA. The Chechen National Security Service have freed two Dagestanis who had been taken hostage by Chechens, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. Zamid and Ruslan Dudaev had been held since 5 February in Argun, and the kidnapers had demanded a $200,000 ransom for their release. The kidnapers have now been taken into custody. Meanwhile, a Russian government spokesman said there is no reason for Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to visit Chechnya anytime soon. PG ORT JOURNALIST BEATEN IN DAGESTAN. Unknown assailants on 16 March severely beat Timur Kukuev, a cameraman for local television and a stringer for Russian Public Television (ORT), ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. The attackers told Kukuev that he should not have filmed anything "on foreign territory in the future," an apparent reference to a film clip broadcast on ORT on 9 March showing paramilitary formations on Dagestani territory near the Chechen border. Makhachkala prosecutors are looking into the information contained in that report as well as the attack on Kukuev. It is the 10th such attack on a journalist in Dagestan in the past two years. PG EARLY ELECTION IN BASHKORTOSTAN TO FAVOR AUTHORITIES. The legislature of Bashkortostan recently moved up presidential elections in the republic from December to 14 June, and the new date is likely to benefit the current authorities, Bashkortostan journalist Eduard Khusnutdinov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 17 March. A summer election will depress turnout in urban areas. In addition, heads of city administrations are currently appointed by Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, but by December many will have been popularly elected. Perhaps most important, the presidential campaign has begun before the Constitutional Court has ruled on an appeal by the State Duma against the Bashkortostan electoral law, which requires the president to speak the Bashkir language. Since only some 20 percent of the population speaks that language, the law narrows the field of presidential candidates considerably. Khusnutdinov edited the newspaper "Vechernii Neftekamsk," which was recently shut down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA WAS ARMENIAN VOTE FAIR AND FREE? Candidates, officials, and observers continued to disagree on 17 March over whether the Armenian presidential poll was conducted properly. While seven of the 12 candidates--including Soviet-era communist party leader Karen Demirchyan and current communist leader Sergei Balayan, two of the three front-runners--condemned the elections as irregular (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998),three other candidates have publicly disagreed. Aram Sarkisyan, the chairman of the Armenian Democratic Party, decried the condemnation as "untimely and dangerous." Former Soviet dissident Paruyr Hayrikian said that the election is a major step forward for Armenia, despite some irregularities. And Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan's spokesman said the elections were in general "normal, free, and fair throughout the republic." That conclusion was echoed by the Central Election Commission. Russian deputies observing the vote said the ballot went smoothly, without serious irregularities. The Council of Europe noted some violations, as did the OSCE monitoring team, which said that the election is valid but that measures to prevent violations should be instituted before the second round. PG KOCHARYAN, DEMIRCHYAN HEAD TOWARD RUNOFF. With 92 percent of the vote counted in the first round of the Armenian presidential elections, Kocharyan had gained 38 percent support and Demirchyan 32 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. Sergei Badalyan had 12 percent, with the other nine candidates dividing the remainder. Overall participation was approximately 65 percent. Because no candidate received the required 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off between Kocharyan and Demirchyan on 30 March. PG AZERBAIJAN RESTRAINED IN MEETING WITH IRANIAN OFFICIAL. Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry officials gave a relatively cool reception to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Murtaza Sarmadi on 17 March, ITAR-TASS reported. While Sarmadi argued that there are historical, spiritual, and religious reasons for the two countries to cooperate, newly appointed Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov would say only that relations between Baku and Tehran are "developing." The two countries disagree over the division of the Caspian Sea, Iran's support for Armenia, and the involvement of Western companies in Azerbaijan. PG MORE VIOLENCE IN CENTRAL TAJIKISTAN. Five members of the Tajik police and one civilian were killed on 17 March when an armed group attacked another road check-point in central Tajikistan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The attack, which occurred 5 kilometers east of the town of Kofarnikhon, has been blamed on a group loyal to Ishan Daroz. It is the such third incident in central Tajikistan so far this month. BP TURKMENISTAN REACHES AGREEMENT WITH UZBEKISTAN ON DEBT. Turkmen President Niyazov has discussed with Uzbek President Islam Karimov by telephone the cooperation agreements reached by the Turkmen-Uzbek commission, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. The commission agreed that Uzbekistan's debt of $24 million would be repaid by means of $15 million worth of mineral fertilizers, machine oils, electrical appliances, and medicines. The remaining $9 million will be paid in hard currency. BP END NOTE TRAPPED BY DEMOCRACY? by Paul Goble The escalating war of words between Riga and Moscow over the Latvian government's handling of a demonstration by elderly ethnic Russian pensioners earlier this month highlights the way in which politicians in more open societies can threaten governments' efforts to reach agreements. During the past six months, relations between Latvia and the Russian Federation had been improving. Not only had the two presidents exchanged what both sides described as positive letters, but their respective Foreign Ministries had been making progress on various fronts. There was even talk that Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis would visit Moscow to sign an agreement demarcating the border between the two countries. Such an accord would have eliminated one of the biggest obstacles to ties between the two countries and also one of the brakes on Latvian integration into Western institutions. But that progress has been put on hold and may have even been reversed in the aftermath of the 3 March demonstration in Riga. At that time, local police used batons to break up an unsanctioned demonstration by 1,000 elderly and predominantly ethnic Russian residents of the Latvian capital protesting increases in utility rates. The Moscow media and members of the Russian Duma immediately denounced that Latvian action as anti-Russian, a plausible claim in the minds of many Russians, particularly because of past Russian media coverage of conditions in that Baltic country. Some Latvian politicians dismissed these Russian claims out of hand, arguing that Moscow was simply exploiting the rally to promote a broader policy agenda. Others went so far as to suggest that the demonstration against higher utility prices was, in fact, a Russian provocation staged by Moscow. Such statements fanned the flames of anger in both the Russian and Latvian capitals Moreover, it had the effect of tying the hands of those government officials in either country who had been seeking better ties. No Russian government official could afford to appear "soft" on Latvia after the 3 March demonstration and especially after the sometimes tendentious discussions of it in the Russian media and the Russian parliament. And no Latvian official could afford to appear to be backing down to Russian criticism, to be willing to acknowledge that Latvian officials might bear some responsibility for what had taken place. In one sense, the responsiveness of government officials to parliamentary and popular pressure is a triumph of democracy. A decade ago, the authoritarian regime in Moscow would not have had to worry about what either its media or its parliamentary deputies would say since it had control over both. But in another sense, their responsiveness to such popular and parliamentary outbursts reflect both how far both societies have yet to travel in the direction of institutionalized liberal democracy. It also highlights some of the difficulties inherent in conducting diplomacy among more open societies. Some newspapers and political figures in either country have adopted a more careful and nuanced approach to the handling of the demonstration. Several Latvian newspapers have pointed out that the police may have used excessive force, while some Russian commentators have noted that the demonstration was first and foremost an economic one. But both the press and the politicians have largely played to the crowd, drawing on stereotypes about the other country and its leaders rather than considering what actually happened. Such a populist response to events abroad is always possible in more open political systems, but it seems to be an especially dangerous one in countries that are making the transition from authoritarianism to democracy and lack the sophistication that a longer experience with democracy can often provide. Moreover, this latest Latvian-Russian standoff calls attention to the problems political leaders face in conducting diplomacy when popular passions have been stirred. As Riga and Moscow had moved toward a rapprochement over the last few months, few people in either country seemed to care passionately one way or the other. Now, people and politicians in both do, and that makes it more difficult for the two governments to find their way toward agreement. It would be a misfortune if the path to better relations between Latvia and Russia were blocked not by genuine obstacles but by a hindrance created by the media and populist politicians. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "unsubscribe" as the subject or body of the message. 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