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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 54 Part I, 19 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 54 Part I, 19 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 * OFFICIAL SAYS YELTSIN'S HEALTH IMPROVING * RUSSIA ROUNDS UP GAMSAKHURDIA SUPPORTERS * RYBKIN DOWNPLAYS PROBLEMS WITH CIS INTEGRATION * End Note: MOLDOVA'S UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS (PART ONE) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA OFFICIAL SAYS YELTSIN'S HEALTH IMPROVING. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Reuters on 19 March that Boris Yeltsin's health is improving and that doctors plan to cease treatment with antibiotics the next day. He repeated that there are no plans to postpone a three-way summit between Yeltsin, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Yekaterinburg on 25-26 March. "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 March quoted presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev as saying there is a "danger of complications" because the president's illness has traveled "downward," which the newspaper took to mean that the infection has spread to the lungs. But Yastrzhembskii told Reuters that Yumashev denies making such comments. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky charged on 18 March that Yeltsin is not suffering from "a respiratory disease.... His condition is reminiscent of Lenin's condition at the end of 1923," Interfax reported. LB DUMA SEEKING INCREASED REGULATION OF TV NETWORKS... The State Duma on 18 March passed a resolution calling on the government to strengthen its monitoring of television networks, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution charges that "certain networks, above all [the private network] NTV, harm public morality by airing material of a cynical, obscene and offensive nature." It asks the government to establish television broadcasting standards based on "traditional norms of morality, culture, and language" and to make broadcast licenses conditional on adherence to those standards. In addition, three Duma committees have been asked to draft amendments to the 1991 law on mass media that would make it possible to cancel a network's broadcasting license for airing materials considered immoral. The Duma has passed a series of resolutions calling for increased regulation of, and possible legal action against, networks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 December 1997). LB ...SLAMS MANAGEMENT OF ELECTRICITY GIANT. Also on 18 March, the Duma passed a resolution asking the government to appoint new representatives to the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (EES), Russian news agencies reported. The resolution cited conclusions by the Audit Chamber that "considerable sums" are being misused by company managers, in particular chief executive Boris Brevnov, "with the connivance of government representatives on the EES board of directors." The Duma asked that the Audit Chamber's report be sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office, which is already investigating alleged financial abuses at the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998). There has been considerable speculation that Brevnov will lose his job at an EES shareholders meeting on 4 April. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has been tipped as a likely contender to replace Anatolii Dyakov as chairman of the EES board. LB DUMA DELEGATION'S TRIP TO YUGOSLAVIA POSTPONED. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov told ITAR-TASS on 18 March that the Duma Council has postponed a visit by a Duma delegation to Yugoslavia in order to examine the situation in Kosovo. The delegation was scheduled to leave Moscow on 18 March, but the trip has been delayed for about a week at the Russian Foreign Ministry's request. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov visited Belgrade and Sarajevo on 17 and 18 March (see Part Two). LB GOVERNMENT WEIGHS TAX REDUCTIONS FOR OIL INDUSTRY. First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais announced on 18 March that the Economics, Finance, and Fuel and Energy Ministries have informed the government about the likely consequences for Russia of falling oil prices on world markets, Russian news agencies reported. World prices for crude oil recently hit a nine-year low and are about 40 percent below the average price for 1997. Major Russian oil companies, for which oil exports may become unprofitable, have asked the government in January to reduce the tax burden on the industry. Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Kirienko on 17 March said he expects Yeltsin to sign by the end of the month a decree reducing that tax burden, ITAR-TASS reported. But on 18 March, Chubais declined to confirm whether taxes or excise duties that apply to the oil industry will be reduced. LB OIL PRICES ADD FURTHER STRAIN TO BUDGET. Acting Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov predicted that the revenue shortfalls from oil exports will force the government to cut planned 1998 budget expenditures beginning in April or May, Interfax reported. Zhukov estimated that at least one-quarter of budget revenues come from the oil industry. Government officials have previously acknowledged that some spending cuts will be necessary this year, in particular because market turmoil in late 1997 and early 1998 increased the cost of borrowing for the government. Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the head of the Rosprom-Yukos group and president of the new oil company Yuksi, said on 18 March that the 1998 budget will lose "billions of dollars" because of falling oil prices, Interfax reported. Khodorkovskii warned that prices may decline further and called for "urgent steps" to help the oil industry. LB NEMTSOV VOWS TO LEAD FIGHT AGAINST OLIGARCHY... First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 18 March announced plans to lead a movement that will fight "oligarchies" and seek to build "people's capitalism" in Russia. Hosting a roundtable discussion attended by journalists, scholars, and politicians in Moscow, Nemtsov called for the government to enforce a level playing field for all companies, manage state property more effectively, and "demonopolize" the electronic media, Interfax reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 March, Nemtsov invited seven leading Russian bankers to the roundtable, but none showed up. In an interview published in the latest edition of the popular weekly "Argumenty i fakty," Nemtsov warned that the current system of "administrative-oligarchic capitalism" could develop into an "authoritarian and semi-military regime" in order to "suppress" protests by the majority who live in poverty. LB ...URGES PRESS TO HELP IMPROVE RUSSIA'S IMAGE. Nemtsov says the media should spread more good news about Russia in order to help attract foreign investment. Speaking to the weekly "Ekho planety," Nemtsov argued that "severe criticism" of Russia in the press discourages potential investors, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. He added that the media often ignore achievements in Russia and dwell on subjects such as "contract killings, the Chechen war, kidnappings, dishonesty in privatization, [and] the criminal connections of big business." Nemtsov added that such reports "create a very negative image" that often sticks in the minds of business people. He argued that China attracts many times more investment than Russia because "Chinese leaders are concerned about the image of their country." LB OFFICIAL WARNS FRAUDULENT PROMISSORY NOTES ARE WIDESPREAD. Aleksandr Mordovets, acting head of the Interior Ministry's department on organized crime, says large numbers of false promissory notes ("vekselya") are circulating in Russia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 17 March. Companies often issue such notes in lieu of cash payments, and the "vekselya" can then be bought and sold on a secondary market. According to Mordovets, the full scale of the fraud will only be known in two or three years, when holders of the notes seek to cash them in and discover that they are worthless. Mordovets called for increased regulation of the market in promissory notes and advocated making it a crime to issue securities that are backed by neither cash nor real assets, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 18 March. LB GOVERNMENT TO IMPOSE COST-CUTTING MEASURES IN EDUCATION. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev says the government plans to reduce the number of higher education establishments and merge many institutes into existing universities and academies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 March. Speaking to rectors of higher education establishments in St. Petersburg, Sysuev said the restructuring will begin this year and is unlikely to affect institutions in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Other possible cost-cutting measures include reducing the number of years of study required for a bachelor's degree and providing stipends only to students from poor families. Speaking at the same meeting, Education Minister Aleksandr Tikhonov said the government must cut costs, as well as seek extrabudgetary funds for education, because projected 1998 budget spending will cover the costs of higher education establishments for just two months, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. LB FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER LOSES ANOTHER COURT APPEAL. The Moscow City Court on 18 March rejected an appeal by former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev against a lower court ruling that rejected his libel suit against the newspaper "Sovershenno sekretno," Russian news agencies reported. Kovalev was fired soon after that newspaper published scandalous pictures of him in a Moscow club reportedly frequented by organized crime figures. A Moscow district court previously rejected Kovalev's claim that the photographs were fabricated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). Meanwhile, Larisa Kislinskaya, the author of the "Sovershenno sekretno" report, says she will sue Kovalev and "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which published an interview with the former justice minister. Kislinskaya claims that the interview damaged her honor, dignity, and professional reputation. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA ROUNDS UP GAMSAKHURDIA SUPPORTERS. Georgian First Deputy Prosecutor-General Revaz Kipiani said in Moscow on 18 March that Russia will extradite former Georgian Finance Minister Guram Absandze to Tbilisi within the next few days, Caucasus Press reported. Absandze, who was finance minister from 1990-1991 under former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was arrested in Smolensk on 16 March He is suspected of large-scale theft of state property and involvement in the failed 9 February assassination attempt against Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Also on 18 March, Russian police detained former Georgian Supreme Soviet Deputy Chairman Nemo Burchuladze, who is wanted by the Georgian authorities on terrorist charges. Burchuladze, who was granted temporary immunity last month, traveled to Tbilisi for talks with Shevardnadze aimed at securing the release of four UN observers abducted by Gamsakhurdia supporters. LF DISPLACED PERSONS DEMONSTRATE ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER... Between 10,000 and 15,000 ethnic Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war staged a rally on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. The demonstration was organized by the youth wing of the Union of Citizens of Georgia, which is the majority party within the Georgian parliament. The fugitives, who are demanding that their repatriation to Abkhazia be speeded up, are also blocking supply routes between western Georgia and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in southern Abkhazia. The Abkhaz government deployed additional Interior Ministry troops in the region's southernmost Gali Raion on 18 March to deal with "political and social complications and instability." LF ...WHILE ABKHAZ PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS IN MOSCOW. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba and a group of Abkhaz parliamentary deputies met with the Russian Foreign Ministry's Special Envoy for Abkhazia, Lev Mironov, in Moscow on18 March. The two parties discussed a document titled "On Additional Measures for Settling the Abkhaz Conflict," which the Georgian leadership had drafted for discussion at the next CIS summit. Mironov was quoted by Caucasus Press on 19 March as having told Abkhaz Television that the Russian leadership opposes Shevardnadze's demands for a Bosnian-style peace enforcement operation in Abkhazia. Such intervention could lead to new bloodshed, Mironov said. LF LATEST RESULTS OF ARMENIAN ELECTIONS. The Central Electoral Commission on 19 March released the "provisional" final results of the first round of voting in the presidential poll, AFP reported. Prime Minister and acting president Robert Kocharyan received 38.82 percent of the vote, Karen Demirchyan 30.62 percent, Vazgen Manukyan 12.22 percent, and Sergei Badalyan 11.02 percent. A spokesman for Demirchyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 18 March that Demirchyan has not yet decided whether to participate in the runoff, but "Golos Armenii" on 19 March reported that he will do so. Under the electoral law, a second round of voting must be held if no candidate receives 50 percent plus one vote in the first round. LF INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS ASSESS ARMENIAN VOTE. Sam Brown, the head of the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told journalists in Yerevan on 18 March that there were "significant" violations at 15 percent of the 800 polling stations visited by OSCE observers. Those violations included ballot stuffing, unsanctioned voting by military personnel, and the presence at polling stations of police officers and other unauthorized individuals. Brown called on the Armenian government and Central Electoral Commission to ensure that the runoff vote is not similarly flawed. Lord Russell Johnston, head of the Council of Europe's election observer mission, said the voting process was "acceptable overall." He conceded that there were violations but declined to say whether they would impact on Armenia's application for full membership in the council, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Khachatour Bezirjian rejected the OSCE criticism, telling AFP that the commission has received no evidence of, or complaints about, violations of voting procedure. LF TAJIK GOVERNMENT DEMANDS COOPERATION FROM OPPOSITION. The Tajik government released a statement on 18 March demanding that the leadership of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) disarm groups in central Tajikistan that have recently robbed and killed policemen at road checkpoints (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March and ?? February 1998), ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the government has the impression that the UTO leadership is "either unable to control its armed formations or insincere when it makes statements on its intention to establish a final peace." BP TAJIK GDP ROSE IN 1997. According to official statistics, Tajikistan's GDP grew last year for the first time since independence in 1991, Interfax reported on 18 March. Presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov gave no figures, except for foreign trade, which he said rose 9.9 percent in 1997. He also claimed an increase in agricultural output. At the same time, however, Saidov noted that consumer prices were up 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 1997, a large shortfall exists in tax revenue, and wage arrears grew by 3.2 percent last year to reach a current level of 5.5 billion rubles (some $7 million). BP KAZAKHSTAN INVITES INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS. Timur Jantikin, the head of Kazakh Atomic Energy Agency, said on 18 March that his country would welcome international inspections of the country's nuclear stockpiles, AFP reported. Jantikin said Kazakhstan wants to show the international community that it is not planning to increase stocks of nuclear materials. He admitted that there is still a "small amount" of such material in Kazakhstan but added that an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency would confirm that "here everything is clean." BP MIGRATION FROM KAZAKHSTAN. ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March that according to statistics released by the Kazakh National Statistical Committee, nearly 300,000 people left Kazakhstan in 1997. Of those, 80 percent moved to other CIS countries and the rest, mostly ethnic Germans, emigrated outside the CIS. Slightly more than 15,000 people moved to Kazakhstan last year. ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May 1997 that since 1991, the population of Kazakhstan had dropped from 16.9 million to some 15.8 million. BP REGIONAL AFFAIRS RYBKIN DOWNPLAYS PROBLEMS WITH CIS INTEGRATION... In an interview with "Rossiiskie vesti" of 19 March, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin claimed that he is "not in the least concerned" by diverging economic priorities within the CIS. Rybkin said that such contradictions are characteristic of integration processes throughout Europe. He added that is "natural" that CIS member states cooperate in those spheres that are mutually beneficial. Rybkin enthusiastically endorsed the four-nation CIS Customs Union but warned that any expansion of that union should take place "strictly in accordance with the rules" and without making exceptions for individual countries. LF ...WHILE "IZVESTIYA" HIGHLIGHTS LIMITED SUCCESSES. "Izvestiya" on 18 March calculated that of a total of 886 documents signed to date either by CIS presidents or premiers, only 130 contained the signatures of representatives from all 12 CIS member states. It also noted that only 259 of those 886 accords have been implemented and that only five of the 108 agreements requiring ratification have been ratified by all CIS member states: the Agreement on Creating the CIS and its protocol, the CIS statutes, the Treaty on the Creation of the Economic Union, and the CIS Collective Security Treaty. The following day, "Izvestiya" pointed out that Russia's frontiers with its CIS neighbors have not been legally delineated. The only states bordering on Russia which do not dispute existing frontiers are Norway, Lithuania, Belarus, and Mongolia, the newspaper noted. LF END NOTE MOLDOVA'S UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS (PART ONE) by Michael Shafir Fifteen political parties and electoral blocs, as well as some 70 independents, are competing in the Moldovan parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 March. As elsewhere in the former communist bloc, the Moldovan political landscape is somewhat fragmented and the political "supply" (that is, the number of aspirants to a seat in the legislature) far exceeds "demand." Judging by the 1994 parliamentary ballot, as well as by opinion polls conducted over the past few weeks, the electorate is significantly more mature than those political forces aspiring to represent it. Of the latter, only a handful are likely to gain representation. Four years ago, 13 lists and a plethora of independents ran for the parliament (where representation is obtained through a proportional system in a single countrywide electoral district) but only four lists gained parliamentary representation: the Democratic Agrarian Party, the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo Bloc, the Bloc of Peasants and Intellectuals, and the Christian Democrat-Popular Front Bloc. Such is likely to be the case, although some of the main actors will very probably be changed. Opinion polls in Moldova are notoriously unreliable. For this reason, more experienced pollsters from Romania--the Bucharest-based Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) and the Institute for Market Analysis and Research (IMAS)--recently conducted two surveys, whose findings were released on 18 February and on 17 March. Both those polls, along with surveys carried out by Moldovan pollsters (such as the one released on 13 March by the Opinia institute) put the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) in front. The first CURS-IMAS poll showed the PCM with19 percent support and the second 21 percent. The Opinia poll gave the Communists 20 percent backing. Should those polls prove accurate, there would be an electoral upheaval. The PCM, led by Vladimir Voronin, did not run in the February 1994 race because it was outlawed until later that year. But it would be wrong to assert that the Communists have been absent from the Moldovan political scene and to view their "resurgence" as a sudden occurrence. Two Communist ministers have posts in Ion Ciubuc's government, and the party gained post-1994 parliamentary representation owing to the splits and political migrations characteristic of the Moldovan political scene. In its electoral propaganda, the PCM seems to have been able to shift responsibility for the deterioration of the average Moldovan's daily life onto its adversaries--"washing its hands," as it were, of either progress in economic reforms or the stagnation of those reforms. While the "born-again" Communists present the Soviet Union in a light of near perfection and promise to restore it with full equality for all its members, their electoral success--if it indeed materializes--would have to be attributed to two factors: nostalgia among the electorate for a time of at least material security, and the Communists' rather special position on the Transdniestrian conflict. It is the latter of those two factors that distinguishes the Communists from the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo, which, unlike Voronin, favors the recognition of an independent Transdniestrian republic. For this reason, the separatists encourage support for Socialist Unity (Moldovan citizens residing in the separatists region will be allowed to cross the Dniester River and vote, but balloting on the territory of Smirnov's fiefdom has not been allowed) while seeking to thwart Voronin's attempts to take over local Communist Party organizations in the Transdniester. But despite those differences, the two formations have more in common than meets the eye--above all, their anti-reform stance. This is why a coalition government formed by the Communists and Socialist Unity (which , however, may fail to gain parliamentary representation if the opinion polls are accurate) would virtually signal an end of the reform process, which is already stalled. Somewhat close to the center but still on the Left of the Moldovan political spectrum is the Democratic Agrarian Party (PDAM). Having won the 1994 election with more than 43 percent of the vote, the PDAM is likely to be the great loser of this year's elections. Support for the party ranges from 8 percent (Opinia) and 4 percent (the second CURS-IMAS poll), meaning the PDAM may fail even to pass the 4 percent electoral threshold. If that proved the case, the party would thus pay the price for its failure either to decisively promote reform or to decisively oppose it. It would also fall victim to internal splits over the past few years. The PDAM was first deserted in 1995 by a group called the Party of Social Progress. Then former President Mircea Snegur left to form the Party of Revival and Conciliation. And other deputies migrated to other parties. A post-electoral coalition between the Communists and the PDAM cannot be ruled out but would doubtless prove an uneasy one. 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