The fool wonders, the wise man asks. - Benjamin Disraeli
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 54 Part I, 19 March 1998


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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

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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)

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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.

Part Two of this end note will appear tomorrow, 20 March 1998



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