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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 56 Part I, 23 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 56 Part I, 23 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 RUSSIAN MEDIA EMPIRES II Businessmen, government leaders, politicians, and financial companies continue to reshape Russia's media landscape. This update of a September report identifies the players and their media holdings via charts, tables and articles. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia2/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN FIRES ENTIRE CABINET * PRESIDENT APPOINTS KIRIENKO ACTING PRIME MINISTER * OSCE, CANDIDATES REPORT ON ARMENIAN ELECTION VIOLATIONS * End Note: A NEW OLIGARCHY EMERGES IN ARMENIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN FIRES ENTIRE CABINET... Following a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in the Kremlin on 23 March, President Boris Yeltsin issued separate decrees firing the premier, First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, and the rest of the Russian government. Yeltsin said later in a live address on NTV that the sackings were necessary in order to pave the way for a new cabinet that would concentrate on resolving social and economic problems rather than engaging in political infighting. Speaking on 21-22 March, Yeltsin had criticized the government's chronic inability to pay wages and pensions punctually. Yeltsin said the outgoing Chernomyrdin cabinet had lacked dynamism, initiative, and "fresh approaches." Many Russians "do not feel changes for the better" in their lives, the president had commented. LF ...PRAISES CHERNOMYRDIN. Yeltsin on 23 March praised Chernomyrdin as "thorough, reliable, and trustworthy," AFP reported. He added that he has asked Chernomyrdin to concentrate his efforts on the presidential elections in 2000, which Yeltsin described as the most "crucial question" for Russia's destiny. But Chernomyrdin denied that Yeltsin's remarks mean that he will contend the presidency, telling journalists that "I cannot be considered a candidate." LF PRESIDENT SAYS NO POLICY CHANGE... Yeltsin stressed in his television address that the dismissal of the government does not mean a change of course in our policy. It is an effort to make economic reforms more energetic and effective, to give them a political push, a new impulse." Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov was quoted as saying that Russia will continue its present foreign policy course. Chernomyrdin, for his part, downplayed the situation, saying the dismissal of his government is neither "a catastrophe" nor "grounds for panic," Reuters reported. He affirmed that the course of reform is "irreversible" and that "the rules of the game for business...will remain stable, although of course they will be improved." LF ...APPOINTS KIRIENKO ACTING PRIME MINISTER. Presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS that Yeltsin has appointed 35-year-old Sergei Kirienko as acting premier. Kirienko is an ally of former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and a former governor of Nizhnii Novgorod. He was appointed first deputy fuel and energy minister in the spring of 1997 and succeeded Nemtsov as head of that ministry in November. Yastrzhembskii said Kirienko met with President Boris Yeltsin on 23 March and that the process of forming a new government has already begun. Under the consitution, the president has two weeks in which to name a new prime minister. LF CHUBAIS, NEMTSOV TO REMAIN IN YELTSIN'S TEAM? Former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais said on 23 March that he has talked with Yeltsin and will remain a member of his "team," Russian agencies reported. He declined, however, to say in what capacity. Chubais added that he knew in advance of Yeltsin's decision to dismiss the government, which, he said, had been prepared for a long time. Yeltsin is also expected to meet with Nemtsov later today to discuss the latter's participation in the new government. LF MASLOV TAKES OVER AS ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER. First Deputy Interior Minister Pavel Tikhonivich Maslov will serve as acting interior minister following Kulikov's dismissal from that post, ITAR-TASS reported. A native of Rostov, Maslov graduated from the General Staff Military Academy and was a deputy commander of Interior Ministry troops in the North Caucasus and deputy commander of the combined federal forces in Chechnya. He was appointed first deputy interior minister in January 1997. LF DUMA SPEAKER COMMENTS ON GOVERNMENT'S DISMISSAL. Gennadii Seleznev told journalists on 23 March that Yeltsin has strengthened his position by taking a "preemptive step to dismiss the government." Seleznev said Yeltsin had thereby avoided a "negative assessment of the government's work," which, Seleznev said, most Duma deputies were certain to have given next month. Seleznev added that "most working people would have demanded the resignation of the government" at a nationwide day of protest scheduled for 9 April. LF RUSSIAN RUBLE, STOCK MARKET TAKE A POUNDING. The Moscow stock market fell10 percentage points following Yeltsin's dismissal of the government, AFP reported. However, Russian agencies reported that after Yeltsin's televized address the market rallied to regain several percentage points. ITAR-TASS reported that stocks plunged as foreigners attempted to dump securities on the market "amid a complete lack of demand." Chernomyrdin told "entrepreneurial circles, above all bankers," not to become nervous because, he stressed, as the course of reform in Russia will not change. Also, the ruble fell by 10 percentage points against the dollar and is now trading at 6.0970 to $1. BP INTERNATIONAL REACTION TO GOVERNMENT DISMISSAL. The international community's reaction to Yeltsin's decision to dismiss Chernomyrdin's government has been both slow and cautious. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl declined comment but said he will telephone with Yeltsin later on 23 March. U.S. presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said Washington is "attempting to get more information from the Russian government" before it comments. U.S. President Bill Clinton is on the first day of his visit to Africa. A British Foreign Office spokesman said that no changes are expected in the U.K.'s or the EU's underlying relationship with Russia. (The U.K. currently holds the rotating EU presidency.) And the Finnish government said it will proceed with plans for Chernomyrdin's visit to Helsinki scheduled for 27 March. BP FRENCH, GERMAN LEADERS SAY SITE OF SUMMIT UNIMPORTANT... On the advice of Yeltsin's doctors, the venue of the upcoming French-German-Russian summit has been changed from Yekaterinburg to Moscow. Doctors advised the Russian president, who has reportedly been suffering from respiratory problems, against flying the 1,500 kilometers from the capital to Yekaterinburg. ITAR-TASS on 20 March quoted unnamed "high-ranking sources" in the French president's office and the German diplomatic corps as saying the change in venue is unimportant and will not affect the agenda. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Kohl are to take part in the meeting with Yeltsin. BP ...BUT YEKATERINBURG OFFICIALS MAY BE UNHAPPY. Officials in Yekaterinburg have declined to comment on the change of venue for the French-German-Russian summit. But Interfax on 20 March quoted unidentified sources in the Yekaterinburg Mayor's Office as saying nearly $9 million has been spent preparing for the summit. Three mansions where the leaders were expected to stay were renovated at a cost of $8.5 million and another $300,000 was spent on refurbishing the regional governor's office for the summit. Last week, $133,000 were spent on cleaning up the city. BP BREAKTHROUGH IN DISPUTE OVER KURIL ISLANDS? Several Japanese newspapers on 23 March reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry is prepared to recognize the 1956 treaty with Japan, which states that the four southern Kuril Islands will be returned to Japan following the conclusion of a formal peace treaty. The islands were occupied by Soviet troops in the last days of World War Two. Japan's Foreign Ministry has not yet issued a statement on the issue, nor has the Russian government made any comment on the Japanese press reports. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has said the dismissal of Chernomyrdin's government will have no effect on Japan's commitment to signing a peace treaty with Russia by the year 2000. BP U.S. DAILY ACCUSES RUSSIA OF AIDING IRANIAN MISSILE PROGRAM. Citing unnamed Russian and diplomatic sources, the "Washington Post" on 23 March reported that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has been recruiting scientists to train their Iranian counterparts to build long-range missiles. According to the U.S. daily, the Russian specialists have traveled to Iran to negotiate direct contracts with Iranian agencies in order to avoid any direct Russian government involvement. Unnamed Russian officials are quoted as saying that Russia intends to halt such activities following Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's January decree on tightening control over exports of goods and services that could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 1998). LF RUSSIAN MAFIA BOSS SENTENCED IN ISRAEL. A Jerusalem regional court has sentenced Grigorii Lerner to six years in jail, AFP reported on 22 March. In addition to spending six years in jail, Lerner will pay a fine of $1.4 million. Lerner's lawyer had offered a plea bargain whereby Lerner pleaded guilty to 13 of the 14 charges against him. Among those charges were attempted corruption of government officials and the fraudulent acquisition of $14 million from Russian and Israeli banks to establish his own bank in Israel. Owing to insufficient evidence, the Israeli prosecutor-general dropped murder charges against Lerner in connection with the death of a Russian banker. BP RUSSIAN OFFICER SENTENCED FOR SPYING FOR ISRAEL. Meanwhile, a Moscow military court has found Vladimir Tkachenko guilty of supplying Israel with high-resolution satellite photographs and has sentenced him to three years in prison, Reuters reported on 21 March. Tkachenko is a former lieutenant in the military's intelligence service. Russia's intelligence service allows the sale of some low-resolution photographs, but the court found those sold by Tkachenko to the Israeli secret service were classified. BP RUSSIA "CANNOT FULLY COMPLY" WITH CFE TREATY. Colonel-General Yurii Baluevskii, a senior member of the Russian General Staff, argues that ongoing tensions in the North Caucasus prevent Russia from fully complying with the restrictions on the number of forces it can deploy in that region under the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, Interfax reported on 20 March. LF DAGESTAN AMENDS CONSTITUTION. On 19 March the State Council amended the article of the Dagestani constitution stipulating that representatives of the same ethnic minority could not hold the post of State Council chairman for two consecutive terms, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 March. The constitution thus now allows one individual to hold that post for two consecutive terms, and imposes no restrictions on the nationality of candidates. It also removes barriers to the re-election of incumbent State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov, whose term expires in July 1998. Opposition forces staged a mass demonstration in Makhachkala to protest the amendment. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OSCE, CANDIDATES REPORT ON ARMENIAN ELECTION VIOLATIONS. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission in Armenia has submitted to the Central Electoral Commission data showing that there were unauthorized persons at 5 percent of the 800 polling stations monitored, Interfax reported on 19 March. The following day, a representative of presidential candidate Karen Demirchyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that random checking of ballots from several Yerevan precincts revealed serious violations. He noted that in one district in the city of Erebuni, the number of votes cast exceeded the number of voters by 30 percent. Aghvan Vartanyan, campaign press spokesman for Prime Minister and acting president Robert Kocharyan, told journalists on 21 March that "we are doing everything possible" to ensure that the 30 March runoff between Kocharyan and Demirchyan is free and fair, ITAR-TASS reported (see also "End Note" below). LF HAIRIKYAN BACKS KOCHARYAN'S PRESIDENTIAL BID. Union for Self-Determination leader Paruir Hairikyan, who polled only 5.41 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, has endorsed Kocharyan's candidacy in the runoff, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. Kocharyan's chief of staff, Aleksan Harutiunyan, told journalists that, in return, Hairikyan has been promised a senior position, possibly coordinating and overseeing state and legal reform. Harutiunyan praised Hairikyan's dissident activities during the 1970s and 1980s, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF SHEVARDNADZE'S ATTACKERS TRAINED IN CHECHNYA. Georgian First Deputy Prosecutor-General Revaz Kipani told journalists on 21 March that the men who carried out the failed 9 February attempt to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze were trained near Grozny, Interfax reported. He added that the assassination bid was financed by former Georgian Finance Minister Guram Absandze, whom Moscow extradited to Tbilisi last week. The previous day, Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze had said on national television that 11 people are wanted for questioning in connection with that assassination attempt and another six for their role in the bid to kill Shevardnadze in August 1995, ITAR-TASS reported. But Targamadze declined to comment on reports that Bessarion Gugushvili, who was prime minister under former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1991 and now lives in Finland, is implicated in the 1998 assassination bid. LF TURKISH CYPRIOT DELEGATION WRAPS UP CENTRAL ASIAN, CAUCASUS TOUR. A delegation from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus held talks in Baku on 19 March with presidential foreign policy adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 20 March. They handed over to Gulu-Zade a message from President Rauf Denktash to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev. The Turkish Cypriot delegation, which was headed by former Foreign Minister Atay Ahmet Rasit, had previously visited Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION RESPONDS TO GOVERNMENT CLAIMS. The United Tajik Opposition has released a statement rejecting claims by the government that the UTO is not complying with the peace accord, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. The government had released a statement last week claiming that members of the UTO had carried out a series of attacks on police in central Tajikistan. The UTO statement called on the government to study the facts and threatened to release a list government violations of the peace accord.. BP NUMBER OF KYRGYZ LIVESTOCK DECREASING. Deputy Agriculture Minister Janybek Tumanov told journalists on 20 March that the number of cattle, horses, and sheep has sharply decreased, RFE/RL correspondents reported. He added that the reduction in the number of the sheep--from 11 million to just under 4 million over the past seven years--is the most damaging to the country. Mutton is the staple food of most of the country's rural residents and of many urban-dwellers as well. BP NIYAZOV TELLS AGRICULTURE HEADS TO MEET QUOTAS. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told a meeting of the government on 20 March that if quotas for grain and cotton are not met, those responsible "at all levels" will held accountable, Interfax reported. Niyazov added that criminal charges might also be brought against some individuals. The president also met with the heads of banks and agricultural associations, telling them to do their best to help meet this year's quotas. BP END NOTE A NEW OLIGARCHY EMERGES IN ARMENIA by Emil Danielyan Yet another election in Armenia has been marred by procedural violations. It was hoped that the 16 March presidential ballot would put the country back onto a democratic track, but instead the political scene is once again polarized, threatening the country's long-term stability and development. Of the 12 presidential hopefuls who contended the first round of voting, none secured the 50 percent of the vote needed for an outright victory. The two leading candidates, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian and former Communist leader Karen Demirchian, will therefore compete in a runoff on 30 March. Most observers in Armenia believe Kocharian will emerge as the new president, not least because of serious irregularities that cast a shadow over the first round. This year's electoral fraud was markedly different from that of the September 1996 ballot, which was apparently rigged in favor of then President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. Whereas 18 months ago higher-level electoral commissions systematically falsified election returns, the 1998 vote saw attacks on polling stations and the buying of votes. OSCE observers and defeated candidates say the most frequently reported violation on polling day was the stuffing of hundreds of ballot papers marked for Kocharian into ballot boxes by groups of 20-30 men (often armed) who intimidated and beat opposition proxies (official representatives of opposition candidates). Buying votes (at prices varying from $5 to $20 per ballot) reached an unprecedented scale. Intimidation was particularly widespread in rural areas, which may have contributed to Kocharian's 8 percentage point lead over Demirchian in the first round. The Armenian authorities have claimed that the violations were not premeditated and that the election is an improvement over 1996 presidential poll. This view is not shared by the rival camp, which is convinced Demirchian could have won in the first round had the vote been truly free and fair. On 30 March, Demirchian, who does not have the support of strong grass-roots structures, will face Kocharian, who is backed by the state apparatus and a tight network of quasi-mafia groups. The result of the second round of voting is unlikely to reflect Demirchian's undoubted popularity. An election victory widely perceived to have been secured by dishonest means will increase the mistrust many Armenians already have toward Kocharian following the first round and will jeopardize the emergence of the "national consolidation" to which he aspires. (Similar mistrust of Ter-Petrossyan was one of the key factors that precipitated his resignation in early February.) In addition, two strongmen who are not known as ardent advocates of democracy--Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian--are likely to emerge more powerful from the election. Local "clans" associated with those two ministers are believed to have made a significant contribution to Kocharian's victory by providing financial and other resources. The attacks on polling stations, for example, have been blamed on senior members of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh War Veterans, whose chairman is Vazgen Sarkisian. Those clans also have control over a substantial portion of economic activities in the country and played a major role in the government oligarchy that emerged under Ter-Petrossyan. After Ter-Petrossyan's resignation, the oligarchy lost its main ideological wing, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), whose quasi-liberal ideology facilitated the material enrichment of the ruling elite. Kocharian is likely to assign the role of "ideological front" to the nationalist Dashnak party, which was persecuted by Ter-Petrossyan. and is now expected to take over the education and culture portfolios. The Dashnaks will have no disagreement with the "power ministries," as far as a tough Armenian stand on Nagorno-Karabakh and nationalism are concerned. But it remains to be seen whether the Dashnaks will put up with the "plunder of the people," against which the Dashnaks have pledged to fight. The two groups are, however, united in their hostility toward the free market. The Dashnaks are advocates of "true socialism," while the clans loyal to the two Sarkisians have made fortunes owing to their privileged position and want neither free competition nor the rule of law to disrupt their monopolist activities. Economic liberalization and legal safeguards are essential conditions for the economic recovery that Kocharian has pledged. But the way the presidential election is being handled suggests he may not be able to establish those conditions. Kocharian, who argues that Karabakh is not the main impediment to Armenia's development, will not be able to blame the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan for continued economic hardship. Moreover, the emergence of the new oligarchy does not bode well for the prospects of democratization in Armenia. And this year's presidential election will certainly not help overcome the lack of "democratic traditions," which, according to Kocharian, was responsible for the voting irregularities. The author is a Yerevan-based correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service. 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. HOW TO RETRIEVE BACK ISSUES VIA EMAIL (1) Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the letters "ls" as the subject or body of the message. This will retrieve a list of available files. 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