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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 57 Part I, 24 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 57 Part I, 24 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 * FOREIGN, DEFENSE MINISTERS TO STAY ON * NEMTSOV TO CONVENE MEETING ON HELP FOR OIL INDUSTRY * ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER AGAIN QUESTIONS POLL RESULTS * End Note: YELTSIN SACKS GOVERNMENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA FOREIGN, DEFENSE MINISTERS TO STAY ON. One day after sacking the entire government, President Boris Yeltsin on 24 March praised the work of Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev during a Kremlin meeting with officials in the presidential administration. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Russian news agencies that the praise can be taken to mean that Yeltsin wants Primakov and Sergeev to remain in their posts. On 23 March, Yastrzhembskii announced that "Russian foreign policy is based on long-term national interests, and changes in the government cannot influence its course," Reuters reported. The same day, Primakov said "the dismissal of the government has nothing to do with changes or prospects for changes in Russia's foreign policy," Interfax reported. Primakov is scheduled to attend a meeting of the international Contact Group on Yugoslavia on 25 March. LB GUESSING GAME ON NEW PREMIER BEGINS. A new cabinet is expected to be appointed before Yeltsin's informal visit to Japan scheduled for 11-13 April. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told NTV on 23 March that acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is the "most likely" person to be nominated for the post of premier. The 35-year-old Kirienko was virtually unknown a year ago, when he headed an oil company in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Yeltsin's surprise dismissal of the government revived speculation that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii may be in the running to succeed Chernomyrdin. Yavlinskii returned to Russia from Germany when he heard about the dismissals. A sharp critic of the government, Yavlinskii negotiated for possible cabinet posts in May 1996 and March 1997 but turned down invitations to join the government after concluding he would not be given control over important policy decisions. LB WHO WOULD DUMA BE WILLING TO CONFIRM AS PREMIER? Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 23 March appealed to State Duma deputies to support Kirienko's candidacy should Yeltsin nominate him for prime minister. Under the constitution, the Duma has the right to confirm prime ministerial nominees. But Valentin Kuptsov, a prominent member of the Communist Party, told ITAR-TASS that neither Kirienko nor Yavlinskii would be "acceptable." Other possible candidates for the job, such as First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, would also have trouble obtaining approval from the Duma. (The majority of Duma deputies strongly opposed a Saratov law adopted last November that legalized the purchase and sale of farmland.) Nonetheless, the Duma may approve a nominee it finds distasteful since the constitution allows the president to dissolve the Duma if the lower house votes three times to reject the president's nominee for prime minister. LB SOME OBSERVERS SEE BEREZOVSKII'S HAND IN SHAKEUP... Several Russian newspapers, including "Izvestiya" and "Moskovskii komsomolets," on 24 March argued that the influential businessman Boris Berezovskii helped engineer the dismissal of the government. Berezovskii recently returned to Moscow after spending several weeks in Switzerland. During a lengthy interview broadcast on NTV on 22 March, Berezovskii said the government has made many mistakes. Since his own dismissal as Security Council deputy secretary last November, Berezovskii has repeatedly predicted Chubais's imminent ouster. "Izvestiya" said Berezovskii turned against Chernomyrdin only recently, after the prime minister approved the transfer of Central Excise Customs Service bank accounts to Oneksimbank as well as the upcoming sale of 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 20 March 1998). Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya." "Moskovskii komsomolets" is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Both newspapers frequently criticize Berezovskii. LB ...BUT YASTRZHEMBSKII DENIES YELTSIN WAS INFLUENCED. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii on 23 March said the decision to sack the government was Yeltsin's alone, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii denied that Yeltsin had any meetings or telephone conversations with Berezovskii before making the decision and said the timing of the move--which came shortly after Berezovskii's return to Russia--was purely coincidental. The spokesman also said Yeltsin had not been influenced by his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, or his economics adviser, Aleksandr Livshits. During his 22 March interview with NTV, Berezovskii described himself as an "unpaid adviser" to Yeltsin's chief of staff. He also questioned whether Chernomyrdin or Yeltsin would be "electable" presidential candidates in 2000. LB CHERNOMYRDIN LOOKS TO FUTURE ELECTIONS. Chernomyrdin put a brave face on the news of his dismissal, which shocked the Russian political establishment. At a 23 March press conference, he vowed to concentrate on preparations for the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 1999 and 2000, respectively. As has been his practice, Chernomyrdin declined to say whether he plans to run for president. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia movement, argued on 24 March that the former premier might be the only candidate from the "party of power" in the next presidential election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, recent events are likely to take Chernomyrdin out of contention as a strong presidential candidate. Opinion polls indicate that even as prime minister, Chernomyrdin's chances of reaching the second round of a presidential race were slim. LB CHUBAIS NOT WORRIED ABOUT FINDING NEW JOB. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais on 23 March did not reveal his next workplace but said he is swamped with job offers, ITAR-TASS reported. Chubais said he had submitted a letter of resignation to Yeltsin in early February, and he hinted that he would have resigned earlier but did not want to give in to a campaign waged against him in fall 1997 by what he called a "group of oligarchs." He also noted that Yeltsin sacked the government at the "calmest moment," when no political or economic crisis was looming, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, acting Prime Minister Kirienko confirmed on 23 March that Chubais is still a candidate for the post of chairman of the board of Russia's electricity giant Unified Energy System. That post will be filled at a company board meeting in early April. LB NEMTSOV TO CONVENE MEETING ON HELP FOR OIL INDUSTRY. Kirienko on 23 March asked First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov to hold a meeting within two days on measures to aid the Russian oil industry, which has been hurt by falling prices for oil on international markets. Following a meeting with Kirienko, Nemtsov said the government will consider reducing excise duties for oil and gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1998). However, he noted that the government must "walk a tightrope" since budget revenues will suffer if those excise duties are sharply reduced, ITAR-TASS reported. (Oil prices rose on 23 March following an agreement among OPEC nations to cut oil production, but prices are still well below average 1997 levels.) Nemtsov also said Kirienko asked him to hold a meeting in the coming days on how to pay wages and pensions on time. Nemtsov's future role in the government remains unclear. LB GOVERNMENT MAY BACKTRACK ON CUSTOMS BANK ACCOUNTS. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais announced on 23 March that the government may revise its decision to transfer bank accounts of the Central Excise Customs Service to Oneksimbank, Russian news agencies reported. He acknowledged that the decision to transfer those accounts without holding a tender had been "unwise" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1998). A May 1997 presidential decree ordered the government to move away from the use of "authorized" commercial banks to handle state funds. That decree allowed for exceptions but said commercial banks would have to win open tenders and pay fees for the right to perform transactions with state funds. LB ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR COALITION GOVERNMENT... Speaking in Simferopol and Sevastopol on 23 March, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov claimed not to have been surprised by the sacking of the cabinet and called for the appointment of a coalition government, including representatives of the opposition, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kyiv reported. The Communists have long advocated forming a government that would be supported by a majority in the Duma and Federation Council. However, Yeltsin rejected a coalition government proposal in January. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev on 23 March appealed to Yeltsin to hold roundtable talks involving opposition representatives and a meeting of the "big four" (president, prime minister, and speakers of both houses of the parliament) to discuss the new cabinet appointments, Russian news agencies reported. LB ...WHILE HIS APPEAL IS LIKELY TO BE IGNORED. Speaking to journalists on 24 March, First Deputy Duma Speaker Ryzhkov predicted that the new cabinet will "not be a coalition government based on the Duma majority," Reuters reported. He added that the new government will be committed to "continuing the course of reforms. (In a televised address on 23 March, Yeltsin said he decided to dismiss the government in order to give a "new impulse" to economic reforms.) Ryzhkov also said he thinks many ministers will retain their posts in the new government. He made those remarks after meeting with acting Prime Minister Kirienko, who is to hold consultations with members of all Duma factions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY UNFAZED BY DISMISSAL. International reaction to Yeltsin's surprise dismissal of the government on 23 March was calm. Speaking to journalists in Ghana, U.S. President Bill Clinton noted that Yeltsin "has the right to constitute the government as he sees fit." Clinton added that he sees "no reason to believe" that the government changes will adversely affect U.S.-Russian relations, AFP reported. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said he did not anticipate any changes in Russia's relations with Italy or Europe. Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto predicted Russian-Japanese relations will remain on course. (Russian officials have stressed that Yeltsin's visit to Japan will go ahead next month as scheduled.) German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel admitted to being surprised by the developments and said it is "difficult to evaluate the situation" in Russia. But he added that he assumes "Russia's reform policies will continue," Reuters reported. LB CHECHENS WELCOME RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT'S DISMISSAL... Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 23 March welcomed President Yeltsin's decision to dismiss Chernomyrdin's cabinet, which he termed "an obstacle to improved relations" between Russia and Chechnya, Interfax reported. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov said he hopes the new Russian government will implement the agreements that its predecessor signed with Chechnya. Udugov said the resignation of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, who "had made his career on the Chechen war," could help stabilize relations. LF ...WHILE TRANSCAUCASUS REACTIONS MIXED. Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan said the appointment of a new Russian premier will not impact on bilateral ties, which are based "on common interests," Interfax reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Minister of State Niko Lekishvili expressed the hope that the new Russian cabinet will take tangible steps to overcome recent tensions in bilateral relations. An unnamed Azerbaijani government source said Chernomyrdin was "a balanced, pragmatically-minded manager linked to the oil sector," who therefore had a special understanding of Azerbaijan's needs. The source expressed concern that his dismissal will negatively affect Baku's relations with Moscow. LF MISSIONARIES FREED AFTER FOUR-DAY HOSTAGE ORDEAL. Two Mormon missionaries working in Russia were released on 22 March, four days after they were taken hostage. Andrew Lee Propst and Travis Robert Tuttle, both U.S. citizens, were set free outside the city of Saratov. A spokesman for the Saratov branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) said no ransom was paid for their release, ITAR-TASS reported. On 23 March, two suspects were arrested in connection with the kidnapping, and an FSB official said they had confessed to the crime. AFP reported that Saratov authorities have advised U.S. Mormons living in the region to move elsewhere in Russia, although the agency said Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has promised to protect missionaries in the region. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER AGAIN QUESTIONS POLL RESULT... Former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan told journalists in Yerevan on 23 March that he would have been elected president with 53.3 percent support in the first round of voting if the 16 March poll had been free and fair, Interfax reported. Demirchyan claimed that supporters of Prime Minister and acting President Kocharyan are exerting "enormous pressure" on his campaign supporters. He called on the media to help ensure that the 30 March runoff is free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian also claimed that the 21 March arrest of four men, among whom were volunteers campaigning for him, was part of a deliberate attempt by the Armenian authorities to discredit him. The Armenian Interior and National Security Ministry said the men have been charged with illegal possession of arms and fake police identity cards. LF ...WHILE ELECTORAL COMMISSION CONFIRMS RESULT. Also on 23 March, the Central Electoral Commission released the final results of the first round of voting, which differed from the provisional results by only 0.1 percentage point, ITAR-TASS reported. Commission secretary Armenui Zohrabyan explained that a computer error was to blame for the discrepancy of 60,000 votes between the two sets of figures, according to Noyan Tapan. The final results show Kocharyan polled 38.76 percent and Demirchyan 30. 67 percent. Kocharyan said on 23 March that he is opposed to Demirchyan's proposal that the election law be changed. He suggested that Demirchyan submit his proposals to the Constitutional Court, Interfax reported. Kocharyan said it is "strange" that Demirchyan had not publicly voiced his objections to the current law before the first round of voting. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES FORM NEW ALLIANCE. Representatives of five major opposition parties and 20 public organizations attended the constituent congress of the Movement for Democratic Elections in the Azerbaijani capital on 19 March, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. The movement wants to ensure there are no violations during the presidential and local elections scheduled for fall 1998. Representatives of the Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan and the Social-Democratic Party told Turan that they will not join the new alliance as it does not include any pro-government party. LF CENTRAL TAJIKISTAN BECOMES TROUBLE SPOT. Another six policemen were killed and four seriously wounded in the Kofarnikhon region of Tajikistan, 20 kilometers east of Dushanbe, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 23 March. Fighting broke out again the next day when government troops arrived in the region, and reports from the area say another 13 people have died. These latest attacks, like earlier ones, are being blamed on armed units of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). But Interior Ministry officials say some of those units have left their assigned base areas in defiance of the UTO leadership. Meanwhile in Dushanbe, a bomb went off some 200 meters from the parliament building on 24 March, injuring two people. BP KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS. Apas Jumagulov resigned on 24 March, RFE/RL correspondents reported. President Askar Akayev accepted his resignation and appointed the head of the presidential administration, Kubanychbek Jumaliev, acting premier. A joint session of the parliament is scheduled for 25 March to discuss appointing a new prime minister. BP KYRGYZ PASSPORTS TO REFLECT NATIONALITY OF HOLDERS. The government's press service on 20 March announced that a special decree on ethnic minorities has been passed, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Under that decree, members of ethnic minorities can change the "nationality" listed on their passport to reflect their true nationality. Many people in Kyrgyzstan are still designated as one of the titular groups from the former Soviet republics: Uyghurs, for example, are registered as Uzbeks, Turks and Kurds as Azerbaijanis, and Meskhetians as Georgians. BP KYRGYZSTAN, RUSSIA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov and Russian acting Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu have signed an agreement on cooperation in civil defense and emergency relief, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 23 March. Russia will help train Kyrgyz teams in mountain rescue techniques and emergency relief. Shoigu said he hopes a similar system of coordinating relief efforts in times of emergency can be devised for the entire CIS. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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