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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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

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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

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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

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