|Absence makes the heart grow fonder. -|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 59 Part I, 26 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 59 Part I, 26 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 * "TROIKA" SUMMIT OPENS OUTSIDE MOSCOW * SELEZNEV SAYS KIRIENKO LACKS EXPERIENCE * TENSIONS EASE IN KOFARNIKHON * End Note: REGIONS AND RUSSIAN REFORM xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA "TROIKA" SUMMIT OPENS OUTSIDE MOSCOW. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin outside Moscow on 26 March. The three leaders agreed to launch a transportation project to provide new rail services between their three countries that will eventually stretch from London to the Urals. They reached agreement to strengthen university ties between their countries. And they also condemned the march by veterans of the former Latvian SS Legion in Riga on 16 March. Following the leaders' first session, Yeltsin told journalists that "we agreed on everything." BP SELEZNEV SAYS KIRIENKO LACKS EXPERIENCE. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a prominent Communist, told Interfax on 25 March that he asked presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev to tell Yeltsin that acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko does not have enough experience to lead the government. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told journalists the same day that his party will support Kirienko's candidacy only if the government promises to change its social and economic policies, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Zyuganov called on Yeltsin to convene a roundtable including members of the parliament and regional leaders in order to discuss appointments to the new government. At a 26 March press conference, Yeltsin declined to say whether he will nominate Kirienko as prime minister but dismissed criticism that the 35-year-old Kirienko is too young for the job, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB LDPR'S STANCE ON KIRIENKO UNCLEAR. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 25 March described Kirienko as "completely unacceptable" in terms of age, experience, and political views, Reuters reported. Zhirinovsky added that appointing Kirienko prime minister is like "putting a sergeant in charge of the Defense Ministry." The same day, Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov of the LDPR said the party has not yet decided whether it would support Kirienko's candidacy, Interfax reported. The government often relies on the votes of the LDPR faction in order to get key initiatives passed in the Duma. LB NEWSPAPER ACCUSES KIRIENKO OF SHADY FINANCIAL DEALS... "Novye izvestiya" on 25 March charged that before Kirienko joined the government last year, he used shady financial deals to withhold profits accrued by his oil business from both creditors and the Pension Fund. As a former Komsomol activist and protege of then Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov, Kirienko became head of the Norsi-oil company and the local bank Garantiya. The newspaper charged that Norsi- oil managed to avoid paying the oil processing plant Norsi's debts while "real money" from the plant's transactions flowed into Norsi-oil's bank accounts. It also reported that Kirienko devised a scheme whereby revenues from the oil business were deposited into the Garantiya bank, which performed lucrative transactions with the funds and at the same time issued promissory notes (rather than cash payments) to cover Norsi and Norsi-oil's contributions to the Pension Fund. Boris Berezovskii is reportedly one of the financial backers of "Novye izvestiya." LB ...SLAMS ACTING FUEL AND ENERGY MINISTER. Also on 25 March, "Novye izvestiya" reminded readers of allegations it had made last November against Viktor Ott, whom Kirienko recently appointed acting fuel and energy minister. The newspaper added that Ott, who at the time of the allegations had been Kirienko's deputy at the ministry, had never responded. "Novye izvestiya" had charged that as a first vice president of the state-owned oil company Rosneft, Ott acquired two Moscow apartments and one cottage. All were constructed using Rosneft funds and were ostensibly for company use. Once construction had been completed, Rosneft managers, including Ott, purchased them for "laughable prices," the newspaper alleged. "Novye izvestiya" concluded that a "happy future" awaits Russia if all Kirienko's appointments have "talents" similar to Ott's. LB OUR HOME IS RUSSIA SEEKS TO PICK UP PIECES... The political council of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement met in Moscow on 25 March to plan strategy following Viktor Chernomyrdin's departure from the government. Chernomyrdin has headed the NDR, informally known as the "party of power," since it was founded in May 1995. Addressing the movement's leaders, Chernomyrdin warned that the NDR "must not and cannot go on in the same condition as it is now," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He called for unity in the "democratic" and "pro-reform" camp before the next parliamentary elections and warned that "unless we unite now... we will lose everything." Other prominent NDR members, including Duma faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin and Duma deputy Nikolai Travkin, called for the movement to transform itself into an "independent structure" rather than an uncritical supporter of the government's and president's initiatives. LB ...BUT WILL IT SUFFER SAME FATE AS RUSSIA'S CHOICE? RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that some governors who had been expected to attend the 25 March meeting of the NDR political council decided not to make the trip to Moscow following Chernomyrdin's ouster. This suggests the NDR is in danger of repeating the history of its predecessor as the "party of power." In the December 1993 Duma elections, Yegor Gaidar's movement Russia's Choice gained 15.5 percent of the vote and won dozens of seats in single-member districts. At the time, Gaidar and other members of the movement were in the government. But by the December 1995 Duma elections, Gaidar had been out of government for nearly two years, and his party--now called Russia's Democratic Choice-- gained less than four percent of the vote. NDR won some 10 percent of the vote and 10 seats in single-member districts in the 1995 elections. LB CHERNOMYRDIN DEFENDS DECISION ON ROSNEFT SALE. Speaking at a 25 March press conference, Chernomyrdin denied that his dismissal was prompted by his endorsement of a plan to sell 75 percent plus one share of the Rosneft oil company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). Chernomyrdin defended the decision to sell 75 percent rather than 50 percent of Rosneft shares, which, he said, would have brought less money to the treasury, Interfax reported. He acknowledged that opinions differed within the government on the Rosneft privatization plan but said acting Prime Minister Kirienko had been in favor of the 75 percent option. LB BANKER CHARGES GAZPROM HAS 'NO RIGHT' TO BID FOR ROSNEFT... Konstantin Kagalovskii, deputy chief of the Menatep Bank, argued on 25 March that the gas monopoly Gazprom has neither the legal nor the moral right to submit a bid in the upcoming auction for Rosneft, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom has formed a consortium with LUKoil and Royal Dutch Shell to bid for Rosneft. Speaking to Japanese oil industry executives in Tokyo, Kagalovskii claimed that Russian law prohibits enterprises that are more than 25 percent state-owned from participating in privatization auctions. The state owns 40 percent of Gazprom shares. Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the founder of the Menatep Bank, is the president of the oil company Yuksi, which plans to bid for the Rosneft stake. Kagalovskii said Yuksi will insist that the Rosneft sale be conducted according to the letter and spirit of the law. LB ...WHILE NEWSPAPER SAYS NEITHER DOES ONEKSIMBANK. "Novye izvestiya" on 25 March called on the government to bar Oneksimbank from the Rosneft auction. The Sidanko oil company (an Oneksimbank affiliate) and British Petroleum have formed a consortium that is considered one of the leading contenders for the controlling stake in Rosneft. "Novye izvestiya" reported that the terms of the auction demand that all competitors submit documentation proving they have no debts to the federal budget. Oneksimbank cannot meet this requirement, the newspaper charged, because Sidanko has yet to pay the tax debts of its subsidiary, the Angara Petrochemical Company. A government commission on tax and budgetary discipline ordered Angara to pay its debts last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 30 December 1997). Berezovskii, who is believed to help finance "Novye izvestiya," is one of the founders of the Yuksi oil company. LB NEMTSOV SAYS NEW GOVERNMENT WON'T BE INFLUENCED BY BANKS. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov predicted in an interview with the "Wall Street Journal" on 25 March that the new government will not be influenced by leading bankers who supported Yeltsin's re-election campaign in 1996. Nemtsov said the dismissal of Chernomyrdin and Anatolii Chubais as prime minister and first deputy prime minister, respectively, will leave the "oligarchs" unable to put pressure on the government. Asked to comment on Nemtsov's remarks, Chernomyrdin said Nemtsov often "speaks first and thinks later," Interfax reported. The former premier added that "I think [Nemtsov] will come to his senses somewhat and say something absolutely different." Nemtsov told Interfax on 26 March that he gave the interview in English and that the newspaper misinterpreted his remarks about Chernomyrdin. LB PROSECUTORS CHARGE FORMER PRIVATIZATION OFFICIALS. The Moscow Prosecutor's Office has filed embezzlement charges against Aleksandr Ivanenko, former first deputy State Property Committee Chairman, and Boris Veretennikov, a former head of one of the committee's departments, Interfax reported on 25 March. Prosecutors say that in December 1993, Veretennikov gave away 20 apartments that the State Property Committee had purchased from a firm called Eksikom. The recipients of the apartments allegedly included former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh, former Federal Bankruptcy Service head Petr Mostovoi, and former State Property Committee Chairman Sergei Belyaev (now a Duma deputy). Moscow prosecutors opened a criminal case against Kokh last year over a $100,000 payment he received from a Swiss company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September and 2 October 1997). Kokh and Mostovoi were among officials who received $90,000 each, allegedly for book royalties, from a publishing house linked to Oneksimbank. LB OFFICIAL REBUFFS FINAL ATTEMPT TO EXTRADITE STANKEVICH. Polish Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Hanna Suchocka announced on 25 March that former Russian presidential adviser Sergei Stankevich will not be extradited to Russia, where he is wanted on bribery charges, the Polish news agency PAP reported. Stankevich is accused of taking a $10,000 bribe in 1992. He claims the case against him is politically motivated. Two Polish courts have ruled that he should not be extradited (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). Suchocka's decision is final. LB CHECHNYA AMENDS CONSTITUTION TO FORMALIZE OFFICIAL NAMES. The Chechen parliament on 25 March voted to amend the republican constitution to formally name the republic the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Interfax and AFP reported. Under those amendments, the Chechen capital, Grozny, is formally renamed Dzhokhar- kala in honor of former President Dzhokhar Dudaev. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TENSIONS EASE IN KOFARNIKHON. Representatives of the Tajik government, the National Reconciliation Commission, and the UN have succeeded in securing a cease-fire agreement with an armed group that had recently been involved in fighting in the Kofarnikhon region, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 25 March. The armed group and the government exchanged the bodies of 22 of those killed in fighting the previous day. Despite the cease-fire agreement, some 109 government soldiers are still being held in the Romit Gorge by the armed group. The government has sent an additional 200 troops in armored vehicles to the area. A spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the attacks by the armed group and laid the blame on the United Tajik Opposition. UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem called on UTO leaders to remind their forces that they now have representatives in the government, whose police and soldiers they are killing. BP NAZARBAYEV REPRIMANDS GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 26 March reprimanded Energy Minister Asygat Jabagin, Justice Minister Baurjan Muhamedjanov, and Yerjan Utembayev, the chairman of the agency for strategic planning and reform, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported. The president's press service said the reason for the reprimand was failure to fulfill the presidents orders. But according to ITAR-TASS, "inadequate information about the investment activities of one of the foreign companies" prompted the president's decision. BP KAZAKHSTAN OPENS MISSION AT NATO. Kazakhstan opened a mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 25 March, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry said the mission will help "raise relations with the alliance to a higher political level." Kazakhstan is already a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, and Kazakhstan's armed forces participated in NATO-sponsored training exercises in September 1997 under that program. BP KOCHARYAN PROPOSES CHANGES TO ARMENIAN CONSTITUTION. Meeting with supporters in Yerevan on 25 March, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan called for the consolidation of all Armenian political forces to implement "a common goal, a common program," Interfax reported. Kocharyan advocated substantive changes to the 1995 constitution to curtail the "excessively broad" powers of the president and redefine the latter's relations with the prime minister, the government, the parliament, and the judiciary. He proposes stripping the president of the right to dissolve the parliament, which, he said, is conducive to creating, rather than resolving, domestic political conflicts. Instead, he suggests that the constitution grant the parliament the right to disband itself. LF KARABAKH INTELLECTUALS ISSUE PROTEST. In a statement issued on 24 March and circulated the following day by Noyan Tapan, members of the Nagorno-Karabakh Unions of Writers and Journalists and faculty from the Karabakh State University condemned attempts by unspecified Armenian politicians to capitalize on the Karabakh conflict during the presidential election campaign. Recent articles in both the Armenian and Russian press on the election campaign adversely affect the image of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and devalue its achievements in the "national liberation struggle," the statement reads. LF GEORGIAN OPPOSITION TO DEMAND DEFENSE MINISTER'S RESIGNATION. The Abkhazeti faction has begun collecting signatures to demand the impeachment of Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze, Caucasus Press reported on 25 March. The People faction immediately expressed its support for that initiative. Opposition deputies have long been critical of Nadibaidze, a former Soviet army general whom they accuse of serving Russia's interests. A minimum of 75 signatures from members of the 225-strong parliament is needed to include the issue on the agenda of the legislature. LF ARAB CONNECTION IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID? The men who perpetrated the failed 9 February attempt to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze were trained in Lebanon and Libya by representatives of the intelligence services and NGOs of "several Islamic states," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 March. Georgian First Deputy Prosecutor Revaz Kipiani has claimed that the attackers were trained in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998), though not at the behest of the Chechen leadership. Chechnya's diplomatic representative to Tbilisi, Khizar Aldamov, has denied that allegation, however. LF SOUTH OSSETIA WANTS MORE PEACEKEEPERS. The parliament of Georgia's would-be secessionist republic of South Ossetia has voted against the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in the region. It has also demanded that the numbers of peacekeepers in Tskhinvali Raion be increased, Caucasus Press reported on 26 March. A group of Georgian military intelligence trainees staged an armed raid on a village in the raion earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 6 March 1998). LF END NOTE REGIONS AND RUSSIAN REFORM by Paul Goble People in the small and medium-sized cities of Russia's far-flung regions may ultimately become the political base for a move against corruption and organized crime in the country as a whole. As such, this demographic group may play a major role in the current reshuffling of the Russian government. Less touched by corruption and crime themselves but increasingly fearful of both, Russians in the regions are a potentially powerful political force waiting to be tapped by Moscow politicians who are prepared to take their concerns into consideration. To the extent that happens, Russia's regions could play a somewhat unexpected role in re-establishing government authority and promoting democratic and free market reforms. Yurii Veremeenko, editor in chief of Moscow's "Invest 100" magazine and the former spokesmen for the governor of Tver, told RFE/RL in Washington on 23 March that media exposes about organized crime have left people in smaller Russian cities fearful. Such reports on Russian television and in the national newspapers have convinced the residents of such cities that they are equally threatened, even though statistics suggest that they are much less likely to be victims of crime than they believe. As a result, Veremeenko said that the residents of the Russian regions are ever more prepared to support law-and-order candidates, especially if the latter couch their message in terms of a nationalist defense of Russia itself. Asked which Russian leader might find it the easiest to tap into such sentiments, Veremeenko, who also heads the Tver Association of Political Culture, immediately named retired general and former presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed. But he suggested that other Moscow leaders were likely to turn increasingly to this issue, running as it were against crime, the long- despised "center," and foreigners, whom many Russians blame for their current problems. Indeed, Veremeenko argued, President Boris Yeltsin himself might seek to draw on precisely those sentiments as he moves to form a new government following his dismissal of the entire cabinet earlier this week. In an otherwise upbeat characterization of the role such attitudes and appeals to them could play, Veremeenko argued that there are three potentially serious downside risks. First, few Russians in the regions have much experience with either democracy or law and thus may be prepared to back anyone who says he can eliminate crime, regardless of the methods he proposes to use. Second, any linking of these anti-crime attitudes with anti-foreign ones could help power a very ugly kind of xenophobic nationalism, something that could short-circuit the path toward reforms of all kinds. And third, at least for the next few years, the power of those who have benefited from corruption and organized crime may be so great that any movement that sought to root out those evils could fail and thus undercut public confidence in democratic institutions. Although Veremeenko did not mention them, two other factors undoubtedly work against the successful use of these anti-crime attitudes in Russia's regions. On the one hand, Russian politics remains so centered on Moscow that few politicians there yet seem ready to reach out beyond the ring road around the Russian capital. Consequently, they may raise this issue but not seek to mobilize opinion outside Moscow in any systematic way. On the other hand, many Russians in the regions, like many Russians in Moscow, appear to have little faith in the political system as a solution to their problems. To the extent that they feel insulted and injured but see no obvious redress to their difficulties within the political system, those groups may simply withdraw, seeking to protect themselves as best they can rather than supporting someone who can address their problems. For all those reasons, Veremeenko may be far too optimistic about the role Russia's regions will play in the future of that country. But his argument that attitudes outside of Moscow may help to overcome crime and corruption there suggest that Russia's regions may play a positive role, something few Russian leaders or observers have been willing to consider in the past. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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