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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 61 Part I, 30 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 61 Part I, 30 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 EUROPEAN UNION: EMBRACING ENLARGEMENT AND ECONOMIC UNION The EU takes two important steps this month toward implementing a unified currency and enlarging to include Central and Eastern European countries. These articles describe recent developments and describe the current economic status of four European countries. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/eumarch98/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * BATTLE LINES DRAWN OVER KIRIENKO * CHERNOMYRDIN ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID * SITUATION REMAINS TENSE IN CENTRAL TAJIKISTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BATTLE LINES DRAWN OVER KIRIENKO... President Boris Yeltsin predicted on 30 March that the State Duma will confirm Sergei Kirienko as prime minister, Russian news agencies reported. The Duma is expected to consider the nomination on 3 April. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax and NTV on 29 March that his party will not back Kirienko, who, Zyuganov said, lacks the experience needed for the job. Yeltsin on 27 March had warned Duma deputies not to provoke a "confrontation" by refusing to confirm Kirienko. But Zyuganov charged that the president himself has provoked a confrontation by nominating a new premier without consulting either parliamentary or regional representatives. Meanwhile, Kirienko told NTV on 29 March that he will not name cabinet appointments before the Duma votes on his candidacy. But he said there will be "more than a few new names" in the new government. LB ...BUT COMMUNISTS MAY EVENTUALLY SUPPORT HIM. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist Party, expressed disappointment on 27 March that Yeltsin spurned calls for consultations before nominating Kirienko, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Yeltsin "once again demonstrated his attachment to an authoritarian type of leadership." But Seleznev stressed that the lower house will not give Yeltsin constitutional grounds to dissolve the Duma by rejecting his choice for prime minister three times. Meanwhile, Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin told ITAR-TASS on 27 March that the Duma may support Kirienko's nomination on the third try and that members of the Communist faction may vote "according to their personal convictions." Podberezkin is considered a close Zyuganov adviser. His remarks suggest that the vote on Kirienko will resemble the votes on the 1998 budget, in which the Communist leadership rejected the document but a significant minority of Communists cast ballots in favor. LB YAVLINSKII SLAMS 'UNPREDICTABLE' AUTHORITIES. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has expressed concern about the increasing "unpredictability" of the Russian authorities, which, he charged, is "dangerous" and is fostering political instability. In interviews with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and NTV on 29 March, Yavlinskii noted that Yeltsin fired the government last week without explaining why he decided to dismiss Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, and others. According to Yavlinskii, the president also demonstrated that he lacked an action plan that had been well thought out: first, Yeltsin had said he would become acting prime minister himself and then hours later, he appointed Kirienko to that post. Yavlinskii said he has nothing personal against Kirienko but added that the Yabloko faction sees "no grounds" to support Kirienko's confirmation since neither the composition of the new government nor new policies have been announced. LB STEPASHIN BECOMES ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER. Yeltsin on 30 March appointed Sergei Stepashin as acting interior minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin was director of the Federal Counter-intelligence Service (now the Federal Security Service) until June 1995 and was appointed justice minister last July. It is unclear whether he will continue to head a presidential commission on battling extremism, set up last fall. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 March that a report by the Prosecutor-General's Office on high-level corruption in the Interior Ministry lay behind Yeltsin's decision to fire Anatolii Kulikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). The newspaper said Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov had discussed the conclusions of that report with Yeltsin during a 2 March meeting. LB BUDGET FINALLY GOES INTO EFFECT. After signing the 1998 budget on 27 March, Yeltsin ordered acting Prime Minister Kirienko to make quarterly reports on its implementation and on progress toward meeting the government's 12 priority tasks for the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 27 January 1998). In the absence of a budget, federal spending so far this year has been allocated in accordance with a December government directive, which set monthly spending at one-twelfth of 1997 expenditures. Aleksandr Livshits, the deputy head of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 27 March that the signing of the budget will promote economic and political stability. However, officials have already acknowledged that revenues will fall below targets, forcing the government to cut planned spending as early as April. The 1998 budget calls for some 500 billion rubles ($82 billion) in spending, 368 billion rubles in revenues, and a deficit of 132 billion rubles. LB CHERNOMYRDIN ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID. Former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 28 March announced he plans to run for president in 2000. In an interview with Russian Public Television, Chernomyrdin said he had discussed the issue with Yeltsin and that he "understood" that Yeltsin agrees with his plans. While he was in the government, Chernomyrdin repeatedly refused to confirm that he had presidential ambitions. The latest nationwide poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation showed Chernomyrdin with 6 percent support if presidential elections were held today, NTV reported on 29 March. The former premier trailed Communist Party leader Zyuganov (21 percent), Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Yabloko leader Yavlinskii (10 percent each), and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed (9 percent each). LB YELTSIN HOLDS BACK FROM ENDORSING CHERNOMYRDIN. Yeltsin on 30 March again said he does not plan to seek a third term in office but held back from endorsing Chernomyrdin's presidential bid, ITAR-TASS reported. He told journalists that Chernomyrdin's plans "do not fall outside the general sphere of our policy or the president's thoughts." At the same time, Yeltsin emphasized that "successors" are for monarchies, not for Russia, in which the constitution grants the people the right to elect a president. Yeltsin said earlier this year that he had chosen the politician he would like to succeed him as president but had refused to disclose the name of his favorite (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998). LB WILL NEW GOVERNMENT INCLUDE POWERFUL BUSINESSMAN? Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin told journalists on 27 March that a "representative of big business" may be put in charge of macroeconomic issues in the new cabinet, Russian news agencies reported. Asked whether he meant that former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii will return to the government, Rybkin replied that "I do not think he will agree to that." Berezovskii was sacked last November, and neither Yeltsin nor other officials ever explained the reason for his dismissal. Berezovskii is considered close to presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev and to Yeltsin's daughter and adviser Tatyana Dyachenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). Oneksimbank head Vladimir Potanin was first deputy prime minister in charge of economic policy from August 1996 to March 1997. LB YELTSIN REORGANIZES SECURITY COUNCIL. The Security Council's staff is to be cut to a maximum of 200 under a new presidential decree, the Kremlin press service announced on 28 March. The secretary of the Security Council is to have six deputies, including one first deputy. The number of department chiefs within the council is to be cut from 21 to 10, even though the council will be tasked with responsibilities on military reform that were previously assigned to the Defense Council and Chief Military Inspectorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1998). LB CHUBAIS'S FUTURE AT ELECTRICITY GIANT UNCLEAR. Speaking to NTV on 29 March, Kirienko ruled out any chance that former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais may be chosen to head the board of directors of the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES). Kirienko noted that the state has a controlling stake in the company and argued that the chairman of the board should be a "representative of the state"--a role Chubais cannot fill, having left public service, Kirienko added. Kirienko's latest remarks contradict his 23 March comment that Chubais was still in the running to head the EES board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS on 30 March quoted an unnamed source in the Fuel and Energy Ministry as saying that while Chubais will not be elected chairman of the EES board, he may replace Boris Brevnov as EES chief executive. LB PRESIDENT SUBMITS INCOME DECLARATION. The presidential press service announced on 28 March that Yeltsin has declared his 1997 income at 1.95 million new rubles ($320,000), Russian news agencies reported. According to the president's income declaration, Yeltsin's earnings came from his salary, royalties from his second set of memoirs (published in 1994), and interest on Russian bank accounts. The president listed the same property holdings he declared last year, including a dacha and plot of land outside Moscow and a BMW automobile. Government and Kremlin officials are required to disclose their income and property holdings, but critics say the income declarations bear little relation to reality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998). LB OIL COMPANY HEAD SAYS ROSNEFT OVERVALUED. Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the head of the Yuksi oil company, says his firm has concluded that it would be "unwise" to take part in the upcoming auction for a controlling stake in the oil company Rosneft, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. Khodorkovskii argued that the minimum bid for the stake of 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft--set by the government at $2.1 billion--exceeds the real value of the shares by some $800 million. But he left open the possibility that Yuksi may participate in the auction together with another "serious investor." A commentator for "Moskovskie novosti" argued in that newspaper's 22-29 March issue that the government will not be able to sell the Rosneft stake for the price it is demanding. The weekly noted that an independent audit of Rosneft valued the entire company at some $2.3 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 1998). LB CHECHNYA EXPANDS DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has announced plans to send diplomatic representatives to 21 countries, Interfax reported on 28 March. At the same time, the Chechen leader announced that he is closing all Chechen offices in regions of the Russian Federation. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 28 March denounced the move as "nothing less than an attempt to proclaim the Chechen Republic a subject of international law." In other diplomatic moves, Maskhadov asked Russian President Boris Yeltsin for assistance in dealing with landslides in his republic, Interfax reported on 30 March. Meanwhile, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Mahomed Mahomedov visited Turkey on 28 March to discuss measures aimed at releasing hostages. And the Lithuanian parliament's international Chechnya support group held a seminar in Vilnius on 29 March to call attention to the plight of the Chechens. PG NEW CHECHEN BONDS "ONLY FOR PATRIOTS." The Chechen authorities have issued no-yield bonds that can be redeemed only after ten years, Abdurashid Zakayev, the chairman of the National Bank of Chechnya, told Interfax on 28 March. Zakayev said that "only true patriots of their motherland will subscribe" because if inflation is taken into account, the bonds will actually cost investors money." The Chechen banker said that the bonds will be marked primarily in the Chechen Diaspora. PG ISLAMIC OFFICES BOMBED IN CHECHNYA. As yet unidentified groups attacked four Muslim institutions in Grozny and Gudermes on 29 March with bombs and grenades, Russian news agencies reported. Among the targets were the Supreme Shariat Court, the offices of the republic's mufti, and a regional Muslim court building. PG REGIONAL AFFAIRS LUZHKOV CLAIMS LATVIA COMMITTING 'GENOCIDE' AGAINST RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 28 March accused the Latvian authorities of "pursuing a consistent policy of genocide" against the Russian-speaking population, Russian news agencies reported. During a picket of the Latvian embassy in Moscow, Luzhkov told journalists that he favors "all possible measures...except force" to protect Russian-speakers in Latvia, who, he said, are "not just second-rate citizens" but "have practically been turned into slaves." He compared Riga's policies to events in Cambodia during Pol Pot's rule. The Moscow mayor has recently become one of the most outspoken Russian critics of the Latvian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 1998). He expressed concern about the treatment of Russian-speakers in Latvia during meetings with acting Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 25 and 29 March, respectively. LB CHIRAC DOES NOT OPPOSE BALTIC MEMBERSHIP IN NATO. Counselor Didier La Bret of the French Embassy in Vilnius denied on 27 March that during the so-called "troika" summit on the outskirts of Moscow the previous day, French President Jacques Chirac expressed opposition to the expansion of NATO to include the Baltic States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 1998). Russian news agencies had quoted Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying Chirac "made it clear" during a discussion of recent events in Latvia that France opposes the admission to the alliance of all three Baltic States. La Bret said the Russian accounts are "absolutely wrong" and that France believes "NATO's doors should remain open to all those desiring to join," BNS reported. Similar denials were issued by the French embassies in Riga and Tallinn (see also "End Note" below). JC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SITUATION REMAINS TENSE IN CENTRAL TAJIKISTAN. Opposition fighters led by field commander Pir Muhammad has released 16 government soldiers whom they were holding in the Kofarnikhon region, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 29 March. Two other field commanders continue to hold more than 60 government troops captive, having released some 40 on 30 March. A tentative cease-fire agreement was reached the previous day between the fields commanders and a team of representatives of the government and United Tajik Opposition. That accord provided for the withdrawal of all armed forces from the Kofarnikhon region. But ITAR-TASS reports that fighting broke out again on the evening of 29 March and continued the next day. BP UZBEK PRESIDENT ON CENTRAL ASIAN UNION. Following a meeting of the presidents of Central Asian Union in Tashkent on 27 March, Islam Karimov said Tajikistan had made "a historic decision" in joining the union, whose founding members are Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. Karimov added that he hopes Turkmenistan will soon join the organization so that "the Central Asian region will be completely represented." With regard to Russia, which has observer status in the union, Karimov commented that Central Asia "cannot do without Russia, just as Russia cannot do without Central Asia." BP KAZAKH COUNCIL ASKED TO REVIEW FREQUENCY AUCTION. The Kazakh International Bureau on Human Rights has called on the country's Constitutional Council to examine the 1997 auction for frequencies, AFP reported on 27 March. Jemis Turmagambetova, the deputy director of the bureau, said the auction failed to "correspond to the spirit and letter of Kazakhstan's constitution." Turmagambetova also commented that the state "abuses its monopolist rights to own the broadcasting spectrum" in order to regulate the "broadcasting opportunities of certain television and broadcasting companies." Three television and radio stations recently appealed their failed bids at the 1997 auction. BP ARMENIA VOTES FOR PRESIDENT. Armenians go to the polls on 30 March to choose between acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan and former Soviet-era Communist Party leader Karen Demirchyan in a run-off election for president. The campaign ended on 29 March with each of the candidates accusing the other of dishonest behavior and election fraud, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharyan also lashed out at the international community for its criticism of the Armenian elections: "We are electing a president for ourselves ... not for the international community," he said. In final campaign appearances, Kocharyan announced he would create a special political council of the heads of Armenia's leading political parties to help guide the country, while Demirchyan said he would devote all his energies to improving the country's economy. Public opinion polls suggest the race may be extremely close. Final results are not expected until 31 March at the earliest. PG ABKHAZIA AGAINST GEORGIAN APPEAL TO CIS. An Abkhaz Foreign Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 28 March that any CIS decision on that breakaway republic that did not take Sukhumi's views into account would have serious consequences. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze earlier asked that the CIS presidents seek to come up with a plan for resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 28 March noting that tensions between Georgia and Abkhazia are growing, Interfax reported. The statement placed most of the blame on Georgia, which has recently introduced additional military equipment into border areas. PG AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA ANNOUNCE SHIFTS ON CASPIAN. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev on 27 March called for the demilitarization of the Caspian, ITAR-TASS reported. On a visit to Baku the next day, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said Moscow now backs the division of the Caspian into sectors, a shift Azerbaijani officials welcomed. But Russian press reports that the two sides have signed a protocol on this point are premature, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported 29 March. And Pastukhov said Moscow is also prepared to increase the annual capacity of the Baku-Novorossiisk oil pipeline to 17 million tons in the near future, which would allow Azerbaijani oil to flow westward sooner than via Georgia. Both these developments are part of an effort by Moscow to warm relations with Baku, Interfax reported on 28 March. PG END NOTE 'BLANK SPOTS' AND 'GRAY ZONES' by Paul Goble Boris Yeltsin's claim that he and the leaders of France and Germany are in complete agreement about the future of Europe has sent shock waves through the countries situated in the zone between those three great powers. Following an informal summit outside Moscow with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on 26 March, Yeltsin said the three leaders had "agreed on all points. There are no 'blank spots.'" While Yeltsin suggested that this accord pointed the way toward a multipolar world--one in which no country would suffer-- many states lying between NATO and the EU in the West and Russia in the East drew a different conclusion. The countries of this zone--sometimes called "gray" because of its lack of a clear geopolitical definition--have suffered when Russia and the West have disagreed. But they have also suffered when Russia and the West have agreed-- especially if the agreement is about them. This last kind of agreement appeared very much in evidence at the so-called "troika" summit outside Moscow. Following Yeltsin's claim of complete unanimity, Kohl took the occasion to adopt a very hard line toward Latvia, a country with which Moscow has been having difficulties. Condemning a recent march by veterans of the World War II-era Latvian Waffen SS Legion, Kohl noted that the EU would evaluate applicant countries according to their human rights record and also according to their relations with their neighbors. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, which gave extensive coverage to Kohl's remarks, quoted the French president that he fully agrees with the German chancellor on this point. No one could fault any of the three leaders for being concerned about the human rights records of countries seeking to join Western institutions, but there are three reasons why their comments at the Troika summit have troubled some East Europeans. First, despite Yeltsin's claims, Kohl's comments, and Chirac's apparent agreement, most international agencies and observers have found Latvia to be in compliance with the generally accepted human rights norms. Russian claims to the contrary, including Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's recent suggestion that the Russian government should use all means "short of force" to defend the rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia, are one thing. But German and French acquiescence with these Russian claims are quite another. Not surprisingly, the stance of Kohl and Chirac is troubling to governments and peoples who remember occasions in the past when Western leaders have deferred to Russian demands with respect to their fate. Second, Kohl's assertion that the EU will evaluate applicant countries in terms of the quality of their relations with their neighbors enhances Moscow's ability to influence not only Eastern Europe but Western Europe as well. On the one hand, Moscow can use its power to define the nature of these relationships as a threat to extract concessions from its neighbors. If those countries do not do what Russia wants, Moscow will say that relations are bad and will limit their chances of entering the West. On the other hand, by accepting this Russian claim, West European countries like Germany and France are in effect accepting the notion that Russia should have an effective veto over just how far east Western institutions should be allowed to move. And third, Kohl's remarks and Chirac's agreement quickly led to reports that the three summit participants have agreed that the Baltic States, as well as perhaps other East European countries, should not be allowed to join NATO. So widespread were such reports that ITAR-TASS even queried Paris on them. An anonymous senior official in the French President's Office said Chirac had not taken a position on Baltic membership in NATO in Moscow because those countries are not yet candidates. But if his words on that point were likely to be reassuring to the Balts, another remark by this unnamed French official seems likely to have an opposite and broader effect. The official suggested that the Moscow meeting demonstrated Paris has dropped its historical policy of using "Russia as a counterweight against Germany and vice versa." A belief that France was still pursuing that approach has animated the foreign policies of many countries in Eastern Europe, some of which assumed that their best course is to play off France against Germany and both of those countries against Russia. But if this latest statement from Paris is correct, then their hopes in this regard have been misplaced. And they may now have to reassess their relations not only with these three powers but with others as well. To the extent that happens, the "troika" summit may prove to be a turning point, one in which the absence of "blank spots" may lead to the darkening of a "gray zone." 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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