When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 63 Part I, 1 April 1998

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 63 Part I, 1 April 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:


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.

Headlines, Part I






DUMA WANTS YELTSIN TO PRESENT KIRIENKO'S CANDIDACY IN PERSON. The State Duma on 1 April invited President Boris Yeltsin to come to the parliament rather than sending a subordinate to present his nominee for prime minister, Sergei Kirienko, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma deputies also passed a resolution calling for Yeltsin to convene roundtable talks to discuss new cabinet appointments and government policies. An early draft of the resolution asked Yeltsin to withdraw his nomination of Kirienko, but that demand was dropped from the final version. According to ITAR-TASS, the Federation Council on 1 April also urged Yeltsin to call roundtable talks. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced that on 2 April, Yeltsin will meet with State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, and acting Prime Minister Kirienko. Seleznev told journalists that proposals on roundtable talks will be discussed at the meeting of the "big f!
our." LB

KIRIENKO REJECTS CONCESSIONS TO DUMA... Kirienko on 1 April ruled out offering concessions to the Duma to ensure his confirmation as prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. He said his consultations with Duma deputies have been useful but added that he is interested in working out a "good economic program" and will not be drawn into political bargaining. Kirienko met with members of the Communist, Agrarian and Popular Power factions on 31 March and deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia the following day. Later on 1 April, he is to meet with members of the Yabloko and Russian Regions factions. LB

...DISMISSES ALLEGED LINK TO SCIENTOLOGISTS. Kirienko has dismissed reports that he has ties to the Church of Scientology, saying the "rumors" are "rubbish which does not deserve comment," Interfax reported on 1 April. He suggested that the story may be an April Fool's joke. The German daily "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 31 March that three years ago, when Kirienko was head of the Garantiya bank, he attended a week-long seminar offered by the Scientologists' Hubbard College in Nizhnii Novgorod. The paper quoted an acquaintance of Kirienko's as saying that Kirienko subsequently advised other officials at his bank to attend similar seminars. Aleksandr Dvorkin, a specialist on religious sects for the Russian Orthodox Church, on 31 March called on Kirienko to respond to the allegations. Dvorkin charged that the Church of Scientology gains immense leverage over its members, who must tell representatives of the sect "the most intimate details" of their lives. LB 

YELTSIN SAYS TIME HAS COME FOR 'NEW GENERATION.' Yeltsin says the new cabinet will contain "many young, talented people who do not carry the burden of having worked in the communist and post-communist period." In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 1 April, Yeltsin declined to name specific appointments but said "the time has come" for "new leaders, young men with brains, with good education, with common sense." Asked why he fired the government, Yeltsin said economic indicators over the last several months "gave reason to be horrified. And then there was the situation with falling world prices for oil...Completely new methods should operate here. And that means new people." Yeltsin claimed that former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais himself requested to leave the government. He also refrained from criticizing former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, although he said that in his opinion, Chernomyrdin decided "a bit early" to run for president. LB

CHUBAIS SEEN LIKELY TO WORK IN ELECTRICITY GIANT... Yeltsin told the 1 April edition of "Komsomolskaya pravda" that having left the government, Chubais "will help correct the situation" in the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (EES). Kirienko recently ruled out Chubais's candidacy for the post of EES board chairman, but here has been widespread speculation that Chubais may replace Boris Brevnov as EES chief executive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 1998). Anatolii Dyakov, the current chairman of the EES board, told ITAR-TASS on 31 March that Chubais has good chances to become the company's chief executive. Meanwhile, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 31 March that Yevgenii Yasin, who has been minister without portfolio since March 1997, is the most likely candidate to replace Dyakov as chairman of the EES board. LB

...AS SOME MEDIA SAY HE'S NOT FIT FOR THE JOB. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March charged that Chubais has no experience in managing state property and that his expertise in the electricity sector is comparable to "knowing how to change a light bulb." The newspaper argued that Chubais wants a top job at EES for political reasons and is hoping to use the company's resources to build up a war chest for the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Russian Public Television commentator Sergei Dorenko warned on 28 March that the whole country "will pay" if Chubais is appointed to run EES. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group is the main financial backer of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and Berezovskii is believed to influence editorial policy at Russian Public Television. LB

CHERNOMYRDIN NOT TO RUN FOR PARLIAMENT. At a 31 March meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction decided that it would not be "expedient" for Chernomyrdin to take up a seat in the Duma, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. By-elections are periodically held to fill the seats of Duma deputies who have died or taken jobs in the government, and some Our Home Is Russia members called for Chernomyrdin to compete in such a by-election. But Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the faction, said it was decided that Chernomyrdin should concentrate on strengthening Our Home Is Russia's organization. Meanwhile, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov on 31 March said there are "serious doubts" that Chernomyrdin will return to work at Gazprom. Chernomyrdin was the gas monopoly's chief executive before joining the government in December 1992. LB

ENERGY MINISTERS MEET IN MOSCOW. Opening the meeting of energy ministers from the leading industrial nations in Moscow on 1 April, acting Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko called for a integrated energy system and energy export network in Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. Kirienko noted that "the fuel and energy sector is one of the foundations of the Russian economy" and said the Russian government encourages and will support foreign capital invested in this sector. He also urged the "expansion of mutually beneficial international cooperation in developing fuel and energy resources, improving the effectiveness of their use, and expansion of their markets." BP

NEMTSOV: U.S. FLEXIBLE ON OIL ROUTES. Following his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Pena in Moscow on 31 March, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said the U.S. is ready to accept any route for exporting Azerbaijani oil to international markets--whether it be the Baku-Ceyhan or the Caspian Pipeline Consortium's Baku-Novorossiisk route, Interfax reported. Nemtsov said this is now official U.S. policy and Pena "is ready to confirm it." BP

YELTSIN REASSURES GREEK DEFENSE MINISTER. Yeltsin on 31 March surprised observers when he met behind closed doors with visiting Greek Defense Minister Apostolos Tsokhatzopoulos. Russian media reported that the president reassured the Greek minister that the delivery of Russian SS-300 missiles to Cyprus will go ahead as scheduled. Yeltsin and Tsokhatzopoulos also discussed the situation in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, according to Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Both men support free navigation of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits. Yastrzhembskii described Yeltsin's decision to meet with the Greek defense minister as a rather "rare event in the Kremlin's practice." He added that the meeting is designed to emphasize "the special prospects for Russian-Greek military cooperation." BP

CHECHENS, RUSSIANS DISAGREE OVER PEACE TALKS. Acting Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said on 31 March that there is no sense in continuing talks with Russia because Moscow has not been willing to fulfill its promises, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Chechen Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Moscow of violating the human rights of Chechens travelling in the Russian Federation. But Russia's acting Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said on 30 March that he favors "resolving the Chechen problem by non-violent means alone," Interfax reported. Previously, Stepashin had been one of the most active advocates of the use of force against the Chechen independence movement. PG

DUBININ SAYS DEVALUATION SHOULD MATCH INFLATION. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin has advocated a policy to devalue the ruble in line with the inflation rate in order to help Russian exporters, the "Financial Times" reported in 1 April. The paper quoted Dubinin as saying that "the decline of the ruble against the dollar is proceeding more slowly than inflation," and that the Central Bank is seeking to accelerate the ruble's decline. In late 1997 and early 1998, the Central Bank hiked its refinancing rate in order to prevent a sharp devaluation of the ruble. The ruble is allowed to float within a band from 5.25 to 7.15 rubles to the U.S. dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1997). It currently trades at roughly 6.1 rubles to the dollar. The Russian government has projected an annual inflation rate of 5-7 percent for 1998. LB 

GOVERNMENT STANDS FIRM ON ROSNEFT PRICE. State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin and First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 31 March said the government will not lower the starting price of some $2.1 billion for a stake of 75 percent plus one share in the Rosneft oil company, Russian news agencies reported. In recent days, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, head of the Yuksi oil company, and Rem Vyakhirev, head of the gas monopoly Gazprom, have argued that the government overvalued the Rosneft stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March 1998). But Gazizullin expressed confidence that the auction will go ahead and that the starting price will not scare off investors. Nemtsov said he understands why potential bidders are "reluctant to part with their money," but warned that "Bargaining will not work. We cannot give away the company." Bids for the Rosneft stake will be accepted through 26 May. LB

GAS PRICES HIKED FOR CONSUMERS, REDUCED FOR SOME INDUSTRY. In line with a decision of the Federal Energy Commission, wholesale prices for gas to be sold to individual consumers have been raised by 15 percent as of 1 April, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 March. However, the newspaper said that retail gas prices for consumers, which are set by regional authorities, are likely to rise only marginally. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov announced on 31 March that some industrial consumers will pay 10-15 percent less for gas as of 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom head Vyakhirev told the news agency that the reduction applies primarily to power plants, but price cuts for other industries are being considered. Individuals in Russia have long paid far lower gas rates than have industrial consumers, and the latest rate changes are part of the government's policy to correct that imbalance. LB

RUSSIA, NAMIBIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON DIAMONDS. Yeltsin and Namibian President Sam Nujoma on 31 March signed an agreement on cooperation in diamond mining, AFP and Russian news agencies reported. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhebmskii said that in light of the strong position of the diamond monopoly De Beers in southern Africa, Namibia "is interested in diversifying cooperation in this sphere." Yastrzhembskii added that Moscow shares that goal, since Russia "controls a significant segment of world diamond extraction." Russia and De Beers signed an agreement on diamond sales last October following months of difficult talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1997). LB

RUSSIA, EU AGREE TO LIFT QUOTAS ON CARPETS. A spokesman for the European Commission announced on 30 March that the European Union and Russia have reached a new agreement on textiles trade, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, which follows three years of talks and takes effect on 1 May, calls for both Russia and the EU to lift their quotas on carpet imports. In March, Russia imposed quotas on imports of European carpets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). The agreement also stipulates that Moscow will simplify its procedure for certifying EU carpets to be sold in Russia. EU exports of carpets to Russia amount to more than $200 million annually, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. LB 

ELECTORAL COMMISSION ANNULS MAYORAL ELECTION IN NIZHNII. The Nizhnii Novgorod Electoral Commission on 1 April annulled the results of the 29 March mayoral election, RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. Andrei Klimentev, who has served two prison terms and is currently under investigation, won that election by a narrow margin after candidates backed by the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast administration and First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov split the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1998). The commission charged that representatives of all candidates violated the electoral law during the mayoral campaign. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii announced on 1 April that Yeltsin has sent Yevgenii Savostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, to Nizhnii Novgorod to examine the circumstances surrounding the mayoral election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Savostyanov has already charged that Klimentev's campaign committed "crude violations" of the electoral la!
w, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported. LB


KOCHARYAN WINS ARMENIAN PRESIDENCY. With more than 95 percent of the vote counted, acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan has received 59.7 percent of the vote and has thus defeated his challenger, Soviet-era communist party chief Karen Demirchyan, who received only 40.3 percent, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 1 April. Turnout was some 50 percent. International election monitors said the election was generally fair and free. OSCE observers said that "shortcomings" in the vote were not sufficient to invalidate the outcome. The European Institute for the Media said it was largely satisfied with how the Armenian media had behaved during the campaign. Meanwhile, Moscow's "Izvestiya" newspaper on 1 April commented that Kocharyan's promise to allow young Armenians who had fled the country to avoid the draft to return home safely helped him win the election. PG

GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES KILL ALLEGED HOSTAGE-TAKER. Georgian law enforcement agencies have killed Gocha Esebua in the Zugdidi region, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April. Esebua, who was accused of kidnaping four UN military observers as hostages and of participating in the assasination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze, refused to surrender and was shot after he opened fire. Three of his accomplices surrendered and are now in custody. Also on 31 March, some 1,000 supporters of former Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia demonstrated against Shevardnadze in Tbilisi. PG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT UNABLE TO ATTEND RESCHEDULED CIS SUMMIT. Askar Akayev's office said on 31 March that the president will not attend the CIS summit rescheduled for late April, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Akayev's press secretary, Kanybek Imanaliev, said the reason is that Akayev has been planning for one year to visit China from 26-30 April. BP

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER IN JANATAS. Nurlan Balgimbayev traveled to Janatas, Jambyl Oblast, on 1 April to examine the situation in that city, where workers have been staging strikes and demonstrations for some six months over unpaid wages, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Balgimbayev met the previous day with the Jambyl Oblast governor and head of the Kazfosfor joint stock company, where many of the strikers and demonstrators are employed. Some 500 strikers set out on foot from Janatas to Taraz on 29 March to demand the payment of wage arrears, which in some cases go back two years. BP

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