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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 69 Part I, 9 April 1998


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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 69  Part I, 9 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:
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

* MOSCOW DENIES PLANS FOR "TOTAL EMBARGO" OF LATVIA

* HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS

* KOCHARYAN SWORN IN AS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT

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REGIONAL AFFAIRS

MOSCOW DENIES PLANS FOR 'TOTAL EMBARGO' OF LATVIA. Russian 
presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists 
on 9 April that Moscow has no plans to impose "any sanctions" or a 
"total embargo" against Latvia, ITAR-TASS reported. But 
Yastrzhembskii said that Moscow is drawing up "a number of 
measures" that would affect the transit fee and tariff regimes 
between the two countries. And he repeated earlier Russian 
suggestions that Moscow would seek to develop ports on the Gulf of 
Finland in order to bypass the Baltic countries while developing 
relations with Europe. Yastrzhembskii also said that Moscow's 
approach to Latvia is a "local question" brought about by that 
country's "Russophobia." He added that it does not presage any 
change in Russian relations with Europe as a whole. But 
Yastrzhembskii's statement does not appear to constitute a retreat 
from President Boris Yeltsin's instructions to his government the 
previous day to impose economic measures against Latvia. PG

RIGA BRACES FOR RUSSIAN ECONOMIC MEASURES. Latvian Foreign 
Minister Valdis Birkavs said on 8 April that his country must 
prepare itself for Russian economic sanctions and help Latvian 
businessmen reorient themselves to other suppliers and markets, 
BNS reported. The next day, Latvian Ambassador to Moscow Imants 
Daudis told ITAR-TASS that relations between Russia and Latvia 
have developed to the point that one could already speak of 
"economic sanctions from the side of Russia." The threat of Russian 
economic measures against Latvia has already had both an economic 
and a political impact. Economically, it has made Latvia less 
attractive as a place for Western investment despite the underlying 
fundamentals there. And politically, it has destabilized the 
government (see item below). PG

ESTONIA BACKS LATVIA IN DISPUTE WITH RUSSIA... The press 
service of the Estonian President's Office issued a statement on 8 
April saying that President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart 
Siimann, and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves condemn the 
"provocative acts perpetrated in Latvia and affirm that Latvia 
respects the rule of law and universally recognized European norms." 
The three Estonian leaders discussed the situation in the neighboring 
Baltic country at talks the same day in Tallinn. ITAR-TASS quotes 
them as also condemning Russian attempts to bring economic 
pressure to bear on Latvia. Meanwhile, several Estonian opposition 
parties have sent letters to the European Parliament urging support 
for Latvia in its dispute with Russia. JC

...WHILE LITHUANIA URGES RUSSIAN-LATVIAN DIALOGUE. A high-
ranking official from the Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Ministry told 
BNS on 8 April that Vilnius does "not believe that possible economic 
pressure is appropriate to resolve issues that should be dealt with 
through bilateral dialogue." The official also noted that Vilnius 
positively evaluates "efforts by Latvian law-and-order institutions to 
expose the organizers and perpetrators of recent terrorist acts in 
Latvia." Also on 8 April, a representative of the Lithuanian 
President's Office said sanctions are not the right way to settle the 
conflict between Russia and Latvia and will not improve the living 
conditions of ethnic minorities. JC

SAIMNIEKS QUITS LATVIAN GOVERNMENT. The centrist Democratic 
Party Saimnieks withdrew from the ruling coalition on 8 April, just 
days after the sacking of party member Atis Sausnitis as economics 
minister for allegedly exaggerating the impact of possible economic 
sanctions by Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1998). Prime 
Minister Guntars Krasts told reporters that it is "unforgivable" for a 
party to withdraw its ministers when the country is in a 
"complicated situation." The premier ruled out the resignation of his 
cabinet, saying "I cannot afford it at the current stage." President 
Guntis Ulmanis said that Saimnieks's decision to quit the government 
"could be described as cowardice." There is speculation that Ulmanis 
may carry out earlier threats to dissolve the parliament, but the 
president has expressed his support for Krasts to continue as head of 
the current government, even if it is a minority one. JC

RUSSIA

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS... Rallies 
organized by trade unions and opposition political parties in scores of 
Russian cities attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on 9 
April. Trade union groups planned the rallies to advance strictly 
economic demands, above all an end to persistent wage delays. 
Protesters belonging to Communist groups and the Liberal 
Democratic Party of Russia made political demands as well, including 
calls for the President Boris Yeltsin's resignation. As in the case of 
similar nationwide protests in the past, turnout was lower than 
organizers had predicted. But there were at least one dozen rallies in 
Primorskii Krai alone, and tens of thousands of krai residents joined 
those protests, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. In 
Kemerovo Oblast, the majority of coal mines continued working, 
contrary to expectations, but an estimated 35,000 demonstrators 
participated in rallies held across the region. LB 

...AS OFFICIALS SHIFT BLAME FOR PROBLEM. Acting Prime Minister 
Sergei Kirienko announced at a 9 April cabinet meeting that the 
government has transferred some 700 million rubles ($114 million) 
to the regions to help clear wage arrears, Russian news agencies 
reported. Addressing that meeting, acting Deputy Prime Minister 
Oleg Sysuev called for creating a procedure to force regional and local 
governments to pay wages. Repeating accusations made frequently 
by federal officials, Sysuev charged that some local authorities have 
misappropriated federal funds earmarked to pay wages. Meanwhile, 
in an apparent effort to shift responsibility for the wage arrears 
problem to the State Duma, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii 
commented that the "sooner a government is formed, the faster it 
will begin to clear these [wage] debts." LB

KIRIENKO'S REJECTION IN FIRST DUMA VOTE GUARANTEED. Duma 
deputies are virtually certain to refuse to confirm acting Prime 
Minister Sergei Kirienko when his candidacy is put to a vote on 10 
April, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Deputies from various 
factions interviewed by RFE/RL all agreed that Kirienko will fall far 
short of the 226 votes he needs in order to be confirmed. Aleksandr 
Kotenkov, the president's representative in the Duma, also 
acknowledged on 8 April that Kirienko is "extremely unlikely" to win 
approval on the first vote. Yeltsin is not expected to visit the Duma 
on 10 April, which suggests he may be saving such a gesture for a 
later vote on his nominee. LB

DEPUTIES TO VOTE BY SECRET BALLOT. The Duma Council on 9 April 
rebuffed efforts by the Communist faction to change the procedures 
for voting on Kirienko's candidacy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau 
reported. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia 
faction, announced that the vote will go ahead by secret ballot, in 
accordance with the Duma's regulations on confirming the prime 
minister. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 8 April 
advocated an open vote on Kirienko "so that there will be no doubts 
about the honesty" of Duma deputies. Earlier the same day, Duma 
Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin of the Communist 
faction alleged that foreign money is being used to bribe Duma 
deputies to support the acting prime minister. Meanwhile, Grigorii 
Yavlinskii has announced that deputies from his Yabloko faction will 
not even pick up ballots on 10 April in order to demonstrate that 
they unanimously oppose Kirienko's nomination. LB

COMMUNISTS STILL HOPE TO CHANGE YELTSIN'S MIND... Duma 
Speaker Gennadii Seleznev announced on 9 April that if the Duma 
rejects Kirienko in the first vote, he will try to persuade Yeltsin to 
nominate someone else for prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. 
Yeltsin and other Kremlin officials have said the president has firmly 
settled on Kirienko to lead the new government. But Seleznev, a 
prominent member of the Communist Party, commented in an 
interview with the 7 April edition of "Kommersant-vlast" that "no 
one believes" Yeltsin's "categorical" statements on Kirienko. Seleznev 
noted that "not long ago" Yeltsin said former First Deputy Prime 
Minister Anatolii Chubais would work in the government until 2000. 
LB 

...QUESTION PRESIDENT'S RIGHT TO NOMINATE KIRIENKO AGAIN. 
Communist Party leader Zyuganov announced on 8 April that his 
faction is preparing an inquiry to the Constitutional Court asking 
judges to rule on whether the president may nominate the same 
candidate for prime minister more than once, RFE/RL's Moscow 
bureau reported. Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has 
already said the president will nominate Kirienko a second time if 
the Duma rejects him on 10 April. Article 111 of the constitution 
stipulates that the president is to dissolve the Duma if deputies reject 
his nominee for prime minister three times. Yeltsin's representative 
in the Duma, Kotenkov, told RFE/RL that such an appeal would not 
affect the current process of appointing a prime minister, since it 
usually takes at least six months for the Constitutional Court to rule 
on cases. LB

RUSSIA TO REDUCE OIL EXPORTS. Acting First Deputy Prime Minister 
Boris Nemtsov on 8 April announced that Russia will reduce its oil 
exports in response to the slump in oil prices on international 
markets, Russian news agencies reported. Nemtsov said a meeting of 
government officials and oil industry executives "unanimously" 
approved plans to reduce oil exports by 2.3 percent, or 61,000 
barrels a day, and exports of petroleum products by 3.2 percent, or 
4,900 metric tons a day. Analysts quoted by AFP said the reductions 
will be symbolic measures with a greater political than economic 
impact. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) 
had asked Russia, a non-OPEC country, to cut oil exports by 100,000 
barrels a day, according to dpa. But before 8 April Russian officials 
had said such exports would not be reduced. Russia is the world's 
third-largest oil producer. LB

GOVERNMENT, CENTRAL BANK TO SIGN POLICY STATEMENT SOON. 
Acting Prime Minister Kirienko and Central Bank Chairman Sergei 
Dubinin are to sign a joint statement on economic policy for 1998 by 
14 April at the latest, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 April. The statement, 
which has been drafted in coordination with the IMF, is important 
for securing the release of the next tranche of a $10 billion, four-year 
IMF loan to Russia. Dubinin and Yevgenii Yasin, minister without 
portfolio, are to attend meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington 
on 15-17 April. The fund's board of directors will decide later this 
month whether to release the next tranche on schedule. LB

MIXED SIGNALS ON DOWNSIZING PLANS. A major reduction of state 
employees is considered an important condition for IMF support for 
Russia, and in his upcoming address to the Duma, Kirienko is 
expected to endorse staff cutbacks to help the government "live 
within its means." But the notes for Kirienko's speech, cited by 
Reuters, do not specify the scale of the cutbacks. Kirienko and Yeltsin 
recently contradicted First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's 
announcement that more than 200,000 jobs will be eliminated (see 
"RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March and 2 April 1998). Acting Deputy 
Prime Minister and Labor Minister Oleg Sysuev on 8 April told NTV 
that contrary to Kudrin's remarks, there will be no major cuts among 
doctors and teachers. But Sysuev's future is uncertain, as the new 
cabinet is expected to have fewer deputy prime ministers and trade 
union leaders are rumored to have been promised the labor portfolio. 
LB

DUMA CALLS FOR BAN ON BASE TRANSFER IN GEORGIA... By a vote 
of 234 to 0 with five abstentions, the Duma called on President Boris 
Yeltsin to annul a 24 March instruction from acting Prime Minister 
Sergei Kirienko calling for the country's defense ministry to transfer 
control of the land occupied by Russian military bases in Georgia, 
Russian agencies reported. Kirienko's decision was based on the still 
unratified agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi on the status of 
Russian forces in Georgia. During the debate on the Duma resolution, 
chairman of the CIS Affairs Committee Georgii Tikhonov suggested 
that NATO troops could be deployed at those bases if Russia 
transferred the facilities to Georgia. PG

...CRITICIZES U.S. CONGRESS OVER BELARUS. The Duma on 8 April 
voted 284 to five in favor of a statement that criticizes the U.S. 
Congress for its draft resolution calling on U.S. President Bill Clinton 
to deny Belarus most-favored-nation status if there is no 
"considerable improvement" in human rights, Interfax and ITAR-
TASS reported. The Duma statement said the U.S. Congress is seeking 
"to put pressure on a sovereign state which does not want to follow 
the U.S. lead in global politics." It called the draft resolution an 
example of "new and large-scale joint actions by external and 
internal opponents of...Russian-Belarus rapprochement." Galina 
Starvoitova, co-chairperson of the Democratic Russia party, asked if 
Belarus has requested the Duma's support. Duma Deputy Chairman 
Sergei Baburin replied "we cannot wait until someone asks us for 
fraternal assistance. We must act on our own." BP

NIKOLAEV WANTS BROADER POWERS FOR PARLIAMENT... Andrei 
Nikolaev, former director of the Federal Border Service, has 
advocated constitutional amendments to increase the powers of the 
parliament, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 7 April . In 
particular, he supported forming the government from Duma groups 
that have been backed by the majority of voters. (Yeltsin and other 
Kremlin officials have repeatedly rejected proposals on forming a 
coalition government.) Nikolaev, who is competing in a 12 April by-
election in Moscow for a State Duma seat, declined to comment on 
speculation that he may run for president in 2000. LB

...AS CAMPAIGN RIVALS SAY HE HAS UNFAIR ADVANTAGE. 
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 April that five candidates for the 
12 April by-election, including former Defense Minister Igor 
Rodionov and Officers' Union head Stanislav Terekhov, have appealed 
to the Supreme Court to revoke Nikolaev's registration and have 
dropped out of the race to protest alleged attempts by the Moscow 
authorities to "push through" Nikolaev's victory. (Moscow Mayor 
Yurii Luzhkov has endorsed Nikolaev.) In an interview with "Russkii 
telegraf" on 8 April, Rodionov noted that Nikolaev has been given 
vast exposure in the press and electronic media. Two other well-
known contenders for the Duma seat, Peasants' Party Chairman Yurii 
Chernichenko and former Presidential Security Service deputy chief 
Valerii Streletskii, have also withdrawn from the race, but they are 
not cooperating with the five who have lodged the Supreme Court 
appeal. LB

SOBCHAK ASSAILS INVESTIGATORS' METHODS. Former St. Petersburg 
Mayor Anatolii Sobchak says he may file an appeal to the European 
Court in Strasbourg to protest his treatment by Russian investigators. 
In a telephone interview from Paris, broadcast on RFE/RL on 7 April, 
he compared the methods of today's Russian law enforcement 
authorities to their Stalin-era equivalents. Sobchak, a witness in a 
corruption case allegedly involving his former associates, was picked 
up for questioning on 3 October 1997. That interrogation ended when 
he fell ill and was taken to hospital. He later accused investigators of 
giving him a heart attack. Speaking to RFE/RL, Sobchak said 
investigators have ignored his offer to answer questions about the 
corruption case from Paris. His supporters say Russian law 
enforcement authorities have also selectively leaked material in 
order to damage Sobchak's reputation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 
April 1998). LB

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

KOCHARYAN SWORN IN AS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT. Robert 
Kocharyan took the oath of office as president of Armenia on 9 April, 
RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In his speech, Kocharyan 
pledged to work toward strengthening Armenian statehood, 
establishing balanced relations between the various branches of the 
Armenian state, and securing international recognition for the right 
of the Karabakh people to national self-determination. Expanding on 
the last point, Kocharyan said that Karabakh must be allowed to 
develop under safe conditions with permanent ties to Armenia. The 
same day, Kocharyan met with U.S. Senator John Warner and 
Admiral Joseph Lopez, the commander of NATO forces in Southern 
Europe. He told them that Armenia's commitment to democracy and 
liberal economic reforms is "irreversible." PG

GEORGIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF 1989 KILLINGS. Georgian 
government officials on 9 April marked the ninth anniversary of 
events in Tbilisi in which Soviet troops fired on a large crowd 
demanding independence for Georgia and killed some 20 
demonstrators, ITAR-TASS reported. Those events radicalized 
Georgian opinion at the time and have been marked by Tbilisi every 
year since. PG 

ABKHAZIA CALLS ON MOSCOW TO INFLUENCE GEORGIA. The 
government of the breakaway region of Abkhazia on 8 April urged 
Moscow to "exercise influence on the Georgian side" in order to 
promote a settlement to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS 
reported. The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry charged that Georgia 
continues to use force, despite its past pledges not to do so.  PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS PROTEST SENTENCING OF KAZAKH 
OPPOSITIONIST. Human Rights organizations have protested a 
Kazakh court verdict sentencing opposition leader Madel Ismailov to 
one year in prison for insulting the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 
8 April 1998). Amnesty International released a statement calling 
for his "immediate and unconditional release. In Almaty, the deputy 
director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, 
Jemis Turmagambetova, termed the court ruling "absolutely 
unconstitutional," AFP reported. Turmagambetova said the law used 
to imprison Ismailov was introduced in 1993, revoked by the Kazakh 
Supreme Court, and reintroduced last summer by presidential 
decree. BP

RYBKIN VISITS NEW KAZAKH CAPITAL. Russian acting Deputy Prime 
Minister Ivan Rybkin was in Akmola on 8 April to meet with Kazakh 
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, RFE/RL correspondents reported. 
Their scheduled one-hour meeting lasted nearly three hours, as the 
two discussed Russia's leasing of the Baikonur cosmodrome, the CIS 
Customs Union, and the upcoming CIS summit. ITAR-TASS reported 
that Rybkin praised Nazarbayev's document "Ten Simple Steps 
Toward Ordinary People," due to be discussed at the CIS summit. 
According to RFE/RL correspondents, Rybkin said that "some part" of 
Russia's $500 million or so debt for use of Baikonur will be paid in 
2001-2002. Nazarbayev, however, has said on several previous 
occasions that he wants the debt settled quickly. BP

U.S. BANK TO HELP FUND TURKMEN PIPELINE. The U.S. Export-Import 
Bank will extend guarantees loans totaling $96 million to modernize 
Turkmenistan's natural gas pipelines, "Neitralny Turkmenistan" 
reported on 9 April. The newspaper noted that this is the first time 
U.S. Eximbank is involved in projects in Turkmenistan. BP

UN ENVOY TO TAJIKISTAN TO RETIRE. UN Secretary-General Kofi 
Annan released a statement on 8 April praising UN special envoy to 
Tajikistan Gerd Merrem for his work in the Central Asian country 
over the last two years, Reuters reported. The statement also said 
that "after 25 years of distinguished service" Merrem plans to retire. 
Representatives of the countries and organizations that are 
guarantors of the Tajik peace accord similarly released a statement 
saying Merrem played a "key role" in negotiations between the Tajik 
government and opposition that led to the signing last June of the 
peace accord, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 April. The Russian news 
agency also noted that Merrem was named "Man of the Year" in 
1997 by "a number of Russian newspapers." BP

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