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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 69 Part I, 9 April 1998
___________________________________________________________ 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 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 * MOSCOW DENIES PLANS FOR "TOTAL EMBARGO" OF LATVIA * HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS * KOCHARYAN SWORN IN AS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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 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. 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