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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 76 Part I, 21 April 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 76 Part I, 21 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 Headlines, Part I * ZYUGANOV SAYS NEW ELECTIONS 'COULD BE USEFUL' * YELTSIN SPOKESMAN SAYS KURILS ARE NOT HONG KONG * NIYAZOV IN NEW YORK xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA ZYUGANOV SAYS NEW ELECTIONS 'COULD BE USEFUL.' Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 21 April that his party's faction in the State Duma is "not afraid" of new parliamentary elections and will vote against confirming acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, NTV reported. The Duma Council has scheduled the final vote on Kirienko for 24 April. If deputies reject his candidacy a third time, the constitution stipulates that the president is to dissolve the Duma and call new elections. Speaking in Krasnoyarsk, where he is supporting the gubernatorial bid of Duma deputy Petr Romanov, Zyuganov said new elections "could be useful for the country," since, in his view, 90 percent of the new Duma deputies would be opponents of the government. LB BABURIN SAYS COMMUNIST OPPOSITION ONLY FOR SHOW... Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin on 20 April accused Zyuganov of "imitating a fight" over the confirmation of Kirienko, ITAR-TASS reported. Baburin, a member of the Popular Power faction, has long criticized the Communists' tactics--in particular, their refusal to vote no confidence in the government last year and their tacit support of the 1998 budget. His stance nearly led to a formal split in Popular Power earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). Nikolai Ryzhkov, the leader of the Popular Power faction, closely coordinates his strategy with the Communist leadership. LB ...BUT OUR HOME IS RUSSIA DEPUTY SAYS THEY'RE SERIOUS. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction says the Duma "is ready for dissolution," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 April. He told journalists that about half of the deputies are already "packing their bags" and preparing for new parliamentary elections. But Ryzhkov expressed the hope that the Duma will approve Kirienko on 24 April and said the acting premier's chances for confirmation will be good if the Duma decides to vote by secret ballot. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 April, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Russia already has "a hole in the budget" and suggested that the country cannot afford to hold new parliamentary elections. LB NEWSPAPER SAYS KIRIENKO'S APPOINTMENT COULD BE 'PYRRHIC VICTORY.' "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued on 21 April that the appointment of Kirienko may be a "Pyrrhic victory" for President Boris Yeltsin if it provokes unnamed "oligarchs" to become the president's opponents. The newspaper claimed that events since Yeltsin sacked Chernomyrdin's government on 23 March have not realized the president's hope of obtaining an "apolitical government of technocrats" that would better manage the economy. Instead, the dismissal of Chernomyrdin has led to economic "stagnation." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said the president "will not forget the hidden opposition [to Kirienko] by the oligarchs" and suggested that such conflict could have been avoided if Yeltsin had agreed to the demands of big business that Boris Nemtsov not remain first deputy prime minister and that Anatolii Chubais not be appointed chief executive of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group finances "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LB YELTSIN SPOKESMAN SAYS KURILS ARE NOT HONG KONG. President Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, said at a 20 April press conference on Sakhalin Island, that "the Hong Kong approach" is not an option for resolving the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands, Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii was responding to questions as to whether Russia is prepared to redraw the border to cede the four islands to Japan while continuing to administrate them until their handover. Such is reported to be the last-minute proposal Hashimoto made to Yeltsin before the Russian president returned to Moscow on 19 April. Yastrzhembskii traveled to one of the islands, Kunashir, on 21 April to evaluate the needs of the inhabitants there. He said some of the $600 million soon to be released by Japan as part of a $1.5 billion credit to build housing for Russian military personnel will benefit the people of the Kurils. BP TALBOTT IN MOSCOW. Acting Prime Minister Kirienko assured visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Moscow on 20 April that the change of Russian government will not affect either Russian-U.S. relations or Russia's commitment to reform, Interfax reported. The two men discussed preparations for the meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents scheduled to take place in May within the framework of the G-8 summit. Talbott also met with Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to discuss the situation in Kosova. LF POTANIN CHANGES HATS... Vladimir Potanin announced on 20 April that he is stepping down as president of Oneksimbank, which he founded five years ago, in order to become the head of the Interros holding company, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Interros will manage the assets acquired by Oneksimbank and its affiliate, including the investment bank MFK-Renaissance, several regional banks and insurance companies, the Sidanko oil company, the metals giant Norilsk Nickel, the Novolipetsk metallurgical factory, and Perm Motors. Interros will also include a holding company to manage media financed by Oneksimbank: the daily newspapers "Russkii telegraf," "Izvestiya" and "Komsomolskaya pravda," the business weekly "Ekspert," and several regional publications. Potanin is following an example set by several other leading Russian bankers. For example, Vladimir Gusinskii left the Most Bank to head the Media-Most company and Mikhail Khodorkovskii left the Menatep Bank to head the Rosprom group. LB ...SAYS COOPERATION WITH BUSINESS RIVALS POSSIBLE. At his 20 April press conference, Potanin confirmed that Interros and its subsidiaries are preparing for major privatization auctions, including sales of stakes in the oil company Rosneft and the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Potanin said Oneksimbank and Interros would consider cooperating on future investment projects with Boris Berezovskii (head of the LogoVAZ empire), the Most group (associated with Vladimir Gusinskii), and the SBS-Agro group (headed by Aleksandr Smolenskii). Berezovskii and Gusinskii have been bitter business rivals of Potanin since last summer, while Smolenskii is considered close to Berezovskii. No new spirit of cooperation is in evidence, judging by the 21 April editions of newspapers financed by Oneksimbank (see below). LB PRO-CHUBAIS MEDIA CAMPAIGN IN WORKS. The radio station Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 April that supporters of former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, including acting First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, are orchestrating a media campaign to help secure Chubais's appointment as chief executive of Unified Energy System, Russian news agencies reported. According to the radio station, Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar on 18 April took part in a meeting with representatives of media financed by Oneksimbank, at which it was decided to launch a campaign in support of Chubais and "to contrast the president with so- called oligarchs." Ekho Moskvy said journalists from "Moskovskii komsomolets" and "Kommersant-Daily" also attended that meeting. "Moskovskii komsomolets is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and "Kommersant-Daily" has received financing from the bank SBS-Agro. Ekho Moskvy is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company. LB NEWSPAPERS SLAM BEREZOVSKII. The media campaign reported by Ekho Moskvy swung into action on 21 April, when several newspapers published allegations that "oligarchs," and Berezovskii in particular, are putting pressure on Kirienko and Yeltsin in order to influence the new government and its policies. "Izvestiya," which is financed by Oneksimbank, said Berezovskii and others are displeased that Chubais and Nemtsov do not plan to allow oligarchs to control the financial flows of major Russian corporations. "Komsomolskaya pravda" (also financed by Oneksimbank) went further, claiming that Berezovskii tried to "force" his choice for prime minister on Yeltsin but that the president rebuffed the attempted "blackmail." "Moskovskii komsomolets" made similar claims and argued that now "everything depends" on whether Yeltsin will stand up to the pressure and wage a public war against the oligarchs. LB OFFICIAL SAYS MOSCOW MEDIA WILL KEEP FINANCIAL PRIVILEGES. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov's press secretary Sergei Tsoi says media outlets in the capital will be allowed to keep paying discounted rates for rent and municipal services, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. The discounts provided by the city government are thought to contribute to the generally favorable or neutral coverage of Luzhkov in Moscow-based media. Tsoi said "privileges [for the media] will be preserved, although it must be determined which media are genuinely 'Muscovite' and which are not." Media that have criticized the mayor in recent months include Russian Public Television and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (partly financed by Boris Berezovskii) and "Russkii telegraf" (owned by Oneksimbank). LB KIRIENKO WARNS OIL COMPANY PRIVATIZATION MAY BE REVERSED. During his address to the Duma on 17 April, acting Prime Minister Kirienko announced that if the Tyumen Oil Company does not meet its obligations toward the Pension Fund, the government will demand the return of a major stake in the company, Russian news agencies reported. Last July, a firm linked to the Alfa group won an auction for a 40 percent stake in the Tyumen Oil Company. One condition of that auction was meeting a schedule for settling 600 billion old rubles ($98 million) in debts to the Pension Fund. Those debts were supposed to be paid in March and April 1998, but the company is now trying to reschedule payments over the next two to three years. Kirienko warned that the government will annul last year's auction if the company does not pay the Pension Fund by the end of this month. LB YELTSIN WISHES SERGEEV HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Yeltsin congratulated Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 20 April, his 60th birthday, and praised his efforts "to improve the situation in the armed forces and develop military reform," Russian news agencies reported. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 21 April that when Sergeev was appointed last May, he was regarded by some as a transitional figure. However, he has forged good relations with Yeltsin by "not bothering the president with his problems," not acting like an independent politician, and not quarreling with the heads of the other "power ministries." He has been rewarded with the signing of the new law on military service, which raises the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 for officers with the rank of colonel-general, army general, or marshal. Yeltsin promoted Sergeev to marshal last November. LB TATAR PRESIDENT DEFENDS CITIZENSHIP LAW. Mintimer Shaimiev told Interfax on 20 April that the law on citizenship, approved by the republic's parliament in the first reading on 15 April, "is in full accordance with international law" and has been submitted to the Council of Europe "to check that it is irreproachable." The law makes dual (Russian and Tatar) citizenship mandatory for all residents of Tatarstan. An earlier version of the draft law requiring citizens of Tatarstan to renounce Russian citizenship had sparked sharp criticism elsewhere in Russia. LF MOSCOW DISPUTES CHECHNYA'S RIGHT TO APPOINT AMBASSADORS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 20 April said Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's appointment of ambassadors to several foreign countries is "a new provocation", ITAR-TASS reported. Nesterushkin said the appointments contribute to Chechnya's "self-isolation" within the Russian Federation. Spokesmen for Kuwait, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates all disclaimed any knowledge of a Chechen envoy's appointment to their countries. Maskhadov's press secretary, Mairbek Vachagaev, told Interfax that the appointments were made "in strict accordance with internationally recognized norms." LF CHECHEN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER IN BAKU. Shirvani Basaev had talks in Baku on 18 April with the state oil company, SOCAR, Turan reported on 20 April. The talks focused on possible Azerbaijani assistance to Chechnya in restoring its oil industry infrastructure and ensuring the safety of the Baku- Grozny-Tikhoretsk oil export pipeline. The Chechen leadership has also requested help from the Council of Europe in coping with widespread ecological damage caused by private oil refineries operated by former Chechen field commanders, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. LF EXPLOSION DESTROYS GAS PUMPING STATION IN DAGESTAN. Members of the self-styled Sword of Islam organization blew up a gas pumping station in Dagestan's Novolakskii Raion during the night of 20-21 April, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. The group is demanding the return to Chechen jurisdiction of the Novolakskii and Aukh raions. LF INGUSH PRESIDENT FEARS NEW WAR IN NORTH CAUCASUS. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 21 April, Ruslan Aushev expressed concern that the 16 April assault on a Russian military convoy in North Ossetia is part of a deliberate attempt either to start a new wave of fighting in the North Caucasus or to coerce Russian President Boris Yeltsin to impose a state of emergency on Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and Chechnya. Aushev believes the attack may have been aimed against chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, who had originally planned to travel with the convoy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LF POLICE OFFICERS GO ON SHOOTING SPREE IN BURYATIA. Three servicemen from a tank unit in Buryatia were fired on and one taken hostage by two drunken police officers on 19 April, ITAR-TASS and the 21 April edition of "Izvestiya" reported. The unarmed servicemen were assessing the build-up of ice under a bridge when the police officers opened fire on them. The officers then took one of the servicemen and a local resident hostage, driving off in a stolen car and firing indiscriminately. When they pulled over another car, the Russian serviceman escaped and alerted his colleagues. Members of the tank division shot one of the police officers, who is now in a critical condition, while the other surrendered. BP TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NIYAZOV IN NEW YORK. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, currently in the U.S. on his first official visit to that country, gave a speech at an event sponsored by the Eurasia Group and the Council on Foreign Relations on 20 April, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Niyazov criticized the U.S. for attempting to pressure Turkmenistan into premature democratic reforms, saying his country has "its own way of political, social, and economic development." He added that "democratic and market reforms are a tremendous endeavor often accompanied by bloodshed." Responding to charges of human rights violations, Niyazov said there are no political prisoners in Turkmenistan. Asked about former Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev who was released from detention by Turkmen authorities on the evening of 20 April, Niyazov said no one has done anything to him. He added that Americans have "poor information" about "so-called prisoners of conscience" in Turkmenistan. BP KAZAKH ECONOMY HAS MIXED PROSPECTS. According to an article in the 17 April "Russkii Telegraf" Kazakhstan's oil and gas industry is off to a good start this year but forecasts are poor for year's end. In the first quarter of 1998, oil output was 6.67 million tons, up 10 percent on the same period in 1997, and gas condensate production was 1.86 billion cubic meters, a 62.9 percent increase. The newspaper says that the decision to halt privatization, first announced by President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier this year and again by Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev last week, is partly due to falling world prices for both fuels. "Russkii Telegraf" estimates that as a result, Kazakhstan will lose a total of $10-12 billion by year's end. BP UZBEK PRESIDENT AGAIN VOICES CONCERN OVER ISLAM. Islam Karimov has again warned against the spread of "political Islam" in his country and Central Asia, Interfax reported on 18 April. Commenting on the Islamic Renaissance Party at a press conference, Karimov said such a development could put Uzbekistan back "dozens of years." He added that the training of religious radicals to destabilize the governments of the CIS Central Asian states is taking place in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. On two previous occasions this year, Karimov has said such training is under way in Pakistan. BP UZBEKISTAN TO RECEIVE CREDITS FOR AGRICULTURE. Uzbekistan will soon receive more than $60 million in credits from the International Finance Corporation, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. The organization, which has close ties with the World Bank, will make the credit available for purchasing cotton and grain harvesters from the U.S.'s Case Corp. According to the Russian news agency, agricultural production accounts for 30 percent of Uzbekistan's GDP and 60 percent of the country's export profits. The sector also provides work for some 40 percent of the force. BP CHANGES LIKELY IN ARMENIAN FOREIGN POLICY. Introducing newly appointed Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to his staff on 20 April, Armenian President Robert Kocharian said "a powerful department" for relations with the Armenian Diaspora will be created within the ministry, Noyan Tapan reported. Its head will have the status of deputy minister. Oskanian also met on 20 April with visiting Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi, saying the expansion of bilateral relations is an Armenian foreign policy priority, according to IRAN. Oskanian also called for a further exchange of views on a just and peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. Oskanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that policy on Karabakh will undergo "definite changes" and that "the principles we will maintain are that the settlement be comprehensive and without preconditions." LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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