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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 97 Part I, 22 May 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 97 Part I, 22 May 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx SPECIAL REPORT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE: MAKING IT WORK FOR HUMANITY Next month, work will begin on the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court. This four-part series explores the ramifications of a new criminal court and how the current war crimes tribunals are handling cases related to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/courts/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN CRITICIZES MINERS' TACTICS * STANDOFF IN MAKHACHKALA ENDS PEACEFULLY * SITUATION ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER REMAINS TENSE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN CRITICIZES MINERS' TACTICS. President Boris Yeltsin on 22 May said coal miners "have gone beyond reasonable boundaries" by blocking major railroads. In a nationwide radio address, the president ruled out printing extra money or taking funds away from other workers to meet the miners' demands. He acknowledged that "strikes are certainly a good way to make yourself heard" but argued that "nobody has the right to make the lives of others even more insufferable." The protests have gone on for more than a week in some areas and have affected hundreds of trains on the Trans-Siberian, Moscow-Vorkuta, and North Caucasus lines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 May 1998). Officials have repeatedly said the government has met its financial obligations to the coal industry and that the massive wage arrears to miners are caused by non-paying consumers and dubious financial practices by coal enterprise directors. LB KIRIENKO INSISTS GOVERNMENT WILL STICK TO BUDGET. Speaking to journalists on 21 May, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko repeated that the government will not deviate from the 1998 budget targets for spending on the coal industry, NTV reported. He said allocating extra money to miners would take money away from other vital social needs, such as paying teachers and child allowances. Yeltsin and Kirienko discussed the situation in the coal industry during a "big four" meeting on 21 May with State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev. According to Seleznev and Stroev, Yeltsin and Kirienko agreed to meet with deputies from both houses of the parliament during the first 10 days of June in order to discuss an "anti-crisis" program of economic and social policies, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev warned during a 21 May interview with NTV that the coal miners' protests could soon "spin out of control." LB NEWSPAPER SLAMS NTV'S COVERAGE OF MINERS' PROTESTS. "Russkii telegraf" on 21 May charged that NTV's coverage of the wave of miners' strikes has resembled "propaganda" with the subtext "Go for it, boys!" rather than news reporting. In particular, the newspaper blasted an NTV report from Moscow's Yaroslavl train station, which, it suggested, had been edited misleadingly to give the impression that most railroad workers and would-be passengers support the miners' protests. (NTV on 21 May broadcast a segment from the same station, in which many inconvenienced travelers said they support the miners and believe that "the government should be changed.") "Russkii telegraf" is fully owned by Oneksimbank and generally supports the government. NTV is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most holding company. It provided mostly positive coverage of the government from 1996 until summer 1997, when it began broadcasting sharp criticism of some high-ranking ministers. LB PARLIAMENTARY LEADERS AGREE TO PUSH FOR START-2 RATIFICATION. During the 21 May meeting of the "big four," Duma Speaker Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Stroev agreed to help push for speedy ratification of the START-2 arms control treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin again argued that the treaty is in Russia's interests, and the government agreed to submit documents to the parliament to "remove the concern" of some deputies that implementation of START-2 would be too expensive. LB STANDOFF IN MAKHACHKALA ENDS PEACEFULLY. Several hundred armed supporters of Union of Muslims of Russian chairman Nadirshakh Khachilaev who occupied the government building in Makhachkala on 21 May vacated it peacefully later that day following talks with top Dagestani officials. Moscow had responded to the seizure of the building by deploying additional police and security forces in the town. On the town's central square, Khachilaev told his supporters that the republic's leadership has agreed to their demands that the constitution be amended to provide for direct elections of the chairman of the State Council. Khachilaev's elder brother Magomed, who heads an emergency committee created to stabilize the situation, told the demonstrators that his committee has decided to drop its demand for the resignation of the present State Council chairman, Magomed Magomadov, "in order not to destabilize the situation further," Interfax reported. LF DAGESTANI INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS. At an emergency session of the State Council on 22 May attended by Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, Dagestani Interior Minister Magomed Abdurazakov submitted his resignation, thus meeting one of the demonstrators' demands, ITAR-TASS reported. The State Council issued a draft resolution blaming the republic's Interior Ministry for not taking adequate measures to prevent armed supporters of Khachilaev from occupying the government building. LF RUSSIA, TURKEY CLOSE TO AGREEMENT ON CAUCASUS FORCE. Speaking to Turkish journalists in Moscow on 21 May, Turkish Chief of General Staff General Ismail Hakki Karadayi said that during his talks with Russian defense officials, a "95 percent agreement" had been reached on creating a Russian- Turkish rapid reaction force for deployment during crises in the Caucasus, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 22 May. Karadayi did not say whether the force might also be deployed for peacekeeping purposes. LF LUKOIL PREPARING TO BUY SIDANKO. LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov announced on 21 May that his company is negotiating to buy the Sidanko oil company, Interfax reported. Earlier this year, the two companies were rumored to be considering a merger, but Alekperov denied those reports. The press service of Oneksimbank, which owns a controlling stake in Sidanko, issued a statement on 21 May saying Oneksimbank and British Petroleum have not yet made any decision on selling or merging Sidanko, ITAR-TASS reported. BP owns a 10 percent stake in Sidanko. But Alekperov's announcement raises more doubts as to whether the auction for a 75 percent stake in the Rosneft oil company will go ahead next week as planned. LUKoil, Gazprom, and Royal Dutch Shell have held negotiations on submitting a joint bid for Rosneft, while Sidanko and BP were planning to form their own consortium for the Rosneft auction. LB YELTSIN REPLACES HEAD OF RUSSIAN TELEVISION. Yeltsin on 21 May appointed Mikhail Shvydkoi as the chairman of the fully state-owned Russian Television (RTR) network, which is being transformed into a holding company for state-owned electronic media. Shvydkoi, up to now chairman of the Kultura television network, replaces Nikolai Svanidze, a close ally of former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais who had chaired RTR since February 1997. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 May, Svanidze will continue to host RTR's Sunday analytical program, "Zerkalo." The newspaper said Shvydkoi was chosen as a "compromise figure" who is "not associated with any financial-industrial groups." On 19 May, Prime Minister Kirienko signed a resolution transforming the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency into a subsidiary of RTR, which will be called RIA- Vesti. RTR first deputy chairman Eduard Gindeleev will be the new director of the news agency. LB FSB OFFICER ALLEGES PLOT TO ASSASSINATE BEREZOVSKII. Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Aleksandr Litvinenko has alleged that late last year the deputy head of an FSB department on organized crime instructed him to assassinate Boris Berezovskii, one of Russia's most powerful businessmen, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 22 May. The newspaper said Litvinenko warned Berezovskii on 20 March and soon after informed Yevgenii Savostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, of the alleged plans. FSB Director Nikolai Kovalev has ordered an investigation into the allegation. "Moskovskii komsomolets" cast doubt on Litvinenko's claim, noting that he is reportedly close to Berezovskii and would not be chosen to carry out such a plot if one indeed existed. It also suggested that Litvinenko has given "invaluable help to the criminal world," because his allegation has for more than a month paralyzed the FSB's department on organized crime. "Moskovskii komsomolets" is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and its coverage of Berezovskii is generally negative. LB KOKH PRESENTS COPY OF CONTROVERSIAL BOOK ON PRIVATIZATION. Former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh on 21 May held a press conference to show copies of his forthcoming book, "The Selling of the Soviet Empire," NTV reported. The book is being published in English and will sell for $20, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 May. A criminal case was opened against Kokh last year after it emerged that he received a $100,000 advance from a Swiss company for writing the book. Kokh argued on 21 May that his advance was not excessive, adding that the book is aimed at a mass audience. On 22 May, investigators in the Moscow Prosecutor's Office questioned Kokh in connection with allegations that he and other former officials embezzled property when they acquired apartments in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 1998). LB CUSTOMS ACCOUNTS DIVIDED AMONG 10 BANKS... A government commission on credit, monetary, and financial policy has approved the results of a tender for the right to service bank accounts of the State Customs Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 May. Of the 28 commercial banks that bid for the right to service the accounts, 10 were declared winners: Sberbank, Oneksimbank, MFK (linked to Oneksimbank), Alfa Bank, Rossiiskii Kredit, Most Bank, Avtobank, MDM-Bank, Promstroibank, and Sobinbank. Yeltsin and government officials have repeatedly promised to cease using "authorized" commercial banks to handle state funds, but exceptions have been made for the accounts of some ministries and federal agencies. The arrangement is lucrative for commercial banks, which can earn money on the inter-bank market while delaying the transfer of funds to federal coffers. LB ...FOLLOWING LAST-MINUTE ATTEMPT TO CANCEL COMPETITION. Most Bank, Menatep, SBS-Agro and Tekhnobank sent a last-minute appeal asking Prime Minister Kirienko to cancel the tender for the State Customs Committee's bank accounts and transfer the accounts to Sberbank. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 May, the four banks argued that the system of conducting such tenders has "discredited itself many times," since the losers inevitably dispute the results and the ensuing scandal "harms Russia's entire commercial banking system." Oneksimbank serviced the bulk of the State Customs Committee's accounts until late 1997. Some two months ago, the government authorized the transfer of the Central Excise Customs Service's bank accounts to Oneksimbank without a tender--a decision former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais later admitted was "unwise" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 24 March 1998). LB YELTSIN SIGNS MORE POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS WITH REGIONS. Yeltsin on 20 May attended a Kremlin signing ceremony for power-sharing agreements between the federal government and Amur, Voronezh, Ivanovo, and Kostroma Oblasts, as well as the Marii-El Republic, ITAR-TASS reported. The president praised the merits of such agreements, saying they "help strengthen our federation" by adjusting the government's regional policy to the specific conditions of each region. Yeltsin said 45 out of the 89 regions of the Russian Federation have signed bilateral treaties with the federal government. Some regional leaders, including Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev and Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, have criticized the practice of concluding power-sharing treaties, saying they exacerbate inequalities among regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January and 11 February 1998). LB SARATOV GOVERNOR DOWNPLAYS PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS. Saratov Governor Ayatskov has said he will run for re-election when his current term expires and that he does not plan to seek the presidency before 2004, Russian news agencies reported on 19 May. Commenting on the fact that Yeltsin introduced him to U.S. Bill Clinton as "the next Russian president" during the recent G-8 summit in Birmingham, Ayatskov speculated that Yeltsin was making a joke. Interfax on 18 May quoted Ayatskov as saying he will run for president in 2000 if Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor-elect Aleksandr Lebed does so. Ayatskov has sought to maintain a high profile since his election as governor in September 1996. On 20 May, he vowed to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the land code approved by the Federation Council if that code becomes law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. A Saratov law permits the purchase and sale of farmland. LB IS TATARSTAN HEADING FOR ECONOMIC DECLINE? The sharp fall in world oil prices may signal the end of Tatarstan's relative economic prosperity, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 May. The republican oil company Tatneft stands to lose $250-300 million this year, and the republic's remaining hard currency earnings will suffice only to service the foreign loans and Tatneft's earlier credits. Earnings from the oil sector enabled the Tatar leadership to subsidize both the agrarian and the industrial sector and to provide substantial social subsidies to cushion the impact of albeit cautious moves toward market reform. Two major enterprises, the KamAZ truck factory and Tatenergo, are close to bankruptcy. The republic's leadership may be constrained to surrender key enterprises to powerful Russian businessmen in return for loans and credits that it is unable to repay. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SITUATION ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER REMAINS TENSE. Sporadic minor clashes are continuing in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion between Georgian guerrillas and Abkhaz forces after the Abkhaz Interior Ministry sent another 800 men to the district, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. The Abkhaz are setting fire to Georgian homes as they retreat. Addressing an emergency session of the Georgian National Security Council on 21 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Tbilisi will use "both diplomatic talks and any other methods" to defend its territorial integrity. In an implicit denial of Georgian claims that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is colluding with the Abkhaz, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement on 21 May saying the peacekeepers are acting in accordance with their mandate and demonstrating "courage and endurance," ITAR-TASS reported. LF GEORGIA REJECTS ABKHAZ PRESIDENT'S OFFER OF TALKS. Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 21 May that he is ready "at any time" for talks with Shevardnadze on the recent clashes in Gali, Interfax reported. Ardzinba blamed the leadership of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, composed of ethnic Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz parliament in 1991, for the recent fighting. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said in Moscow on 21 May that Russia favors a meeting between Ardzinba and Shevardnadze in order to "normalize" the situation in Gali. Rakhmanin said both Tbilisi and Sukhumi precipitated the recent hostilities by failing to "show the necessary political will" to expedite the repatriation of displaced persons and curtail guerrilla activities in Gali. But Shevardnadze's press spokesman, Vakhtang Abashidze, said a meeting between the two presidents is "hardly possible' in the near future as Ardzinba "has no new proposals" on resolving the conflict. LF GEORGIAN NAVAL COMMANDER FIRED. Newly appointed Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze has dismissed Naval Commander Otar Chkhartishvili for financial irregularities and logistical incompetence, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 20 May. Tevzadze had criticized Chkhartishvili at a conference of defense officials the previous day. Chkhartishvili was appointed in March 1997 by Tevzadze's predecessor, Vardiko Nadibaidze, to replace Aleksandr Djavakhishvili. Djavakhishvili was forced to resign several months earlier following disagreements with Nadibaidze over the size and structure of the country's naval forces (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 16 December 1996). LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS DOWN ON TAX CUTS. Lawmakers on 21 May voted down a bill reducing value-added tax from 20 percent to 15 percent in order to avoid a confrontation with the new government, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous day, the parliament had approved in the first reading a law substantially reducing government revenues from income tax. Vartan Khachatrian, deputy chairman of the Committee on Finance and Economics and author of both initiatives, argued that a lower tax burden will spur economic activity and boost economic growth. But Prime Minister Armen Darpinian objected to the bill on VAT, arguing that it would cut this year's projected budget revenues. Under the Armenian constitution, the government may seek a vote of no confidence if the parliament passes a law that the cabinet considers unacceptable. The failure of such a vote automatically overturns the law passed by the legislature. LF TAJIK PARLIAMENT VOTES DOWN OPPOSITION FIGURES. Lawmakers on 21 May voted against the appointment of Tajik opposition leaders Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda and Davlat Usmon as first deputy prime minister and economics minister, respectively, RFE/RL correspondents reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the vote against Turajonzoda was 112 to 15 and against Usmon, 106 to 21. Both were appointed to those posts by presidential decree but required the parliament's approval to take office. Interfax reported that many deputies wanted to ask questions of Turajonzoda and Usmon, neither of whom were present. RFE/RL correspondents say some saw the failure of either to appear as a sign of disrespect. Another vote to confirm both candidates is expected on 22 May. Under the terms of the 1997 peace accord, 30 percent of cabinet posts are to be given to representatives of the United Tajik Opposition. BP TEXT OF NEW LAWS ON RELIGION PUBLISHED IN UZBEKISTAN. In its 19 May issue, the Uzbek daily newspaper "Khalk Suzi" published the text of laws aimed at regulating the activities of religious groups in the country. The new legislation stipulates that religious groups must register and outlaws missionary activities aimed at converting individuals to other religions, teaching religious subjects without official permission, publishing material that advocates extremism, separatism, and chauvinism. Some clauses of the laws are vague, such as the one forbidding people to wear religious clothing in public. Clergymen from registered religious groups are exempt from that provision. BP KAZAKH INTERIOR MINISTER NAMES "GUILTY" PERIODICALS. Kazakh Interior Minister Qayirbek Suleymenov on 21 May revealed the names of some publications against which the government has initiated criminal proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 May 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Suleymenov listed "Karavan," "Kazakhskaya Pravda," "Rabochaya Zhizn," and "Biz-MY" but said that others are being investigated also on charges of "igniting racial, ethnic, and religious hatred." BP IS ISSIK-KUL CONTAMINATED FOLLOWING TRUCK ACCIDENT? A truck carrying 20 tons of sodium cyanide drove into the Barskoon River near the Issik-Kul lake, which is Kyrgyzstan's biggest tourist attraction, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported on 20 May. Reports vary as to the extent of the damage to the environment. A spokeswoman for President Askar Akayev said there were no "environmental consequences." But "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 22 May reported that 8 tons of sodium cyanide spilled into the river. Independent ecological experts told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek that the Kumtor gold mining operation, located in the mountains not far from Issik-Kul, refused to allow them to the site. Kumtor is a joint venture between Kyrgyzstan's state gold company, Kyrgyzaltyn, and Canada's Cameco Corp. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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