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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 99 Part I, 26 May 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 99 Part I, 26 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 CRISIS ON UKRAINIAN FARMS The decline of Ukraine's agriculture sector has been continuous since Kyiv declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This report includes articles and photos. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/ukraine-farms/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES NEW STATE PROGRAM FOR MINERS * RUSSIA SLAMS NEW U.S. SANCTIONS BILL * ABKHAZ FIGHTING CONTINUES, DESPITE CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES NEW STATE PROGRAM FOR MINERS. The Security Council on 25 May approved new plans on state support for employees of coal mines slated for closure, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told NTV. Earlier this year, the government approved plans to close 86 out of some 200 Russian coal mines. According to Nemtsov, the program approved by the Security Council calls for providing miners with funds to help them relocate and buy new housing. That money will be deposited into "personal accounts" for individual miners in order to cut out the "middlemen," whom government officials blame for many of the coal industry's financial problems. He said miners in the far north of Perm Oblast will be the first to benefit from resettlement aid, while miners in Rostov Oblast, in the south, will receive money through personal accounts and assistance in finding new jobs. LB YASTRZHEMBSKII BLAMES PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT FOR MINERS' PROBLEMS. Following the 25 May Security Council meeting, which was chaired by President Boris Yeltsin, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii blamed the government Yeltsin sacked in March for the latest wave of protests by coal miners, Ekho Moskvy reported. Yastrzhembskii said "the previous government did very little in practice to restructure the coal sector." He did not mention former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin or former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais by name. Chubais headed a commission on socio-economic problems of coal-mining regions in the last government. LB KEMEROVO GOVERNOR CALLS OFF STATE OF EMERGENCY. Aman Tuleev on 25 May lifted the state of emergency he had recently imposed in Kemerovo Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. The blockade of the Trans-Siberian Railroad by Kemerovo coal miners ended on 24 May. Tuleev was involved in negotiations between federal government officials and the Kemerovo miners, and he has promised to act as a "guarantor" to make sure the government keeps its promises to the miners. He warned on 24 May that protests may resume if the government has not made progress by 1 July in implementing its plans to help the coal sector. LB YELTSIN SAYS MEDIA OWNERS ARE SOMETIMES 'WORST CENSORS'... Yeltsin assailed the influence of private media owners on media coverage during a 25 May speech to a world congress of the International Press Institute in Moscow, which was published in full in "Kommersant-Daily" the following day. Yeltsin lamented the fact that "only a handful of publications have genuine independence." He added that "the media owners are sometimes the worst censors. They openly interfere in editorial policy, deciding what should or should not be written or said." Such conditions jeopardize "the people's right to objective and truthful information," the president said. He did not criticize any media outlets by name. Yeltsin benefited from almost unanimous support in the Russian media during his 1996 re-election campaign, when journalists helped spread his campaign's message and keep his health problems out of public view. LB ...AS SPOKESMAN CRITICIZES MEDIA COVERAGE OF MINERS' PROTESTS. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 25 May that the Russian media's coverage of the recent blockades by coal miners of railroads "went beyond reasonable limits," Reuters reported. He did not give any examples of what he considers to be excesses in media coverage. Reports on the miners' protests often featured calls for the dismissal of the government and the resignation of the president. Yastrzhembskii said that on 28 May Yeltsin plans to meet with the heads of Russia's three major networks--51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television, fully state-owned Russian Television, and private NTV--to discuss "cooperation between the authorities and the media." Appearing on NTV on 25 May, Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov said he has "no complaints" about the media's coverage of the miners' protests. LB SECURITY COUNCIL ESTABLISHES SPECIAL BODY ON NORTH CAUCASUS. The Security Council also decided at its 25 May meeting to establish a special government body, which will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, to stabilize the "unpredictable" situation in the North Caucasus, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 26 May. Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin said that Russia's policy toward the region will combine social-economic incentives with "all the means at the state's disposal." Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii claimed after the meeting that "an overwhelming majority of government orders and decisions on stabilizing the socio-economic situation in North Caucasus regions, including Dagestan" were not implemented by the previous government, Reuters reported. LB/LF DAGESTANI PREMIER ACCUSED OF PROVOKING CONFRONTATION. Union of Muslims of Russia Chairman Nadirshakh Khachilaev has suggested that Prime Minister Khizri Shikhsaidov provoked the clash with police in Makhachkala on 20 May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 May. That incident prompted the premier's followers to lay siege to the government building the following day. Khachilaev claimed that Shikhsaidov had requested him to travel with a group of armed followers to the Dagestani-Chechen border and had ordered the local police to intercept the group on its return to the capital. Khachilaev also claimed that several leading Russian government officials had telephoned him on 21 May to express their support for his demand that the chairman of Dagestan's State Council, Magomed-Ali Magomadov, resign. Khachilaev has agreed to meet with investigators from the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and the Prosecutor-General's office to answer questions about the 20-21 May events, Interfax reported on 25 May. LF RUSSIA SLAMS NEW U.S. SANCTIONS BILL. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 25 May issued a statement criticizing a bill adopted by the U.S. Senate three days earlier that provides for sanctions against foreign companies and individuals suspected of supplying nuclear technology to Iran, Reuters and Interfax reported. The statement said Russia "categorically opposes attempts to prevent the free development of legitimate trade and economic ties with Iran." It also claimed that the bill is aimed at "complicating U.S.-Russian relations by accusing Russia of helping Iran create nuclear missiles." LF RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL CHINESE POACHERS. A Russian patrol boat on 25 May fired on a Chinese fishing vessel caught poaching in the Bering Sea, killing two on board, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed regret at the incident but supported the action of the border guards, saying they "acted fully in conformity with the legislation of the Russian Federation." Recently, Russian border guards have caught 14 Chinese poaching along the Amur River, which divides Russia and China in the Far East. Russia recently cut the fishing quota in that area by nearly 60 percent. On 22 May, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called for revising the visa-free agreements reached between Russian and Chinese border regions, saying that while they played a positive role, the visa-free regime has been "criminalized to some extent." He urged that similar, more precisely defined agreements be signed by the Russian and Chinese governments. BP YELTSIN PLANS MEETING WITH BUSINESS LEADERS. Yeltsin has scheduled a meeting with nine business leaders on 29 May, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 26 May. Six of those on the guest list participated in a similar Kremlin meeting last September: Oneksimbank founder Vladimir Potanin, Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii, Yukos- Rosprom head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, SBS-Agro bank head Aleksandr Smolenskii, Alfa group head Mikhail Fridman, and Inkombank head Vladimir Vinogradov. Yeltsin has also invited Unified Energy Systems chief executive Anatolii Chubais, LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov, and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. The president plans to listen to the businessmen's views on the current financial crisis, according to Yastrzhembskii. During last September's meeting, Yeltsin urged influential businessmen not to use the media to "sling mud" at one another and at some high- ranking government officials. That appeal, however, had no discernible effect on the tone of Russian media coverage. LB YUKSI MERGER HALTED INDEFINITELY. The Yukos and Sibneft oil companies on 25 May issued a joint statement saying they have halted talks on merging the two companies, Russian news agencies reported. In January, Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovskii and major Sibneft shareholder Boris Berezovskii signed preliminary documents on creating a new company, to be called Yuksi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 January 1998). But the 25 May press release said the companies will instead concentrate on internal restructuring "in connection with the instability of the Russian financial market and the continuing fall in world prices for oil." In addition, each company will conduct independent negotiations with potential Western partners. The French oil company Elf Aquitaine agreed in April to purchase a 5 percent stake in Yuksi for $528 million. LB NUMBER OF BIDDERS FOR ROSNEFT UNCLEAR. First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman told Interfax on 25 May that the ministry will not comment on how many groups are competing to purchase 75 percent plus one share in the state-owned oil company Rosneft. The deadline for submitting bids is 26 May, and the results of the privatization auction are scheduled to be announced three days later. If fewer than two bids are submitted, the auction will be invalid. ITAR-TASS on 25 May quoted an unnamed source as saying that the consortium of Gazprom, LUKoil, and Royal Dutch Shell does not plan to bid for the Rosneft stake. The recent announcement that LUKoil is holding talks on purchasing Sidanko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 1998) suggests that the consortium of Sidanko and British Petroleum, formed last November, will not take part in the Rosneft auction either. LB YELTSIN RESHUFFLES KREMLIN OFFICIALS. Yeltsin on 25 May appointed Vladimir Putin as first deputy head of the presidential administration, Russian news agencies reported. Putin joined the administration in 1996, when Anatolii Chubais was Yeltsin's chief of staff, and has headed the Kremlin's Main Controlling Department since March 1997. Also on 25 May, Yeltsin appointed former government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov, an ally of former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, as deputy head of the administration in charge of the media, public relations, and speech writers. Meanwhile, the president sacked Viktoriya Mitina, who was appointed deputy head of the administration last November. Mitina has been blamed for several regional election results that embarrassed the Kremlin, most recently the Nizhnii Novgorod mayoral election and the Krasnoyarsk Krai gubernatorial race. The president also sacked two advisers: Mikhail Krasnov (legal issues) and Anatolii Korabelshchikov (regional issues). Krasnov announced plans to leave the Kremlin earlier this year. LB KULIKOV TAKES UP ACADEMIC POST. The Institute of Social and Political Research of the Russian Academy of Science has appointed former Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov as its senior scientific fellow, Interfax reported on 25 May, quoting Sergei Rogachev, the institute's deputy director for scientific work. He said the appointment was made last month and that Kulikov, who has a doctorate in economics, may either lecture or teach. Kulikov was interior minister from June 1995 until last March. LB DUMA DEPUTIES SUGGEST WAYS TO PROMOTE START-2 RATIFICATION. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich of the Our Home Is Russia faction told Interfax on 25 May that agreements between Russia and NATO member states on not expanding the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe would speed up the process of ratifying the START-2 arms control treaty. During negotiations before the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed in May 1997, NATO refused to make a binding pledge not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko argued on 22 May that the Duma would be more likely to ratify START-2 if Yeltsin agreed to drop his attempts to change the system for parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Communist Duma deputy Albert Makashov published an article in the 26 May edition of "Sovetskaya Rossiya" arguing against ratification of the START-2 treaty on principle. LB BEREZOVSKII TURNS AWAY FROM LEBED. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, who provided substantial financial support to Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed's recent gubernatorial campaign, on 25 May said Lebed would be "extremely dangerous as the president of Russia," Interfax reported. Speaking at the world congress of the International Press Institute in Moscow, Berezovskii argued that Russia currently has only "four realistic alternatives" for the next presidential election: Lebed, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Yeltsin. But he predicted that Luzhkov will not run for president if Yeltsin decides to seek a third term. Popular singer and Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, an adviser to Luzhkov on cultural issues, also argued on 25 May that Luzhkov will not run for president if Yeltsin is in the race. Both Luzhkov and Yeltsin have said they have no plans to seek the presidency in 2000, but Russian commentators regard such statements with skepticism. LB GOVERNOR ADVOCATES CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES. Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak advocates changing the constitution to alter procedures for electing leaders. Speaking to Interfax on 24 May, Prusak called for indirect presidential elections whereby elected regional representatives would choose the president. (Article 81 of the constitution stipulates that direct elections must be held to choose the president.) In an interview with "Argumenty i fakty" last month (No. 15), Prusak also called for doing away with elections for regional and local leaders. Instead, he advocated giving the president the right to appoint governors, who themselves would appoint local leaders. He argued that elections "continually destabilize the situation. Every time it's a shock for the state. Enormous amounts of money are spent, to no avail." Prusak has been widely praised in Russia and abroad for managing his region's economy. In terms of per capita foreign investment, Novgorod ranks second among Russia's 89 regions, after the city of Moscow. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ABKHAZ FIGHTING CONTINUES, DESPITE CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and his Abkhaz counterpart, Sergei Shamba, signed a protocol in the Abkhaz resort of Gagra on 25 May on a cease-fire between the warring sides and guarantees against the renewed use of force. The UN special envoy to Georgia and the head of the Russian contingent to the CIS peacekeeping forces also signed the protocol, which was drafted by Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba and Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze. UN observers and officers from the CIS peacekeeping force were to monitor compliance with the cease-fire agreement, which was scheduled to take effect at 6 a.m. local time on 26 May. Caucasus Press, however, reports that hostilities are continuing and that volunteers from the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus are fighting on the Abkhaz side. LF AZERBAIJAN BANS OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION. The Baku City authorities have refused a request by the opposition Movement for Democratic Reforms and Democratic Elections to be allowed to hold a demonstration on Baku's Freedom Square on 28 May, the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Turan reported on 25 May. The Movement now plans to convene a meeting in a Baku suburb instead. On 24 May, 11 pro-government political parties issued a statement calling for "consolidation" in support of President Heidar Aliev. The statement claims that the opposition knows its candidates have no chance of winning the October presidential elections and are therefore intent on destabilizing the internal political situation. LF FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REJECTS EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGE. In a statement released on 23 May, Rasul Guliev denied charges by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor-General's office that he misappropriated billions of dollars during his tenure as director of one of Azerbaijan's largest oil refineries, Turan reported two days later. Guliev squarely lays the blame for astronomical financial losses on President Aliev. Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 25 May, Guliev's lawyers said they have not yet had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the criminal charges against Guliev, who is currently in the U.S. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION APPEALS TO PEACE GUARANTORS OVER PARTY BAN. Said Abdullo Nuri, leader of the United Tajik Opposition, appealed on 25 May for the guarantor nations and organizations of the Tajik peace accord to use their influence to have the law banning religious parties suspended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Iran, one of the guarantor nations, urged both sides to "show self-restraint and avoid actions that would damage the peaceful atmosphere," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the UTO has issued a statement criticizing the "troika" formed by the Tajik, Russian, and Uzbek governments to combat the spread of "fundamentalism." According to the statement, "such plans...seriously jeopardize the divided Tajik society" and may "prompt retaliation, conflict, and resumption of the armed confrontation." The UTO called on the three governments to "give up the tendency [toward] escalating tension." BP EXTREMISTS TO BE EXTRADITED TO UZBEKISTAN? Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov sent a letter to UTO leader Nuri asking that the UTO locate and hand over 45 of its members wanted by the Uzbek government for terrorism, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 25 May. Uzbek President Islam Karimov had requested the extradition of the extremists earlier this month, saying they were ethnic Uzbeks who were involved in the violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan last December. However, some of those on the list are reportedly close to the UTO leadership and are unlikely to be handed over. BP TURKMEN PRESIDENT DISMISSES AGRICULTURE MINISTER. Saparmurat Niyazov lashed out at the country's agricultural officials on 22 May, RFE/RL correspondents and Interfax reported. Niyazov said he had flown over areas west of the capital and had noted that there is "not a single normal field there." He dismissed Agriculture Minister Ata Nabatov and appointed him chairman of the State Grain Products Enterprise. Niyazov added that if Nabotov's work was satisfactory, he would regain his ministerial post after this year's harvest. Also sacked was the governor of the Kara-Kala district, Amangeldy Rejepov. Niyazov has warned that failure to meet grain quotas could result in the launching of criminal charges. BP TURKMENISTAN, EU WANT BETTER RELATIONS. The EU and Turkmenistan on 25 May signed an agreement to improve political and economic relations, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement gives Turkmenistan most-favored-nation status for trading with EU countries and provides for increased foreign investment in oil and natural gas projects. All the former Soviet republics, except Tajikistan, have now signed a cooperation agreement with the EU. 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. 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