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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 126 Part I, 2 June 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 126 Part I, 2 June 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 * GOVERNMENT THREATENS TO LOWER BOOM ON GAZPROM * DUMA GIVES INITIAL APPROVAL TO PART OF ANTI-CRISIS PROGRAM * GEORGIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS LAND PLOTS FOR FUGITIVES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA GOVERNMENT THREATENS TO LOWER BOOM ON GAZPROM... Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko announced at a 2 July cabinet session that he has asked Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov to cancel the December 1997 agreement under which Gazprom chief executive Rem Vyakhirev manages a 35 percent state-owned stake in the gas monopoly, Russian news agencies reported. Nemtsov will chair a meeting of the state's representatives in Gazprom on 2 July. Kirienko also announced plans to hold an extraordinary meeting of Gazprom's board of directors and said the State Tax Service is to seize some property belonging to the monopoly. Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov told Interfax that the measures were prompted by Gazprom's failure to make a 2.45 billion ruble ($395 million) payment to the federal budget in June. During a recent meeting of Gazprom shareholders, Nemtsov indicated that the government is satisfied with the company's management (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1998). LB ...UNLESS GAS MONOPOLY PAYS TAXES IN FULL. Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov announced on 2 July that "if Gazprom pays its taxes, everything will be all right," ITAR-TASS reported. But Nemtsov confirmed that the government will carry out the steps outlined by Kirienko if the company fails to meet its financial obligations toward the budget. ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed government sources as saying the threats against Gazprom "may be directly related" to talks between Russian and IMF official over a possible $10-15 billion stabilization loan. The IMF has long said that further loans to Russia will depend in large part on the government's success in improving tax collection. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told ITAR-TASS on 2 July that Gazprom provides some 15-20 percent of all federal tax revenues. LB DUMA GIVES INITIAL APPROVAL TO PART OF ANTI-CRISIS PROGRAM... The State Duma on 1 July gave at least initial approval to several draft laws in the government's anti- crisis program, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. In all three required readings, deputies approved a law to exempt imported industrial equipment from value-added tax this year and a law reducing excise duties on carbonated alcoholic beverages. Laws related to a plan to raise taxes on the games industry (such as lotteries and casinos) were approved in two readings. Several laws were passed in only the first reading and are expected to undergo substantial amendments before the Duma gives final approval: a law to reduce the profit tax from 35 percent to 30 percent; laws simplifying the taxation of small businesses; and a law that would allow enterprises to sell goods below the cost of production. LB ...REJECTS LAW ON TAXING GOODS BEFORE COMPANIES ARE PAID. As expected, the Duma on 1 July voted down by an overwhelming margin the government's proposal to force companies to pay value-added tax on goods at the time of shipment to customers rather than when payments are received. Gazprom was among those who lobbied against passage of that bill, the only part of the government's anti-crisis program so far that the Duma has rejected. Deputies on 1 July began debating a draft law to charge a single rate of value-added tax on almost all goods but postponed a vote. That law, along with nearly a dozen other important parts of the government's anti-crisis plan, will be considered either on 2 or 3 July. LB DUMA RAISES CEILING FOR FOREIGN BORROWING. The Duma on 1 July approved the government's plans to raise allowable foreign borrowing in 1998 from $6.6 billion to $9.068 billion, with no more than $400 million of that amount coming from loans from foreign governments, Interfax reported. But Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev noted that deputies made several amendments to the program before approving it. For example, he said the Duma took out provisions that would have allowed funds borrowed from abroad to be used to pay for foreign consultants. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction named that provision as one of the "many stupid things" the Duma removed from the foreign-borrowing program, ITAR-TASS reported. LB OFFICIAL WARNS PARTIES OVER EARLY DUMA ELECTIONS. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko has reminded politicians that current legislation would not allow any of Russia's political parties to qualify for elections to the State Duma if early elections were held in the next few months, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 July. Under a 1997 law, political parties and movements must amend their charters and re-register with the Justice Ministry at least one year before parliamentary elections. The next elections are scheduled for December 1999 but could be held earlier if the Duma gave President Boris Yeltsin grounds to dissolve the lower house (either by voting no confidence in the government or by rejecting the president's prime ministerial nominee three times). Ivanchenko's remarks appear to be linked to recent speculation in some Russian media that conflict over the government's anti-crisis program could eventually lead to the Duma's dissolution. LB COMMISSION ORDERS FOUR LARGE TAX DEBTORS TO PAY UP. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced on 1 July that an extraordinary commission on tax and budgetary discipline has given four companies until 1 August to pay their tax debts, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The decision affects the Severonikel nickel smelter (a unit of Norilsk Nickel that owes some 250 million rubles or $40 million), the Vostsibugol coal company (400 million rubles), the Chepetsk Mechanical Works (175 million rubles), and the state-owned Rosenergoatom nuclear energy company (329 million rubles), according to Interfax. If they do not meet the 1 August deadline, the first three companies face asset seizures and the management of Rosenergoatom will be replaced, Khristenko said. He also vowed that bankruptcy procedures will be initiated against several companies that have not complied with the commission's earlier order to pay their tax debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1998). LB KIRIENKO PROMISES SOLDIERS A RAISE--NEXT YEAR. Prime Minister Kirienko told journalists on 1 July that the government plans to raise the wages of military personnel as of 1 January 1999, Interfax reported. Last year, government officials promised to give soldiers a pay raise in 1998. The government's anti-crisis program calls for levying income tax on several types of income that are not currently taxed, including soldiers' wages. That proposal drew sharp criticism from Communist deputy Yurii Voronin during a 29 June meeting of the Duma Budget Committee, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. But speaking to journalists on 1 July, Kirienko said soldiers will not be forced to pay income tax until after they have received pay raises. He did not specify the size of the pay increase but claimed that it will make up for the introduction of an income tax on soldiers' salaries, ITAR-TASS reported. LB TRADE UNION LEADER SLAMS ANTI-CRISIS PROGRAM. Mikhail Shmakov, the leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR), says the government's anti-crisis program will not solve the wage arrears problem but rather seeks to increase the tax burden on ordinary citizens, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 1 July. He told journalists that wage arrears have increased by more than 20 percent since the beginning of 1998 and continue to grow. Commenting on official claims that the government is responsible for only a small fraction of the wage arrears, Shmakov argued that the government is responsible for helping ensure prompt wage payments to all workers--not only to state employees. He warned that if no steps are taken to solve the problem, trade unions will cease to be the government's "social partners" and will organize a nationwide strike in November. LB WILL BLOCKADE OF TRANS-SIBERIAN RESUME? Some 100 coal miners from three towns in Kemerovo Oblast began picketing the Trans-Siberian Railroad on 1 July to protest wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reported. Trade unions claim that the region has received only 65 percent of the 1 billion rubles ($160 million) promised by the federal government in a protocol signed by Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on 24 May. That protocol ended a 10-day blockade of the railways (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May and 3 June 1998). Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov told journalists the government has "fulfilled all its obligations" to miners, and he blamed the coal sector's problems both on consumers, who allegedly owe 8.6 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) to mines nationwide, and on the Federation Council. The upper house recently rejected a bill that would have cut spending in several areas and earmarked the funds saved for the coal industry. BT RUSSIA EXPRESSES ANXIETY OVER U.S. MISSILE ATTACK IN IRAQ. A 1 July Foreign Ministry statement expressed concern over the U.S. missile attack on a site in southern Iraq the previous day , Russian news agencies reported. The statement mentions U.S. reports of a "defensive" attack on a functional air- defense radar in a no-fly zone and statements made by an Iraqi official that the missile attack was against a reservoir complex in the southern province of Basra, where no radars operate. On 30 June, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov expressed hope to Prakash Shah, the UN secretary- general's special envoy in Iraq, that the UN's disarmament project will lead to the repeal of the UN oil embargo on Iraq, Interfax reported. BT YELTSIN URGES INDIA TO SIGN NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY. Boris Yeltsin sent a letter to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on 1 July urging him to sign the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Yeltsin said such a step would "elicit a positive response from the world community." However, Yeltsin's call is likely directed not only at the international community as a whole but also at Beijing. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 30 June that Beijing received an "unfavorable impression" when Russia agreed last month to fulfill a contract for supplying nuclear reactors to India signed 10 years ago. The newspaper called India "China's worst enemy." BP NEMTSOV, LEBED FAIL TO SIGN AGREEMENT ON FINANCES. Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed met in Moscow on 1 July but failed to sign an agreement between federal and krai authorities concerning Krasnoyarsk's finances, Russian news agencies reported. Lebed explained that the krai is not yet ready to sign a comprehensive agreement with the federal government because "we have too many sins to go to paradise." Nemtsov agreed to give Krasnoyarsk officials more time to draft proposals concerning the agreement. He noted that the krai is in difficult financial straits, with large-scale wage arrears and backlogs in child allowance payments. Earlier on 1 July, Nemtsov and Aleksei Lebed, the leader of the Republic of Khakassia and younger brother of Aleksandr Lebed, signed an agreement on Khakassia's finances. LB CHECHNYA WILL NOT SEND TROOPS TO KOSOVA. President Aslan Maskhadov told journalists on 1 July that Chechnya has had no contacts with the Kosova Albanian leadership and has not dispatched any military units to fight on the side of the Kosova Liberation Army, Interfax reported. Maskhadov admitted that "we identify with [the Albanians'] bid for independence" but said that Chechnya will not interfere in the internal affairs of another country unless asked. If such a request is made, Maskhadov continued, "the Chechen president and no one else" will decide how to respond. "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 June had quoted Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov as saying Chechnya is prepared to dispatch a peacekeeping contingent to Kosova if the international community decides to finance a peacekeeping operation there. He had denied allegations, however, that Grozny is preparing to send 10,000 men to fight alongside the UCK. LF INGUSHETIAN EX-MINISTER RELEASED. Former acting Interior Minister Daud Korigov was released from detention in Moscow on 1 July as a result of pressure from the Ingushetian leadership, an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported the following day. Korigov was arrested on 4 March and charged with exceeding his authority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 17 March 1998.) Duma deputy speaker Mikhail Gutseriev, also an ethnic Ingush, has vouched that Korigov will not leave Moscow and will continue to cooperate with investigators. "Segodnya" reported on 14 May that the kidnappers of Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov offered to release him if Korigov were freed from detention, but Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev subsequently denied that such an exchange was being discussed. LF NORTH OSSETIAN, INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENTS MEET. Meeting on 1 July on the administrative border between their respective republics, Aleksandr Dzasokhov and Ruslan Aushev discussed the recent rise in tensions in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1998), Russian agencies reported. The Ingush population of that district was forced to flee ethnic cleansing in November 1992, but most have since returned. Dzasokhov and Aushev vowed to step up coordination between their Interior Ministries and to resume joint Ingushetian-Ossetian patrols in Prigorodnyi Raion in order to preclude any further deterioration of the situation there, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Also on 1 July, North Ossetians NGOs issued a statement proposing that a congress of representatives of all North Caucasus republics be convened to coordinate efforts to ensure political stability and combat crime, according to ITAR-TASS. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS LAND PLOTS FOR FUGITIVES. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 1 July, the leader of the Laborist parliamentary group, Shalva Natelashvili, called on the government to distribute plots of land to the tens of thousands of Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1992-1993, Caucasus Press reported. Many of those fugitives are still quartered in Tbilisi hotels. Natelashvili also called on the government to regulate payments of wages and pensions and to alleviate the tax burden on small and medium-sized business. Natelashvili expressed surprise at the Georgian leadership's negative reaction to last week's congress in Batumi of the Revival party, at which Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze harshly criticized the Georgian government's policies. Praising Abashidze for having maintained political stability in Adjaria, Natelashvili said the congress constituted an attempt by various Georgian political forces to seek solutions to the country's problems within the framework of the constitution. LF ARMENIA VALUES TIES WITH FRANCE... President Robert Kocharian described France as "Armenia's strategic partner" at a 1 July meeting with a group of visiting French parliamentary deputies and businessmen, according to Noyan Tapan. Kocharian also called for more French investment in the Armenian economy, stressing that "all necessary conditions for normal business" are being created in his country, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two sides also discussed the 29 May recognition by the lower house of the French parliament of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Delegation head Senator Jacques Oudin told Interfax that "an overwhelming majority" in the Senate will support the resolution when it is debated in the fall. LF ...AND RUSSIA. "Respublika Armeniya" on 1 July quoted Armenian presidential adviser on foreign policy Aram Sargsian as predicting that Russian-Armenian relations will become more dynamic in the near future, given that "Moscow's political beau monde realizes that Armenia plays an almost pivotal role in the Transcaucasus," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian held talks in Moscow last week with senior Russian Foreign Ministry and Security Council officials. He noted that Yerevan is keen to "develop serious relations not just with Russia but with Europe, the U.S., China, and Iran, because it is in our national interests." And he stressed that Armenia is ready to resume talks with Azerbaijan on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict but that any agreement must include iron-clad security guarantees for all parties to the conflict. LF FORMER PREMIER, YEREVAN MAYOR TRADE ACCUSATIONS. Azatutiun, the political party founded last year by former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratian, has issued a statement categorically denying allegations by Vano Siradeghian, former Yerevan mayor and chairman of the board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, "Aravot" reported on 1 July. Siradegian claimed that Bagratian secretly acquired 25 percent of the shares in the Ararat winery. The statement charges that Siradeghian's accusations are an attempt to avoid imprisonment for murders that he had plotted, to safeguard the "unimaginable wealth" he has acquired, and to escape responsibility for "setting the country's development back 20 years," Noyan Tapan reported. Azatutiun says Bagratian's return to active politics is inevitable. LF DOES KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT HAVE SPEAKER? Usup Mukambaev told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek on 1 July that he has not resigned his post. The daily "Vechernii Bishkek" wrote the same day that Mukambaev had submitted his resignation at a 30 June closed session of the Legislative Assembly the previous day. Mukambaev is at the center of a scandal following a 22 June vote by the assembly to raise the retirement age in Kyrgyzstan beginning 1 July. Although the Assembly passed the draft law on 22 June, they approved a final version on 26 June that changed the date it goes into effect to 1 January 1999. Between 22 and 26 June, Mukambaev met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, who signed the draft law into effect, but had not consulted the assembly about that meeting. The Assembly harshly criticized Mukambaev at the closing summer session on 30 June. BP WAGES, PRICES GO UP IN UZBEKISTAN. President Islam Karimov has issued a decree raising the average minimum monthly wage in Uzbekistan from 750 som (about $9.5) to 1,100 som as of 1 July, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Pensions and benefits for the disabled have also been increased. However, the same day the price of electricity and rents for housing doubled, while municipal transportation fares rose by 50 percent, bread by 42 percent, and gasoline by 25 percent. BP TAJIK PRESIDENT PAYS ONE-DAY VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov was in Tashkent on 30 June to take part in the "Tajikistan days" celebrations in the Uzbek capital, Interfax reported. His Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, spoke of "how close our two peoples are," adding that "Uzbeks and Tajiks are the same people speaking two different languages." Karimov said his country will help Tajikistan to restore normalcy after its five-year civil war. Rakhmonov thanked Karimov, saying "We are starting a new page in our relations." BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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