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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 123 Part I, 29 June 1998


___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 123 Part I, 29 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

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Headlines, Part I

* YELTSIN SAYS THERE IS NO CRISIS

* CENTRAL BANK HIKES REFINANCING RATE AGAIN

* GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS OF "CATASTROPHE"

End Note: OIL PRICE DECLINE FAILS TO DAMPEN AZERBAIJAN'S
RECOVERY
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RUSSIA

YELTSIN SAYS THERE IS NO CRISIS. President Boris Yeltsin on
29 June cautioned against referring to Russia's current
economic situation as a "crisis." According to Interfax,
Yeltsin said before a meeting with Prime Minster Sergei
Kirienko that "we have no crisis and that's why I do not
describe the [government] program as anti-crisis, but rather
refer to it as a stabilization program." Opening a cabinet
session on 23 June, Yeltsin had argued that "the economic
crisis has become so acute that there are social and
political dangers." Explaining the president's decision to
postpone a planned trip to Kazakhstan in July, spokesman
Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 26 June told journalists that
Yeltsin believes "four days is just too much time to spend
elsewhere during a crisis," Interfax reported. Meanwhile,
the Russian stock and bond markets fell further in the
morning of 29 June after posting declines three days
earlier. LB

DUMA BUDGET COMMITTEE CONSIDERS TAX LAWS. The State Duma
Budget Committee on 29 June began considering a package of
draft laws on taxation that are part of the government's
anti-crisis program, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.
Addressing the committee he chaired before joining the
government last November, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov
called on deputies to "immediately pass" the government's
proposals, according to ITAR-TASS. The committee will make
its recommendations before the Duma considers the package
during a 1 July plenary session. Budget Committee Chairman
Aleksandr Zhukov of the Russian Regions faction has already
backed the government's program. He announced on 27 June
that Russia must raise taxes now to avoid a sharp
devaluation of the ruble. Deputy Prime Minister Boris
Nemtsov on 28 June estimated that the government program, if
approved in its entirety, would bring in an additional 102
billion rubles ($16.5 billion) in federal budget revenues.
LB

FINANCE MINISTER DENIES NEW SALES TAX WILL RAISE PRICES.
Finance Minister Zadornov has denied that the planned
introduction of a sales tax will increase prices for
consumers. In an interview with Russian Public Television on
27 June, Zadornov argued that prices will remain "balanced"
because the government is seeking to cut several other
taxes, such as the profit tax, income tax, and employers'
contributions to non-budgetary funds like the Pension Fund,
ITAR-TASS reported. The government is seeking to raise taxes
on consumption because they are easier to collect than taxes
on income or profits. Another proposal submitted for
consideration by the Duma would raise value-added tax to 20
percent on most staples currently taxed at a discounted
rate. LB

IMF STUDYING GOVERNMENT PLAN. Martin Gilman, the IMF's
representative in Moscow, told Interfax on 27 June that a
team of experts from the fund has begun studying the
government's anti-crisis plan. IMF and Russian officials are
negotiating a possible $10 billion to $15 billion loan to
stabilize the financial markets, and the talks are expected
to continue for weeks. Gilman on 28 June praised the Russian
government's efforts to avoid the devaluation of the ruble,
saying such a move would exacerbate Russia's budgetary
problems, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister
Kirienko told Russian Public Television on 26 June that the
government will use the latest $670 million tranche from a
four-year IMF loan to help pay debts to enterprises in the
defense industry. The fund approved the release of that
tranche on 25 June. LB

CENTRAL BANK HIKES REFINANCING RATE AGAIN. At the end of
another day of declines on Russian stock and bond markets,
the Central Bank on 26 June announced plans to raise its
annual refinancing and Lombard rates from 60 percent to 80
percent as of 29 June, Russian news agencies reported. The
bank reduced those rates from 150 percent to 60 percent on 5
June, saying the worst of the crisis had passed. But the
ruble remains under severe pressure. The Central Bank
announced on 25 June that Russia's gold and hard-currency
reserves dropped from $15.7 billion to $14.7 billion during
the week of 12-19 June. Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin
announced on 26 June that proceeds from the latest sale of
Eurobonds have brought the gold and hard-currency reserves
back up above the $16 billion level. LB

BEREZOVSKII CALLS FOR 'CONSOLIDATION' TO SOLVE CRISIS. CIS
Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii says Russia can only
solve its current crisis "through the consolidation of
power," which he described as "consolidation of the broadest
forces, including business." In a 28 June interview with the
private network TV-6, which he partly finances, Berezovskii
argued that the government "takes quite logical decisions
but is not in a position to carry them out," Reuters
reported. He argued that efforts to stabilize the political
situation are "the best investment" for Russia. Berezovskii,
one of Russia's most influential businessmen, is an advocate
of forming a council of business leaders to advise the
government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 June 1998). LB

NEMTSOV SAYS BUSINESSMEN WANT CONTROL OVER CABINET LINEUP.
Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov told fully state-owned Russian
Television on 28 June that business leaders have not given
the government "a single constructive proposal on the
package of anti-crisis measures," Reuters reported. He
argued that the main goal of business elites is to not to
influence policy but to secure the dismissal of the
government. He added that it would be a "catastrophe for
Russia" if businessmen were given control over cabinet
appointments. After Yeltsin fired Viktor Chernomyrdin's
government in March, several influential businessmen sought
to have Nemtsov excluded from the new cabinet. LB

GAZPROM SHAREHOLDERS' MEETING IS VICTORY FOR CURRENT
MANAGEMENT. Rem Vyakhirev, the chief executive of the gas
monopoly Gazprom, has emerged strengthened from the
company's annual shareholders' meeting on 26 June. Some
Russian media speculated that the government would use the
meeting to try to unseat Vyakhirev. However, Deputy Prime
Minister Nemtsov told shareholders that the government has
no plans to change the current management of the 40 percent
state-owned company, Russian news agencies reported. Nemtsov
also denied that the government will agree to break up the
gas monopoly--a demand that some Russian media have
attributed to the IMF. In addition, Nemtsov said the
government has decided to reduce the number of enterprises
to which Gazprom cannot cut off gas supplies. The
shareholders chose State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin
to replace Aleksandr Kazakov, former deputy head of the
presidential administration, as chairman of Gazprom's board
of directors. LB

ANOTHER ARRESTED IN STATISTICS CORRUPTION SCANDAL. The
Prosecutor-General's Office has arrested Vyacheslav
Baranovskii, the head of the State Statistics Committee
publishing center, on embezzlement charges, "Kommersant-
Daily" reported on 27 June. He is the fourth high-ranking
statistic official to be arrested this month (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 10 and 11 June). Investigators say Baranovskii's
department sold demographic and economic information to
companies and individuals and pocketed profits from
materials printed in excess of official amounts. According
to the Federal Security Service, approximately 20
statistical workers are implicated in the scandal, which has
cost the government an estimated 1 billion rubles ($160
million). Some Russian media reported earlier this month
that former State Statistics Committee Director Yurii Yurkov
confessed to the charges against him, but Yurkov's attorney
later denied those reports. BT

SELEZNEV SAYS DUMA WON'T GIVE UP KURILS. State Duma chairman
Gennadii Seleznev told a conference attended by Far East and
Siberian legislators on 26 June in Khabarovsk that Russia
has "no land to spare, the borders will not change," ITAR-
TASS and Interfax reported. Seleznev singled out the islands
in the Amur River and the four Kuril Islands, claimed by
China and Japan, respectively. He also warned about the
illegal immigration of Chinese and Korean citizens and
called on legislators to take action against "all attempts
to capture priceless Russian territory and resources." With
regard to speculation that Russia may "transfer the Kuril
Islands to the jurisdiction of Japan," Seleznev said there
is "no foundation" to that speculation, adding that the Duma
is agreed that this will not happen. BP

CAN 'MIR' LAST TILL YEAR'S END? ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 26
and 27 June reported that with approximately six months left
before the "Mir" space station is shut down, there may not
be sufficient funds to keep it running for that period. The
managers of "leading aerospace industries" sent a letter to
Prime Minister Kirienko on 26 June warning that if the
station's financial situation does not improve, "it will be
necessary to liquidate" the station. It is also impossible
to leave "Mir unmanned as it may then make an uncontrolled
descent to Earth. Interfax quotes an unnamed source from the
Energiya aerospace corporation as saying that station
designers "are prepared to announce they claim no
responsibility for the effects of an unsanctioned descent."
The station's next crew is is scheduled to arrive on 3
August. BP

DUMA'S AMNESTY FOR DESERTERS TAKES EFFECT. An amnesty for
army deserters adopted by the Duma on 19 June went into
effect on 24 June, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The
resolution applies to deserters and draft evaders who left
military units before 25 June 1998 and who turn themselves
in by 24 December 1998. Lyubov Kuznetsova of the Committee
of Soldiers' Mothers criticized the amnesty, arguing that
investigative organs might interpret the measure as applying
only to veterans of the Chechen war. The amnesty replaces a
partial amnesty implemented by the Military Prosecutor's
Office in cooperation with the Committee of Soldiers'
Mothers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 1998). Since March,
approximately 6,000 deserters have returned and now serve in
different units; of those, 2,000 have been cleared of
criminal charges owing to "difficult conditions" faced in
service. An estimated 10,000 deserters remain at large, and
many are forced to commit crimes to survive. BT

MAYOR OF OIL-RICH TOWN GUNNED DOWN. Vladimir Petukhov, the
mayor of Nefteyugansk (Tyumen Oblast), was shot dead as he
was walking to work on 26 June. The local branch of the
Federal Security Service arrested two men the same day but
gave no details about the suspects. Several Russian
newspapers reported on 27 June that Petukhov had long
clashed with the management of the Yukos oil company, whose
subsidiary, Yuganskneftegaz, is the major employer in
Nefteyugansk. The press service of the Rosprom-Yukos group
has suggested that Petukhov was killed in connection with
embezzlement from the local budget, "Kommersant-Daily"
reported. Police are also investigating whether the killing
is linked to an alleged conflict with Chechen residents over
control of a retail market. Speculation in the ITAR-TASS
news agency focused on the last scenario. ITAR-TASS deputy
director Leonid Nevzlin worked for Rosprom-Yukos before
joining the news agency last September. LB

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN AMBIVALENT ON CHECHNYA. Marat
Baglai told journalists on 26 June that the Constitutional
Court is unlikely to review the constitutionality of the
state of emergency imposed in Chechnya even if requested to
do so, Interfax reported. Baglai admitted that the Russian
Constitution empowers only the president to declare a state
of emergency. He said that the court "proceeds on the
assumption that Chechnya is a subject of the federation,"
but he added that "its status has certain peculiarities that
are not yet clear." Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov
declared a state of emergency on 23 June, arguing that tough
restrictions are imperative in order to bring crime under
control. LF

LEBED, STEPASHIN COMMENT ON NORTH CAUCASUS. Krasnoyarsk
governor Aleksandr Lebed told Interfax on 28 June that it is
the shared responsibility of the Russian president and
regional governors to resolve conflicts in the North
Caucasus. He accused the federal authorities of ignoring 30
potential conflict areas in the North Caucasus, adding that
if those conflicts erupt, they could destroy the Russian
economy and spark civil war. Speaking in St. Petersburg on
27 June, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said that his
ministry does not plan to send additional forces to the
North Caucasus but aims to coordinate the activities of its
troops in the region more closely with the Defense Ministry
and Federal Security Service. LF

CONFLICTING REPORTS ABOUT KIDNAPPED RUSSIAN ENVOY. In an
interview published in "Noviye izvestiya" on 26 June, acting
Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said that the abductors
of Russian presidential envoy to Chechnya Valentin Vlasov
have demanded $5-6 million for his release. But former
Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told Interfax
the next day that he believes Vlasov may be set free without
any ransom being paid. Vlasov was kidnapped near the border
between Chechnya and Ingushetia on 1 May. His whereabouts
are unknown. LF

PROTESTS IN NORTH OSSETIA. Between several hundred and
several thousand people participated in demonstrations in
the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, and two nearby
villages over the weekend, Interfax and Caucasus Press
reported. Participants called on the North Ossetian
leadership to prevent further reprisals against Ossetians by
Ingush and protested the murder on 26 June in the village of
Sunja of two Ossetians. The murderers are believed to be
Ingush. Participants at the 28 June protest in Vladikavkaz
also called for the creation of an Ossetian national guard
to protect the local population. LF

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS OF 'CATASTROPHE.' Speaking
on the last day of the spring parliamentary session, Zurab
Zhvania warned that Georgia is headed for "catastrophe" and
that he may resign if the country's leadership does not
substantively change its present policies, RFE/RL's Georgian
Service reported on 27 June. Zhvania did not specify the
nature of the changes he considers necessary. Opposition
parties have intensified their criticism of Georgian
President Eduard Shevardnadze following the fighting in
Abkhazia in late May, which led to the exodus of some 35,000
ethnic Georgians from the region. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS KARABAKH TALKS TO RESUME.
Vartan Oskanian told journalists on 26 June that adverse
international reaction to his recent remarks on Karabakh
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 June 1998) is the result
of pressure by Azerbaijan on the international community,
Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Oskanian
pointed out that he had proposed direct talks between
Yerevan, Stepanakert, and Baku but that Azerbaijan ignored
that offer. Oskanian added that Armenia sets no
preconditions for a resumption of talks and that Azerbaijan
should refrain from doing so in order to break the present
deadlock in negotiations. A French Foreign Ministry
spokesman told the Armenian ambassador in Paris on 25 June
that France "regards negatively" Oskanian's statement on the
possibility of reunification between Armenia and the
unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. LF

CENTRAL ASIAN PREMIERS SIGN ACCORDS IN BISHKEK. At an energy
summit in Bishkek on 26 June, the prime ministers of
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan signed an
agreement on further economic integration between their
countries, RFE/RL correspondents reported. They also signed
accords on an inter-governmental commission dealing with
economic integration, on joint scientific-technical
programs, on guaranteeing sanitary conditions in the region,
and on providing medical services to one another's citizens.
Documents on forming a hydro-power consortium and
integrating the four countries' energy systems will be
signed at the next meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, at the end
of September. BP

TAJIKISTAN CELEBRATES ONE YEAR OF "OFFICIAL PEACE."
Tajikistan celebrated the "Day of National Unity" on 27
June, one year after the signing of the Tajik Peace Accord
in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. In a speech on nationwide
radio the previous day, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov
called the accord " an important and valuable document which
has entered the history of the Tajik people." The same day,
100 members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) based in
the Kofarnikhon and Romit Gorge areas were sworn into the
Tajik army. Meanwhile, in an interview in the 26 June
edition of "Krasnaya Zvezda," UTO leader with Said Abdullo
Nuri praised the peace process in Tajikistan and said
Tajikistan will maintain good relations with Russia. He
described the presence of Russian border guards in the
country as "a necessity." BP

NAZARBAYEV TO GO TO MOSCOW. The Russian presidential press
service on 27 June announced that Kazakh President Nursultan
Nazarbayev will be in Moscow on 6-7 July, ITAR-TASS
reported. Yeltsin was scheduled to visit Kazakhstan
beginning 30 June for meetings with the heads of the CIS
Customs Union and to review the five-country CIS-China
border treaty with the leaders of the signatory countries.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov will go to
Kazakhstan instead of Yeltsin. Many of the documents Yeltsin
was to have signed in Almaty on Russian-Kazakh relations
will be brought to Moscow for signing there. According to
ITAR-TASS, they include a treaty of "eternal friendship and
alliance for the 21st century" as well as an agreement on
delimitation of the northern Caspian Sea bed. BP

WORLD BANK GIVES $28 MILLION CREDIT TO UZBEKISTAN. The World
Bank has extended a $28 million loan to Uzbekistan to
support the privatization process, ITAR-TASS reported on 26
June. The loan will be used to provide consulting services
to increase profits and production efficiency, help
privatize large government enterprises, and develop market
capital. The total cost of the project is put at $47.7
million. The Uzbek government will pay the difference of
$19.7 million. BP

END NOTE

OIL PRICE DECLINE FAILS TO DAMPEN AZERBAIJAN'S RECOVERY

by Michael Wyzan

	The Azerbaijani economy was one of the best performers
in the CIS in 1997 and continues to hold that position this
year. The prices that Azerbaijan receives for its oil have
been declining steadily, falling from $20.10 barrel in the
first quarter of 1997 to $13.40 a year later. So far,
however, this decline has not had a significant adverse
effect on the economy.
	The first place to look for the effects of the price
decline is in the state budget. Indeed, during the first
three months of this year, oil revenues fell by 8.3 percent
compared with the same period last year, accounting for 43
percent of total revenues (52 percent in 1997). But total
tax revenues were more or less unchanged, as the authorities
were able to improve tax collection.
	Unusually low oil prices are nonetheless expected to
persist at least until the end of this year and the
government is discussing with the IMF ways to cut
expenditures, especially social ones. Local economists point
out that it would be better to extract more taxes from
illegal importers--who often have close relations with state
officials--than to cut social benefits.
	Foreign direct investment (FDI) topped $1 billion in
1997, and the 10 biggest oil contracts, which typically run
for 30 years, entail investment of $33-34 billion. But
despite its oil wealth and the large inflow of foreign
capital, Azerbaijan remains impoverished. The average
monthly wage in the fourth quarter of last year was only
$36, and households currently spend about 80 percent of
their incomes on food, beverages, and tobacco, compared with
61 percent when the country gained independence.
	Another reason why the fall in oil prices has had
modest effects on the country is that annual oil production
is only about 10 million metric tons, compared with 21
million tons in the mid-1960s and to an expected 50-60
million tons by 2005.
	In 1997, oil export revenues were only $480 million,
less than half of FDI that year. Accordingly, for the next
few years, low oil prices will have a big impact on the
economy only if they slow down or discourage FDI, either by
making oil companies more pessimistic or because they simply
do not have the funds to invest. So far, there are no signs
of a slackening of investment activity. As recently as 2
June, Azerbaijan signed three new production-sharing
agreements worth $4 billion with major oil companies.
	Last year's strong economic performance seems to be
continuing this year. In 1997, Azerbaijan's GDP grew by 5.8
percent, faster than all CIS member states, except Belarus,
Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. GDP growth accelerated further to
8.5 percent during the first four months of 1998. Industrial
production, however, remains flat, rising by only 0.3
percent last year and increasing by just 0.4 percent during
January-April 1998.
	Nonetheless, the oil sector is doing well so far in
1998. After falling from 12.5 million tons in 1990 to 9
million in 1997, first-quarter production--at 2.24 million
tons--was well ahead of the pace necessary to attain the
10.1 million tons targeted for 1998.
	Inflation has all but disappeared, with consumer
prices rising by only 0.4 percent in 1997 (on a December-to-
December basis) and falling by the same percentage during
the first quarter of 1998 compared with the same period last
year. These are the lowest figures among transition
countries. Low inflation has resulted largely from tight
fiscal and monetary policy: budget deficits in the last two
years have been under 3 percent of GDP and heavily financed
by IMF credits.
	Another reason for the low level of inflation is that
the manat has been appreciating against the dollar. Since
reaching 4,440 manats to $1 at the end of 1995, the exchange
rate strengthened to 3,806 at the beginning of June. An
appreciating currency reduces inflation by making imports
cheaper, other things being equal.
	Such an appreciation would generally raise concerns
about potential balance-of-payments imbalances. Indeed, in
1997, Azerbaijan had a current account deficit exceeding
$915 million, a very high 29 percent of GDP. Much of that
red ink was accounted for by a trade deficit of $567
million. However, the current account deficits have been
more than compensated for by capital account surpluses. In
1997, that surplus was $1.2 billion, 87 percent of which was
generated by FDI.
	Current account deficits are likely in the next few
years, since imports of oil-related equipment and services
will far exceed exports of crude oil. In the medium term,
Azerbaijan will need to worry less about these deficits than
about the effects of capital inflows, which will likely keep
the exchange rate strong, probably making it difficult to
export other goods.

The author is a research scholar at the International
Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg,
Austria.


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