Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength. - Henry Ward Beecher
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 127 Part I, 3 July 1998


___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 127 Part I, 3 July 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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Note to readers: RFE/RL Newsline will not appear on Monday,
6 July, a holiday in the Czech Republic.

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Headlines, Part I

* FORMER DUMA DEFENSE COMMITTEE HEAD MURDERED

* YELTSIN SAYS GAZPROM MUST PAY TAXES

* FIVE-NATION SUMMIT IN KAZAKHSTAN HAILED AS 'COMPLETE
SUCCESS'

End Note: IS GEORGIA HEADING FOR CATASTROPHE?
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RUSSIA

FORMER DUMA DEFENSE COMMITTEE HEAD MURDERED. Lev Rokhlin,
chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee from January
1996 until May 1998, was shot dead at his dacha outside
Moscow in the early hours of 3 July. An Interior Ministry
spokesman told ITAR-TASS that Rokhlin's wife has confessed
to killing her husband with his own gun. Reuters quoted a
police official as saying Rokhlin's son-in-law was the first
to accuse the slain man's wife. Hours before the murder,
Rokhlin and his family had celebrated his son's birthday. LB

GUNSHOT SILENCES ONE OF YELTSIN'S MOST VOCAL CRITICS.
Rokhlin first gained prominence as the commander of the
troops that stormed Grozny in the early weeks of the war in
Chechnya, but he refused to accept a medal for those
actions. He began his political career as the number three
candidate for Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia
movement in the December 1995 parliamentary elections. A
strong supporter of former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov,
Rokhlin began to strongly criticize the president and
government in June 1997, one month after Rodionov was
sacked. He accused the authorities of destroying the armed
forces. In September 1997, he left the Our Home Is Russia
movement and formed his own Movement to Support the Army,
which set as its main goal the ouster of President Boris
Yeltsin. Communist allies helped him keep his Duma post for
some months but eventually allowed him to be replaced. LB

ROKHLIN ALLY SUSPECTS FOUL PLAY. Speaking to the Duma before
reports emerged about the confession of Rokhlin's wife, Duma
Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin argued that
"certain forces in Yeltsin's entourage" are pushing the
president toward using force to solve Russia's current
problems, NTV and RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He warned
that violence against the president's political opponents
may lead to civil war. Since 1997, Ilyukhin had been an ally
of Rokhlin, and both were vocal supporters of efforts to
impeach Yeltsin. Yeltsin's representative in the Duma,
Aleksandr Kotenkov, denounced Ilyukhin's remarks as a
"provocation." Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, like Ilyukhin
a member of the Communist faction, urged deputies to wait
for results of the investigation before drawing conclusions
about the murder. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted Liberal
Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky as
saying Rokhlin was killed because he "knew too much about
Chechnya." LB

YELTSIN SAYS GAZPROM MUST PAY TAXES. Yeltsin on 3 July met
with Gazprom chief executive Rem Vyakhirev and instructed
him to break the "circle of non-payments" in the economy.
Vyakhirev interrupted a business trip to Vienna to meet with
the president a day after government officials threatened to
seize Gazprom assets and break an agreement under which
Vyakhirev manages a block of state-owned shares in the
monopoly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1998). In remarks
broadcast on nationwide television, Yeltsin said all
companies, large and small, must pay their full share of
taxes, "regardless of what is paid to them." During a 2 July
interview with NTV, Vyakhirev acknowledged that Gazprom and
its subsidiaries owe some 12 billion rubles ($1.9 billion)
in taxes but argued that non-paying consumers--many of them
budget-funded organizations--owe the company at least 13
billion rubles. LB

PREMIER, GAZPROM HEAD SEEK COMPROMISE. Following his meeting
with the president, Vyakhirev held talks with Prime Minister
Sergei Kirienko on 3 July. ITAR-TASS quoted Kirienko's press
secretary as saying that Vyakhirev agreed to a protocol for
paying the company's tax debts. (Deputy Prime Minister Boris
Nemtsov convened the collegium of state representatives to
Gazprom on 2 July to draft that protocol.) For his part,
Kirienko promised Vyakhirev that the government will take
steps to ensure that budget-funded organizations pay Gazprom
what they owe for gas deliveries. On 2 July, Kirienko said
Gazprom has until 6 July to pay its tax arrears in full.
Both Kirienko and Nemtsov told journalists that there are no
plans to replace Vyakhirev as the company's chief executive.
LB

GAZPROM HEAD VIEWS CONFLICT AS 'PROVOCATION.' Appearing on
NTV on 2 July, Vyakhirev described as a "provocation" the
controversy over Gazprom's tax debts. He charged that the
confrontation benefits those who would like to see Russian
markets collapse and money flow out of Russia and Gazprom.
(Gazprom shares fell nearly 14 percent on the Russian stock
exchange on 2 July.) Following his meeting with the
president on 3 July, Vyakhirev told journalists that
"somebody is behaving unfairly in this case." He charged
that Yeltsin was not given full information regarding
Gazprom's debts to the budget. LB

CONTROVERSY CAUSES UPROAR IN DUMA. The State Duma
interrupted its consideration of the government's anti-
crisis program on 2 July to demand an explanation for the
threats against Gazprom. Duma Speaker Seleznev, Communist
Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Our Home Is Russia faction
leader Aleksandr Shokhin, and Liberal Democratic Party of
Russia leader Zhirinovsky were among those who condemned the
government's actions, Russian news agencies reported. State
Tax Service chief Boris Fedorov and Prime Minister Kirienko
came to the Duma to discuss the controversy. Kirienko warned
that the government will demand that all companies pay their
taxes and will not allow "blackmail," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau
reported. He also denied that the government has ever
planned to break up Gazprom. In his speech to the Duma,
Fedorov discounted widespread rumors that an "IMF
conspiracy" was behind the conflict with Gazprom. Fedorov
added that he is just trying to do his job. LB

SOME MEDIA SLAM GOVERNMENT ACTIONS. News coverage on NTV on
2 July portrayed the government's actions in an unfavorable
light, suggesting that inexperienced cabinet members led an
attack against Gazprom management but ultimately backed down
from the confrontation. The network also broadcast a
friendly interview with Vyakhirev. Gazprom purchased a 30
percent stake in NTV in 1996, and a high-ranking executive
from the network's parent company, Media-Most, recently
became the head of Gazprom's media subsidiary, Gazprom-Media
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1998). The daily newspaper
"Segodnya," which also is part of Vladimir Gusinskii's
Media-Most group, on 3 July criticized the government's "gas
attack against Gazprom" as well. The same day, "Nezavisimaya
gazeta" termed the events surrounding Gazprom "the last
mistake of Sergei Kirienko" and a "multibillion-dollar
stupidity." CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii is the
main financial backer of "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LB

DUMA REJECTS LAW TO CHANGE INCOME TAX SCALE... The Duma on 2
July rejected a law to change the income tax scale, which
was a key part of the government's anti-crisis plan, Russian
news agencies reported. The law would have maintained a 12
percent tax on all annual incomes below 20,000 rubles
($1,930). The tax on annual incomes greater than 100,000
rubles would have been reduced from 35 percent to 30
percent, while incomes between 20,000 and 100,000 rubles
would have been taxed at a rate of 2,400 rubles plus 20
percent of all income above 20,000 rubles. The law also
would have taxed interest on bank accounts and some other
forms of income that are currently not subject to income
tax. During a 29 June hearing of the Duma Budget Committee,
some Duma deputies criticized the draft law, saying it would
reduce the tax burden on the wealthy. LB

...PASSES LAW ON CHECKING PRESIDENT'S HEALTH. The Duma on 3
July approved in the third reading a law that would require
a medical examination for the president if doubts arose
about his health, ITAR-TASS reported. The constitution
states that the president's term ends early in case of
"persistent inability to carry out his duties" but does not
outline a mechanism for determining the president's fitness.
The law, supported by 316 votes, would allow either house of
the parliament to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the
president's health. The court would make such a ruling in
conjunction with a medical commission whose members would be
nominated by the Academy of Medical Sciences. Since 1995,
Yeltsin has periodically spent weeks or months away from the
Kremlin recovering from health problems. He is certain to
veto the law if it is approved by the Federation Council. LB

DUMA WANTS BIG SPENDERS TO DECLARE SOURCES OF INCOME. The
Duma on 2 July passed for the second time a law that would
force people to disclose the sources of their incomes to the
tax authorities if they spent more than 1,000 times the
monthly minimum wage on a single purchase, RFE/RL's Moscow
bureau reported. The minimum wage is currently set at 83.45
rubles ($13.5). The Federation Council rejected that law
last month, but the Duma approved the measure by the two-
thirds margin needed to send the law to Yeltsin. Also on 2
July, the Duma overrode a presidential veto on a law that
would double the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5
percent to 1 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. LB

KEMEROVO MINERS BLOCK TRANS-SIBERIAN AGAIN. Coal miners in
Anzhero-Sudzhensk, Kemerovo Oblast, have begun to block the
passage of freight trains on the Trans-Siberian, ITAR-TASS
reported on 3 July. The miners are demanding the fulfillment
of protocols signed by Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on
24 May and Yeltsin's resignation. Kemerovo Governor Aman
Tuleev on 2 July placed full responsibility for the
situation on the federal government and again warned of a
"social explosion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 June).
Tuleev claimed that the government has fulfilled one
protocol, calling for 1 billion rubles ($160 million), by 70
percent and the other, which provides for 1.6 billion rubles
($258 million), by 13 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. Sysuev
told a 2 July news conference that Tuleev does not
understand the role of the government in the mining sector.
He also claimed that the government has met its obligations
to the miners in full, Interfax reported. BT

...WHILE PROSECUTOR-GENERAL THREATENS MINERS. Yurii Skuratov
told journalists on 2 July that a planned blockade of the
Trans-Siberian Railroad is illegal, RFE/RL's Moscow Bureau
reported. Skuratov said he is "not against miners struggling
for their rights, but this struggle must take place within
the boundaries of law." Although Skuratov ruled out "total
legal repressions," he said the Prosecutor-General's Office
is collecting evidence against the instigators. During the
10-day blockade in Kemerovo Oblast in May, Skuratov
threatened to investigate the miners' actions (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 25 May 1998). Skuratov on 2 July said his office
has opened more 20 criminal cases involving corrupt
practices in the coal sector, adding that some
investigations have been unexpectedly "hindered." Recent
investigations by the tax police in mining regions revealed
the pocketing of money by middlemen and widespread tax
evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 1998). BT

DOES RUSSIA'S DEAL WITH INDIA VIOLATE NON-PROLIFERATION
TREATY? Environmentalist Aleksei Yablokov said his country's
agreement to supply India with nuclear technology is in
violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),
Interfax reported on 2 July. Russia recently promised to
fulfill a contract with India signed when a Russian
delegation was in India last month. Russian officials,
including Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin,
said Russia's participation in building the Kudankulam
nuclear power plant in India will be under the control of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Yablokov
says, however, that will not be the case as India has not
signed NPT or agreed to place its nuclear programs under
IAEA's control. "Since not all Indian facilities are being
controlled by the IAEA, it will not be possible to learn
where the spent nuclear material goes," according to
Yablokov. BP

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

FIVE-NATION SUMMIT IN KAZAKHSTAN HAILED AS 'COMPLETE
SUCCESS'... The 3 July summit in Almaty, Kazakhstan, has
been hailed as a "complete success," according to ITAR-TASS.
The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and
China as well as the Russian foreign minister met for one
hour to review implementation of the border agreement signed
in Shanghai in 1996 and the military reduction accord signed
in Moscow the following year. All leaders agreed that those
accords have laid the foundation for boosting bilateral and
multilateral trade and for turning the 7,000-kilometer
border into a "frontier of cooperation, friendship, and
complete trust." Chinese President Jiang Zemin said his
country is prepared to act as a "transport bridge" for
railroad traffic and pipelines to the "warm South-Asian
seas." BP

...WHILE LEADERS VOICE CONCERNS. Kazakh President Nursultan
Nazarbayev and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said they
are concerned about continued hostilities in Afghanistan,
which, they said, have helped turn that country into a
"major supplier of drugs to the criminal world." They also
said a large amount of weapons are being smuggled from
Afghanistan to CIS states. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii
Primakov warned of the dangers posed by recent nuclear
testing in India and Pakistan. He said those texts escalated
tensions in the region. Jiang Zemin called for a
comprehensive ban and complete destruction of nuclear
weapons, Xinhua news agency and RFE/RL correspondents
reported. Jiang vowed his country will never "use or
threaten to use nuclear weapons against any nuclear-free
country or any nuclear-free zone." And he stressed that
"China has no intention of resuming nuclear tests." BP

ISRAELI DELEGATION WRAPS UP CENTRAL ASIAN VISIT. An Israeli
delegation led by Trade and Industry Minister Natan
Sharanskii has concluded its five-day tour of three Central
Asian states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1998), ITAR-
TASS and Interfax reported on 2 July. At a meeting with
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, Sharanskii praised
Turkmenistan's officially recognized neutral status and was
optimistic about the possibilities for cooperation in
developing the country's hydrocarbon resources. Sharanskii
also promised his country would help with farming in
Turkmenistan, by "turning the desert into a garden."
Earlier, Sharanskii met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov
in Tashkent and agreed to help Karimov's country with
irrigation techniques, green-house farming, and developing
solar and wind-powered energy systems. BP

NATO CHAIRMAN IN UZBEKISTAN. The chairman of NATO's military
council, Klaus Naumann, concluded his visit to Uzbekistan on
2 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1998), according to
ITAR-TASS and Interfax. Naumann was in Uzbekistan to review
preparations for the NATO military exercises in Central Asia
involving troops from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan
as well as NATO and scheduled for September. (U.S.
paratroopers began a training exercise with Uzbek soldiers
in the Fergana Valley on 1 July as part of those
preparations.) Naumann noted that NATO is "seeking security
with Russia" and not against that country and that the image
of NATO in Russia as an aggressive military alliance "needs
to be scrapped." He also said NATO's "cooperation zone" now
stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Naumann left for
Turkmenistan on 2 July. BP

KARABAKH PRESIDENT ASSESSES PEACE PROCESS. Following a
meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian,
Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-
Karabakh Republic, told journalists on 2 July that the OSCE
Minsk Group understands Armenia's insistence on a new peace
plan to resolve the Karabakh conflict and may be prepared to
draft a "package" plan that would settle all outstanding
issues within a single framework accord, RFE/RL's Yerevan
bureau reported. Both Karabakh and Armenia have rejected the
OSCE's earlier "phased" peace plan, which Azerbaijan
accepted. But Ghukasian added that the Azerbaijani
leadership's opposition to a new plan "complicates the
situation." Ghukasian said the positions of Yerevan and
Stepanakert are largely identical. Ghukasian and newly
appointed Karabakh Prime Minister Zhirayr Poghosian had met
on 1 July in Yerevan with Armenian President Robert
Kocharian to discuss the peace process and the socio-
economic situation in Karabakh, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN GEORGIA. Emil Constantinescu and his
Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, held talks in
Tbilisi on 1 July on expanding bilateral relations,
including the opening of embassies and consulates. They also
discussed cooperating within the framework of the TRACECA
project and in the transportation of Caspian oil to Western
markets. As in Baku two days earlier, Constantinescu argued
that shipping oil to Constanta from Georgia's Black Sea port
of Supsa, which he visited on 2 July, is the shortest and
most economical route. Constantinescu also visited Batumi
and Poti, from where ferry services to Constanta are to
begin shortly. LF

SHEVARDNADZE CONFIRMS DELAY IN COMMISSIONING BAKU-SUPSA
PIPELINE. Speaking at a press conference with Constantinescu
in Tbilisi on 1 July, Shevardnadze said that oil will begin
flowing through the Baku-Supsa pipeline in February, 1999,
ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian and Azerbaijani officials
earlier predicted that repairs to that pipeline, which have
proved more extensive and far more costly than originally
estimated, will be completed on schedule by the fall of
1998. Shevardnadze added that a decision on the route for
the so-called main export pipeline for Caspian oil will be
taken before the end of 1998. He hinted that the Baku-Ceyhan
route will be chosen but added that some Caspian oil could
still be exported via Romania. LF

ANOTHER YOUNG GEORGIAN POLITICIAN THREATENS TO RESIGN.
Mikhail Saakashvili, the 29-year-old chairman of the
Georgian parliamentary Committee on State and Legal Affairs,
told journalists on 2 July that there is no point in his
remaining in that post unless "substantial changes" are made
in the structure of the country's executive bodies, Caucasus
Press reported. In recent months, Saakashvili has repeatedly
criticized corruption both within the Tbilisi municipal
authorities and the government. He argued that if a group of
young reformers came to power, "real progress" toward
solving the country's problems would be evident within one
year. Parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania has similarly
hinted that he may step down in protest at government policy
(see also "End Note" below.) LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION WARNS OF KURDISH TERRORIST THREAT.
The Democratic Congress, composed of 10 major opposition
parties, issued a statement on 2 July warning that an
unidentified group is disseminating "anti-Turkic propaganda"
among the ethnic Kurdish population of five raions in
southwestern Azerbaijan that border on Armenia and Iran. The
statement also claims that immigration to Azerbaijan among
Kurds from Turkey and Iran is growing. (According to the
results of the 1989 Soviet census, there were 12,200 Kurds
living in Azerbaijan, but the Armenian newspaper "Kommunist"
claimed in January 1990 that their number was close to
200,000.) The Democratic Congress added that the Workers'
Party of Kurdistan (PKK) has established a representation in
Baku. The Azerbaijan National Security Ministry denied
earlier reports of a PKK presence in Azerbaijan. LF

REGIONAL AFFAIRS

KREMLIN URGES REGIONAL LEADERS TO SNUB LATVIA'S BIRKAVS...
The Russian presidential administration has recommended that
Governors Vladimir Yakovlev of St. Petersburg and Yevgenii
Mikhailov of Pskov Oblast avoid all contact with Latvian
Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs when he visits St.
Petersburg next week to open the new building of the Latvian
Consulate-General, Interfax reported on 2 July. Russian
presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told the news
agency that the recommendation is prompted by unresolved
issues linked to ethnic Russians living in Latvia. Given
that those problems have not been resolved by the Latvian
parliament, contacts with Birkavs "would be an incorrect
message both to Russian society and the Latvian
authorities," Yastrzhembskii said. JC

...WHILE MOSCOW DENIES IMPOSING SANCTIONS ON LATVIA. Also on
2 July, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir
Rakhmanin told journalists in Moscow that Russia has not
imposed economic sanctions on Latvia, Interfax reported.
Rakhmanin noted that beginning the previous day, Moscow
abolished reduced tariffs for transit freight en route to
Latvia, but he stressed the measure was taken "in order to
streamline trade and economic relations with Latvia" and was
not an embargo. "Russia opposes economic sanctions. This is
our country's firm position," he said. The same day, Latvian
Foreign Minister Birkavs announced that Riga will launch a
campaign to notify international financial organizations
about Russia's economic pressure on Latvia. Moscow, he
argued, is violating IMF principles and regulations as well
as the joint communique of the G-8 energy ministers on the
free transit of goods. "It is obvious that Russia has not
imposed sanctions de jure, but they exist de facto," he
commented. JC

END NOTE

IS GEORGIA HEADING FOR CATASTROPHE?

by Liz Fuller

	Developments in Georgia over the past several months
have in effect ended the two-year period of political
stability that followed the November 1995 parliamentary and
presidential elections. The unsuccessful attempt to
assassinate President Eduard Shevardnadze in February, the
abduction of UN observers in western Georgia later that
month (both of which were blamed on followers of the late
President Zviad Gamsakhurdia), and the fighting between
Georgian guerrillas and Abkhaz Interior Ministry forces in
Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion in May, which
precipitated the flight of some 35,000 ethnic Georgians,
have all highlighted the country's weaknesses.
	Opposition political figures seized upon the Gali
debacle to unleash a torrent of criticism of the country's
leaders. That criticism was not confined to the leadership's
response to the fighting in Gali but also focused on
festering problems that the Georgian authorities have so far
failed to solve, including uneasy relations with Russia and
the social and economic hardships resulting from economic
reform.
	Outraged by Shevardnadze's refusal to deploy Georgian
troops to support the Georgian guerrillas and protect
Georgian civilians, several opposition politicians went so
far as to demand the president's resignation and new
presidential and parliamentary elections. Perhaps the most
vicious attack on Shevardnadze was by Socialist Party leader
Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, who predicted that the president's
failure to resign would lead to further losses of Georgian
territories. He also blamed Shevardnadze for the marked
deterioration in Georgian-Russian relations and for his
subservience to the IMF, whose policies he termed
devastating for the country's economy.
	Meanwhile, the expulsion of the Georgian population
from Gali has served as a catalyst for the consolidation of
opposition forces around one of the country's most
controversial politicians, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman
Aslan Abashidze. Appointed to that position by Gamsakhurdia
in 1991, Abashidze succeeded in preserving domestic
political stability in his autonomous republic, whose
location on the Black Sea coast bordering Turkey facilitated
thriving cross-border trade that has led to the region's
modest economic prosperity.
	But Abashidze is regarded with mistrust by many
Georgians because of his cordial relations with the sizable
Russian garrison stationed in Batumi, the Adjar capital, and
his imputed separatist ambitions. That mistrust prompted
Georgian parliamentary deputies repeatedly to vote down
legislation introduced by Abashidze's All-Georgian Union for
Revival (the second-largest parliamentary group) calling for
the creation in Batumi of a free economic zone. Advocates of
such a zone claim it could generate millions of dollars for
Georgia's still shaky economy.
	In April, the Revival parliamentary group announced
that it intends to boycott parliamentary sessions
indefinitely to protest what it termed the obstructionist
tactics of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia, led by
parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania. Revival's parliamentary
group reaffirmed that intention at a congress in Batumi last
week, to which representatives of all other opposition
parties were invited. Addressing the congress, Aslan
Abashidze lambasted the Georgian leadership, and
Shevardnadze personally, for their inability to lead the
country out of political and economic crisis. He also
implicated Zhvania in the 9 February attempt to assassinate
Shevardnadze.
	To date, two other prominent opposition politicians--
Rcheulishvili and Laborist caucus head Shalva Natelashvili--
have aligned with Abashidze, who has hinted that the United
Communist Party of Georgia (SGKP) may form an electoral
alliance with Revival to contend the November 1999
parliamentary elections. Abashidze is perceived as a
potential candidate for the presidential elections due the
following year, as are Zhvania; Rcheulishvili; Djumber
Patiashvili, Shevardnadze's successor as Georgian Communist
Party first secretary; SGKP chairman Panteleimon Giorgadze;
and Union of Georgian Traditionalists chairman Akaki
Asatiani, who served as parliamentary speaker under
Gamsakhurdia.
	The Georgian leadership has only limited options
available in the face of growing popular discontent. True,
Shevardnadze has signaled his readiness to meet some of the
opposition's demands, such as amending the constitution to
redefine the duties of the Cabinet of Ministers and,
specifically, the minister of state who heads that body. The
present incumbent, former Communist apparatchik and Tbilisi
Mayor Niko Lekishvili, is viewed as a mere figurehead.
Moreover, for several years there have been persistent
rumors of bad blood between him and Zhvania, who has been
tipped to succeed Lekishvili and to be endowed with broader
powers.
	However, the issue crucial to stability--namely the
nature of Georgia's future relations not only with Abkhazia
but with the other autonomous formations of South Ossetia
and Adjaria--is seemingly intractable. Shevardnadze has said
repeatedly that he is prepared to offer all three
territorial units varying degrees of autonomy within an
"asymmetric federation"--an offer that Abkhaz President
Vladislav Ardzinba has categorically rejected. The Abkhaz,
for their part, are insisting that the repatriation of the
Georgians who fled Gali in May must be conditional on
lifting the restrictions in force on the Abkhaz border with
the Russian Federation.
	While Moscow is apparently siding with Georgia at
present, many Georgians fear that as long as no permanent
solution to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts is
reached, Russia might use those conflicts as leverage
against Georgia. Zhvania expressed his fears on that score
in his address on the last day of the spring parliamentary
session, warning that if, as alleged, Russia is pursuing a
policy of encouraging the separatist aspirations of ethnic
minorities in Georgia, including the Armenian community in
the south of the country, the result could be a
"catastrophe" for Georgia.

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Natasha Bulashova, Greg Cole
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Updated: 1998-11-

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