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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 130 Part I, 9 July 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 130 Part I, 9 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN VOWS RUSSIAN LEADERS WILL DEFEND RUBLE * DEFENSE INDUSTRY WORKERS LEAD NATIONWIDE PROTESTS * NATO PEACEKEEPERS FOR ABKHAZIA? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN VOWS RUSSIAN LEADERS WILL DEFEND RUBLE. President Boris Yeltsin told journalists on 9 July that the Russian leadership "will firmly protect the ruble against devaluation." In remarks shown on nationwide television, he added that there are "means, ideas, proposals, and a plan of action" to defend the ruble. Earlier the same day, the Central Bank announced that Russia's gold and hard-currency reserves fell from $16 billion to $15.1 billion from 26 June to 3 July. As investors continue to sell off Russian stocks and bonds, the Central Bank has been forced to intervene to prop up the value of the ruble. Meanwhile, Russian officials led by Unified Energy System head Anatolii Chubais on 9 July continued negotiations with representatives of the IMF and the World Bank over a multibillion-dollar stabilization loan. Two days earlier, Chubais predicted that "all principal issues" concerning that loan will be resolved by 10 July. LB NEWSPAPER SAYS DEVALUATION IS INEVITABLE. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued on 8 July that devaluation is inevitable, even if international financial institutions provide Russia with a $10-15 billion stabilization loan. The newspaper charged that only political considerations--not economic ones--are holding back devaluation: namely, the fear among high-ranking Central Bank officials that they will lose their jobs. The newspaper also disputed claims by some officials that certain exporting industries would benefit from devaluation and that those industries are behind Russian media reports predicting the collapse of the ruble. In addition, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" cited the prominent economist Andrei Illarionov's arguments in favor of devaluation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1998). "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is financed by CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, has in recent months repeatedly criticized the Central Bank's leadership and the policies of Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's government. LB KREMLIN BATTLES NEW HEALTH RUMORS... Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 9 July denied that Yeltsin is ill and charged that "someone is putting out" rumors concerning Yeltsin's health in order to achieve political, economic, or financial aims, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier the same day, the Kremlin denied various rumors circulating on Asian financial markets, which suggested that Yeltsin had died or been overthrown by a military coup, Reuters reported. Rumors that Yeltsin has fallen ill or died have also made the rounds on Russian financial markets during the last week. LB ...AS KREMLIN OFFICIAL SPEAKS OUT AGAINST THIRD TERM. Igor Shabdurasulov, a deputy head of the presidential administration, believes it would be "optimal" for Russia if Yeltsin did not seek a third term in 2000. In an interview published in "Russkii telegraf" on 9 July, Shabdurasulov noted that "one can't say Yeltsin's physical condition is ideal, that he's absolutely full of vigor and energy for round-the-clock work." Commenting on the interview, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS that Shabdurasulov was expressing his own opinion and not the views of the presidential administration. Shabdurasulov is considered close to former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, having served as the top government spokesman until Yeltsin sacked Chernomyrdin in March. Yeltsin recently dismissed his representative in the Constitutional Court, Sergei Shakhrai, who has urged Yeltsin not to run for re- election and publicly announced his support for Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov as a presidential candidate. LB DEFENSE INDUSTRY WORKERS LEAD NATIONWIDE PROTESTS. Thousands of workers in the defense industry staged protests on 8 July in more than 20 Russian cities, Russian news agencies and RFE/RL correspondents reported. In addition to calling for the payment of wage arrears, many protesters carried signs or shouted slogans calling for the resignation of Yeltsin and the government. Labor Minister Oksana Dmitrieva met with trade union representatives and promised that the government will fulfill a plan to pay some 2.5 billion rubles ($403 million) in back wages to defense industry workers. Speaking to some of the 1,500 workers picketing the Defense Ministry, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov said the back wages will be paid soon, but he gave no timetable for settling the rest of the debt to the defense industry, which he estimated at 15 billion rubles. Others put that figure at nearly 20 billion rubles. LB PROTESTERS IN PRIMORE UNHAPPY WITH MEDIA COVERAGE. Political demands dominated protests by thousands of workers across Primorskii Krai on 8 July, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Protesters led by employees of the Zvezda submarine repair factory called for Yeltsin's resignation, the temporary transfer of all powers to the federal parliament, and early presidential elections. Demonstrators in Vladivostok demanded an explanation from one correspondent from a Moscow-based television network for allegedly distorted coverage of the last major protest staged by Primore's defense industry workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1998). The correspondent admitted that orders came from Moscow not to air the protesters' political demands. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 July that unpaid energy workers remain on strike in Primore. That strike has caused power cuts for more than 12 hours a day for krai residents, who have been afflicted by similar energy crises many times in recent years. LB POLITICIANS ASK YELTSIN TO HELP END MINERS' PROTEST. Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev and regional trade union leader Anatolii Chekis on 8 July sent a telegram to President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Kirienko urging them to take action to end the week-long blockade of the Trans- Siberian Railroad by coal miners demanding the payment of wage arrears, Russian Television reported. Alexander Shokhin, the head of the Our Home is Russia Duma faction, told a press conference the same day that Yeltsin must "act as arbiter between the government and protesters" because the current impasse is potentially "explosive." The government claims it has fulfilled its obligations to the miners, while the miners demand the government's resignation. Also on 8 July, the Kemerovo legislature sent a telegram to Prime Minister Kirienko demanding that Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev return to the region to review the implementation of protocols signed in May, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, regional unions of metallurgy and chemical workers have appealed to the miners to lift the blockade. BT NEMTSOV RULES OUT SURRENDER OF KURILS. The transfer of the Kuril Islands to Japan contravenes constitutional guarantees of Russia's territorial integrity and is therefore inadmissible, Deputy Premier Boris Nemtsov told Sakhalin Oblast leaders on 8 July following a tour of the region. Nemtsov noted that a Russian-Japanese commission has been formed to draw up a treaty officially ending World War II between the two countries, but he added that "the Japanese are repeatedly raising the issue of the [islands] at the highest level." He also expressed support for plans to remove visa requirements between Sakhalin Oblast and Japan. And he signed an economic agreement with Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov, similar to one Nemtsov recently signed with Magadan Oblast authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1998). Nemtsov cut short his tour of the Far East to return for Moscow for the congress of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners on 9 July. BT NIKOLAEV'S MOVEMENT HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS. Duma deputy Andrei Nikolaev, the former director of the Federal Border Service, on 8 July convened the founding congress of his Union of Popular Power and Labor, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In his address to more than 200 delegates, who reportedly came from every region of the Russian Federation except Chechnya, he said his "centrist" movement will promote the formation of a law-governed state with a regulated market economy. Co-founders of the movement include 1996 presidential candidate Martin Shakkum, Duma deputy Telman Gdlyan, and Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin, head of the Communist-allied Spiritual Heritage movement. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 9 July that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov did not attend the congress, but it interpreted his absence as a "tactical" step. Nikolaev's movement is expected to lead pro-Luzhkov forces in the 1999 parliamentary elections, but too close an association with Luzhkov might depress support for the movement outside the capital. LB ABDULATIPOV ELECTED ASSEMBLY OF PEOPLES OF RUSSIA CHAIRMAN. At its constituent congress in Moscow on 8 July, the Assembly of Peoples of Russia elected former Deputy Premier Ramazan Abdulatipov as its chairman, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The stated aim of the assembly is to contribute to inter-ethnic accord and to broaden dialogue between the organ of state power and of local administration and ethnic communities. But Abdulatipov confessed that he does not know how the assembly will achieve that dialogue with the authorities. Russian Security Council First Deputy Secretary Vyacheslav Mikhailov, a former minister for nationalities, was more optimistic, predicting that given the weakness of the legal foundation of Russia's nationality policy, the assembly could exert "serious influence" on the authorities. Both Abdulatipov and Mikhailov warned that Russia's law enforcement organs are not prepared to combat fascism and nationalism, which they consider pose a serious threat. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT TAKES OVER PREMIER'S DUTIES. Aslan Maskhadov will perform the duties of prime minister following the resignation of acting Premier Shamil Basaev, Interfax reported on 8 July. Maskhadov has also asked the Chechen parliament to agree that he assume control over the National Security Service, which reports directly to the parliament. The head of that service, Lecha Khultygov, was shot dead in a confrontation with supporters of maverick field commander Salman Raduev on 21 June. On 8 July, the Chechen Shariat Court issued a warrant for Raduev's arrest in connection with the incident, which it described as an attempted coup d'etat, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 July. Raduev has affirmed his readiness to submit to a "just ruling" of the Shariat Court, RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent reported on 9 July. LF TATAR PRESIDENT DEFENDS YELTSIN, VYAKHIREV, MASKHADOV. Mintimer Shaimiev told journalists in Moscow on 8 July that the leaders of Russia's regions have chosen the wrong moment to call for Yeltsin's impeachment, according to Interfax. Shaimiev reasoned that "in the present unstable situation," the resolution of socio-economic problems should take priority. Shaimiev added that the Russian government's ultimatum to Gazprom to pay its outstanding debts can be attributed to "a lack of coordination between the tax organs and the Cabinet of Ministers," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 July. Shaimiev added that he considers any attacks on Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev "impermissible." In addition, Shaimiev called on the Russian government to back Chechen President Maskhadov, who, he said, is "having a hard time." Shaimiev argued that it is in Chechnya's interests to remain within the Russian Federation, but with "special status." LF CHERNOMYRDIN REGISTERED FOR DUMA RACE. The electoral commission in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug on 8 July registered former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin as a contender for a vacant State Duma seat, Russian news agencies reported. Chernomyrdin is the first candidate registered to compete in the 27 September by-election. He is expected to have no trouble winning the seat. The gas monopoly Gazprom, which Chernomyrdin headed before joining the government in December 1992, is the largest employer in Yamal-Nenets. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia movement, told journalists on 8 July that the former premier will become leader of the movement's faction in the Duma if he wins the by-election, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB PRINTING PRESS IN KHAKASSIA CUTS OFF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER. The main printing press in Khakassia will no longer print the weekly "Fakty i komentarii," the only newspaper in the republic that criticizes the Khakassian government and its leader, Aleksei Lebed, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 July. Aleksandr Tereshchenko, the director of the printing press, told the news agency that his enterprise's equipment is worn out. But Vladimir Plotnikov, the newspaper's editor, has expressed doubt that technical reasons are behind the decision. He told ITAR-TASS that "Fakty i komentarii" has a circulation of some 3,000--not large enough to affect equipment on which most newspapers in Khakassia and some from the neighboring Republic of Tyva are printed. Plotnikov argued that the regional authorities have gained influence over the printing press since the enterprise was transferred from federal to regional ownership. LB ENVIRONMENTALIST WINS LIBEL SUIT AGAINST 'NEZAVISIMAYA.' Aleksei Yablokov, a scientist and former adviser to Yeltsin on environmental issues, has won a libel lawsuit against "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Interfax reported on 7 July. Yablokov has repeatedly warned of the dangers posed by so-called "nuclear suitcase bombs." In testimony during U.S. Congressional hearings in October 1997 as well as in the Russian press, he has charged that such weapons were built during the Soviet period and that not all of them can currently be accounted for (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September and 1 October 1997). Yablokov objected to an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in late 1997 that accused him of revealing state secrets and slandering his country. A Moscow municipal court ordered the newspaper to print a retraction by 9 September 1998 and pay Yablokov 30,000 rubles ($4,800) in damages . Yablokov had sought 450,000 rubles as compensation. LB ONGOING CONFUSION OVER S-300 MISSILES. Russian Defense Ministry experts told Interfax on 8 July that the planned deployment of Russian S-300 air defense missiles in Greek Cyprus will not fundamentally alter the balance of power in the region. They argued that the S-300 is "a purely defensive weapon" and that it cannot pose a threat to Turkey, which has the largest army in Europe. The experts conceded, nonetheless, that Cypriot Defense Minister Yiannakis Omirou, who is currently visiting Russia, may reach agreement with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on delaying deployment until late 1998. Speaking in Washington on 7 July, Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos said that Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides has already postponed the delivery of the missiles in order not to disrupt initiatives by the UN and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke for a peaceful settlement on the island, Reuters reported. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NATO PEACEKEEPERS FOR ABKHAZIA? Speaking at his first news conference in Tbilisi, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kenneth Spencer Yalowitz said the U.S. intends to promote the deployment of a peacekeeping force in Abkhazia under the aegis of NATO, Interfax reported on 8 July. He noted, however, that Georgia and Abkhazia must first request the deployment of such a force. Turkish Deputy Chief of General Staff General Cevik Bir said in Ankara on 30 June that Turkey will propose the creation of a peacekeeping force to be deployed in the Caucasus as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. During a meeting of the Euro- Atlantic Partnership Council in Luxembourg in May, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov discussed prospects for the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping force along the "line of contact" between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, according to "Moskovskie novosti." LF GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BAKU. Irakli Menagharishvili with his Azerbaijani counterpart and President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 7 July , Caucasus Press reported. The main issues discussed were cooperation within the Georgia-Ukraine- Azerbaijan-Moldova alignment, the Eurasian Transport Corridor, and selecting the optimum route for the Main Export Pipeline for Azerbaijani Caspian oil, which is likely to run through Georgia. The two sides reaffirmed their shared commitment to the Declaration of Peace, Security, and Cooperation in the Caucasus, signed by Aliev and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in March 1996. That document abjures aggression, separatism, and terrorism. LF KAZAKH-RUSSIAN PREMIERS SIGNED 10 AGREEMENTS IN MOSCOW. During the visit to Moscow on 6-7 July of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Kirienko, signed 10 bilateral agreements, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 8 July. Those agreements cover economic cooperation, transportation, military and technical cooperation, as well as joint space programs. The contentious issue of Russia's debt to Kazakhstan for the lease of the Baikonur space complex will reportedly be discussed during Russian President Boris Yeltsin's visit to Kazakhstan in September. LF PROTESTERS CALL ON KAZAKH PRESIDENT TO RESIGN. Residents of the city of Kentau, southern Kazakhstan, and four other cities have collected some 21,000 signatures calling for the resignation of President Nazarbayev, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 July. The signatories complain of wage arrears and the inactivity of law enforcement bodies. They also vow to force the president's resignation if he does not step down voluntarily. LF RUSSIAN-KAZAKH-KYRGYZ JOINT MANEUVERS BEGIN. Russian, Kazakh and Kyrgyz army units, together with a detachment of Kazakh Interior Ministry special troops began joint maneuvers on 7 July in Almaty Oblast, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. The Russian contingent is commanded by Deputy Chief of General Staff General Aleksandr Skvortsov and General Vladimir Popov, who is deputy commander of the Privolzhskii Military District. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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