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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 140 Part I, 23 July 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 140 Part I, 23 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 * NEMTSOV SAYS OIL COMPANIES MUST WAIT FOR HELP * CHECHEN PRESIDENT ESCAPES ASSASSINATION * RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS INJURED ON EVE OF ABKHAZ TALKS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NEMTSOV SAYS OIL COMPANIES MUST WAIT FOR HELP. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 22 July announced that the government plans to help Russian oil companies, but only after the parliament has approved a package of measures to boost budget revenues and cut spending, Russian news agencies reported. He was responding to an appeal signed by several oil companies warning that government policies could lead to economic disaster and social unrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). The statement was issued a few days after President Boris Yeltsin vetoed a law that would have cut excise duties on oil from 55 rubles ($8.8) per ton to 25 rubles per ton. ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified high-ranking government official as saying the excise rate may be reduced to 40 rubles, but not lower, given Russia's current budgetary constraints. Oil companies say they need help to compensate for slumping oil prices on world markets. LB SEVERAL COMPANIES DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM STATEMENT. Within hours after the release of the statement, purportedly signed by Gazprom and several oil companies, the Gazprom press service blasted the "unauthorized use" of the company's name. A spokesman for Sidanko told ITAR-TASS that that company's head also did not sign the appeal. (Oneksimbank, which generally supports the government, owns a controlling stake in Sidanko.) Semen Kukes, president of the Tyumen Oil Company, told Russian news agencies his company and others including Gazprom signed a different version of the appeal to Yeltsin and the government. He said that version did not include "accusations against international financial organizations or Russian government agencies." Kukes also said the Tyumen Oil Company does not believe that pressure from abroad forced the president to veto the law on excise duties for oil. LB WHO SIGNED WHICH VERSION? "Vremya-MN" on 23 July published side by side the oil companies' statement and an alleged early draft of the document. The first draft asks Yeltsin to withdraw his veto of the law reducing excise duties for oil and warns that government policies will increase the tax burden, but it does not blame international financial organizations. Of the companies associated with the statement, only LUKoil and Yukos confirmed on 22 July that they signed the version released to the press, "Vremya-MN" reported. But "Kommersant-Daily" said Yukos, along with Sibneft, refused to confirm that they support the publicized version of the appeal. That newspaper claimed LUKoil released the statement too early, before confirming that other companies were ready for a "confrontation." An official from an unidentified oil company told "Kommersant-Daily" that the appeal was conceived as a "serious lobbying action" but turned out to be a "farce." LB SYSUEV SAYS PENSION POLICY CHANGES NOT IMPOSED BY IMF. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev told journalists on 22 July that the IMF did not demand that Russia triple Pension Fund contributions by individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). He said that a memorandum signed recently by Russian and IMF officials demanded only that the Pension Fund's budget be balanced, Russian news agencies reported. He said the government's steps are aimed at reducing the fund's deficit from the current 16 billion rubles ($2.6 billion) to 5 billion rubles by the end of the year. Interfax quoted unnamed government sources as saying the government must report to the IMF by 15 September on steps taken to balance the Pension Fund's budget. The sources said the IMF may delay the next tranche of its $11.2 billion stabilization loan to Russia if the government's policies do not bring "tangible results." LB CONFLICTING REPORTS ON COMMUNIST'S CABINET APPOINTMENT. Citing unidentified government sources, Interfax reported on 22 July that State Duma Economic Policy Committee Chairman Yurii Maslyukov has been appointed trade and industry minister. Maslyukov, a former head of the state planning agency Gosplan during the Soviet period, is considered among the more moderate members of the Communist faction in the Duma. He supported the confirmation of Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko in April, and his name was widely mentioned for a possible cabinet post at that time. Maslyukov refused to confirm his appointment on 22 July, and the following morning, the presidium of the Communist Party's Central Committee issued a statement saying Maslyukov's participation in the government is "impossible," ITAR-TASS reported. An unnamed Communist source told the news agency that Maslyukov has pledged to abide by party discipline, despite his belief that not allowing him to join the government is a "mistake." LB PRIMORE GOVERNOR RUMORED TO BE CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNMENT POST. Several Russian newspapers have recently reported that Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko may join the government. Kirienko announced on 18 July that the cabinet may bring in experienced people from the regions. In an interview published in "Vremya-MN" on 20 July, Nazdratenko said he has held talks on a possible cabinet post. But he added that he does not want to serve in the "gendarmes," suggesting he has only been offered jobs related to military or security issues. Nazdratenko recently proposed that the government temporarily halt internal debt servicing in order to pay wage arrears. He told "Vremya-MN" that Russian banks that hold government treasury bills would "understand" the need for such a policy. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 July that Nazdratenko's popularity in Primore has been waning, and he faces uncertain prospects in a gubernatorial election next year. LB CHECHEN PRESIDENT ESCAPES ASSASSINATION. Aslan Maskhadov received minor injuries when a radio-controlled bomb exploded in central Grozny on 23 July as his armor-plated Chevrolet was driving past, RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent reported. One of Maskhadov's bodyguards died in the attack, and two others were injured. Speaking at a press conference after receiving hospital treatment, Maskhadov said the attack on him was intended to discredit the state of emergency currently in force in Chechnya. He vowed that he will not change his political course. Chechen security officials declined to speculate on who perpetrated the attack. LF ATTACKERS FAIL TO KILL MAKHACHKALA MAYOR. Said Amirov escaped unharmed when unidentified attackers launched a grenade attack on his office in the Dagestani capital on 22 July, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. It was the fifth attempt to kill Amirov, who is confined to a wheelchair after being seriously injured in a previous attack. LF PRIMAKOV IN CHINA. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov began a five-day visit to China on 22 July by meeting briefly with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to discuss bilateral trade, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhu called Primakov " a great friend of the Chinese people." Primakov later held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, and discussed, among other things, the situation in South Asia following the nuclear tests conducted recently by India and Pakistan. Later, at an informal meeting, the two leaders discussed the Kosova crisis, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Primakov said the main issue discussed by him and Tang was the informal meeting of Chinese President Jiang Zemin with Yeltsin in Moscow, scheduled for 4 September. BP RUSSIA PREPARES TO SELL WARSHIP TO INDIA. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 July that Russia is in the final stages of a concluding a contract to sell India the aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshkov." The selling price is reported at $2 billion. The ship, which was completed in 1978, is designed to carry 16 Yak-38 aircraft as well as 19 Ka-27 and three Ka- 25 helicopters. According to the daily, India is likely to have British Harrier VTOL planes aboard. BP DEFENSE MINISTRY ACCUSES ILYUKHIN. The Defense Ministry on 22 July accused Duma Security Committee Chairman and Communist faction member Viktor Ilyukhin of seeking to destabilize the country, news agencies reported. The previous day, Ilyukhin called on servicemen "not to fulfill orders, not to disarm, and not to leave military settlements if those demobilized are not provided with housing and compensations." The Defense Ministry Statement accuses Ilyukhin of "encouraging anarchy and subverting the battle-readiness of the armed forces." Ilyukhin became leader of the Movement to Support the Army earlier this month, following the murder of its founder, former Duma Defense Chairman Lev Rokhlin. In an interview published in the 23 July "Sovetskaya Rossiya," Ilyukhin claimed that Tamara Rokhlina, who was charged with killing her husband, has changed her testimony and is now claiming that the murder was carried out by three men in masks who threatened her not to tell anyone. BT OFFICIAL DENIES CORPSES NEAR ROKHLIN'S DACHA LINKED TO MURDER. Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, a senior aide to Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov, says there is no connection between Rokhlin's murder on 3 July and three burned corpses found in the woods about 1 kilometer from the dacha where he was killed. Some Russian media have speculated that the corpses were hitmen who were killed after murdering the Duma deputy. But Zvyaginstev said forensic tests showed that the three men died two weeks before Rokhlin's murder, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 July. He added that two men have already been arrested for killing the men found in the woods and have confessed to the crime. Some Russian media have argued that bodies in wooded areas near several dachas could not have gone undetected for weeks. LB ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR BLASTS MANEVICH INVESTIGATION. Commenting on the recent confession of four people to the murder last year of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Manevich, Vladimir Yakovlev said he believes that the "real assassins of Manevich have long been dead," Russian news agencies reported on 22 July. One person was arrested in Uzbekistan on 11 July, and the other three a few days later in Kyrgyzstan. Citing the fact that the four have been charged with multiple contract killings, Yakovlev said the suspects will confess to anything, because "they do not care" if they are tried for one murder or more. Yakovlev added that the authorities must find the "customer" who ordered Manevich killed. At the time of the murder, some observers believed Manevich was murdered in connection with his position as head of the city Property Committee, while others thought the killing was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 16 September 1997). BT PROSECUTORS CLOSE CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST BANKRUPTCY OFFICIAL. The Prosecutor-General's Office has closed the criminal case against Petr Karpov, deputy head of the Federal Bankruptcy Service, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 July. Prosecutors did not clear Karpov of charges that he took a 5 million ruble ($870) bribe from an enterprise in Saratov in 1994. Instead, his crime was reclassified as "abuse of office" instead of bribery, allowing his case to fall under a wide-ranging amnesty declared in December 1997. Many observers argued that the case against Karpov was fabricated to prevent him from disclosing information about how companies hide their profits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 30 May 1997). Karpov has repeatedly denied the bribery charges, but in a telephone interview with RFE/RL on 22 July, he said he does not plan further attempts to urge law enforcement authorities to confirm his innocence. LB SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS BASHKORTOSTAN COURT ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. The Supreme Court on 21 July overturned a ruling by the Supreme Court of the Republican of Bashkortostan, which had upheld the legality of rescheduling the republican presidential election for 14 June. The high court asked the Bashkortostan court to consider the case again. Incumbent Murtaza Rakhimov easily won the race, but critics subsequently filed suit, charging that the election date was illegally moved up, "Vremya-MN" reported on 22 July. Had the vote been held in December, when Rakhimov's term was due to expire, the incumbent would have been ineligible to run for re-election. Acting on an inquiry from the Bashkortostan legislature, the republican Constitutional Court recently approved the rescheduling of the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 1998). But "Vremya-MN" said either the Bashkortostan or federal Supreme Court could still annul the election. LB HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS URGE BOYCOTT OF CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP. Aleksei Simonov, the head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, and more than a dozen prominent human rights activists have urged prominent chess players and national chess federations to boycott the upcoming World Chess Olympic Games in Elista, Kalmykia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 July. Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov also heads the world chess federation FIDE. In an open letter, the human rights activists repeat allegations widely publicized in the Russian media, saying the "Chess City," where the games will take place, was built with money misappropriated from federal funds to Kalmykia and child allowances meant for the republic's residents. The appeal also notes that last month, the body of Larisa Yudina, the editor of "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya," was found in a pond next to the "Chess City." Yudina's newspaper was the only publication in Kalmykia that regularly criticized and investigated Ilyumzhinov's administration. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS INJURED ON EVE OF ABKHAZ TALKS. Nine members of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in Abkhazia under CIS auspices were seriously injured on 22 July when their armored personnel carrier hit a land mine, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi. Speaking to journalists on 22 July, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said that Tbilisi will ask neither for the peacekeepers' mandate to be extended when it expires on 31 July nor for their immediate withdrawal. Menagharishvili said that at the upcoming UN-mediated talks in Geneva on resolving on the Abkhaz conflict, he will demand that the May fighting in Gali Raion be condemned as genocide against the Georgian civilian population. He will also demand that the Abkhaz side be censored for its alleged failure to comply with the 25 May protocol on a cease-fire and the repatriation of displaced persons forced to flee during the Gali fighting. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICE. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 22 July, Robert Kocharian noted positive economic trends during the first six months of 1998 but conceded that these will lead to an improvement in living standards only in two or three years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian predicted that political stability and popular trust will enable him to achieve a major improvement in the country's political and economic situation over that period. He added that Armenia's position on negotiating a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict has become clearer and "more constructive" since his election as president in March, but he denied that it is tougher than that of Azerbaijan. And he said that the sole remaining obstacle to Armenia's admission to full membership in the Council of Europe is the fact that the death penalty has not yet been abolished. LF POPULAR SUPPORT FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BELOW 50 PERCENT? The results of a recent opinion poll conducted in Tbilisi and summarized by Caucasus Press on 22 July suggest that if presidential elections were held in Georgia tomorrow, incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze would not receive the required 50 percent plus one vote to secure reelection in the first round. Of those questioned, 41.4 percent named Shevardnadze as the most popular political figure in the country, while 9 percent opted for parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and 8.5 percent for opposition National Democratic Party of Georgia leader Irina Sarishvili-Chantura. (The last two are both under 35 and therefore too young to run for president.) Support for Shevardnadze is lower in rural areas than in the capital. Union of Traditionalists chairman and potential presidential candidate Akaki Asatiani has reaffirmed his intention to collect signatures to demand Shevardnadze's resignation. LF GEORGIAN JOURNALIST INTERVIEWS WANTED TERRORIST. Valerii Kvaratskhelia has been summoned to the Georgian Prosecutor- General's Office after publishing an interview with former Georgian National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Georgian capital reported on 22 July. Kvaratskhelia will be questioned about the venue of his meeting with Giorgadze, who fled Georgia in 1995. Russian officials have consistently denied that he is residing in Russia. Giorgadze is wanted for questioning in connection with the failed car bomb attack on then Georgian parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze on 25 August 1995 as well as for the killings of a prominent opposition politician and a close associate of Shevardnadze. In the recent interview, Giorgadze again denies any involvement in those crimes. He also accuses Shevardnadze of imposing a dictatorship. LF TAJIK GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATES UN MURDERS. The Tajik government has set up a special commission charged with investigating the murders of four UN employees, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The commission must report their findings to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov within 10 days. Rakhmonov has also ordered additional protection for workers of foreign organizations in Tajikistan. BP ANOTHER CHEMICAL SPILL IN KYRGYZSTAN. A tanker truck belonging to the Kumtor Mining Company spilled some 70 liters of nitric acid along the road from Tokmak (outside Bishkek) to Issyk Kul, on 22 July, ITAR-TASS reported. A statement from Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Emergencies claims there is no environmental damage. A truck belonging to the same company spilled 1.7 tons of sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River, near Issyk Kul, in late May. BP KAZAKH LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES AT ODDS AGAIN. Kazakh National Security Committee agents on 22 July met with armed resistance from police in the Jetysu District of Almaty when they attempted to arrest a policeman caught in the act of taking a bribe, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The agents were conducting an undercover operation, but the policeman's colleagues came his aid and shooting ensued. There are no reports of casualties. This was the second clash between Kazakh law enforcement agencies since President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared war on corruption earlier this month. 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