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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 142 Part I, 27 July 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 142 Part I, 27 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 * PRIMAKOV ATTENDS ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM * SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN CHECHEN ASSASSINATION BID * GEORGIAN STATE MINISTER RESIGNS End Note: NEW RULING PARTY IN ARMENIA? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRIMAKOV ATTENDS ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM... Following the fifth regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on 27 July in Manila, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov noted at a press conference that there have been two major "negative changes" since last year's forum: the Asian financial crisis and the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. With regard to the former, Primakov said it has "considerably affected Russia." As regards the latter, he commented that the emergence of a "chain" of nuclear powers will destabilize the world situation especially if some "are involved in regional conflicts." Primakov encouraged "every country" to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But he repeated his country's position that no sanctions should be imposed against either India or Pakistan as "sanctions mainly hit the population instead of those making this or that political decision." BP ...HOLDS KEY PRIVATE MEETINGS. After arriving in Manila on 26 July to attend the ASEAN forum, Primakov met with Japanese Foreign Minister Keidzo Obuchi, ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov said his country "warmly greeted" Obuchi's election as head of the Liberal-Democratic Party, which guarantees his becoming prime minister on 30 July. Obuchi made it clear Japan will continue the process of improving relations with Russia, which began under out-going Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Primakov also met with his South Korean counterpart, Park Chung-soo. Primakov failed to persuade Park to retract a decision expelling Russian diplomat Oleg Abramkin from South Korea. That move followed Russia's expulsion in early July of a South Korean diplomat who was allegedly a spy. BP GORE LAUDS KIRIENKO, RUSSIAN REFORMS. U.S. Vice President Albert Gore told a 24 July press conference that Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko has a "full command of the facts" and that their talks on 23-24 July were "very concentrated and fruitful." Gore said in an interview with Reuters that he is "optimistic, especially after the agreement with the IMF, that [Russia is] going to turn the corner and start experiencing some real economic growth," Kirienko said that the State Duma's opposition to the government's stabilization program is "a normal part of politics." Gore also expressed support for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. On 24 July, Gore spoke with vacationing President Boris Yeltsin by telephone about U.S. President Bill Clinton's trip to Moscow in September 1998. He also met with ex-Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, with whom the U.S. vice president had regular meetings for five years. BT GORE SAYS RUSSIA TO CRACK DOWN ON TECHNOLOGICAL EXPORTS TO IRAN. "Russia has now really agreed to crack down on actions that result in the unauthorized transfer of technology to places like Iran," Gore told Reuters after his 24 July meeting with Kirienko. Gore confirmed that he and Kirienko "made some headway" on the issue of Russian technological exports to Iran and that a recent U.S.-Russian agreement will "see measures taken against some nine firms that have violated or are alleged to have violated Russian export policies." Meanwhile, at a 24 July Moscow press conference, Gore expressed concern about Iran's recent test of a mid- range North-Korean missile, detected by U.S. spy satellites on 22 July. Moscow has denied that it rendered any official assistance to Iran's missile program. Gore also urged Kirienko to support the Duma's ratification of the START-2 weapons reduction treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. BT GORE, KIRIENKO SIGN NUCLEAR CONVERSION AGREEMENTS. Also on 24 July, Gore and Kirienko signed a preliminary agreement, entitled "nuclear cities initiative," to convert the economies of Russia's closed nuclear cities to civilian production as well as an accord on converting U.S. and Russian plutonium into fuel for Russia's nuclear power plants. Under the first agreement, the U.S. pledged an initial $3.1 million to support nine civilian high- technology projects, primarily for nuclear scientists in Sarov, Nizhnii Novgorod, Reuters reported on 24 July. Funds will reportedly not be used to pay wage arrears, which amount to $16 million in Sarov alone. The second agreement plans for $1 billion funding annually over five years to convert 50 tons of nuclear weapons plutonium into an oxide usable for fuel in nuclear power plants. Gore said the U.S. expects France, Germany, and Russia to help finance the building of the first plants. BT SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN CHECHEN ASSASSINATION BID. Six persons were arrested on 24 July in connection with the attempt the previous day to kill Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Russian media reported. Among those arrested was the owner of the apartment where the attack was planned. The names of the six detainees have not been made public. Chechen State Security Minister Aslanbek Arsaev told Chechen Television on 26 July that the crime is 90 percent solved. Responding to an official request by Maskhadov, former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev went to the Shariah criminal court in Grozny on 24 July but was not required to swear on the Koran that he played no part in the assassination bid. Speaking on Chechen Television several days earlier, Yandarbiev had criticized Maskhadov's policies. LF MASKHADOV, KIRIENKO TO MEET. Maskhadov is ready to meet at any time with Russian Prime Minister [Sergei] Kirienko, Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told ITAR- TASS on 26 July. Reuters quoted Maskhadov as saying that he still believes dialogue can facilitate "understanding" between Moscow and Chechnya. Kirienko conducted successful negotiations with Chechen leaders last year on the transit of Caspian oil through the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk- Novorossiisk pipeline. During talks with Kirienko the previous day, President Yeltsin had advocated that the premier meet with Maskhadov. No date has been set for that meeting, which could take place either in Moscow or in the Ingush capital, Nazran, according to RFE/RL's Grozny correspondent. Yeltsin also affirmed his support for the Chechen president and government. LF HUNGARIAN HOSTAGES RELEASED IN CHECHNYA. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said on 25 July that two Hungarian nationals kidnapped in October 1997 by gunmen in Grozny have been released without the payment of a ransom by the Hungarian government. He said paying a ransom would have encouraged the kidnapping of other Hungarian nationals. Horvath declined to provide further details on the release, saying only that Budapest had "used the experience of other countries" in handling similar cases in Chechnya. MS YELTSIN REPLACES FSB CHIEF. Yeltsin signed a decree on 25 July removing Nikolai Kovalev as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Kovalev had held that post since June 1996. The Kremlin gave no reason for his dismissal, which came after Yeltsin discussed various policy matters with Prime Minister Kirienko in Karelia. Before Kovalev's dismissal was announced, Yeltsin told reporters that "you [journalists] sometimes fail to understand sackings," ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The president said he has "significantly more information" about the daily work of his appointees than do journalists, who "do not know so many details" and consequently consider some dismissals "illogical." Ekho Moskvy speculated on 25 July that Yeltsin will soon sack Deputy Prime Ministers Oleg Sysuev and Viktor Khristenko. However, Kirienko told journalists two days later that he and Yeltsin discussed "no personnel questions" other than Kovalev's dismissal. LB WHO IS VLADIMIR PUTIN? Vladimir Putin, whom Yeltsin appointed as new director of the FSB, worked in the KGB's foreign intelligence department during the 1970s, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin returned to his native city of Leningrad in the 1980s and held several high-ranking posts in St. Petersburg when Anatolii Sobchak was mayor in the early and mid-1990s. He resigned from the city government after Sobchak lost a June 1996 election. Putin joined the presidential administration later the same year, when Anatolii Chubais (whose political career also began in Leningrad) was Yeltsin's chief of staff. From March 1997 to May 1998, he headed the Kremlin's Main Controlling Department. Since May he has been first deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of relations with the regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). LB REORGANIZATION OF FSB UNDER WAY. Although Kovalev denied rumors of his impending dismissal, several Russian newspapers speculated in recent weeks that Yeltsin would put Putin in charge of the FSB. The service is being reorganized in line with a presidential decree issued on 6 July. That decree ordered the creation of two new FSB departments to deal with economic security and constitutional security. It is unclear how the new FSB departments will cooperate with the Interior and Justice Ministries, "Russkii telegraf" noted on 7 July. The FSB's new economic security department will include a section focused on "computer security," which is expected to cooperate with the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information. Yeltsin's decree of 6 July also limits the number of FSB employees to 4,000, which means the service will have to cut its staff by 15-20 percent by January 1999, "Vremya-MN" noted on 10 July. LB LEBED OFFERS KIRIENKO NUCLEAR HEADACHE. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed has issued an open letter to Prime Minister Kirienko proposing--apparently in jest--that a nuclear missile unit in the city Uzhur-4 be transferred to the jurisdiction of the krai's administration. Drawing attention to the chronic funding shortfalls for the military, Lebed warned Kirienko that the officers in the unit have not been paid for five months, Interfax reported on 24 July. He said "hungry" officers are "very angry" officers, adding that "we, the people of Krasnoyarsk, are not yet a rich people. But in exchange for the status of a nuclear territory, we will, if you like, feed the unit, becoming, with India and Pakistan, a headache for the world community." The governor also warned Kirienko that "my thoughts are as pure as a baby's tears" compared with the thoughts of unpaid officers at the missile unit. LB YELTSIN ORDERS SALE OF 5 PERCENT OF GAZPROM... Yeltsin signed a decree on 25 July ordering the government to draft plans for selling a 5 percent state-owned stake in Gazprom, Russian news agencies reported. The decree sets no timetable for selling the shares. The state currently owns a 40 percent stake in the gas monopoly but directly manages only a 5 percent stake. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev manages the rest of the state-owned shares under a trust agreement with the government. In recent weeks, as officials have increased the pressure on the gas monopoly to pay its tax bills, many Russian media have speculated that either the government or Vyakhirev will break the trust agreement. Yeltsin's decree requires the state to maintain a 35 percent stake in Gazprom, ensuring that it will remain the largest shareholder in the company. LB ...REDUCED ENERGY RATES FOR SOME CUSTOMERS. A separate presidential decree signed on 25 July calls for a 50 percent reduction in electricity and gas charges for enterprises that pay at least half of their electricity and gas bills in cash, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom and the electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES) currently collect cash payment for far less than half of the energy they sell to customers. The decree is designed to break the chain of non-payments in the Russian economy and in turn help the government collect full tax payments from Gazprom and EES, which account for a large portion of federal tax revenues. LB TWO MORE SUSPECTS CHARGED WITH KILLING KHOLODOV. The Prosecutor-General's Office has charged another two men with premeditated murder in the October 1994 killing of investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, Russian news agencies reported on 24 July. The two men most recently arrested and charged (there are now five in all) have been identified as Aleksandr Soroka, an officer in the Moscow branch of the Airborne Troops, and Aleksandr Kapuntsov, deputy director-general of a private security firm called Ross. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 July, investigators are turning their attention to Yevgenii Podkolzin, a former commander of the Airborne Troops, and Pavel Grachev, who was defense minister when Kholodov was killed and is now an adviser to the arms exporter Rosvooruzhenie. LB SUPREME COURT PUTS BASHKORTOSTAN ELECTION IN DOUBT. The Supreme Court on 24 July ruled that the electoral commission of the Republic of Bashkortostan illegally struck two would- be candidates off the ballot for a June presidential election. Shortly before the election, the Supreme Court ruled that Duma deputy Aleksandr Arinin and Marat Mirgazyamov were entitled to run for the republican presidency. The Bashkir electoral commission registered them as candidates but almost immediately revoked their registration for alleged campaign violations, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 July. As a result, President Murtaza Rakhimov faced only one opponent, and that candidate did not criticize the incumbent during the campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 23 June 1998). Arinin now plans to ask the Bashkir Supreme Court to declare the election invalid. He will again appeal to the federal Supreme Court if, as expected, judges in Bashkortostan reject his case, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LB KALININGRAD LAUNCHES NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAM. The first needle exchange center in Russia has opened in the city of Kaliningrad, "Segodnya" reported on 27 July. Kaliningrad Oblast, which has some 926,000 residents, has more registered AIDS cases than any other region of the Russian Federation. As of March 1998, some 1,700 people in Kaliningrad were known to carry HIV. The oblast center for psychotherapy and a local foundation working against AIDS and drug addition are sponsoring the program, which will allow drug users to exchange used needles for new ones free of charge. Free AIDS tests and other medical services will also be available at the exchange center. Organizers plan to open a mobile needle exchange center in Kaliningrad soon. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN STATE MINISTER RESIGNS. Niko Lekishvili tendered his resignation to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 26 July, one day after calling on the entire cabinet to resign. Lekishvili, who had coordinated the activities of the government, argued that the ministers' voluntary resignation would enable the president to undertake urgently needed personnel changes. In his traditional weekly radio address the following day, Shevardnadze admitted that some cabinet members will lose their jobs but said this is a "normal" occurrence that proves Georgia is becoming a democratic country, according to Caucasus Press. Shevardnadze said Lekishvili's resignation does not mean his departure from national politics, but he declined to comment on Lekishvili's chances--or those of Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze--of heading the new government. Shevardnadze said he is skeptical about the 300-day program drafted by parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania for overcoming the country's problems. He said that program reminds him of "perestroika." LF NO PROGRESS AT GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS. Meeting in Geneva under UN auspices on 23-25 July, Georgian and Abkhaz representatives failed to reach agreement on a draft document detailing measures to resolve the Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Those measures entailed strengthening the existing cease-fire in order to preclude further terrorist activity, expediting the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons, and social and economic reconstruction. Reuters quoted unspecified diplomats as saying that the talks were "stormy" and that the Abkhaz and Georgians exchanged accusations over the current situation in Abkhazia's Gali Raion. A final communique issued by the UN registered concern that the two sides remain "far from agreement on the key aspects of a settlement" and that the situation continues to deteriorate, dpa reported. LF CHAIRMAN OF FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY INTERROGATED. Vano Siradeghian, formerly interior minister and currently chairman of the board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office on 22 July and interrogated by police two days later, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 24 July. Siradeghian was questioned in connection with testimony given by former Interior Ministry troops commander Vahan Harutiunian, who was arrested in June on charges of corruption and suspected murder. Speaking at a press conference, Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian declined to confirm a direct connection between the investigation into Harutiunian's case and the arrest in February of a gang led by former police officer and Siradeghian associate Armen Ter-Sahakian. Sahakian's gang has been charged with the murder of several prominent political figures. On 25 July, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian met with Siradeghian at the HHSh's headquarters in Yerevan. LF FORMER KARABAKH PREMIER GIVEN NEW JOB. Leonard Petrossian, who stepped down last month as prime minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has been appointed as adviser to Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 24 July. Petrosian's economic policies had been criticized by Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. LF TAJIK PRESIDENT TAKES MEASURES TO ENSURE ORDER. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov signed a decree on 24 July designed to improve discipline within the armed forces, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The decree broadens the powers of a special military inspection unit and calls for an evaluation of all units and their needs. It also prohibits members of the armed forces from wearing beards, a move that is unlikely to be popular among fighters from the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), who are currently being absorbed into the regular Tajik army. The next day Rakhmonov ordered the Defense, Interior, and Security Ministries to review and improve discipline at roadside checkpoints throughout the country. BP LOYALTY OATH IN TAJIKISTAN MEETS WITH MIXED SUCCESS. While 48 fighters of the UTO based near the city of Nurek have taken the oath of allegiance to the government, more than 600 in the Karategin region, east of Dushanbe, refused to do so, Interfax reported on 24 July. The oath, which is provided for by the 1997 Tajik peace accord, is a requirement for UTO members who wish to continue military service a soldier in the regular Tajik army. Those who did not take the oath cited the government's failure to honor all its commitments to the accord, including allotting 30 percent of the cabinet posts to UTO representatives. They also said they are "offended" by thinly veiled statements from the government that they were involved in the 20 July murder of four UN employees working in Tajikistan. BP UZBEK GDP GROWS IN FIRST HALF OF 1998. Uzbek President Islam Karimov told a 23 July session of the cabinet that GDP rose by 4 percent in the first six months of 1998, compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported. According to Karimov, industrial output was up 5.5 percent, agricultural production 7.4 percent, production of consumer goods 6.5 percent, and construction 3.5 percent. He said monthly inflation has shrunk to 1.5 percent, adding that this helped ensure that "salaries, pensions, benefits, and grants were paid on time." Karimov also noted that investments in the economy have grown by 12 percent and now account for one- third of GDP. And he noted that the country's trade balance is "positive," exceeding $200 million. BP END NOTE NEW RULING PARTY IN ARMENIA? by Emil Danielyan On 20 July, the most influential political group in Armenia announced its transformation into a political party. The Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh Veterans' merger with, or more accurately takeover of, the nationalist Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) signals a significant change in the country's political landscape. That union is intended to reinforce and give a clear organizational form to Yerkrapah, which is represented in the cabinet by two ministers and controls most local authorities. The takeover will be completed next fall, when the new party convenes for its first congress. Numerous members of Armenia's "power class" are likely to join the new party. Most representatives of that class have nothing to do with the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. Having no specific ideology of their own, they tend to lend support to leaders who wield the real levers of power and can protect their interests. Yerkrapah's parliamentary group, for example, is mostly composed of defectors from the former majority Hanrapetutiun faction, which supported former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. The HHK's ideological core will now be the Yerkrapah elite, which has a growing number of representatives in the government. As in the past, the majority of rank-and-file war veterans are unlikely to gain any government posts and therefore will barely benefit from their organization's growing strength. Nationalism is the only certain element to be included in the republicans' ideological platform. More precisely, that means a hard line on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Yerkrapah leaders' declared support for democracy, the rule of law, and economic reform sheds little light on the HHK's position on other issues. Populist slogans will probably feature large in its political program. But defending an ideology does not figure high among the priorities of the man who initiated Yerkrapah's transformation. The increasingly ambitious defense minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, seems to be consolidating his control over the executive branch. Given the way elections were handled in Armenia in recent years, this control may be decisive. Local bosses will now receive a clear message about whom to "work for" in the parliamentary elections scheduled for summer 1999. A similar tactic by President Ter-Petrossian in 1995 earned his supporters more than 80 percent of parliamentary seats. But election fraud next year would pit Yerkrapah against other parties, especially the Dashnak party (HHD), which like Yerkrapah supports President Robert Kocharian. Tensions may grow as soon as this fall, since Yerkrapah is keen to push through its own draft election law, which provides for most seats in the new parliament to be allocated in single-member constituencies. Other parties fear that this system would be encourage procedural violations, including intimidation of voters. They advocate allocating the majority of seats under a majority system. Such a disagreement could prove a major source of trouble for Kocharian. Confrontation between the Dashnaks and Yerkrapah would mean the collapse of the Justice and Unity coalition, which was created last March to support his presidential bid and which forms his power base. On the other hand, election cooperation between the two groups is unlikely as the Dashnaks believe they will beat Yerkrapah (and most other parties) in a free-and-fair ballot. It is very difficult to imagine the HHD staying in government if there is election fraud next year. On the other hand, democratic elections may mean defeat for Yerkrapah, leaving Sarkisian vulnerable in the face of a hostile majority in the parliament. One option for the Armenian president is to rely solely on Sarkisian's loyal supporters. Unlike his predecessor, Kocharian has no party of his own. The new political group will unite mostly influential individuals who do not demand sweeping political reforms. The question is whether the growing influence of the defense minister will ultimately make Kocharian dependent on him. The president is already being criticized by the opposition and his supporters for not cracking down on local mafia groups associated with Yerkrapah. If Kocharian, who came to power vowing to promote national accord, alienates the public he will find himself alone with the new power class. Ter- Petrossian's excessive reliance on the latter eventually cost him the presidency. To avoid that fate, Kocharian will have to press ahead with democratization, which, above all, requires free elections. Such a vote, however, would endanger the privileged status of the new power class., and there are few indications that the new Yerkrapah party has been set up to ensure fair political competition. If Kocharian seeks to contain the influence of the party, a clash with Sarkisian will be inevitable. If he chooses it as his main support base, he risks being held hostage to the defense minister's demands. So far, the Armenian president has been able to avoid choosing between those two options. But recent developments suggest it will become more and more difficult for him to continue to do so. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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