|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 145 Part I, 30 July 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 145 Part I, 30 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'S RETURN SPARKS NEW RESHUFFLE RUMORS * FINANCE MINISTRY APPROVES TOUGH BUDGET FOR 1999 * RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN SIGN CASPIAN PROTOCOL End Note: METHOD TO LUKASHENKA'S MISCHIEF? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN'S RETURN SPARKS NEW RESHUFFLE RUMORS. President Boris Yeltsin's abrupt return to Moscow from Karelia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 1998) has fueled intense speculation in the Russian media that he plans to reshuffle the cabinet. NTV reported on 30 July that Yeltsin has requested a meeting with Anatolii Chubais, head of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System and presidential envoy to international financial institutions. The Kremlin press service said Chubais on 31 July will brief the president on Russia's recent negotiations with the IMF. But NTV cited rumors that Yeltsin will bring Chubais back into the government, possibly as deputy prime minister in charge of financial matters. "Moskovskii komsomolets" speculated on 30 July that Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who is in charge of social policy, will become deputy head of the presidential administration, filling the slot vacated by new Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Putin. LB KREMLIN OFFICIAL DENIES DEFENSE MINISTER VULNERABLE. Yevgenii Savostyanov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 30 July that the possibility of replacing Igor Sergeev as defense minister "has not been raised." Some Russian newspapers have reported in recent weeks that Sergeev is in poor health and has submitted his resignation. But Savostyanov said Sergeev is well and denied that there are any political or health- related reasons for sacking the defense minister. LB NDR OFFICIAL WANTS MORE REGIONAL LEADERS IN GOVERNMENT. Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) State Duma faction, told Interfax on 29 July that he favors creating before the year 2000 a government based on a "broad coalition." Shokhin said his proposal differs from Communist calls for a "government of national trust." He described it as a "government led by a strong prime minister and with strong cabinet members capable of taking and implementing decisions," in which "regional leaders must be strongly represented." The NDR is one of many political groups claiming to represent the interests of Russia's regions, but the movement's base of support among regional elites has eroded since Yeltsin sacked NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister in March. Several regional leaders have reportedly rejected invitations to join the cabinet in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 July 1998). LB LEBED SAYS AUTHORITIES BOUND TO LOSE POWER. Addressing the third congress of his Russian Popular-Republican Party (RNRP), Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said a change of power is inevitable in Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 30 July. Speaking to supporters in Krasnoyarsk, Lebed said the RNRP and his Honor and Motherland movement seek to "come to power relying on the common sense of the people, not bayonets." He claimed that loans from international financial institutions have staved off a ruble devaluation for at most six months. He also compared the government's tax policy to Soviet "requisitioning of farm produce in the early 1920s" aimed at "taking away everything possible and impossible." Lebed characterized himself and the RNRP as representing a "third force" in Russian politics. That expression was frequently used in 1996, when Lebed campaigned for president as an opponent of both Yeltsin and the Communists before eventually teaming up with Yeltsin. LB FINANCE MINISTRY APPROVES TOUGH BUDGET FOR 1999. The Finance Ministry's board on 29 July approved the main parameters of the draft budget for 1999, Russian news agencies reported. The draft will be sent to the government in early August and must be submitted to the Duma by the end of that month. The Finance Ministry approved planned revenues of 376.1 billion rubles ($60.3 billion) and spending of 456.1 billion rubles. The revenue figure is little changed from the 1998 budget, but planned expenditures are significantly lower than the 500 billion rubles foreseen in the 1998 budget. (The government has unilaterally cut spending in many areas because revenues collected have fallen far short of budget targets.) The draft 1999 budget calls for a deficit of 80 billion rubles (or 2.7 percent of estimated GDP). In terms of percentage of GDP, that deficit is a little more than half as large as the 1998 budget deficit, a Finance Ministry official told ITAR-TASS. LB DRAFT BUDGET FORESEES 1 PERCENT GDP GROWTH. The draft 1999 budget approved by the Finance Ministry foresees economic growth of 1 percent in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 July. The 1998 budget was based on the assumption that Russia's GDP would grow by 2 percent, but this year's economic crisis has in effect eliminated growth prospects. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov recently predicted that Russia's GDP will contract by up to 1 percent in 1998 and will remain flat in 1999, Reuters reported on 27 July. The turmoil on Russian financial markets has increased the government's borrowing costs, although recent loan agreements with international financial institutions have somewhat reduced the government's need to borrow domestically using treasury bills. ITAR-TASS on 29 July quoted a Finance Ministry official as saying that the draft 1998 budget calls for 36 percent of expenditures to go toward debt servicing. In the 1998 budget, the corresponding figure was 31 percent. LB MORE CRITICISM OF 'STATEMENT OF FOUR' ON CHECHNYA. Krasnodar Krai governor Nikolai Kondratenko on 29 July echoed the criticism made by his Saratov counterpart, Dmitrii Ayatskov, of the 27 July statement by former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Lebed, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. That statement called for a clear Russian policy on Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Kondratenko told Interfax that there is no sense in persons based in Moscow or Siberia trying to act as peacemakers in Chechnya. He said that the Association of North Caucasus Peoples, whose political council includes the heads of the North Caucasus republics, is better qualified to do so. LF ABDULATIPOV CALLS ON 'FOUR' FOR FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 29 July, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov appealed to the signatories of the "statement of four," who were all present, to donate contributions to a fund he proposed establishing to finance reconstruction in Chechnya, ITAR- TASS reported. Abdulatipov said he intends to donate the royalties from his recent book on the North Caucasus to that fund. Abdulatipov also predicted that the North Caucasus will become a key issue in the Russian presidential campaign in 2000, noting that the Caucasus "is already an indicator of the capacities of government and statesmen," Interfax reported. LF CHECHNYA SAYS IT EXPELLED JAPANESE NATIONAL. Chechen security officials said on 29 July that a Japanese citizen has been expelled from Chechnya after being apprehended near Gudermes on 16 July. Yoshikama Mumora was variously said to have been engaged in gathering information on military facilities for Japanese intelligence or to have intended to stage his own abduction with the aim of pocketing part of the ransom. But Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev claimed to be unaware of the incident, as did the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Japanese Embassy in Moscow. LF RUSSIA, IRAN COMMENT ON U.S. SANCTIONS DECISION. Russian Security Council official Nikolai Uspenskii told Interfax on 29 July that he was not surprised by the U.S. decision to blacklist seven Russian research centers and companies suspected of supplying dual purpose technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari told Russian media that the U.S. decision is based "exclusively on rumors." Addressing a Moscow news conference on 29 July after signing a cooperation agreement with his Iranian counterpart, Mahdi Karbasian, Russian State Customs Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov said the Russian customs services "have all the necessary means" to prevent the export of military and dual-purpose technology. He added that investigations conducted by his agency into alleged illegal exports of such technology have established that the items in questions were of an exclusively peaceful nature. LF GOVERNMENT TO PUSH FOR LAW BANNING FASCIST PROPAGANDA. The government on 30 July approved a draft law that would ban "nazi symbols and literature in any form," Russian news agencies reported. Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov said the draft outlines specific criteria and would ban symbols used by Italy's National Fascist Party and Germany's National-Socialist Party during the 1930s and 1940s. He said the law would make exceptions for films and books that "propagandize humanitarian ideas and denounce fascism," according to ITAR-TASS. Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko called for submitting the law to the State Duma as soon as possible. The Duma has twice rejected laws to ban fascist propaganda (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 24 March 1997 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1997). On both occasions Communist deputies and their allies warned that the laws were vague and consequently could be used to crack down on various opposition groups. LB PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON TRANSFER OF PRISON SYSTEM. Yeltsin signed a decree on 28 July ordering the long-delayed transfer of the prison system from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry to take place by 1 September, news agencies reported. Justice Minister Krasheninnikov told a 29 July press conference that the transfer was made possible by 20 laws that recently came into force, ITAR-TASS reported. Human rights groups have warned that epidemics of AIDS, food poisoning, and tuberculosis plague Russia's unsanitary and overcrowded jails. Krasheninnikov said the Justice Ministry is planning major reforms in prisons, such as limiting the duration of trials to one year, reducing the time suspects are held in pre-detention centers, and creating separate jails for convicts infected with HIV and tuberculosis. However, Interior Ministry official Vyacheslav Bubnov told Reuters on 29 July that "if the government does not have any money, it will be hard to solve these problems wherever you put the system." BT POLICE BACK DOWN FROM CONFRONTATION WITH SAKHALIN MINERS. Sakhalin Oblast authorities sent 60 unarmed Interior Ministry troops to break up the six-day blockade of a Sakhalin power station, but the troops withdrew without breaking up the protest, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 July. Earlier that day, Sakhalin Deputy Governor Ivan Malakhov said he "cannot allow a group of pickets to hold the entire island hostage," referring to the sporadic power outages resulting from the blockade of the power plant. The miners announced they will let through enough coal to keep one power unit functioning for safety reasons. Meanwhile, miners in Kemerovo Oblast on 29 July lifted the 25-day blockade of the local Novokuznetsk-Tashtagol railroad near Osinniki after the town received 5 million rubles ($800,000) to pay back wages. BT CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATE REGISTERED FOR NIZHNII MAYORAL ELECTION. The Nizhnii Novgorod electoral commission on 29 July registered the entrepreneur Andrei Klimentev as a candidate in the mayoral election scheduled for 27 September, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported. Klimentev narrowly won a mayoral election in March, but the result was subsequently annulled. He has since been sentenced to six years in prison on embezzlement charges. On 30 July, the Supreme Court was to hear Klimentev's appeal against that prison sentence, but the court postponed consideration of the case until 10 August, ITAR-TASS reported. "Kommersant-Daily" predicted that if the Supreme Court leaves the sentence against Klimentev in place, the electoral commission will annul his registration as a mayoral candidate. Even if he is allowed to run for mayor, Klimentev faces an uphill battle because of a recent amendment to Nizhnii Novgorod's electoral law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 1998). LB JUDGE SAYS NEW ELECTION IN BASHKORTOSTAN UNLIKELY. Irek Muksinov, the chairman of Bashkortostan's Constitutional Court, says the republic is unlikely to hold a new presidential election regardless of court rulings on the federal level. The Russian Supreme Court recently ruled that two candidates were illegally kept off the ballot in the June election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 1998). But "Vremya-MN" on 29 July quoted Muksinov as saying that Bashkortostan has its own legal system, in accordance with a power-sharing agreement signed with the federal authorities in 1994. Since there is currently no mechanism for coordinating the republic's constitution and laws with their federal equivalents, Muksinov said the Bashkortostan authorities "will be governed by our own laws." Forcing the republic to implement federal court rulings will be difficult, since President Murtaza Rakhimov appoints judges in Bashkortostan and enjoys the loyal support of the republican legislature. LB KHAKASSIAN LANGUAGE TO BECOME REQUIRED SUBJECT IN REPUBLIC. Khakassian, which is a Turkic language, will become a required subject in schools in the Republic of Khakassia in line with an education policy approved by the republic's government on 30 July, ITAR-TASS reported. The plan also envisages courses in Khakassian history and nature in the eastern Siberian republic. In addition, some schools will offer language courses in Chuvash (another Turkic language) and Polish. The plan is to take effect in the new academic year, provided that it has been coordinated with the federal Education Ministry by then. LB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN SIGN CASPIAN PROTOCOL. A Russian government delegation headed by First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov and including the Russian co- chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Yurii Yukalov, held talks in Baku on 28-29 July on Russian-Azerbaijani relations and the status of the Caspian Sea. Pastukhov told journalists on 29 July after meeting with President Heidar Aliev and Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov that Russia and Azerbaijan are ready to sign a formal agreement on the division of the Caspian sea bed and that Azerbaijan "holds the key" to reaching agreement among all five littoral states on dividing water resources. Azerbaijan wants the sea's waters similarly divided among the littoral states, whereas Russia favors the "condominium" principle, whereby each state would receive a 10 or 12 km zone of territorial waters, leaving the remainder of the sea under joint jurisdiction. Such an agreement, Pastukhov said, would facilitate the demilitarization of the Caspian. LF PROGRESS ON TRANS-CASPIAN GAS PIPELINE. The U.S. company ENRON has won the tender for conducting a feasibility study on laying an underwater gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Baku, Turan and Interfax reported on 29 July, quoting Turkmen Oil and Gas Minister Redjepbai Arazov. Under a U.S.- Turkmen agreement signed in April, 1998, the U.S. has made available $750,000 for such a study, which is expected to be completed by mid-November. Speaking in Baku on 29 July, Azerbaijani State Counselor Vafa Gulu-zade rejected Russian and Iranian claims that an underwater gas pipeline would pose a serious ecological threat to the Caspian. Gulu-zade said such arguments, which figured in a joint statement released after Pastukhov's visit to Tehran earlier this month, are tantamount to an attempt to prevent the export of fuel to the West via Azerbaijan and to have all export pipelines routed through Russia and Iran instead, according to Interfax. LF ARMENIA ADVOCATES 'UNCONVENTIONAL' STATUS FOR NAGORNO- KARABAKH. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told journalists in Yerevan on 27 July that a formal settlement of the Karabakh conflict should give Karabakh a status that is "unique and non-conventional" in international practice, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gasparian said Armenia would welcome the introduction of "elements" of the status enjoyed by the Principality of Andorra, which is an independent country and a member of the OSCE and is headed by two "co-princes," France's president and Spain's bishop of Urgel. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES DECENTRALIZATION. Meeting on 28 July with the mayors of more than 20 Armenian towns, Robert Kocharian argued that decentralization is an essential precondition for stability throughout the country, Noyan Tapan and "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" reported. Kocharian proposed that local administrative bodies take over from various ministries the responsibility for kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. Financing will continue to be the prerogative of the central government. Kocharian vowed that the decentralization process will be completed before the local elections due in 1999. LF GEORGIA REJECTS RUSSIAN ALLEGATIONS. The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 29 July rejecting as "unfounded and irresponsible" claims that the Russian Foreign Ministry had made the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry had accused Tbilisi of failing to take adequate measures to preclude further terrorist incidents in Abkhazia's Gali raion. More than a dozen Russian peacekeepers have been killed or injured in land-mine explosions in Gali in recent weeks. Under the terms of the cease-fire protocol signed in Gagra on 25 May, the Georgian government undertook to prevent Georgian guerrillas from infiltrating Gali. The Georgian Foreign Ministry also accused Abkhazia of violating the remaining three provisions of the 25 May protocol. Meanwhile, a top Russian military official told ITAR-TASS on 29 July that the Defense Ministry has no plans to withdraw the Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia when their mandate expires on 31 July. LF FORMER GEORGIAN STATE MINISTER GIVEN NEW POST. Niko Lekishvili was named deputy chairman of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) at a meeting of the party's council on 28 July, Interfax reported. That meeting was attended by President Eduard Shevardnadze. Announcing his resignation on 26 July, Lekishvilki had said he planned to work with the SMK in the runup to the parliamentary elections due in November 1999 and that he will support Shevardnadze's candidacy in the presidential elections the following year. Interviewed by Interfax on 29 July, the head of the "Popular" parliamentary group, Mamuka Giorgadze, described the resignation of virtually the entire Georgian cabinet as "theater of the absurd" intended to distract the population from the unresolved Abkhaz conflict. Giorgadze argued that parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania and the heads of parliamentary committees should also step down. LF TAJIK GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL INJURED BY CAR BOMB. Ali Imomnazarov, deputy head of the Tajik customs committee, was seriously injured when a bomb exploded in his official car close to the presidential palace in Dushanbe early on 30 July, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. An unidentified Interior Ministry official told Reuters the attack was probably not politically motivated. LF END NOTE METHOD TO LUKASHENKA'S MISCHIEF? by Christopher Walker As the controversy surrounding the Drazdy diplomatic housing compound in Minsk continues, it may be useful to examine more closely Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's strategy for diverting attention from domestic ills in Belarus, while simultaneously consolidating his position as one of the most effective populist politicians in the post-Soviet world. While the boorish action taken by Belarusian authorities against foreign diplomats is emblematic of Lukashenka's blatant disregard of international norms, this approach has also served his purposes, helping him to burnish his image as a politician prepared to stand up to the West and further his goal of becoming a player on a larger stage in the former Soviet Union. Lukashenka's recent public dialogue with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov provided a forum in which Lukashenka could portray the West as a bully set on dictating terms of behavior to former Soviet states, thus rallying his base in Belarus and gaining political mileage with Russians frustrated by the slow pace of economic reform. Lukashenka's railing against the West is part of an ongoing effort to blame present-day economic pain on Western reform programs and methods rather than on the backward Soviet era policies that originally brought on economic implosion. In Russia, where a great deal of reform has been undertaken, the distress resulting from social and economic dislocation has created an environment where reforms already applied are more closely associated with current pain than the decades of Soviet communism that crippled the country's economy and infrastructure. Whether Lukashenka will be able to wedge himself more deeply into the Russian political scene is not yet clear, but if he fails, it will not be for lack of trying. Albeit on a limited scale, the Belarusian president continues to travel to Russia and to broadcast his populist, Soviet-style message via Belarusian State Radio to Russian regions. As times get tougher, Lukashenka's claims of Western heavy- handedness and his own promises of stability and order may gain greater currency. Lukashenka will not likely ignore the fact that Boris Yeltsin nearly had to beg the Western financial community to stave off collapse of the Russian ruble and financial markets. The tough conditions set by the IMF to encourage needed restructuring of the Russian economy may be characterized by some as a noose being tightened around the country's economic neck, rather than medicine to help it get better. With the Russian economy and so many of its key institutions in disarray, it is easy to understand how many Russians could be led to the conclusion that the West does not have Russia's best interests at heart or at least is not fully sensitive to the depth of the hardships being experienced there. Loss of prestige as a world power is now as palpable as ever in Russia, and Lukashenka does not hesitate to play upon this sensitivity. In Belarus, the operative word is "control." This wide-ranging control enables Lukashenka to exert his authority over virtually all spheres of Belarusian life. He himself deems this governing style as necessary for avoiding the problems Russia and other former Soviet republics are now facing. This domination extends over the judiciary, parliament, media, NGO community, and economy. It is, however, Belarus's own poor economic health under Lukashenka's stewardship that may be his greatest domestic political problem. It is telling that during the dispute over diplomats' housing, both the IMF and the World Bank recalled their respective representatives from Belarus. The IMF and the World Bank explained that move by citing Belarus's failure to fulfill mutual agreements and the obdurate refusal of the regime to implement serious economic reform. With its low levels of foreign investment and privatization and its heavy reliance on barter arrangements with Russia, the World Bank's country director for Belarus has said that the Belarusian government needs "to have a fundamental rethinking of its economic strategy". Russians may have been compelled to swallow their collective pride in requesting this latest massive IMF loan package, but Belarusians will enjoy only short-term relief from their own government's economic policies, such as restriction on foreign exchange trading and other quick-fix measures taken in Minsk to prop up the Belarusian ruble. In addition, Lukashenka's attempt to distinguish Belarus from Russia with respect to wage arrears has been simply to direct his treasury to print more money in order to pay workers, thus raising the specter of inflationary pressures. But while Lukashenka and his inner circle may possess a weak grasp of market economics, he does understand the politics of the economic and social pain experienced by people in former Soviet republics. The very issues to which Lukashenka routinely refers--corruption, fraud, wage arrears, profiteering, and economic insecurity--are, in fact, those which plague Russia. As Russia contends with its most severe economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka gathers more fodder for his arguments against the incomplete results of Western-style reform. The stakes are high. Russia's internal situation is weak and its foreign policy-- less Western-friendly since the parliamentary elections of December 1994--is being contested by nationalist xenophobes and those who seek greater integration into and cooperation with the West. With all of his apparent limitations, there is a danger that in some disturbing ways, the times in post- Soviet Russia could increasingly be more suited to Lukashenka and his brand of populist politics. Though Lukashenka may not be able to make good on his claim of being "president for life", he may remain in power long enough to cause a great deal of discomfort to those hoping for greater cooperation and integration east of the newest NATO member countries. Never short on surprises, Lukashenka has made stability his rallying cry at home; at the same time, his approach will generate just the opposite effect abroad. The author is based in Prague and manager of programs at the European Journalism Network. 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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