|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 155 Part I, 13 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 155 Part I, 13 August 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 * BANKING CRISIS IMMINENT? * DUMA MAY NOT MEET UNTIL SEPTEMBER * GEORGIA SEEKS TO AVERT ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION BID xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BANKING CRISIS IMMINENT? Deputy Central Bank Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko on 12 August revealed that some Russian banks are having liquidity problems and failing to repay loans to one another on the local interbank loan market. Interfax reported that he told Russian Public Television that the Central Bank is monitoring "on a minute by minute basis those banks which are seriously suspected of instability." According to ITAR-TASS, the crisis on the local interbank loan market occurred when foreign banks began to limit credit to Russian banks. Some Russian banks responded by increasing their borrowing on the local interbank market, knowing they would be unable to repay the loans. JAC DUMA MAY NOT MEET UNTIL SEPTEMBER. Duma Deputy Chairman Mikhail Yurev announced on 12 August that representatives of State Duma factions and deputies' groups, including Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Yabloko member Sergei Ivanenko, will not hold an emergency session in August as was previously announced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1998). He added that Duma leaders may be able to arrange a special session from 2 to 4 September but only if they receive a request from President Boris Yeltsin himself. JAC RUSSIAN STOCKS STABILIZE... According to Russia's benchmark stock index on 12 August, stocks slipped only 1.56 percent from the previous day, when the market experienced its largest slide in two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1998). Both Reuters and Interfax quoted pessimistic traders as expecting further declines due to widespread fears of either a ruble devaluation or the government's default on its debts. Treasury bill yields rose to 130-140 percent from yesterday's levels of 120-140 percent. According to Interfax, shares in LUKoil and Rostelecom dropped by 2 percent from the previous day, while Gazprom shares rose 3 percent. JAC ...WHILE RUSSIAN LEADERS BLAME EXTERNAL FACTORS. ITAR-TASS on 12 August quoted Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko as saying that "the situation on the Russian financial markets is, unfortunately, similar to that on all developing financial markets. Oil prices are falling, the situation on Asia- Pacific markets is deteriorating.... Hence the outflow of funds." Meanwhile, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev concluded that the Russian market would be in even worse shape if it had been more integrated with the international economy. "We are lucky not to have all our economy participating in all of these business transactions," he commented. He added that Russia should enter the world stock market "very cautiously." Deputy head of the presidential administration Aleksander Livshits commented that "the Russian market is comparatively young and is rather weak. The slightest infection causes a flu or the 'Asian grippe,' as we call it." JAC BORIS JORDAN CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 August, Boris Jordan, president of the MFK-Renaissance, argued that Russia could still avoid a full-blown economic crisis like those experienced by South Korea and Indonesia, but he added that Prime Minister Kirienko needs to act quickly and decisively by overhauling the tax system and restructuring Russian industry, among other actions. Jordan does not think a devaluation is necessary, because it would whip up inflation and whip out the population's savings. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that Jordan's past predictions have tended to come true. At the end of March, when Anatolii Chubais, presidential envoy to the international financial institutions, said that the Russian economy had hit its lowest level, Jordan countered that it still had far to go. JAC GOVERNMENT TO REIN IN UNIONS. Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov on 12 August said that the government is planning to restrict the political activities of trade unions. He told a news conference that the government will "clearly outline the trade unions' sphere of influence.... If we do not set clear limits, some political parties will try to align themselves with trade unions in order to exert their political influence on the workers of enterprises," ITAR-TASS reported. The government has recently criticized trade union actions in the Chelyabinsk area, where coal miners blockaded the Trans-Siberian railroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1998). JAC ARMY FACING MORE CUTS. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 12 August announced that the Russian army will be reduced by 400,000 positions this year, after surviving a 200,000 reduction in 1997, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Reuters, Sergeev also admitted that he is unlikely to be able to end conscription by the year 2000, as President Yeltsin promised during his election campaign. The transition to a professional army will require at least 6 billion rubles (some $1 billion), he reckoned. JAC POWER MINISTRIES UNITE. "Vremya MN" on 10 August argued that the merging of Russia's "power ministries" has already started. The Justice Ministry and Interior Ministry are already issuing joint orders, bearing the signatures of both ministers. The Interior Ministry has even paid out of its own budget for the labor-related expenses of the Justice Ministry. The harmony between the two ministries can be partly attributed to the cordial personal relations between Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Justice Minister Krasheninnikov. However, "Vremya MN" adds that President Yeltsin wants to unite the power ministries because he fears social unrest this fall stemming from the crop failure, Russia's likely default on its debts, and plans by the trade unions and Communists to organize a general strike. JAC ISRAELI SPY RING DISCOVERED? The Federal Security Service on 12 August announced that it has uncovered an Israeli spy ring operating out of the Israeli embassy in Moscow. The emigration department of the embassy is reported to have had a string of paid Russian informants, according to Interfax. "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 August reported that one informant was a 46-year-old Omsk resident Aleksandr Sakov, who heads a technical bureau at the defense plant Transmash. Sakov reportedly sold information about a new "secret" tank called the Black Eagle. However, plant officials say that the information was hardly secret since the tank was being designed primarily for export. JAC ROSVOORUZHENIE SIZES UP LATIN AMERICAN MARKET. The first deputy general director of the arms export concern Rosvooruzhenie, Yurii Khozyainov, told journalists on 11 August that over the past two years, the company has succeeded in concluding several lucrative contracts with Latin American countries and hopes to increase sales of high- altitude helicopters and combat aircraft there. Sales to the region plummeted after the USSR abandoned its favorable terms for arms supplies in 1990. Khozyainov said that Rosvooruzhenie is consequently considering opening an office in Columbia in addition to the existing representation in Peru, Brazil, and Cuba. But "Segodnya" on 12 August commented that Khozyainov's optimistic predictions of billion dollar contracts with Latin American countries are unrealistic, given that their combined arms purchases in 1997 amounted to only $1.209 billion. LF RUSSIA'S CHIEF MUFTI CONCERNED ABOUT RISE OF WAHHABISM. In an interview in "Izvestiya" of 13 August, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gaynutdin, expressed his concern that many Russians increasingly fail to differentiate between mainstream Islam and Wahhabism and consequently regard Islam and Muslims with hostility and mistrust. Gaynutdin affirmed that "the Muslim clergy of Russia is categorically opposed to Wahhabism," whose adherents in Russia he estimated at 10,000. He conceded that Russia's Muslim community is partly to blame for the spread of Wahhabism, noting that "many of us are aware of a retreat from the genuine Arabic roots of the teaching." LF RUSSIAN FIRST DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS OUT ON AFGHANISTAN... Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov told journalists on 13 August that Moscow continues to recognize the government of ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and plans to reinforce the Tajik-Afghan border, ITAR-TASS reported. Pastukhov claimed there are reports that Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan are conducting an "ethnic massacre," adding that the group is "totally unpredictable." Pastukhov criticized Pakistan for its role in the conflict and argued that the Taliban's recent capture of most of northern Afghanistan was possible "thanks to direct aid from Pakistan, whose military formations and combat aviation participated in combat operations." He said if the Taliban are not restrained, "Afghanistan may turn into one more seat of international terrorism." BP ...AS DO OTHER RUSSIAN OFFICIALS. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 12 August that the situation in Afghanistan is "dangerous for the CIS's southern borders," Interfax reported. Sergeev noted that the Defense Ministry has called for invoking articles in the CIS's Collective Security Treaty on preventing crises and countering aggression. Duma speaker Seleznev said he does not think that the Taliban will "poke their nose into the CIS" but added "we are doing the right thing by strengthening our positions on the Tajik-Afghan border," ITAR -TASS reported. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii called for unity, saying "it is impossible to ensure security in the south of the CIS without collective actions." Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia was in favor of supporting the Taliban, which he called a "truly patriotic" movement. BP TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA SEEKS TO AVERT ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION BID. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 12 August, Security Minister Djemal Gakhokidze confirmed media reports that a third attempt is being planned to kill Eduard Shevardnadze but said that Georgia's security services are doing their best to avert it, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Gakhokidze added that "serious destabilization" is anticipated in September and October. "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 August quoted presidential press spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze as confirming information that the head of the Georgian parliamentary sub-committee for penal reform, Elene Tevdoradze, had received information from a prisoner about another possible attempt on Shevardnadze's life. Abashidze said that attempt is being prepared outside Georgia. LF GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTRY REJECTS CHARGES OF TERRORISM, DRUG-RUNNING. At the same 12 August press conference, Gakhokidze rejected repeated claims by the Abkhaz leadership that the Georgian security services are coordinating the activities of the Georgian White Legion and Forest Brothers guerrilla organizations, which are operating in Abkhazia, Interfax reported. Gakhokidze similarly refuted claims published on 3 August in the Georgian newspaper "Alia" that his ministry is engaged in international drug-trafficking, according to Caucasus Press. LF GEORGIA WANTS NEW APPROACH TO ABKHAZ PEACE PROCESS. Georgian Presidential Foreign Policy Adviser Archil Gegeshidze told Interfax on 12 August that under present circumstances, Tbilisi will not request an extension of the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgian. That mandate expired on 31 July. Gegeshidze argued that its extension would not contribute to resolving the conflict, given that the whole approach to the peace process needs to be "thoroughly revised." He advocated minimizing Russia's role as a mediator and resuming direct talks between Tbilisi and the Abkhaz leadership in Sukhumi. Also on 12 August, the Georgian special parliamentary commission on Abkhazia issued a statement condemning repeated cross-border raids by Abkhaz militants on villages in Georgia's Zugdidi and Tsalendjikha Raions, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. LF IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BAKU. Kamal Kharrazi met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Tofik Zulfugarov, in Baku on 12 August to discuss bilateral relations, the legal status of the Caspian Sea, and the Karabakh peace process, IRNA and Turan reported. Both ministers expressed the hope that the visit will mark the beginning of "a new phase" in bilateral relations, which cooled after Azerbaijan's ambassador was expelled from Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). Kharrazi called for a swift agreement among all five Caspian littoral states on the sea's legal status, adding that until such an agreement is signed, the existing international treaties should remain in force. Those treaties stipulate that the sea's resources can be exploited only with the consent of all five littoral states. The two ministers agreed, nonetheless, that the Caspian should become a demilitarized zone. LF AZERBAIJANI POLICE, OPPOSITION PREPARE FOR MASS RALLIES. Interior Minister Ramil Usubov told journalists in Baku on 12 August that his men will resolutely prevent any violations of public order or attempt to foment unrest during the opposition demonstrations planned for 15 August, Turan reported. Opposition parties are planning mass rallies nationwide to protest the authorities' failure to ensure democratic conditions for the 11 October presidential elections. Usubov claimed that opposition activists wearing police uniforms intend to provoke riots during the demonstrations in order to discredit the police. He also claimed that protesters intend to use petrol bombs. The opposition said on 11 August that Interior Ministry special forces have been sent from Baku to Nakhichevan to prevent opposition rallies there. Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev has rejected the opposition's request to hold a rally on Freedom Square but has given permission to use a motor sport stadium in the suburbs. LF TALIBAN CAPTURE TOWN NEAR UZBEK BORDER. Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Ismatilla Irgashev on 12 August said that the situation along the Uzbek-Afghan border is "quiet," ITAR-TASS reported. Afghanistan's Taliban movement captured the city of Hairaton, while lies on the southern bank of the River Amu- Darya across from Uzbekistan, earlier the same day. Irgashev said military forces in the area "continue to work according to the usual schedule," but Kyrgyz Radio reported that special measures have been taken for crossing the bridge that connects the Uzbek city of Termez and Hairaton. BP TAJIKS DENY INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHAN CONFLICT. The Tajik Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement on 12 August denying charges that Tajik military units are participating in the fighting in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and Tajik Television reported. Earlier that day, Russian Television had broadcast reports to that effect. The broadcasts claimed Tajik units are helping Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum to fight Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan. The ministry statement said "certain information agencies...in pursuit of sensational stories, incorrectly interpret and inaccurately present the Afghan issue." The statement said such charges "cause not only surprise and indignation but also lead to regrets over the extreme non-professionalism of employees" of Russian Television. However, the ministry statement did note that a renegade former Tajik army colonel, Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, may be active in northern Afghanistan. Khudaberdiyev is wanted by Tajik authorities on criminal charges. BP MURDERS SOLVED IN TAJIKISTAN. Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurakhmon Azimov has told a Japanese newspaper that the Tajik government has identified who was responsible for the murder last month of four UN employees and plans to arrest the perpetrators soon, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Azimov told Japan's "Sankei Shimbun" that the whereabouts of the murderers is known. He added that because it is in territory occupied by forces of the United Tajik Opposition, the UTO leader is making arrangements to apprehend and hand over the criminals within one week. Meanwhile, three men suspected of planting a bomb in the car of deputy customs chief Ali Imomnazarov have been arrested. One of the detained is Imomnazarov's body guard, Kurbon Davlatov, who has confessed to planning the bombing, which killed the deputy customs chief. Davlatov said he was paid $6,000 by Imomnazarov's wife, who herself was killed while visiting her husband's grave two days after he was killed. BP UZBEK PRESIDENT ASKED TO RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS. The Uzbek Human Rights Society has appealed to Islam Karimov to free all political prisoners detained in the last eight to 10 months, Interfax reported on 12 August. The organization called on Karimov to time their release to coincide with seventh anniversary of independence. The statement said that "having political prisoners in a country building a law- abiding democratic society reduces the rating of the country and its government." BP 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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