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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 162 Part I, 24 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 162 Part I, 24 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 * DUMA WANTS YELTSIN TO PRESENT KIRIENKO'S CANDIDACY IN PERSON * SOME OLD, SOME NEW FACES IN CABINET * U.S. DENIES PLANS TO PRESSURE ARMENIA OVER KARABAKH End Note: WHY CHERNOMYRDIN? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN RETURNS TO HEAD GOVERNMENT. Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 24 August formally named former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to head a new government. The previous day, Yeltsin answered the State Duma's recent call for his own resignation by dismissing Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and his cabinet and appointing Chernomyrdin acting premier. Before he was dismissed by Yeltsin last March, Chernomyrdin held the post of premier for more than five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). According to the Russian Constitution, the Duma has one week either to approve Chernomyrdin by a simple majority or to reject him. JAC SOME OLD, SOME NEW FACES IN CABINET. Interfax reported on 23 August that Chernomyrdin had already been holding consultations on forming a new government. Echo Moskvy said Chernomyrdin insists on complete control over the appointment of ministers and on Yeltsin's pledge that he will not interfere with the government's daily operations. Interfax reported the next day that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov was likely to retain his post and that Russia's foreign policies will continue more or less unchanged. Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 August that Federal Tax Service head Boris Fedorov, who last week was appointed deputy prime minister with responsibility for macroeconomic issues, is likely to retain that post and oversee contacts with international financial institutions. It also said that CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii is likely to join the government as deputy prime minister. JAC CHERNOMYRDIN CONSULTS WITH DUMA, REGIONAL LEADERS. ITAR-TASS reported that Chernomyrdin will meet with Gennadii Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist faction in the Duma, on 24 August. Chernomyrdin also plans to confer with Grigorii Yavlinskii, who leads the Yabloko faction, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction. "I want to hear proposals of leaders of the Duma factions, including on personnel questions," he said. The same day, ITAR-TASS reported that Chernomyrdin met with Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Lebed, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, and Gennadii Igumnov, governor of Perm, to discuss economic policy. JAC CHERNOMYRDIN STARTED LOBBYING EARLY. According to "Segodnya," Chernomyrdin held meetings in the Duma on 20 August with Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and the leader of the deputies' group of People's Power, Nikolai Ryzhkov. The newspaper reports that Ryzhkov and Zyuganov completely agreed with Chernomyrdin on his assessment of the country's economic situation. On 21 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Chernomyrdin had been discussing with various leaders the possibility of creating a government of the parliamentary majority. The newspaper added that Chernomyrdin's five-month sabbatical from the government has strengthened his determination not only to return to a leadership role but also to choose personnel and set economic policy. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, while "Segodnya" is controlled by banker Vladimir Gusinskii's Media Most group. JAC DUMA REACTION TO CHERNOMYRDIN MIXED. Despite his reported agreement with Chernomyrdin on his assessment of the nation's economy, Ryzhkov greeted news of Chernomyrdin's appointment with scorn. Interfax reported on 23 August that he said Yeltsin's decision is "absolutely devoid of any logic," adding that "when Yeltsin fired Chernomyrdin five months ago, there must have been a reason." Zyuganov avoided direct comment on Chernomyrdin but declared Yeltsin's decision "arbitrary," since he did not first consult with members of the Parliament. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Our Home is Russia [NDR] Duma faction, said on 23 August in a interview with Ekho Moskvy that NDR leader Chernomyrdin's appointment is likely to be approved by the Duma. The next day, Oleg Morozov, leader of the Russian Regions faction, told Ekho Moskvy that the Duma's majority is ready to cooperate unconditionally with Chernomyrdin. JAC DEBT PLAN TO GO FORWARD? Reuters reported on 23 August that despite Kirienko's dismissal, the government is likely to announce the terms of a $40 billion debt restructuring plan on 24 August. The "Financial Times" reported on 21 August that the Russian government has revealed that it hopes to reduce its debt payments by between 200 billion rubles ($28.5 billion) and 250 billion rubles by the end of 1999. In an interview with "Itogi" on 24 August, Kirienko defended his government's decision to restructure Russian debt. "It is clear that with more than $100 billion dollars in foreign debt and more than 400 billion rubles in internal debt, we could not survive without borrowing again to pay off our old debts," he said. "We were paying each week 6-7 billion rubles in GKOs (treasury bills) or 35 billion [rubles] a month. But our entire budget receipts in May were only 20-21 billion [rubles]." JAC U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT TO PROCEED AS PLANNED. Both Russian and U.S. spokesmen reassured reporters that the 1-3 September summit between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton will proceed as planned. On 23 August, Vice President Albert Gore spoke by telephone with both the departing Kirienko and his replacement, Chernomyrdin. JAC DUMA CONDEMNS YELTSIN... Meeting on 21 August, the Duma approved a non-binding resolution asking Yeltsin to step down. Interfax reported that support for the resolution came primarily from the Agrarian faction, the Communist Party, Yabloko, and the People's Power faction. Head of the Our Home is Russia faction, Aleksandr Shokhin, told ITAR-TASS on 21 August that his faction opposes Yeltsin's resignation but favored Kirienko's replacement. JAC ...AND U.S. ACTION. The Duma also issued a statement charging the U.S. of weakening the UN and unleashing a regional arms race with its air strikes on selected targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, according to Interfax. In a statement supported by 264 deputies and opposed by only one, the Duma noted that the U.S.'s action made a thorough review of the START-2 agreement all the more pressing. JAC DUMA PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIC COURSE. With regard to economic policy issues, the Duma on 21 August proposed suspending privatization efforts, obliging exporters with tax debts to sell their foreign exchange revenues to the government at a fixed rate, nationalizing banks, and introducing outside management of those institutions as well as tighter credit controls, Interfax reported. On 24 August, ITAR-TASS reported that the Duma Council will meet to set the legislature's agenda for the 25 and 26 August, when the lower house is scheduled to discuss a variety of economic stabilization bills. JAC AIRLINE TRAVEL WITHIN RUSSIA MORE EXPENSIVE. On 22 August, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the Russian airlines Aeroflot and TransAero are raising prices on domestic flights. The price for a round-trip flight between Moscow and St. Petersburg increased 11 percent to 760 rubles ($109), while a trip from Moscow to Vladivostok now costs 15 percent more, at 2,170 rubles. Spokesmen for the airlines justified the increases because of the appreciation of the dollar against the ruble and the resulting higher cost for fuel. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that Russian airport taxes, which usually make up 40 percent of the price of the ticket and are payable in rubles, have remained steady. JAC YELTSIN CONDEMNS MUFTI'S MURDER. In a telegram addressed to Dagestan State Council chairman Magomedali Magomadov, Yeltsin on 22 August condemned as a "monstrous crime" the death in a car bomb explosion the previous day of Mufti Said-Mukhamed Abubakarov, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said the killing was an attempt to sow hatred among believers, push Dagestan toward civil war, and thus destabilize the situation throughout the North Caucasus. The chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, termed Abubakarov's murder "a tragedy for Russia," noting that the dead mufti had always advocated tolerance and warned against dividing Muslims into Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 22 August. Magomadov, for his part, called on Dagestan's police force to increase security measures, noting that "the authorities are losing the respect of the population daily." Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin has taken personal charge of the murder investigation. LF CHECHNYA TO RECOGNIZE TALIBAN. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax on 21 August that Chechnya plans to establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Udugov added that the Chechen leadership has proposed doing so to the UN and 20 states, of which Afghanistan was the first to respond in the affirmative. The next day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry representative as explaining that since part of a state does not have the right to establish diplomatic relations with another state, Chechen-Afghan relations will be "illegal." LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA U.S. DENIES PLANS TO PRESSURE ARMENIA OVER KARABAKH. Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Peter Tomsen has denied that the U.S. administration asked the Armenian leadership to "clarify" its positions on the Karabakh conflict and on participation in regional transportation projects, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 August. The previous day, the daily newspaper "Aravot" cited an unnamed source in the Armenian embassy in Washington as claiming that the U.S. threatened to take "a tougher line" in the absence of such clarification by the Armenian government, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN MINORITY WANTS AUTONOMY. Yervan Sherinian, one of the leaders of the "Djavakhk" movement representing the overwhelmingly ethnic Armenian population of four raions in southern Georgia, said the movement's main objective is to compel the Georgian authorities to create an Armenian autonomous region within Georgia on the territory of Akhalkalaki Raion, Caucasus Press reported on 22 August. Sherinian said that the local Armenian population has the right to autonomous status, and he explicitly denied any intention of lobbying for unification with Armenia. Sherinian said he could not understand why the Georgian authorities do not allow the teaching of Armenian history in the region's schools, or why Georgia, unlike France, declines to recognize the 1915 killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. He added that the Armenian population of Akhalkalaki opposes the planned construction of a railroad from Kars in eastern Anatolia via Akhalkalaki to Tbilisi. LF TWO AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN COOPERATION AGREEMENTS SIGNED. St. Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 22 August to discuss the possible transportation of Azerbaijani oil by water to St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovlev also invited Azerbaijani orders for St. Petersburg ship-building sector and met with his Baku counterpart, Rafael Allakhverdiev, with whom he signed two cooperation agreements. One week earlier, on 15 August, Aliev held similar talks with Saratov Oblast governor Dmitrii Ayatskov on expanding cooperation in trade and the petro-chemical sector, Turan reported. Ayatskov also signed a cooperation agreement between Saratov and the Azerbaijani government, according to ITAR-TASS. LF CENTRAL ASIAN MINISTERS CONFER ON AFGHANISTAN. The foreign and defense ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on 22-23 August to discuss regional security. The ministers adopted a "confidential joint statement," but no details have been disclosed, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax on 24 August quotes Tajik Ambassador to Uzbekistan Tajiddin Mardonov as saying the ministers discussed "possible scenarios of the events [in Afghanistan] and measures" that the four states could take. He said combating the spread of Islamic extremism was also discussed, as there are "forces that are paving their way to power under the cover of Islamic slogans." Mardonov added there are no plans to call for talks with Afghanistan's Taliban movement or to attempt to mediate a peace in Afghanistan. "The Taliban leaders have stated on many occasions that they do not recognize anyone and that there is nothing to be discussed," he explained. BP PAKISTANI 'ISLAMISTS' TO BE DEPORTED FROM TAJIKISTAN. Tajik authorities have ordered four citizens of Pakistan who had distributed Islamic literature to leave the country by 25 August, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. Three of the men were apprehended in a Dushanbe mosque as they tried to hand out Islamic propaganda, which has been described by some sources as "pro-Taliban" and by others as "pro-Wahhabi" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1998). Following the apprehension of the three, Tajik law enforcement authorities took another Pakistani citizen into custody. None of the men had visas or any other form of identification. BP U.S. COMPANY WINS COURT BATTLE IN KAZAKHSTAN. Kazakhstan's Supreme Court overturned a ruling against the U.S. company CCL Oil and restored all its shares in the Pavlodar oil refinery, Interfax reported on 21 August. The company lost its 87.9 percent share in the refinery in May when a Kazakh court ruled it had failed to fulfill its part of the contract. The shares were awarded to Kazakhoil, the national oil company. A representative of CCL Oil said the court decision is a victory for Kazakhstan as it sends "a strong message to the foreign and domestic business community that there are laws in the Republic of Kazakhstan and there are organizations that intend to respect these laws." BP END NOTE WHY CHERNOMYRDIN? by Laura Belin Boris Yeltsin's decision to put Viktor Chernomyrdin back in charge of the cabinet, five months to the day after sacking him, was both a typical and an atypical step for the Russian president. Political rather than policy considerations no doubt prompted the move, but the reasoning behind the appointment remains unclear. The ouster of Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is in part a response to the dire situation on Russian financial markets, which continued their slide after the government and Central Bank gave up protecting the ruble from devaluation. Shifting the blame to cabinet appointees when times get tough is a classic Yeltsin tactic. The government closely coordinated its economic policies with the presidential administration in the four months since Yeltsin bullied a reluctant State Duma into confirming Kirienko. Still, the president continued to distance himself from some economic realities. During a visit to Novgorod on 14 August, Yeltsin chided the government for being "a little slow in supporting [domestic] manufacturers." Although Yeltsin expressed support for Kirienko that day, the president's spokesman said Yeltsin sharply criticized the Finance and Economics Ministries, as well as the State Customs Committee. As former premier, Kirienko can now become a convenient scapegoat. In recent months, Chernomyrdin has criticized several government actions but never turned his fire on Yeltsin. Speaking to Interfax on 23 August, Aleksandr Shokhin, who heads the Duma faction of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia movement, argued that Yeltsin has of late not been "fully informed" by Kirienko, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin, or Anatolii Chubais, the president's envoy to international financial organizations. Bringing an old hand back into the government is another routine feature of Yeltsin's cabinet reshuffles. This is the president who blamed Chubais for wage and pension arrears when he fired him as first deputy prime minister in January 1996. Just six months later, Yeltsin put Chubais in charge of the Kremlin administration. Eight months after that, he again named Chubais first deputy prime minister and tasked him with solving the wage and pension arrears problem. Similarly, Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin justice minister in July 1997. Two years earlier, he had sacked Stepashin as director of the country's main security service after the botched handling of a hostage crisis in Budennovsk. Searching for a candidate to replace Anatolii Kulikov as interior minister in March of this year, Yeltsin again tapped Stepashin. Nevertheless, the reappointment of Chernomyrdin is at odds with Yeltsin's past practice in one important respect. The president normally avoids giving the impression that he is acting under external pressure. He has left remarkably unpopular officials in power for long periods, and he insisted on naming Kirienko as prime minister, despite vocal opposition from many Duma deputies and media outlets. Throughout Kirienko's tenure in office, the 51 percent state-owned network Russian Public Television and the private network NTV continued to contrast the young premier unfavorably with his predecessor. The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which (like Russian Public Television) is linked financially to CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, has published several calls for bringing Chernomyrdin back into the government. The most recent of those calls was on 21 August. Why did Yeltsin offer the top government post to Chernomyrdin once again, despite having repeatedly expressed the need for new leadership earlier this year? Several more weeks of uncertainty and haggling with parliament over Chernomyrdin's confirmation are unlikely to encourage potential investors to take a chance on Russia. Nor is giving Chernomyrdin his old job back likely to boost Yeltsin's opinion poll ratings. NTV speculated on 23 August that Yeltsin has decided once and for all not to seek re-election in 2000. That is, he appointed Chernomyrdin acting prime minister because he no longer feels threatened by the latter's presidential ambitions. Yeltsin lent credence to this explanation in a nationwide television address on 24 August, when he said his "main consideration" in appointing Chernomyrdin was "providing for the continuity of power in 2000." He added that Russia needs the experience of political "heavyweights" at present. While it is possible that Yeltsin has annointed Chernomyrdin his heir, a more likely explanation is that the president moved to appease the industrial and business interests that never warmed to Kirienko. Several banks and corporations aligned with Chernomyrdin finance influential Russian media. Berezovskii has often spoken of the need to ensure "continuity of power." NTV is partly owned by Gazprom, the gas monopoly Chernomyrdin headed from 1989 until late 1992. Yeltsin may be trying to deter corporate- owned media from portraying him and the government as weak and ineffective. Alternatively, Yeltsin could be offering Chernomyrdin and his backers a poisoned chalice. The Duma is not guaranteed to confirm the old/new prime minister, according to Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In fact, the Duma Council on 24 August instructed the speaker of the lower house, Gennadii Seleznev, to ask Yeltsin to withdraw Chernomyrdin's nomination. But even if Chernomyrdin sails through a confirmation vote, his government will find no easy answers to the federal budget shortfall and other economic problems. The Economics Ministry recently predicted that Russia's gross domestic product will fall by 2.5 percent in 1998. Failure to turn the economy around would harm Chernomyrdin's presidential prospects and the stature of those who lobbied for his return to the cabinet. The author is a specialist on Russian politics and media. 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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