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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 162 Part I, 24 August 1998


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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

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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?
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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.

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