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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 166 Part I, 28 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 166 Part I, 28 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 * KREMLIN PREPARING FOR YELTSIN'S DEPARTURE? * ADMINISTRATION BALKS AT DUMA PROPOSALS * TAJIK GOVERNMENT ACCUSES FORMER COLONEL OF MURDERS IN TURSUNZADE End Note: RUSSIA'S NEIGHBORS ON RUSSIA'S PROBLEMS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA KREMLIN PREPARING FOR YELTSIN'S DEPARTURE? "Kommersant- Daily" on 27 August argued that the presidential staff no longer pretends that "everything is fine." They expect acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin "not only to overcome the financial crisis but also to secure guarantees from the [State] Duma if President [Boris Yeltsin] wants to resign." A "high-ranking" source told the newspaper that the Kremlin is seeking a special law that would provide for the president's financial and physical well-being in retirement. The newspaper adds that now "Yeltsin will share any powers with Chernomyrdin." In March, one of the reasons Yeltsin reportedly dismissed Chernomyrdin was because he conducted talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as an equal. However, on 26 August, Chernomyrdin flew to Crimea with Yeltsin's full approval to meet with the Belarusian and Ukrainian heads of state. JAC RUMORS ABOUT YELTSIN SPREAD. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 27 August insisted that there is no truth to a CBS news report that President Yeltsin has written but not yet signed his resignation. Yastrzhembskii said "I would like to calm the Russian public and the Russian and foreign media: There is no talk of, nor can there be any talk of, any resignation by the president." The same day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted a "high-ranking staffer close to presidential circles" who said that sometime in October or November the Kremlin will create "a fitting excuse for Yeltsin's departure from political life." The newspaper suggests that Yeltsin will resign only after his chosen successor, Chernomyrdin, has been confirmed as prime minister. JAC DUMA ATTEMPTS POWER GRAB... The first draft of the political agreement crafted by the Duma commission and to be approved by a tripartite commission composed of members of both legislative chambers and the administration envisions a significant transfer of power from the executive to the legislature. According to "Russkii telegraf" on 27 August, the Duma wins the right to approve the appointment not only of the prime minister but also of his deputies and key ministers. And it would be able to hold a no-confidence vote on individual ministers and not just on the government as a whole. In exchange for these broader powers, the Duma promises to freeze the impeachment process, to refrain from holding a no confidence vote in the government for at least three months, and to review and pass legislation in a speedy manner. JAC ...AND CONSTITUTION-TINKERING. Enacting the Duma's version of the political agreement would require revising the Russian Constitution because the agreement significantly enhances the powers of the legislature. And at least some Duma factions apparently do not mind having their enhanced powers enshrined in the constitution. On 27 August, Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Our Home is Russia faction, told reporters that it is "necessary to start the process of making amendments to the Russian Constitution by convening a constitutional conference." JAC ADMINISTRATION BALKS AT DUMA PROPOSALS. The administration's initial reaction to the Duma's version of the political agreement was extremely negative. According to ITAR-TASS on 27 August, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said that diluting the president's powers in favor of the Duma and Federation Council is "clearly asking too much." Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov declared that his faction does not like the document either, but for a very different reason. In his opinion, the agreement should not preclude impeachment. It also should include some kind of law on the media, requiring "councils of observers" at all major publications that would encourage the dissemination of honest and correct information. Similarly, Nikolai Ryzhkov, leader of the Power to the People faction, thinks the agreement is flawed since it has no guarantee that the Duma would confirm eight ministers and heads of central departments, according to Russian Public Television. JAC STROEV AS ALTERNATIVE CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER? "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 August reported that a group of unidentified regional governors intend to block Chernomyrdin's confirmation as premier. They will propose the candidacy of Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev instead, the newspaper claimed. In an interview in "Izvestiya" the previous day, Stroev had said he takes "a negative view" of rumors that he will be proposed as a candidate for premier if Chernomyrdin is not confirmed in that post. Stroev said that the Federation Council is prepared "to support any government...but we hope that the government too will support the measures proposed by the regions." He noted that none of the four initiatives advanced in recent years by the Federation Council met with support from the executive branch. LF FOREIGN EXCHANGE CLOSED DUE TO LACK OF FUNDS. The Central Bank on 27 August announced that the Moscow Inter-bank Currency Exchange will not resume trading on 28 August. The bank cited the tremendous imbalance between the demand for foreign currency and its supply. According to "Izvestiya" on 28 August, excess demand for dollars totaled $290 million. Fearing that the exchange may never reopen, some Moscow bankers told Interfax that it "depends on who comes to power." JAC STOCKS PLUNGE. According to Russia's benchmark index, stocks sank 17.1 percent to their lowest level since the benchmark was first calculated on September 1995. Traders said that uncertainty about Yeltsin's health and an atmosphere of reduced investor confidence following the announcement of the government's plan for its GKO contributed to the stocks' fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998). JAC DUMA PROPOSES NATIONALIZATION, PROTECTIONISM. On 27 August, the Duma commission drafting the political agreement also completed a first version of its economic policy slated for final approval by the tripartite commission. According to ITAR-TASS, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Duma deputy speaker and a member of the Our Home Is Russia faction, described the document as a "fundamentally new approach to regulating economic activity." Under the plan, Russian customs policy would become more rigorous "regarding protection of the domestic market." In addition, banks that failed to meet their obligations to depositors would become state property. Interfax reported that other troubled enterprises deemed to be of national importance would be subject to temporary nationalization in order "to reform them and make them more efficient." The plan also specifies that the federal budget should be balanced and tax revenues should account for no less than 70 percent of budget revenues. JAC ANOTHER SUPER-BANK CREATED. National Reserve Bank, Inkombank, Avtobank, Mezhkombank, and Alfa-Bank announced plans to merge on 27 August, Russian agencies reported. According to earlier press reports, only Inkombank and NRB were joining forces; however, the current constellation of five banks may grow even larger. According to Interfax, executives from Avtobank and Mezhkombank are engaged in talks with other large commercial banks to join the new banking group. Aleksandr Lebedev, chairman of the board of directors of the National Reserve Bank, will oversee the holding. JAC ALL THAT GLITTERS. The Central Bank is considering minting gold coins as an alternative currency to the ruble, whose convertibility has been called into question since trading has been halted for the last few days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998). The Association of Russian Banks proposed the idea, which quickly won support from the government and the Duma, according to Dmitrii Ignatev, chief of the assocation's precious metals department. The coins could be in circulation within two weeks if the Central Bank decides to give the plan the go-ahead. Also under consideration at the Central Bank is a plan to transfer gold reserves from the Central Bank to selected commercial banks in order to guarantee the safety of private deposits, according to Interfax. JAC BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW. Petar Stoyanov is making his first official visit to Russia in his capacity as Bulgarian president. On 28 August, he met with President Yeltsin, who later told journalists that he wants Russian-Bulgarian relations to return to their "past levels." He said a joint working group has been set up for that purpose. ITAR-TASS quoted Stoyanov as saying there is now "political will" on both sides to improve relations and to put aside "past misunderstandings." Stoyanov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that he hopes Russia will invest in the construction of pipelines and the privatization of oil refineries in Bulgaria. Several bilateral agreements between Russia and Bulgaria are expected to be signed before Stoyanov returns to Sofia. JAC/MS DAGESTAN ELECTS NEW MUFTI. Akhmed hadji Abdulaev, former rector of the Islamic University in Kizilyurt, has been elected Dagestan's mufti, replacing Said-Mukhamed Abubakarov, who was killed by a car bomb on 21 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 August. The Dagestani State Council convened on 27 August to discuss implementation of the Russian government program adopted a year ago to stabilize the region's economy. It is unclear whether the 26 August protest march to demand the resignation of State Council chairman Magomedali Magomadov was also on the agenda. State Duma Committee for Nationality Affairs Chairman Vladimir Zorin told the newspaper that the rising tensions in Dagestan underscore the need to create a state commission for the North Caucasus. He added that Chernomyrdin's confirmation as prime minister would have a positive effect, given the latter's deep familiarity with the situation in the region. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK GOVERNMENT ACCUSES FORMER COLONEL OF MURDERS IN TURSUNZADE... The Tajik government claims former army Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev ordered the murder of six people in Tursunzade on 27 August, including the mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1998), Interfax reported. Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov said one of the attackers killed in the shooting has been linked to Khudaberdiyev's group. Khudaberdiyev was commander of the presidential guard's rapid reaction force but, dissatisfied with the terms of the Tajik peace accord, he came into armed conflict with the government in the second half of 1997. Khudaberdiyev, speaking with RFE/RL's Tajik service on 27 August, denied having any part in the attack on the Tursunzade mayor's office. BP ...ASKS UZBEKISTAN FOR HELP. The Tajik government claims the group that attacked the mayor's office in Tursunzade fled toward the Uzbek border and is now in the village of Toshteppe in the Uzbekistan's eastern Uzun Region, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. It has also asked the Uzbek government for help in apprehending the group. The Uzbek Interior Ministry refuted the claim that the group is on Uzbek territory and called the events in Tursunzade "an internal affair of Tajikistan." The ministry also said attempts to connect Uzbekistan with those events "plant the seeds of discontent between the Uzbek and Tajik peoples." BP TAJIKISTAN TO RECEIVE MORE LOANS. The World Bank will lend Tajikistan $5 million to help repair damage caused by recent flooding, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. The Asian Development Bank has also promised Tajikistan a $20 million loan for technical assistance. BP U.S. SENATOR IN KAZAKHSTAN. Richard Lugar arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 26 August to discuss financing of special projects, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Those projects include converting military installations to civilian use, the disposal of weapons of mass destruction, and the non-proliferation of nuclear arms. RFE/RL correspondents report that 600 kilograms of enriched uranium is due to be shipped to the U.S. for disposal this year. Lugar held discussions with Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev on further uranium shipments to the U.S. BP KAZAKHSTAN TO EXPORT MANUFACTURED GOODS RATHER THAN RAW MATERIALS? During a tour of a steel plant in Karaganda, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that he favors exporting manufactured goods instead of mostly raw materials, Interfax reported on 27 August. Such a move was outlined in the so-called Snow Leopard program for economic transformation by 2030. Nazarbayev said that while emphasizing domestic production of such goods, he will not bar imports as "we [do not want to] encourage the production of poor quality goods by our plants." The Kazakh president added, "We should develop small and medium-sized businesses, which should number tens of thousands." Nazarbayev also took the opportunity to comment on unemployment, saying everyone should be able to find a job. "If there is no work here, then take land, breed livestock, engage in private business, and feed your family, " he said. BP ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW COMPROMISE PROPOSED. Union of Self-Determination chairman and presidential adviser Paruyr Hayrikian told journalists in Yerevan on 26 August that his party will appeal to the Constitutional Court to rule on the optimum correlation in the new election law between the majority and proportional systems, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. The Yerkrapah union of war veterans, which forms the majority within the present parliament, wants most seats in the next legislature to be allocated in single- mandate constituencies. Other parties advocate allocating all but 30-40 seats on the basis of party lists. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS. Robert Kocharian on 26 August met with Azerbaijani and Georgian journalists visiting Armenia to participate in a seminar organized by the Yerevan Press Club, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Outlining Armenia's foreign policy priorities, Kocharian again rejected as unacceptable the OSCE guidelines for resolving the Karabakh conflict. He proposed the Dayton agreement on Bosnia as a possible alternative that would preclude the subordination of Karabakh to Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Kocharian also warned against any attempt by Azerbaijan to "privatize" the TRACECA transport corridor project, adding that Armenia intends to participate in that project. LF FINLAND TO BACK AZERBAIJANI MEMBERSHIP IN COUNCIL OF EUROPE. Meeting on 26 August in Baku with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, a visiting Finnish parliament delegation pledged that when Finland assumes the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 1999, that country will support Azerbaijan's acceptance into full membership of that body. At present, the three Transcaucasus states have special guest status with the Council of Europe. LF AZERBAIJANI POLICEMAN FIRED FOR BEATING JOURNALIST. Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov has ordered the dismissal of a police officer who assaulted an opposition journalist on 22 August, Turan reported on 27 August. Hajji Zamin, a correspondent for the Azerbaijan Popular Front newspaper "Azadlyg," was assaulted and subjected to verbal abuse at a Baku metro station. The independent journalists' union Yeni Nesil lodged a protest at the incident. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES SECURITY MINISTRY. Eduard Shevardnadze has condemned the failure of the Georgian National Security Ministry to improve its anti-terrorist activities in the wake of two attempts on his life, according to Interfax. Shevardnadze pledged to apprehend the perpetrators of the 25 August bombing in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi, which killed two fugitives from Abkhazia and wounded several dozen more. The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry has expressed condolences to the families of the victims, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August. Abkhaz parliament-in-exile chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili has blamed the bombing on ethnic Georgian fugitives recruited by Gali Raion administrator Ruslan Kishmaria into a special military formation that is to patrol the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, according to Interfax. LF RETURNING GEORGIAN FUGITIVES HARASSED IN GALI. A Georgian official told Caucasus Press on 27 August that the Abkhaz authorities are detaining ethnic Georgian fugitives from Gali Raion who attempt to return to their homes to harvest their hazelnut crop. The agency had earlier reported that members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in Gali are assisting the local Abkhaz authorities in harvesting hazelnuts. The Georgian fugitives are otherwise totally dependent on humanitarian aid. The Georgian authorities can provide them with only a half loaf per person per day. LF ADJARIA TO DEFY TBILISI OVER LOCAL ELECTIONS. Valerii Gelbakhiani, who advises Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze on legal affairs, told Caucasus Press on 27 August that the Adjar parliament has drafted a law on local elections that provides for local mayors and other authorized representatives to be elected, rather than appointed, as is the case under Georgian legislation. Gelbakhiani said that the Adjar Constitution gives that republic the right to adopt its own legislation on elections. He added that he hopes the Georgian legislation will be amended to allow for the election of local officials before the 15 November local elections. LF END NOTE RUSSIA'S NEIGHBORS ON RUSSIA'S PROBLEMS by Paul Goble The leaders of Russia's immediate neighbors--the 11 former Soviet republics and the three Baltic States-- appear confident that the ongoing political turmoil in Moscow will not have a negative impact on either their internal development or their bilateral relations with the Russian Federation. Some even have suggested that the return of Viktor Chernomyrdin might bring Russia some stability, allow it to recover from its current crisis, and thus make it possible for relations between Moscow and their countries to improve. But a few have indicated that they are concerned that Moscow's problems could become theirs either directly, if Russian politicians try to exploit nationalist themes, or indirectly, if Western governments and investors decide that the entire post- Soviet region is now at risk. Such a range of judgments would not surprise anyone if it came from the neighbors of any other major country going through difficulties. But it undoubtedly will surprise many who still think of the post-Soviet region as a single unit and who believe that the leaders of all the countries there still focus first and foremost on Moscow. Across the region once occupied by the USSR, presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers reacted calmly to Boris Yeltsin's decision to bring back Chernomyrdin as prime minister and the latter's willingness to cooperate with Communists in the Russian parliament. The statement of the Kyrgyz presidential press secretary earlier this week was typical. Kanybek Imanaliyev said the change is "Russia's internal affair," a statement echoed in Tajikistan and other Central Asian capitals. Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis reflected the views of most when he said the change in government in Moscow will have no impact on Russia's relationship with his country. The return of Chernomyrdin, the Latvian leader said, is "in no way linked to relations with Latvia." And he pointed out that at the present time, whatever some citizens of his country may think, "Moscow is least of all thinking about Latvia." Most leaders were inclined to put an even more positive interpretation on developments in the Russian capital. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he hopes Chernomyrdin's return will enhance stability in Russia, which, he said, is now "crucial for everybody" but "especially for Georgia." Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said he believes that Chernomyrdin's "experience and influence will help overcome the severe financial crisis" in Russia. He expressed confidence in the future of Russian-Moldovan relations on the basis of their development during Chernomyrdin's earlier tenure as Russian prime minister. And Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said he is confident Chernomyrdin has the skill to "stabilize the situation" in Russia, which, he added, would promote the continued expansion of bilateral ties "in the right direction for the benefit of our peoples." But in the midst of this generally upbeat set of assessments, there were some who indicated that the problems in Russia might spread to their own countries. In contrast to his president, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs was one such person. He suggested that the deepening of the economic crisis in Russia could lead to problems for Latvia. That conclusion, Birkavs said, reflects the fact that "Russia unfortunately uses Latvia in its domestic political games." But even he said that Moscow now faces so many domestic problems that it is unlikely to focus its attention on any of its neighbors anytime soon. Others expressed concern that Russian political and economic problems could have a serious impact on Western assessments of their countries. Estonian President Lennart Meri, for example, said he does not believe that Chernomyrdin's appointment will have a negative impact on Estonian-Russian relations. But he indicated that the devaluation of the ruble and the declines in the Russian stock markets could lead some in the West to draw more sweeping conclusions about the region. In every case, at least some of the confidence reflects the requirements of diplomacy. But equally, if not more, important, this confidence also reflects the extent to which these are 14 independent and very different countries, significantly less dependent on Russia now than they were only a few years ago. 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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