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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 173 Part I, 8 September 1998
__________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 173 Part I, 8 September 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 CONSIDERING NEW CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER? * BURYATIA, KALININGRAD DECLARE STATE OF EMERGENCY * TRACECA CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS CONVERGE ON BAKU END NOTE: DUMA REJECTS CHERNOMYRDIN IN SECOND VOTE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN CONSIDERING NEW CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER? President Boris Yeltsin on 8 September delayed announcing his candidate for the third vote on the premiership, feeding speculation that he will nominate a new candidate. Observers told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who has repeatedly denied having presidential ambitions, will accept the nomination to the post of prime minister only if he obtains the guarantee that Yeltsin will step down. The mayor's press service denied in a statement that Luzhkov and his supporters are trying to promote his candidacy for the post of prime minister and at the same time stipulating that he be allowed to keep his job as mayor. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters on 8 September that Luzhkov is one of the few candidates for the post of prime minister who can work successfully to overcome the economic crisis. JAC BURYATIA, KALININGRAD DECLARE STATE OF EMERGENCY. Leonid Gorbenko, governor of Kaliningrad Oblast, and Leonid Potapov, president of Buryatia, both declared a state of emergency on 8 September, Russian agencies reported. Gorbenko attributed the declaration to the worsening "socio-economic crisis" and assumed "entire responsibility for political and economic decisions." In Buryatia, the government has said it finds it impossible to meet its current financial obligations. The acting head of the presidential administration, Igor Shabdurasulov, told reporters that the imposition of a state of emergency in Russia's regions is the prerogative only of the president of the federation. JAC ROUNDTABLE YIELDS NO COMPROMISE. At a roundtable meeting of the government and legislature on 7 September, President Yeltsin agreed to extend new powers to the Duma. Yeltsin also proposed giving the government of acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin a probation period of six to eight months, according to Interfax. The Duma, however, remained firm in its opposition to Chernomyrdin, voting later the same day against his confirmation by 273 to 138 with one abstention. According to Interfax, Chernomyrdin received 44 more votes than during the first round of voting on his candidacy (see also "End Note" below). JAC GOVERNMENT LEADERS INITIAL TREATY. Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, and Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev initialed a "political truce" that will remain in effect until the end of 1999, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 September. Under that accord, the president will consult with the Duma before either appointing or dismissing a member of the cabinet. The president will also "refrain from adopting decisions on the removal of the government of the Russian Federation." For its part, the Duma will refrain from putting forward motions of no confidence in the government and review "in the first instance" the executive's legislative proposals to overcome the economic crisis. Legislation amending the constitution to redistribute power between the legislative and executive branches will be put forward within one month of the accord's signing. JAC YABLOKO PROPOSES PRIMAKOV. Yabloko on 7 September proposed acting Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov for the position of prime minister. According to Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Primakov is a "compromise" choice who "would not have to be sacked in three months," according to ITAR-TASS. He is also an ideal candidate because he does not belong to a political party, has sufficient political authority, and lacks any desire to run for president, Yavlinksii commented. Earlier Yabloko had proposed a "political" candidate for the position of prime minister. According to "Die Welt" on 4 September, Primakov believes that Russia has slid back to where it stood under the Kerensky government in 1917, because it has lost influence in world affairs and has allowed the Commonwealth of Independent States to start "melting away." On 8 September, Primakov said that he is quite satisfied with his current position. JAC KOBZON PROPOSES GREATER BURYATIA. "Nezavisimaya Gazeta- Regiony" reported that State Duma deputy and popular singer Iosif Kobzon will propose legislation on the "political rehabilitation and establishment of the territory of the entire Buryat people." The legislation would unite Buryatia with two autonomous national okrugs, Ust-Ordynskii (Irkutsk Oblast) and Aginskoye (Chita Oblast). "Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Regiony" argued that each time the idea of a greater Buryatia resurfaces, a concrete political event has triggered it. This time, the newspaper suggested, it is the proposed gas pipeline to China that would run through Buryatia. And another looming political development is the 2002 presidential elections for the republic, in which the incumbent, Leonid Potapov, is ineligible to run. JAC NEW LABOR ACTIONS UNLEASHED. Workers in the nuclear industry staged a warning strike on 7 September to protest unpaid wages, according to ITAR-TASS. AFP reported that around 200 representatives of nuclear facilities from Yekaterinburg, Arzamas, and Chelyabinsk will demonstrate outside the Ministry of Atomic Energy in Moscow on 8 September. Meanwhile, teachers' strikes on Makarov and Tomari on Sakhalin Island continued into their second week, while miners' strikes in the Vorkuta region spread to another mine. On 8 September, 36 workers in a Vladivostok heat and energy plant joined 11 colleagues who have been on a hunger strike for four days over wage arrears dating back six months. JAC OLD, POOR, YOUNG SUFFER FOOD SHORTAGES. Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov on 7 September requested food assistance from Finland, citing reduced shipments of food to the region from central Russia. In particular, nurseries, kindergartens, hospitals, and nursing homes are in need of basic commodities such as meat, sugar, salt, and cooking oil. Meanwhile, in Moscow the legal monthly minimum wage of 83.49 rubles ($4.17) barely buys one liter of vegetable oil, two cans of meat, and one loaf of bread, according to Interfax. Prices for imported foodstuffs have risen 100-500 percent at wholesale food markets in Moscow from their pre-crisis level, while bread and milk prices remain steady in most retail shops. JAC COURT ANNULS INKOMBANK TAKEOVER. A Moscow district court on 8 September declared void an order by the Central Bank assuming temporary administration of Inkombank, one of Russia's five largest banks in terms of assets, Bloomberg reported. The same day, "Izvestiya" suggested that Central Bank chose to take over SBS-Agro and later Inkombank because it had provided both institutions with special credits of $100 million and wanted to make sure that sum was spent on sorting out "interbank" payments rather than speculating against the ruble. According to "Trud," Vladimir Vinogradov, president of Inkombank, agrees with the Central Bank officials that a restructuring of the banking system is needed but that all the population's wages and deposits should not be concentrated under the management of Sberbank. Such a policy is "not in the interest of the banking system of Russia and returns it to its state that existed 10 years ago." JAC RENOWNED JURIST AMETISTOV DEAD. Ernest Ametistov, a member of the Russian Constitutional Court, died of cancer at the age of 64 on 7 September. Ametistov advocated streamlining and liberalizing Russia's legal system. In 1993, Ametistov participated in the Constitutional Assembly when it drew up the Russian Constitution. The same year, Ametistov supported Yeltsin, when most court judges sided with the parliament in its rebellion against the president. In an 8 August 1996 commentary published in "Izvestiya," the judge called for the Justice Ministry to take steps against the Communist Party, since it was not a "civilized opposition." He also called for a cadre policy to replace corrupt local bureaucrats and "red directors," whom he blamed for the problem of wage arrears. He also wanted "totalitarian symbols" from city streets and enterprises removed. JAC YELTSIN POSTPONES VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN. Yeltsin has postponed his visit to Kazakhstan scheduled for 8 September, during which he was to have met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and to sign several bilateral agreements. Yeltsin had announced earlier that he would shorten the length of his visit, but on 7 September he telephoned with Nazarbayev to say the political situation in Russia demanded the presence of the Russian president in the country. Yeltsin had canceled a scheduled visit in July, saying that Russia's financial crisis prevented him from making the trip. Also canceled is the meeting of the presidents from the CIS Customs Union, who were scheduled to meet in Kazakhstan after Yeltsin's talks with Nazarbayev. Yeltsin now plans to visit Kazakhstan on 12-13 October. BP CHECHEN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS CHERNOMYRDIN... In a 7 September statement, Aslan Maskhadov expressed the hope that the Duma would confirm Chernomyrdin as Russian premier, Russian agencies reported. Maskhadov characterized Chernomyrdin as "the most acceptable" candidate for that post in light of his "rich experience," which Maskhadov considered would help stabilize the situation on Russia's financial markets. In an interview with Interfax on 7 September, former acting Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev said that the impact on Chechnya of the Russian financial crisis is comparable to the aftermath of the 1994-1996 war. He said that in theory, Chechnya should leave the ruble zone, as it is inappropriate that a foreign currency should be in circulation in a state that aspires to be recognized as independent. He added, however, that Chechnya would not do so in order "not to irritate Russia." Basaev also accused Maskhadov of making unwarranted concessions to Moscow. LF ...APOLOGIZES TO TBILISI OVER ABKHAZIA. Maskhadov has formally apologized to the Georgia for the participation of Chechen troops in the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 7 September. Maskhadov told a Georgian delegation that was in Grozny for the 6 September celebrations marking the seventh anniversary of Chechnya's declaration of independence that Chechnya's support of Abkhazia was "a tragic mistake." LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA TRACECA CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS CONVERGE ON BAKU. The presidents of Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan arrived in Baku on 7 September to attend an EU-sponsored conference that will discuss the creation of a road, rail, and ferry network linking Central Asia and Europe via the Transcaucasus. Representatives from a total of 38 countries and 16 international organizations are attending. The Russian delegation is headed by CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Iran is represented by a deputy transport minister. Earlier, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had said he would attend the meeting, according to Turan. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT HOPES FOR PEACE WITH ARMENIA. Welcoming fellow presidents at Baku airport, Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliev said the aim of the conference is to ensure peace, stability, and mutual understanding between the states of the region. He stressed that Armenia "has the right" to participate in the TRACECA project. Aliev added that it is time for Azerbaijan and Armenia to "move from an atmosphere of hostility to one of mutual trust," adding that without such an atmosphere, it will be impossible to restore peace, according to Interfax. An Armenian delegation headed by Prime Minister Armen Darpinian is due in Baku on 8 September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS ARMENIAN PARTICIPATION IN TRACECA CONFERENCE. Nine leading opposition parties-- Musavat, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Vahdat, the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, the People's Democratic Party, Akhrar, Civic Solidarity, and the United Azerbaijan Union--issued a joint statement on 7 September condemning the invitation to Armenia to participate in the TRACECA conference as "a betrayal of national interests" and an insult to the feelings of millions of people, Turan reported. The statement described Armenia as "the main factor hindering economic and cultural cooperation" in the Transcaucasus. And it added that cooperation with Armenia is inadmissible before Armenia withdraws its forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NEW CONSTITUTION NOT NECESSARY. At a 5 September session of the presidential commission tasked with revising the constitution, Robert Kocharian again rejected the demand by the opposition National Democratic Union that Armenia should have a new constitution rather than amend the existing one, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian reasoned that under present conditions, "it is better to have a bad constitution" than to act too hastily to replace it. He added that the electorate has not voted in favor of a new constitution, since that issue did not figure either in his election program or that of his rival in the runoff poll. Kocharian has advocated amending the constitution to curtail the powers of the president and increase those of the prime minister and the parliament. But he said he will not "impose" such amendments on the commission "no matter how important I consider them to be." LF ETHNIC ARMENIAN FARMERS FACED WITH GEORGIAN BOYCOTT? Local bakeries are refusing to buy high-quality wheat produced in the predominantly Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Djavakheti region of southern Georgia, even for dumping prices, Caucasus Press reported on 4 September. Instead, they are purchasing imported wheat. In related news, Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, whose relations with the central Georgian authorities have long been tense, has denied establishing contact with members of the Djavakhk organization, which is demanding autonomous status for Samtskhe-Djavakheti. LF GEORGIAN CURRENCY REGAINS GROUND. The lari was trading at 1.35 to the U.S. dollar on 7 September, after falling to 1.7 in street trading the previous day, AP and Caucasus Press reported. The official exchange rate set by Georgia's Central Bank remained stable at 1.35 to the U.S. dollar after the bank sold $2.9 million on the Tbilisi inter-bank currency exchange, which is three times the normal daily sum. Addressing the Tbilisi city council on 7 September, Mayor Ivane Zodelava said that "unfortunately Georgia cannot keep pace with economic processes and is unable to make the correct economic predictions." Zodelava instructed the heads of Tbilisi's 10 local councils to monitor local markets for the possible influx of cheap imported goods from Russia, which, he said, would harm local producers. LF GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS DENY EVICTING RUSSIAN COLLEAGUES. In a 7 September statement, the Georgian Border Guard Service denied Russian reports that Georgian border guards stationed at the Black Sea port of Poti had issued an ultimatum the previous day to their Russian counterparts to vacate their barracks immediately, Caucasus Press reported. The statement accused the Russian Federal Border Service of systematically violating a Russian-Georgian agreement on the schedule for Russian border guards in Georgia to hand over their duties to local border officials. LF KAZAKHSTAN TO EXPEL SIX WAHHABIS. Authorities in Kazakhstan are preparing to expel six Pakistani citizens allegedly engaged in spreading Wahhabi propaganda, Interfax reported on 7 September. Acting on a tip-off that the Pakistanis would be at a conference of Muslims in the Jambyl Region, the Kazakh National Security Committee has detained the six. The Kazakh authorities had attempted to expel the Pakistani citizens from the country several months ago when their visas expired, but the six men apparently stayed on illegally. Investigators found Wahhabi literature and audio cassettes reportedly with information on dealing with "infidels" and creating an Islamic state. In late August, Tajikistan expelled four Pakistani citizens who according to the Tajik authorities were distributing extremist Islamic literature in Dushanbe's mosques. BP KAZAKH CITIZENS ARRESTED TRYING TO SELL URANIUM IN TURKEY. Turkish police have taken eight men into custody for attempting to sell uranium, the Anatolia news agency reported on 7 September. The eight men--three from Kazakhstan, one from Azerbaijan, and four from Turkey-- tried to sell 4.5 kilograms of unprocessed uranium and six grams of plutonium to undercover Turkish police officers for $1 million. Turkish authorities are attempting to determine out of which country the uranium was smuggled. According to media reports, it came from somewhere in the CIS. BP END NOTE DUMA REJECTS CHERNOMYRDIN IN SECOND VOTE by Floriana Fossato As the ruble continued its dramatic collapse and panicking Russians were emptying the shelves of most food shops and markets in the capital, the State Duma on 7 September again overwhelmingly rejected the nomination of Prime Minister-designate Viktor Chernomyrdin. Only 138 members of the house voted in favor, while 273 voted against and one abstained. Chernomyrdin needed 226 votes to be approved. The parliament had rejected Chernomyrdin one week earlier. President Boris Yeltsin now can either renominate him or choose another candidate for the third vote, which must take place within a week. Under the constitution, if the Duma rejects the president's candidate in the third vote, the president must dissolve the lower house and call new elections within three months. Chernomyrdin, speaking on NTV the day before the vote, warned that further delay in forming a new government would exacerbate Russia's economic woes to such a degree that extreme nationalist forces might try to take advantage of the turmoil and seize power. Looking worried and confused, Chernomyrdin said that "when the boat is sinking, it is unacceptable to see the officers busy discussing, instead of saving the ship." And he warned that extremists "will not spare anyone. That would be a tragedy and catastrophe for Russia." Just hours before the second vote on Chernomyrdin's candidacy, Yeltsin met with representatives of the legislative and executive branches in a last-hour attempt to convince them of the necessity of confirming Chernomyrdin. He warned that he was ready to name Chernomyrdin as his candidate for the third time, should the second vote also prove negative. Russian news agencies reported that Yeltsin also asked the Duma and regional leaders to give Chernomyrdin a chance to form a government now and to re- examine the issue within six months. Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who usually take very different stances, both described the negotiations as "extremely tough." Zyuganov added that "it is a dangerous time and we should search for acceptable solutions." At the roundtable meeting, a group of influential regional governors had suggested that Yeltsin nominate Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov for prime minister. Some regional leaders, including Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, said he could see either Luzhkov or Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev leading Russia out of the political and financial crisis, but not Chernomyrdin. Saratov governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said he favored only Luzhkov. Communist Party leader Zyuganov said his party suggested several candidates for the job: Stroev, Luzhkov, acting Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, former Industry Minister Yurii Maslyukov, former Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashenko. But it did not propose Chernomyrdin, he stressed. The Communists and their allies control roughly half of the votes in the 450-strong Duma. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii also declared his faction's continued strong opposition to Chernomyrdin. Yavlinskii said that Russia " now needs a political prime minister, not an economic one...in order to avoid a permanent political crisis." He said he supported Primakov's candidacy. Before the vote, it was clear that Chernomyrdin had the support only of his Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction, the ultra- nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and some of the Russian Regions factions. But at the very best, that support meant some 120-130 votes in Chernomyrdin's favor. NDR leader Aleksandr Shokhin and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Chernomyrdin had some chance of being approved "only in case of a secret ballot." In a heated discussion preceding the vote, Zhirinovsky had proposed an open ballot, but 289 deputies voted against the proposal in a first vote and 295 confirmed the decision in a second vote. The Duma's negative disposition was not mitigated by the concessions Yeltsin had made during the roundtable discussions, despite the fact that, as radical Communist such as Aleksei Podberezkin told journalists, Yeltsin had agreed to expand the Duma's powers to select the cabinet and to approve changes in the lineup proposed by the president. For the past two weeks, Russia has had an interim government and Chernomyrdin has been struggling to win confirmation, leaving little time to devote to the economic crisis. On the day of the second vote, the Central Bank canceled hard-currency trading because traders wanted only to buy dollars, not to sell them. Currency exchange booths remained open, and the ruble was quoted at 20 to the U.S. dollar. The ruble was trading at just over six to the dollar when the crisis erupted less than a month ago. The same day, the Interfax news agency reported that people living on the current minimum monthly wage of 83 rubles can afford to buy only 1 liter of vegetable oil, two cans of meat, and one loaf of white bread. Since the crisis began, prices of imported foodstuffs have increased by 100-500 percent, while prices of Russian products have gone up by 50-100 percent. With the ruble continuing its free fall, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin offered to resign, saying one of the reasons for his decision was the Duma's delay in passing a number of "vitally important" draft laws on banking. Yastrzhembskii said that Yeltsin had been informed of Dubinin's offer and had commented that "such a decision should have been taken earlier." The author is a Moscow-based correspondent for RFE/RL. 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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