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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 180, Part I, 17 September 1998
_________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 180, Part I, 17 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 SLOVAK SERVICE NEWS ONLINE Thousands are protesting staff firings at an independent TV station as elections approach. News texts in Slovak and all broadcasts are now available online. http://www.rferl.org/bd/sl/slovak/index-sl.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * INFLATION PICKS UP SPEED * PRIMAKOV FORMS 'MIXED' CABINET * AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION, POLICE PREPARE FOR NEXT DEMONSTRATION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA INFLATION PICKS UP SPEED. Consumer prices grew more than 43 percent in the first 14 days of September, Russian agencies reported. In August, inflation reached 15 percent. According to Otto Latsis writing in "Noviye izvestiya" on 16 September, consumer prices rose only 5.6 percent last year, and an increase like that witnessed so far this month was last seen in February 1992. "The 15 percent decline in the population's real income after Black Tuesday of 1994 will seem a trivial scratch compared with the social trauma that is shaping up today," Latsis predicted. "The main achievement of economic policy of the last six-and-a-half years--taming inflation--has been lost." On 16 September Bloomberg reported that Standard & Poor's lowered Russia's credit rating from CCC to CCC-, a level lower than that of Pakistan. JAC PRIMAKOV FORMS 'MIXED' CABINET. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 16 September rounded out his cabinet by selecting two moderate reformers, Our Home is Russia deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and acting Minister for Science and Technology Vladimir Bulgak, as deputy prime ministers. Although the division of labor between the deputy prime ministers has not yet been finalized, Bulgak will likely oversee communications and some industry ministries, while Ryzhkov will take over the post of deputy prime minister in charge of social issues from Oleg Sysuev, who will become first deputy director of the presidential administration, according to Interfax. ITAR-TASS reported that Ryzhkov's appointment won support from both Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and People's Power leader Nikolai Ryzhkov. Ryzhkov himself took more than a little persuading. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 17 September, he had to be asked seven times to join the government. JAC GOVERNORS TO JOIN GOVERNMENT. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 September concluded that the country's most recent economic crisis has given regional ruling elites new influence on the formation of national policy. The newspaper added that Primakov has already promised to include regional representatives in his cabinet's Presidium. According to Interfax, Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko is likely to be named deputy prime minister in charge of regional policy, while another regional governor is likely to become deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture. According to the newspaper, "if the presence of the regional leaders is not just for show..., then the real winner of the current crisis is not the State Duma or the Communist Party but the party of the governors." JAC KREMLIN DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF? The Russian press has voiced some concern about the diverse composition of the Primakov cabinet. "Izvestiya," for example, on 17 September concluded that once the Duma begins debate on the 1999 budget, Russia will learn whether cabinet members with such opposing views-- First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov and Deputy Prime Ministers Aleksandr Shokhin and Ryzhkov--will be able to quickly create effective policies and garner reliable political support. JAC OTHER SPOTS FILLED. President Boris Yeltsin has named General Konstantin Totskii, until now head of the Federal Border Service Academy, as chief of the Federal Border Service. On 17 September, Interfax reported that Tatyana Paramanova, a former acting chair of the Central Bank and head of the Russian National Commercial Bank, has been named first deputy chair of the Central Bank, replacing Sergei Aleksashenko. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council Viktor Melnikov has been relieved of his duties, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC TAX SERVICE TO FORCE BANKRUPTCY ON DEADBEATS. Interfax on 16 September reported that the Federal Tax Service will begin bankruptcy proceedings against 28 organizations that owe the government back taxes. Frustrated tax inspectors have reportedly exhausted all other methods to collect overdue taxes from these companies. JAC INVESTORS GET EXTENSION. The Russian government on 17 December extended the deadline by one week (to 25 September) for investors to decide whether to accept ruble bonds or a combination of ruble and dollar bonds in exchange for the short-term treasury bonds on which Russia earlier defaulted. Bloomberg reported that some investors are reluctant to make a choice because they believe that Russia will offer local banks preferential treatment. According to ITAR-TASS on 16 September, 25 major Western banks, including Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Nomura, and Credit Suisse First Boston, set up a group to demand equal treatment and conduct joint negotiations with Russia over rescheduling its debts. The same day the president of the Association of Russian Banks, Sergei Yegorov, told reporters that Russia's money supply should be increased to at least 20 percent of GDP if the country's monetary system is to function properly. JAC BEREZOVSKII SAYS YELTSIN'S TIME IS UP. In an interview with BBC excerpted by "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 16 September, financial magnate and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii said that the era of President Yeltsin is over and that he should go. He added "Of course, that is conditional on what the alternative is, but I think that today we have alternatives better than him." Berezovskii also said that Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko "agrees that many of the problems we have stem from the president's weakness." JAC LEBED'S RECORD EXAMINED. Russian Television on 16 September evaluated the first three months of Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed's administration. It reported that while Lebed promised to cut by 30 percent the number of staff employed in the territory's administration, the number of deputy governors and official cars has almost "doubled." The local elite has reportedly been offended by Lebed's preference for personnel from Moscow and other parts of Russia. JAC RUSSIAN ICBM'S HITTING TARGETS. Russia completed its summer missile testing program with the successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on 16 September. A RS-12M Topol missile, also known as a SS-25, took off from Plesetsk in northern Russia, hitting a target on the Kamchatka peninsula. ITAR-TASS quoted Strategic Missile Force Commander General Vladimir Yakovlev, who said that "all 57 launches of the Topol missiles have been successful." On 17 September, the "Moscow Times" reported that Russia has scored another success in its campaign to convert its ballistic missile fleet into commercial launch vehicles. According to the newspaper, the Moscow-based Kosmotras International Space Co. signed a contract with a British consortium for the launch of its commercial satellite on a converted RS-20 ballistic missile, also known as the SS-18 Satan rocket. The new name for the converted rocket is Dnepr. JAC COSSACKS PERSECUTE PROTESTANTS. The UK-based Keston News Service on 16 September reported that two uniformed Cossacks in Anapa Krai broke up a group of Adventists who had been giving away bibles in a public park. They confiscated 60 bibles and detained the leader, reportedly giving him 20 lashes with an iron-tipped whip. Sergei Serebrov, a local Cossack commander, told Keston that if the Protestants continue to engage in public proselytism, then the Cossacks will whip them. JAC SVR REFUSES TO DENY LEWINSKY IS ON STAFF. ITAR-TASS on 16 September reported that the Chinese magazine "Guandong Writer" has published an article alleging that former White House intern Monica Lewinsky is a Russian spy. When asked about the report, Russian Foreign Intelligence Services spokesman Yurii Kobaladze responded with some amusement, saying "we do not comment on allegations of whether individuals belong to Russia's intelligence services." JAC NEW CHECHEN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL APPOINTED. Following a one- month debate, the Chechen parliament has named its speaker's aide for legal affairs, Mansur Tagirov, as acting prosecutor- general, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 September. That appointment must be endorsed by President Aslan Maskhadov, who is currently abroad. Tagirov replaces Khazavh Serbiev, whom Maskhadov dismissed for incompetence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1998). ITAR-TASS predicted that Tagirov will face difficulties in his new post as the staff of the Prosecutor- General's office are on strike to demand unpaid wages for the past two years. LF CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Newsline" on16 September quoted an incorrect Western agency report saying that "in the first eight months of 1998, Russian gold production dropped from 66.4 million tons during the same period last year to 59.4 million tons." The correct figures are 66.4 tons and 59.4 tons. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION, POLICE PREPARE FOR NEXT DEMONSTRATION. Azerbaijan's opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform has presented to the Baku Mayor's Office the planned route for its protest march on 20 September, Turan reported on 16 September. The route avoids the city's main Azadlyg Square, where demonstrators were forcibly prevented by police from convening on 12 September. Interior Minister Ramil Usubov said on 16 September that the would-be participants in that demonstration had been armed with bottles and stones. He warned that police would prevent the planned 20 September march. Also on 16 September, an anonymous spokesperson for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) told Turan that official Azerbaijani media had misquoted several statements by ODIHR director Gerard Stoudman on the opposition's activities. He denied that Stoudman had said the 11 October presidential elections will be democratic. LF OSCE MINSK GROUP IN BAKU... The U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group held talks with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 15 September, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev said that he regrets the hiatus in the settlement talks, which he said is in the interest of neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia. No further details of the talks were disclosed. LF ...AND YEREVAN. Following what he termed "fruitful and constructive" talks with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on 16 September, French co- chairman Georges Vaugier told journalists in Yerevan that he and his two colleagues have brought new proposals for resolving the conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. While he gave no details about those proposals, Vaugier suggested that the Azerbaijani leadership may be prepared to retreat from its previous insistence that the best it can offer Nagorno-Karabakh is the highest possible degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan. Oskanian had told journalists on 15 September that Yerevan will insist neither on independence for the disputed enclave nor on its unification with Armenia, but he excluded any subordination of Karabakh to the central Azerbaijani authorities, according to ITAR-TASS. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told RFE/RL that the Armenian side stressed Yerevan is prepared to restart negotiations without any preconditions. LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROPOSED AMNESTY. The Armenian parliament on 15 September approved an amnesty proposed by President Robert Kocharian to mark the seventh anniversary of Armenia's independence from the USSR, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Under the amnesty, some 920 prisoners, or 15 percent of the prison population, will be released. Another 240 will have their sentences shortened, according to Justice Minister David Harutiunian. The amnesty does not extend to persons jailed for murder, rape, or other violent crimes or to repeat offenders who have been amnestied in the past. LF FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTER SENTENCED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT. Former Light Industry Minister Rudolf Teymurazian was sentenced to eight years in prison on 15 September. A Yerevan court found him guilty of embezzling a $4.1 million Chinese government loan in the early 1990s, "Azg" reported The court also ruled that Teymurazian must pay $500,000 in fines. LF GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE SIGN BORDER PROTECTION AGREEMENT. The commanders of the Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Ukrainian border guard troops signed a cooperation agreement in Tbilisi on 16 September, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. That agreement falls within the parameters of the Economic Consultation Agreement concluded by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Georgian Border Guard Commander Valeri Chkheidze told journalists that the Tbilisi meeting was not directed against other states, nor does the signed agreement run counter to CIS agreements on border cooperation. He added that Moldova will sign the agreement at a later date. LF MESKHETIANS STAGE PROTEST IN TBILISI. Some 40 Meskhetians on 16 September demonstrated outside the state chancellery in Tbilisi to demand a meeting with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. The Meskhetians have been lobbying for decades for the right to return to the villages in southwestern Georgia from where they were deported en masse to Central Asia in November 1944. At Shevardnadze's initiative, a few hundred families were repatriated in the mid-1980s. Konstantin Kokoev, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission for human rights, said that the implementation of a program to repatriate 5,000 Meskhetian families by 2000 has been halted because of problems in resettling and housing ethnic Georgians forced to flee conflicts elsewhere in Georgia. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION ASSESSES WORK OF NATIONAL RECONCILIATION COMMITTEE. United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri has reviewed the work of the National Reconciliation Commission since its foundation exactly one year earlier, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September. Both the Tajik government and the opposition are represented on the commission, which was formed to monitor implementation of last year's agreement ending the civil war. Nuri noted progress in registering the opposition's armed units and integrating them into the Tajik armed forces as well as in expediting the repatriation of refugees from Afghanistan. But he blamed the Tajik leadership for failing to deliver on its commitment to reform the government and amend the constitution. On 16 September, Habib Sanginov, chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission's military sub-committee, told ITAR-TASS that the repatriation from Afghanistan of the last remaining 250 UTO fighters has been delayed for unknown reasons. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN DEBT RATING LOWERED. Standard and Poor's has lowered Kazakhstan's long-term foreign currency debt rating from B+ from BB- and its long-term local currency debt from BB+ to BB-, Bloomberg reported on 16 September. The rating agency said that the decision reflects Kazakhstan's "heightened vulnerability to an extremely negative environment," noting the slow pace of privatization, a high budget deficit, and the fact that Russia is Kazakhstan's largest trading partner. Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev has said several times over the past month that the financial crisis in Russia has had no affect whatsoever on Kazakhstan. LF SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR IN BISHKEK. Eduard Rossel met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev in Bishkek on 16 September, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Akayev expressed support for Rossel's proposal that the 8-9 October CIS summit be held in Yekaterinburg as a gesture of moral support for embattled Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In meetings with Kyrgyz government officials on 17 September, Rossel is expected to sign several economic cooperation agreements, including one that provides for Sverdlovsk to supply Kyrgyzstan with railroad carriages, spare parts for trolley-buses, and equipment for the mining industry. Rossel has also promised to supply turbo-generators for the Bishkek heating and power plant. LF U.S. TO MEDIATE CASPIAN DISPUTE? U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said at an oil and gas industry congress in Houston earlier this week that Washington may offer to mediate in the dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over ownership of at least one Caspian oil field, the "Financial Times" reported on 16 September. Richardson said that he had discussed the issue of settling the dispute between Ashgabat and Baku with his Turkmen counterpart and is planning to continue that discussion during his upcoming trip to the Caspian, according to ITAR-TASS. The dispute between Baku and Ashgabat over ownership of the Kyapaz/Serdar field is a major obstacle to an agreement between all five Caspian littoral states on how to divide the sea's resources. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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