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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 181, Part I, 18 September 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 181, Part I, 18 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 * CENTRAL BANK TO PRINT MORE RUBLES * CABINET APPOINTMENTS TO TAKE ANOTHER WEEK * MESKHETIANS EXPELLED FROM GEORGIA End Note: TIGHTENING OF EASTERN BORDERS GIVES KYIV WESTERN CONTACTS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CENTRAL BANK TO PRINT MORE RUBLES. The Bank of Russia canceled ruble/dollar trading on 18 September after the ruble dropped for a fourth consecutive day. Bloomberg cited fears among traders that the Central Bank has already printed as much as 3 billion rubles ($240 million) to pay back wages and pensions to the military and that it will print even more to cover some Russian banks' losses on defaulted government debt. On 17 September, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin told reporters that a controlled additional printing of money would not necessarily be harmful to the economy; however, excessive discussion of such an emission "may trigger inflation." Meanwhile, some residents of the Udor district in Komi Republic are using potatoes rather than rubles to make payment on rent and utilities, according to ITAR-TASS. The current rate is 1 kilogram of potatoes for 2 rubles. JAC CABINET APPOINTMENTS TO TAKE ANOTHER WEEK. President Boris Yeltsin announced on 17 September that he and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov have failed to complete the cabinet lineup, in part because of continuing uncertainty over the right candidate for finance minister. The next day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Interfax that the slow formation of the cabinet is "definitely abnormal." Analysts are divided over whether acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov will retain his post. Other candidates for the job are former Minister for Foreign Economic Relations Sergei Glaziev and former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, whose past service in government was scandal-ridden. However, Deputy Prime Minister Shokhin told reporters on 17 September that Vavilov is a " most unlikely candidate." According to "Russkii telegraf," Alfa Group President Petr Aven and Menatep chairman Konstantin Kagalovskii are also seeking the job. JAC RYZHKOV SAYS NO THANKS. Reports of State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov's appointment as deputy prime minister proved premature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1998). According to "Izvestiya" the next day, Ryzhkov, who had been in Strasbourg, France, on business, had not yet decided to take the job when his appointment was announced. After returning to Moscow and meeting with Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Ryzhkov turned down the offer to work in the government. On 18 September, ITAR-TASS reported that Leningrad Governor Vadim Gustov will assume the post of deputy prime minister in charge of federal, ethnic, regional, and youth policies. JAC FEDOROV STILL ACTING AS TAX SERVICE HEAD? The fate of Boris Fedorov, "acting" deputy prime minister and "acting" head of the Federal Tax Service, is still unknown. On 18 September, the "Moscow Times" quoted Fedorov's press secretary as saying Fedorov is still ensconced in his fourth-floor office at government headquarters, busily ordering companies bankrupted for tax arrears. Fedorov had declared earlier that he would not leave the government on his accord (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). JAC STEPASHIN CUTS INTERIOR TROOPS. President Yeltsin on 17 September signed a decree calling for the reduction of interior forces troops by 54,000--more than one-fifth of their current size--by 1 January. According to Interfax, Yeltsin proposed that spending related to the withdrawal of interior troops be included in the 1999 federal budget's fund for assisting military reform. According to "Segodnya," Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin plans "to create smaller and less financially burdensome units out of the ministry's 19 divisions, bringing them up to strength exclusively with officers." "Segodnya" predicts a more integrated military policy in the future and more thorough military reforms because of the close relationship between Stepashin, Primakov, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and the fact that the National Security Council has no strong leader since the dismissal of Andrei Kokoshin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 1998). JAC GOVERNMENT PREPARES FOR UNREST. President Yeltsin on 17 September ordered increased security measures in preparation for the national labor protest scheduled for 7 October. According to AP, Yeltsin ordered Interior Minister Stepashin to set up additional mobile police squads. Stepashin told reporters that mass rioting will not take place. He said that "we will meet leaders of movements and parties to talk to them before the event." On 15 September, Prime Minister Primakov held talks with union representatives to address their concerns in the hope of forestalling the planned labor action. However, Russia's most radical labor leaders were excluded from the meeting, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. JAC KUCHMA, YELTSIN TO DISCUSS ECONOMIC CRISIS. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 18 September traveled to Moscow for two days of informal talks with Russian President Yeltsin. According to Interfax, Kuchma is expected to raise the issue of the economic crises plaguing both countries and propose the creation of a free trade zone in the CIS rather than a customs union, an idea supported by Russia and other CIS members. Yeltsin is likely to raise the issue of Ukraine's unpaid debts for Russian natural gas and Russian naval bases in the Black Sea. Sergei Prikhodko, deputy chief of the presidential staff, told reporters on 17 September that Primakov will also meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko and Russian Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko to discuss financial cooperation. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" cited the fact that Yeltsin's Ukraine visit as well as others to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan had to be postponed or rearranged as evidence that Russia's foreign policy problems are being neglected because of the economic crisis. JAC U.S. FIRMS SCALING BACK IN RUSSIA. The head of the American Chamber of Commerce, Scott Blacklin, told reporters on 17 September that fifty major U.S. companies have lost almost $500 million in Russia since the crisis began and witnessed a significant decline in demand for their goods and services. Many are reducing staff and delaying payments to creditors, while some have even stopped production temporarily. Blacklin said that businesses are now in the process of allocating resources for the next year and will probably cut local staff and planned new investments, adding that most are not ready to pull out yet. However, the business community needs the new government to act quickly with concrete measures, Blacklin warned. Most desirable to the Chamber of Commerce, according to "Kommersant-Daily," would be passage of a new tax code, restoration of a convertible ruble, and adequate compensation for the losses of Western investors from the collapse of the short-term treasury bond market. JAC SEMAGO QUITS PARTY? State Duma deputy Vladimir Semago announced he is leaving the Communist Party on 17 September because of its leaders "conciliatory" position in its relations with the country's government. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 September, Communist Party officials said that Semago was already expelled from the faction because of violations of party discipline. The reason for the dispute was Semago's circulation of a "dear colleague" letter to fellow Communist Party members calling for the party to hold an emergency congress and to seek to replace opposition leadership for its "spineless behavior." The newspaper quoted Yurii Lebedev, former presidential representative to Nizhnii Novgorod, as saying that Semago's protests against party leaders are part of a pre-election strategy designed to appeal to an increasingly radical electorate. Semago is running for mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod in elections scheduled for 27 September. JAC FSB TO MONITOR INTERNET? "Vremya MN" reported on 15 September that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is discussing the installation of special equipment enabling FSB computers to "control" communications via the Internet. According to the newspaper, counter-intelligence officials are currently focusing on the technical problems such "control" would entail. FSB officials figure that Internet providers themselves would absorb the cost of installing monitoring devices. JAC DAGESTAN TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON PRESIDENCY. The State Council on 15 September voted to hold a referendum on whether to introduce the post of elected president. The referendum will be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections on 3 March 1999. The State Council also appointed Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiev, former head of the regional organized crime directorate, as Security Council secretary. Meanwhile the investigation is continuing into the case of Kaspiisk City Mayor Ruslan Gadzhibekov, arrested on 14 September on suspicion of embezzlement, organizing a contract killing, and participating in the storming of the government building in Makhachkala in May. On 16 September, the Russian Prosecutor- General's Office asked the State Duma to lift the immunity of Nadirshakh Khachilaev, chairman of the Union of Muslims of Russia, whose supporters were in the vanguard of that attack. LF DEMONSTRATION IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKASSIA. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on the central square in Cherkessk on 17 September to demand the adoption of a law on electing the republic's head and a date for that vote to take place, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The present republican head, 65-year-old Vladimir Khubiev, has occupied that post since 1992 but has never been directly elected to it. He was reappointed to that post in 1995 by President Yeltsin pending the adoption of a constitution for the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkassia. The republic's parliament adopted a new constitution in 1996 but failed to set a date for elections for the republican head. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MESKHETIANS EXPELLED FROM GEORGIA. Georgian special police detachments on 17 September detained some 40 Meskhetian men, loaded them into buses, and deported them to the Russian Federation, Black Sea Press and Caucasus Press reported. The men were part of a delegation of some 80 Meskhetians who had arrived in Georgia from Russia and Azerbaijan the previous day in the hope of meeting with representatives of the Georgian leadership and securing permission to return to Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September). The other members of the delegation, all of whom are women, are still in Tbilisi. Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told journalists on 17 September that he personally gave the order to deport the Meskhetians as they are aligned with opposition supporters of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The entire Meskhetian population was deported by Stalin from their homes in southwestern Georgia in November 1944. LF WHEREABOUTS OF ARRESTED BAKU DEMONSTRATORS UNKNOWN. Opposition Musavat Party deputy chairman Ibragim Ibragimli told Turan on 17 September that the whereabouts of 27 people arrested when demonstrators clashed with police in Baku on 12 September remain unclear. Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar said that those persons who threw stones and bottles during the clashes were "agents-provocateurs," adding that their identity is known. On 15 September, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov accused Gambar and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey of planning the throwing of missiles. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Council of the Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform issued a statement on 17 September announcing mass protest actions in Sumgait unless the chairman of the Sumgait branch of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, who was one of those detained on 12 September, is released immediately. LF MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN STEPANAKERT. Naira Melkumian, foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group presented new peace proposals during their 17 September talks in Stepanakert with the enclave's leadership, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Melkumian said that the co-chairs "seemed to receive with greater understanding" Karabakh's insistence on a settlement based on a single framework accord settling all contentious issues. The Karabakh leadership last year rejected a "phased" OSCE plan for resolving the conflict. Also on 17 September, Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission issued a statement condemning as "illegal" the municipal elections in Nagorno- Karabakh scheduled for 27 September, Turan reported. LF NEW ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL APPOINTED. President Robert Kocharian has appointed Aghvan Hovsepian as prosecutor- general to succeed Henrik Khachatrian, who was murdered last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 1998). Hovsepian, who was born in 1953, graduated from the law faculty of Yerevan State University, after which he worked as an investigator in the Karelian ASSR and as a department head in the Nagorno- Karabakh Prosecutor-General's office. He has worked for the Armenian Procuracy since 1989. LF LUKOIL PLANS NEW TRANSCAUCASUS PROJECTS. Visiting Baku this week, LUKoil chairman Vagit Alekperov held talks with President Heidar Aliev and Natik Aliev, president of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR. But he failed to sign the anticipated protocol on exploiting the on-shore Govsany and Zykh fields near Baku, Caucasus Press reported. Alekperov told journalists that LUKoil and SOCAR will conduct their own feasibility study on those fields, which have estimated residue reserves of 10-15 million tons and will require investment of up to $800 million. Meeting in Tbilisi on 17 September with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Alekperov said that LUKoil is interested in exporting oil via the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa. Alekperov also attended the formal opening of LUKoil's Tbilisi office. LF TURKMEN DEFENSE OFFICIALS FIRED. President Saparmurat Niyazov dismissed Defense Minister Danatar Kopekov and Chief of General Staff Akmurad Mulkamanov on 17 September, Russian agencies reported. Niyazov also fired two prominent security officials. The dismissals followed an investigation into the 12 September incident in which five soldiers stole arms and ammunition and took seven villagers hostage, four of whom were killed in the ensuing rescue operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). Niyazov appointed Interior Minister Kurbanmukhamed Kasymov as defense minister and promoted one of his deputies, Poran Berdiev, to interior minister. LF END NOTE TIGHTENING OF EASTERN BORDERS GIVES KYIV WESTERN CONTACTS by Jan de Weydenthal Earlier this week, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek called on Ukraine to impose full control over its eastern borders as an important step toward preserving visa- free travel to Poland and providing for easier contacts with the West. Speaking at the Kyiv Institute of International Relations on 16 September, Geremek said Poland intends to resist Western pressure to introduce visas for Ukrainians. But, he said, Ukraine must take firmer steps to counter the smuggling of weapons and drugs from the East across Polish territory. Poland has been under pressure from the EU to tighten control over its eastern border. German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther told Polish officials during a visit to Warsaw last month that the government should bring its visa policies into line with those of the EU. He added that this is a condition of Poland's EU membership. Warsaw has signed agreements on visa-free travel and on the re-admission of illegal migrants with Kyiv. But it has restricted entry for Russians and Belarusians, whose governments failed to reach similar accords. Ukraine has been concerned that any restriction on travel to Poland would adversely affect its economy. Poland is an important source of trade and employment to thousands of Ukrainians. During a meeting with Geremek, Ukraine's Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said that Kyiv might set up several free economic zones along the border with Poland to further promote economic contacts. Polish-Ukrainian bilateral trade turnover reached almost $1.7 billion in 1997 and has grown rapidly so far this year. Trade with Poland has become even more important for Ukraine since the onset of Russia's economic crisis. Russia is Ukraine's main trading partner, accounting for 40 percent of trade turnover, and Russia's financial crisis has disrupted those ties with Ukraine Geremek emphasized in his speech that the Russian crisis provides a reminder of the need for speeding up reforms and expanding contacts with the West. He said that Poland would like to see Ukraine in all European institutions and is ready "to support Ukraine at this difficult moment." The economic decline in Russia is certain to affect Ukraine's economy. In addition, the continuing political uncertainty in Moscow does not augur well for many unsolved problems in Ukrainian-Russian relations. The Russian State Duma has failed to ratify a Ukrainian- Russian friendship treaty recognizing Ukraine's independence. And there is still no agreement on delimiting borders between the two states, seven years after Ukraine's declaration of independence. Influential Russian politicians still talk about what they call the "inherent" unity of the two countries within Russian-dominated Slavic nationhood. This state of affairs has not been lost on Ukrainian leaders. During Geremek's visit to Ukraine, there were frequent mentions of a strategic partnership between Kyiv and Warsaw. Stricter control over Ukraine's borders with Russia and Belarus appears to be an important element in the future development of such a partnership. Following talks with Geremek, Volodymyr Horbulin, head of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, said that "we have to stop the smuggling of drugs, stop organized crime and illegal immigration through our eastern border." Such a program would have important political implications in reinforcing Ukraine's national and territorial separateness from Russia. Poland is to enter NATO next year and is currently in accession talks with the EU. Geremek said that Poland's membership in these institutions could benefit Ukraine. Currently, the main problem is the one of visas. And resolving that problem depends on how Ukraine seeks to tighten its eastern borders, he said. Meanwhile, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, in Crimea next week. They are to discuss bilateral relations and the regional repercussions of the Russian crisis. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent. 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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