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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 206, Part I, 23 October 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 206, Part I, 23 October 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 Russian Media Empires IV Media have closed or merged, advertising is shrinking, and layoffs and salary cuts are widespread as Russian media try to survive the financial crisis that began in August. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia4/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * POST OF VICE PRESIDENT TO BE REINSTATED? * DUMA SEEKS TO STAMP OUT MONEY-LAUNDERING * KAZHEGELDIN RETURNS TO KAZAKHSTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA POST OF VICE PRESIDENT TO BE REINSTATED? In a television interview on 21 October, First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov raised the idea of restoring the office of vice president, saying such a move is "quite likely." The next day, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko volunteered to serve as vice president, provided that the State Duma reestablish the position and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov decides to run for president. Nazdratenko's spokesperson, however, later clarified that the governor was speaking only hypothetically. Primakov has repeatedly denied that he will run for president. Viktor Chernomyrdin, former prime minister and leader of the Our Home is Russia movement, praised Gustov's idea, telling reporters that the position probably should not have been scrapped. President Boris Yeltsin did away with the post when former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi sided with the rebellious parliament against Yeltsin. Chernomyrdin said "If a good vice president were working now, there would be no concern over the health of the president or early presidential elections." JAC DUMA SEEKS TO STAMP OUT MONEY-LAUNDERING. The Duma adopted on 21 October adopted in the third reading a law on money-laundering . According to the law's principal author, Communist party member and parliamentary deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, state comptrollers will inspect all transactions by individuals that exceed 2,000 times the minimum wage and those by firms that exceed 20,000 times the minimum wage. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 October, 2,000 minimum wages equals $10,000. The newspaper also reported that Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko protested the law's adoption in a letter, noting that the law was drafted when Russia was still able to attract funds from financial markets and individuals investors. That is no longer the case, Gerashchenko noted, adding that the law may discourage both the "reacquisition of funds from abroad" and from the Russian population. JAC GOVERNMENT TO SELL SMALL GAZPROM STAKE? As part of a package of measures to finance an expected budget deficit of some 60 billion rubles ($3.7 billion) in the fourth quarter, the Finance Ministry has suggested selling a 2.5 percent stake in Gazprom. According to ITAR-TASS on 22 October, the tender for the sale will be held on 5 November and the results announced on 20 December. A "government source" told Interfax that investment consultants are currently calculating the price of the share package. JAC BANKS NEED ANOTHER RUBLE INJECTION... Andrei Kozlov, first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, told the State Duma's Finance Committee on 22 October that Russia's commercial banking system requires at least 37 billion rubles ($2.2 billion) to begin functioning normally again. Arguing that the Central Bank "should not print money to rescue banks," Kozlov said that it will make use of some ruble bonds from its portfolio and is trying to redirect earlier agreed-upon "small" loans from the EBRD to the restructuring of the banking system. Central Bank Chairman Gerashchenko met with EBRD President Horst Kehler in London, after which Gerashchenko declared that the EBRD is still ready for close cooperation with Russia. JAC ...WHILE FOREIGN INVESTORS OFFERED EQUITY. Kozlov also told the Duma that the Central Bank will try to persuade foreign holders of defaulted bank debt to accept equity stakes in the most salvageable banks. The Russian government recently began a second round of negotiations with foreign creditors on debt restructuring. According to Kozlov, Russian commercial banks owe foreign banks about $6 billion for unfulfilled forward contracts. Gerashchenko told a conference in London that he does not exclude the possibility that the Western share in Russian banks amounts to almost 50 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC RUSSIA WARNS ALBANIAN 'TERRORISTS'. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters on 22 October that Russia is seriously concerned about increased activity among Kosova "terrorists," suggesting that forces in the region "would like to undermine a peaceful settlement." According to ITAR-TASS, he said that "on behalf of the international Contact Group, we want to issue a very serious warning to all forces and Albanian terrorists in Kosova." He added that the "UN Resolution No. 1199 passed by the Security Council applies in full both to Belgrade and the Albanians." "Segodnya" characterized the agreement reached by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke as a "useful respite for no one likes to fight in the Balkans in the winter." The newspaper added that the "value of the agreement will depend on whether Russia and Yugoslavia strengthen their mutual relations and create something like the Belarus-Russia alliance. "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group. JAC GREECE, RUSSIA SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON NATO. On an official visit to Moscow, Greek Foreign Minister Theodhoros Pangalos met with Russian Prime Minister Primakov and Foreign Minister Ivanov on 22 October. Pangolos and Ivanov discussed, among other issues, the Kosova crisis and the delivery of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Cyprus. Primakov, Ivanov, and Pangalos all expressed their desire that the Kosova situation be resolved without the use of force. Ivanov also told reporters that Russia and Greece agreed to pursue large projects in the energy and defense sectors. Earlier, Greece had been poised to purchase S-300 missiles for its own defense needs but instead opted for U.S.-made equipment. Pangalos told reporters that the decision was one of "national choice" rather than one resulting from pressure from Washington. Russian Public Television noted that "as Russia's old ally, Greece is now the only NATO member whose viewpoints are close to those of Russia and sometimes even coincide." JAC RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH CHINESE PRESIDENT. Igor Sergeev met with Jiang Zemin on 23 October, ITAR- TASS reported. The two discussed topics that Sergeev had covered with his Chinese counterpart Chi Haotian the previous day, agreeing that their countries are against use of force in Kosova and Afghanistan, that their new military cooperation is not aimed at any third party, and that further reductions of troops and weapons along the Russo-Chinese border are essential. Jiang confirmed China will cut its troops along the border by 500,000 men and Sergeev promised unspecified cuts on the Russian side. With regard to the U.S.-Japanese plan for creating a close range anti-ballistic missile system, Sergeev said that it would result in "tipping the balance in the region." Jiang commented that he is anxiously awaiting his meeting with Boris Yeltsin in the second half of November. BP CHINA PROTESTS ZHIRINOVSKY'S VISIT TO TAIWAN. The Chinese Embassy in Russia has protested the 18-22 October visit to Taiwan of a delegation from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 October. A statement by the Chinese Embassy in Moscow notes that "there is only one China in the world. The government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing all of China...and Taiwan as an inseparable part." Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev tried to downplay the event, saying the LDPR delegation visit was a private one and representatives of the party had no right to make any official statements. Reuters reported on 20 October that Zhirinovsky invited Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, to visit Russia. Zhirinovsky told the Duma on 23 October that he was acting on behalf of "the millions who voted for us (LDPR)." He also said he plans to visit Beijing and "go to the [Russian] embassy with my thugs and blockade it." Seleznev responding by turning off Zhirinovsky's microphone. BP MORE ARRESTS, STRIKES IN KRASNOYARSK. Another official from the Krasnoyarsk administration preceding that of current Governor Aleksandr Lebed has been arrested. Former Deputy Governor Valentina Cherezova was taken into custody on 21 October on suspicion of complicity in embezzlement. Another former first deputy governor, Vladimir Kuzmin, was arrested for allegedly misappropriating funds intended for residents of Krasnoyarsk. That money was instead deposited in an interest-bearing account in a Moscow bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1998). "Vremya MN" reported at the time that many in Krasnoyarsk believed that the local prosecutor's pursuit of Kuzmin is primarily political. Lebed denied these charges at a meeting with striking local schoolteachers, according to Interfax. He said, "These arrests are not settling political scores with the former administration." According to "Izvestiya" on 23 October, 5,000 teachers demanded a meeting with Lebed, despite a statement by one of his aides that Leben was suffering from food poisoning. JAC MIKHALKOV TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT? In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 23 October, "Our Home is Russia" (NDR) faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin revealed the name of a possible new contender in the 2000 presidential elections: Nikita Mikhalkov, Russian film actor and director. According to Shokhin, Mikhalkov is "no less photogenic than Ronald Reagan and has won an Oscar for directing." During the 1996 Duma elections, Mikhalkov came in second on the NDR party list but gave up his seat in order to concentrate on film-making. At the time, he said that he joined NDR to help prevent a victory for the radical opposition. JAC CHECHEN PRESIDENT CALLS ON RIVALS TO DISARM... Aslan Maskhadov issued an ultimatum on 22 October to illegal military forces to lay down their arms within seven days. The commanders of the groups in question were not named, but the districts of Serzhen-Yurt, Vedeno, and Urus-Martan, where the units in questions are said to be deployed, are the fiefdoms of the Jordanian commander Khottab, former acting Premier Shamil Basaev, and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, respectively, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October. The same day, Maskhadov met behind closed doors with 10 of Chechnya's most influential field commanders, who pledged their support for Maskhadov's anti-crime measures, Interfax reported. LF ...BUT THEY ARE UNLIKELY TO COMPLY. Radical field commander Salman Raduev, who together with Basaev and Khunkar-Pasha Israpilov is demanding Maskhadov's resignation, told Interfax that he will not disband his General Dudaev Army, as it is formally registered with the Ministry of Justice, and therefore does not qualify as an illegal armed formation. But presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev said that Maskhadov's ultimatum applies to any military unit that is not part of Chechnya's armed forces. On 23 October, Dagestani police halted a Chechen-registered vehicle whose passengers claimed to be personal bodyguards of Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov and confiscated several machine-guns, Caucasus Press reported. Arsanov has consistently espoused a far more radical position than Maskhadov on the need to make Chechnya an Islamic society and to sever all ties with the Russian Federation. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY. Robert Kocharian met for the second time in 10 days with members of the Yerkrapah parliament group on 22 October, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported quoting the presidential press service. The discussion focused on "all major spheres of state policy," including the ongoing disagreement between the Yerkrapah and other parliamentary groups over the draft election law. Kocharian told the Yerkrapah deputies that the group constitutes "the government's support base in the National Assembly" and that close cooperation between the government and the legislature is "a necessary precondition" for the parliament's activity to be effective. The Yerkrapah deputies called for more frequent discussions of policy issues with members of the government. A dozen Yerkrapah deputies sided with the opposition in a failed vote earlier this month to revoke several major privatization deals in which Yerevan enterprises were sold to foreign investors. LF KAZAKHSTAN PREPARED TO JOIN ABKHAZ MEDIATION. Speaking at a Tbilisi press conference on 22 October, Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev said his country "is not opposed" to joining the UN Secretary-General's Friends of Georgia group, Caucasus Press reported. The group, which comprises the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., and Russia, is engaged in trying to mediate a political settlement between Georgia and Abkhazia. Balghymbayev added that Kazakhstan may provide a peacekeeping battalion to serve in Abkhazia under either UN or CIS auspices. LF TWO MORE POLICEMEN KILLED IN ABKHAZIA. Two Abkhaz policemen were killed and two more wounded in a shoot- out on 22 October with ethnic Georgians in the village of Nabakevi in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. The policemen had tried to steal belongings from the Georgians' homes. LF USE OF GEORGIAN ARMY AGAINST INSURGENTS DISCUSSED. Mikhail Saakashvili, chairman of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia group within the Georgian parliament, told journalists on 22 October that the use of regular army troops to quash the 19 October insurgency in western Georgia was not a violation of the Georgian Constitution, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili argued that if the army had not intervened, the several hundred rebels could have taken Kutaisi, Georgia's second-largest city, and marched on Tbilisi. Vakhtang Khmaladze, chairman of the League for Protection of the Constitution, argued in an article published in "Akhali Kartuli gazeti" the same day that the use of army troops is prohibited by the constitution unless a state of emergency has been declared and that Interior Ministry troops should have been deployed instead. LF MEHTIEV SAYS HE HAS PROOF ALIEV IS A KURD. Ashraf Mehtiev, chairman of the Association of Victims of Illegal Political Repression who was defeated in the recent Azerbaijani presidential elections, has told the independent Azerbaijani television station ANS that he has proof corroborating persistent rumors that President Heidar Aliev is an ethnic Kurd and a Yezidi, "Vremya-MN" reported on 22 October. Mehtiev referred to an article published in the daily newspaper of the Azerbaijan Communist Party Central Committee in 1934 stating that Aliev's elder brother Hasan was the first Kurd to embark on graduate studies in the USSR. LF KAZHEGELDIN RETURNS TO KAZAKHSTAN. Former Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Akezhan Kazhegeldin returned to Kazakhstan on 22 October following a week spent in Moscow and London, RFE/RL correspondents in Astana reported. Kazhegeldin brought with him documents that he believes will clear him of all charges of corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1998). Kazhegeldin handed over to the Central Electoral Commission the necessary documents proving he is mentally competent to serve as president, and he passed the Kazakh language proficiency test necessary to run in the presidential elections. He has also filed a protest with the Kazakh Supreme Court against a ruling that could lead to a three-day jail sentence or a fine for participating in a meeting of the For Fair Elections movement in early October. Kazhegeldin arrived at the court with a team of lawyers from Washington D.C. to file the protest. BP KAZAKH NEWSPAPER'S PROPERTY IMPOUNDED BY AUTHORITIES. Law enforcement officials on 22 October seized property of the newspaper "DAT" were seized by , RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The newspaper was fined 35 million tenge (some $437,000) earlier in October for "publishing false information about Kazakh officials." BP KAZAKH OFFICIAL HINTS AT CHANGES TO COUNTRY'S BUDGET. First Deputy Prime Minister Uraz Jandosov said on 22 October that the current world economic situation will decide if Kazakhstan's 1999 budget needs to be changed, Interfax reported. Jandosov said if the international economic crisis abates by the middle of next year and prices for Kazakhstan's major exports do not continue to drop, the budget will remain unchanged. Interfax also reported that Kazakhstan will not achieve the predicted 3 percent rise in GDP this year. Figures for January- August indicate a growth of 1.2 percent. That figure is unlikely to change for the year as a whole. BP SHELLS FROM AFGHANISTAN LAND ON TAJIK TERRITORY. Three mortar shells from Afghanistan landed near the Pyanj border crossing in Tajikistan on 22 October, ITAR-TASS reported. No one was injured, but the Russian border guards said the incident is evidence that fighting is moving closer to Tajikistan. In related news, UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Dushanbe on 23 October to discuss the Afghan situation with members of the Tajik government. While in Dushanbe, Brahimi is also scheduled to meet with Afghan General Ahmed Shah Masoud, who is fighting against Taliban movement forces. BP 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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