|Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans. - John Lennon|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 213, Part I, 4 November 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 213, Part I, 4 November 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 * ENERGY CRISIS CRIPPLING FAR EAST * IMF, EBRD PAN BANK BAIL-OUT PLAN * GOVERNMENT TROOPS, REBELS CLASH IN TAJIKISTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA ENERGY CRISIS CRIPPLING FAR EAST. Minister for Emergencies Sergei Shoigu arrived in Kamchatka on 4 November to seek a solution to the region's energy problem. Deputies of the local legislature have already appealed to the UN for 120,000 tons of fuel oil and 30,000 tons of diesel fuel. Temperatures have sunk to -15 to -18 degrees Celsius. Empty pipes are starting to burst and residents are living in dark homes with only gas hot plates to cook on, "Vremya MN" reported on 3 November. Nearby Magadan Oblast is also in the grip of a similar crisis, "Izvestiya" reported. Magadan Governor Valentin Tsvetkov has sent an appeal to Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, warning that a "social explosion" is imminent. The governor wants funds to purchase emergency supplies of fuel and food. JAC ZYUGANOV REASSURED, IMF ALARMED... Amid growing criticism of its economic program, Primakov's government managed to attract at least one supporter: Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who on 3 November called the plan "reassuring" because it supports domestic producers and requires the timely payment of wages. Zyuganov also noted that the program has not yet been fully elaborated and that "practical programs need to be drafted for each of the anti-crisis measures." Meanwhile, Russian newspapers carried a confidential memorandum from the IMF critiquing the authors of the program for failing to reduce government expenditures and for suggesting a reduction in taxes at the same time. The program does not suggest any cuts in the number of people employed by the state or the elimination of non-priority programs, while it "presupposes an increase in state spending for industry, public works programs, and social benefits." JAC ...AS GOVERNMENT STANDS BY ITS PLAN... Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik brushed aside the fund's criticisms, saying that "whatever measures encourage the country's economic growth are not to the IMF's liking." He said that the government will stand by every commitment made and was prepared for the worst-case scenario, if the $4.9 billion IMF tranche that had been scheduled to be disbursed in September is not forthcoming. He noted that with the expiration of the government's 90-day moratorium on debt payments in mid- November, Russia will have to pay $2.1 billion of its national debt and debt owed by its commercial banks. If no credits are forthcoming, he warned, "Russian exporters may be ruined and assets abroad could be seized." JAC ...AND RESUMES TALKS WITH CREDITORS. In anticipation of the mid-November deadline, a delegation from the Finance Ministry and 17 international banks met in London on 4 November for a new round of talks on restructuring Russian debt. Talks are likely to be heated in part because a Central Bank official told "Kommersant-Daily" that the government is still refusing to consider one of the creditors' main demands, namely that part of their debts be paid in cash. On 2 November, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko pledged that the 90-day moratorium on debt repayment will not be extended. JAC IMF, EBRD PAN BANK BAIL-OUT PLAN. The EBRD will not provide loans for restructuring the Russian commercial banking system, Interfax reported on 4 November, quoting a Moscow-based EBRD official. The Central Bank had been negotiating with the EBRD to redirect money from old EBRD loans to the banking sector. Meanwhile, IMF criticized the government's banking plan in a confidential memo (see above), suggesting that the Central Bank's plan to recapitalize commercial banks threatens its own solvency. The fund also said that the number of banking institutions the Central Bank hopes to save is unrealistically high. The "Moscow Times" reported that the Central Bank issued 55 billion rubles ($3.5 billion) in loans to a small group of banks, including Most Bank and SBS-Agro, on 31 October. The loans allowed some individual depositors to withdraw small amounts of money from their accounts. JAC DIAMONDS AREN'T A GOVERNMENT'S BEST FRIEND? South African company De Beers and Russia's ALROSA signed a new three-year trade agreement on 3 November. According to Interfax, the current agreement differs little from its predecessor, which required ALROSA to sell De Beers annually diamonds worth at least $550 million. Citing an anonymous source at Gokhran, Interfax reported that De Beers Chairman Nicholas Oppenheimer would discuss with Prime Minister Primakov a loan to the Russian government using diamonds as collateral. Eight years ago, De Beers granted the Soviet government $1 billion in exchange for the right to develop Russian diamond resources. However, on 3 November, Oppenheimer told reporters that no discussion of such a loan had taken place. "Kommersant- Daily" reported the next day that while the government wanted such a credit, De Beers was uninterested, because unlike eight years ago, the world price for diamonds is falling rather than rising. JAC NEW MINISTER REPORTS FOR DUTY. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov introduced Gennadii Khodyrev to the staff of the Ministry for Anti-trust Policies and Support for Entrepreneurship as their new minister on 4 November. Khodyrev is a former Duma deputy and a member of the Communist Party faction. JAC RUSSIA, BELARUS, ET AL TO FORM EU OF THE EAST? Delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia have approved a draft document outlining the organization's border policy, which envisions a visa valid for the entire territory of the union. According to ITAR-TASS on 3 November, Russia will provide more than 20 million rubles ($1.3 million) and Belarus 9 million rubles to the Union's 1999 budget. Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who is attending the assembly in Yaroslavl, told reporters that he favors a national referendum in Russia on the question of a union of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Seleznev said he does not rule out the idea of Yugoslavia joining the union at some point in the future and added that he thinks Bulgaria will also likely want to join. Europe long ago started to integrate, he said, and "we should also think about integration." JAC RUSSIA WANTS LOCKERBIE LEGAL PROCESS SPEEDED UP. Russia is seeking a speedier implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1192 and an eventual lifting of sanctions against Libya. The resolution called for Libyan suspects in the bombing of a Pan Am plane near Lockerbie, Scotland, to be tried in the "neutral" country of The Netherlands. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on 3 November that a majority of members of the Security Council want the "Libyan problem" solved quickly and that all countries concerned should work to ensure a start date for the trial. JAC LEBED TO KEEP CAMPAIGN PROMISE? The legislature of Krasnoyarsk Krai has passed the first law in Russia enabling local citizens to recall their elected governor, "Vremya MN" reported on 3 November. Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed had promised that he would create a mechanism for citizens to get rid of their governor should he or she not perform adequately. Lebed has not yet signed the bill, but presidential representative to Krasnoyarsk Valerii Kazakov said that Lebed plans to appeal the law because it gives the local legislature an unfair advantage over the office of governor. JAC BEREZOVSKII DENIES PAYING RANSOM TO FREE HOSTAGES IN CHECHNYA. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 3 November, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii denied charges made by the presidents of Chechnya and Ingushetia in an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda." According to those charges, Berezovskii had "driven up" the ransom currently being demanded for hostages abducted in Chechnya by offering material incentives to secure their release. Berezovskii stressed he had secured the release of 55 Russian hostages without having paid a single kopeck. Also on 3 November, Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told journalists that his ministry recently had an opportunity to secure the release of kidnapped presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov but that unnamed forces paid a large sum of money to thwart that operation. Vlasov's abductors are demanding $7 million for his release. LF RADUEV DENOUNCES COLLABORATORS. Maverick field commander Salman Raduev told Interfax on 3 November that an estimated 50,000 Chechens who collaborated with the occupying Russian forces in 1994-1996 should be deprived of their civil rights. Raduev again called for the resignation of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom he claimed is now supported only by those who had backed the puppet government of Doku Zavgaev. A meeting scheduled for 3 November between Maskhadov and the three field commanders (Raduev, Shamil Basaev and Khunkar- Pasha Israpilov) who for the past two months have been lobbying for his resignation failed to take place. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW ARMY CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF. Maskhadov has named field commander Abubakar Montaev as head of the Chechen army, Russian agencies reported on 3 November. Montaev, who replaces Alkhazur Abuev, is a veteran of the 1994-1996 war. Earlier, he had fought with Chechen volunteers in Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GOVERNMENT TROOPS, REBELS CLASH IN TAJIKISTAN. Up to 10 Tajik government troops have been killed in fighting with armed rebels loyal to Colonel Makhmud Khudoiberdiyev in two towns in northern Tajikistan. The rebels attacked government troops early on 4 November in a fight for control of the airport at Chkalovsk. They also seized key administrative buildings in Khudjand, several kilometers away. President Imomali Rakhmonov has convened a meeting of his Security Council to discuss the situation, which presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov characterized as "very serious." Khudoiberdiyev has launched similar attacks in the past. In a telephone interview with Reuters on 4 November, he deplored criminality and the absence of democracy and freedom of speech in Tajikistan. LF KAZAKH GOVERNMENT APPROVES PIPELINE FEASIBILITY STUDY. The president of the U.S.-Kazakh company Chevron- Munaigas, Phil Meek, told journalists in Almaty on 3 November that the Kazakh government has endorsed the feasibility study for the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) project, in which Chevron has a 15 percent stake, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. The project envisages the construction of a 1,500 km oil pipeline from eastern Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk. On completion of the project in 2001, initial through-put capacity will be 28 million metric tons per year (560,000 bpd), according to Reuters. Meek also dismissed Turkish concerns over the possible ecological hazards inherent in increasing the amount of crude transported by tanker through the Turkish straits, saying that the CPC "is the most economically sound and safe pipeline." LF IRAN ARGUES IN FAVOR OF OIL SWAPS. Iran will hold an international conference on security and the transportation of Caspian oil and gas in Tehran on 7-8 November, Turan reported on 3 November. Iranian experts argue that their country is economically the most viable export route for Caspian oil and gas and that a total investment of $350 million is sufficient to create the infrastructure for the transport via Iranian territory of all oil and gas extracted in the Caspian basin. That infrastructure will include a new pipeline from Nika, located on the Caspian, to Tehran. Meanwhile Iran wants to expand the program of oil swaps whereby it takes delivery of Caspian crude for domestic refining and provides an equivalent volume of oil for export from the Persian Gulf. Kazakhstan has exported a limited quantity of crude in this way. LF ARMENIA OFFERS TO MEDIATE BETWEEN ISRAEL, IRAN. Visiting Israel last week, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that Yerevan is prepared to act as mediator between Israel and Iran, according to "Haaretz" on 2 November, as summarized by the BBC. Oskanian said that during his two visits to Tehran in August- September, he received the impression that President Mohammad Khatami is not averse to such mediation. Oskanian met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset speaker Dan Tikhon, and Industry and Trade Minister Nathan Sharansky, whom he assured of Armenia's desire to revive bilateral economic relations. On 31 October, Oskanian met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, with whom he discussed the Arab-Israeli and Karabakh conflicts, Armenpress reported on 2 November. LF PKK LEADER "NOT IN ARMENIA"... Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 3 November, Armenian presidential press secretary Vahe Gabrielian denied Turkish media reports that Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) chairman Abdullah Ocalan is in Armenia, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. Gabrielian said that Ocalan had never visited Armenia and that the Armenian leadership has no intention of inviting him to do so. The Turkish daily "Hurriyet" claimed last week that Ocalan was temporarily staying at the Russian military base in Armenia. Russian Foreign Ministry officials have denied that he is in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 October 1998). LF ...BUT DUMA WOULD WELCOME HIM IN RUSSIA. The Russian State Duma voted unanimously on 4 November to appeal to President Yeltsin to grant Ocalan political asylum in Russia, Reuters reported. The Duma also released a written statement signed by Ocalan in which the PKK chairman formally requests asylum in Russia. LF CLEMENCY FOR GEORGIAN MUTINY LEADER? Military Prosecutor Badri Bitsadze told Georgian state television on 3 November that Lieutenant Akaki Eliava, who led the insurgency at a Georgian military base last month, may be pardoned if he voluntarily surrenders to the Georgian authorities, AP reported. Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili told journalists the same day that media reports that the Georgian government has issued orders to hunt down and kill Eliava are untrue, according to Interfax. Also on 3 November, National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze said at a news conference that Eliava could not have authored the ultimatum issued in his name the previous day calling for the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze "because he is not very intelligent." The forged ultimatum, Kutateladze reasoned, is additional proof that the Eliava mutiny was organized by "destructive forces" both within Georgia and abroad. LF RUSSIAN PROTESTS ATTACK ON PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIA. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 3 November condemning the death of a member of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia the previous day, ITAR- TASS reported. Four other servicemen were injured when their armored personnel carrier hit a mine in Abkhazia's Gali Raion. Nikolai Rusak, a spokesman for the exclusively Russian peacekeeping contingent, told journalists in Sukhumi on 3 November that 32 terrorist acts have been perpetrated in Abkhazia since the signing of a cease-fire protocol on 25 May 1998. Russian peacekeepers were the target of 17 of those attacks. More than 60 Russian peacekeepers have been killed since the force was first deployed along the Georgian-Abkhaz border in summer 1994. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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