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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 221, Part I, 16 November 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 221, Part I, 16 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 * SCHROEDER ARRIVES IN MOSCOW * LUZHKOV FORMS NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT * MODEST TURNOUT AT GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS End Note: REPLACING SKRUNDA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA SCHROEDER ARRIVES IN MOSCOW. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Moscow on 16 November for his first visit to Russia in his new capacity. Schroeder is expected to reorient Germany's Russia policy away from its reliance on the personal relationship existing between former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Boris Yeltsin. In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Yeltsin, Schroeder will also meet with Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. JAC DUMA TAKES MILD STANCE ON ANTI-SEMITISM. On 13 November, the Duma adopted a milder version of a resolution that had condemned anti-Semitic statements and mentioned State Duma deputy and Communist Party member Albert Makashov by name. According to the resolution, "some deputies, officials, and mass media outlets do not advance friendly and respectful relationships between persons of different nationalities with their statements," ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution passed with 302 votes in favor and 34 against. Federal Security Service (FSB) head Vladimir Putin announced the same day that Moscow city prosecutors have launched an investigation into several politicians who attended a rally at which Makashov also spoke. Those politicians are suspected of inciting ethnic hatred. Meanwhile, over the past week, the number of Russian Jews applying for permission to emigrate to Israel has jumped, according to the Israeli embassy in Moscow, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported. JAC MENATEP, MOST, SBS-AGRO MAKE BAIL-OUT LIST. Andrei Kozlov, Central Bank first deputy chairman, told the Duma's Budget Committee on 12 November that 720 out of Russia's 1,600 commercial banks will not be saved. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 November, Kozlov also said 190 regional banks have minor problems and require some assistance. Kozlov did not disclose the identity of eighteen banks considered too socially important to be allowed to fail. However, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko later told NTV that the bank would not allow the failure of "Russia's three largest banks, Menatep, Most, and SBS-Agro." Lev Makarevich, an analyst with the Association of Russian Banks told "Moscow Times" that the Central Bank itself may not yet know the identity of the 18 banks since an assessment of the banks' assets will require months. "All the banks, including the biggest ones, practiced double or even triple accounting," he said. JAC LUZHKOV FORMS NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT. After plans to form a center-left alliance with the Communist Party crumbled, Moscow Mayor and likely presidential contender Yurii Luzhkov told NTV on 15 November that he is forming his own political movement, which is to be called Otechestvo [Fatherland]. According to Luzhkov, the movement will form the nation's political center, blending elements from both the Left and the Right. It will advocate "free market principles as well as the preservation of the state sector in the economy." While attending a Labour Party meeting in England earlier this fall, Luzhkov declared his affinity for the policies of British Prime Minister Tony Blair(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). JAC MOSCOW CONTINUES TO OPPOSE USE OF FORCE AGAINST IRAQ. Russia began evacuating personnel from its embassy in Baghdad on 15 November in anticipation of possible Western air strikes, AP reported. But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the same day after talks in Kuala Lumpur with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that there are "good prospects for a political settlement of the crisis." Following his letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton on 13 November making clear that Russia opposes the use of force against Iraq, Russian President Yeltsin reaffirmed Moscow's commitment to a political solution to the Baghdad-UN standoff in a letter which Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev delivered to Syrian President Hafez Assad on 15 November. Speaking at a conference in St. Petersburg the same day, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev expressed doubt that the U.S. could topple the Iraqi leadership. LF RUSSIA JOINS APEC. Russia formally joined the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on 14 November, ITAR-TASS reported. On 17 and 18 November, Prime Minister Primakov will fill in for President Yeltsin at an informal summit of APEC leaders in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who attended APEC pre-summit ministerial meetings, noted that APEC states account for about 50 percent of world trade turnover and about 18 percent of Russia's foreign trade, according to ITAR-TASS. According to Interfax, Ivanov presented a government plan for liberalizing Russian trade. JAC CANADA TO AID SAKHA... Canada will provide humanitarian aid to the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the diamond-producing region in eastern Siberia, this winter, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 November. The amount of relief has not yet been determined, but the Canadian government reportedly plans to send Yakutia food, warm clothes, medicines, and possibly fuel. JAC ...AS KORYAK, CHUKOTKA DEEMED IN WORST SHAPE. The next day, Deputy Minister for Emergencies Nikolai Loktionov said that the Koryak and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs are even less prepared for winter than Sakhalin Island or Magadan and Kamchatka Oblasts, whose low food and fuel reserves have triggered a variety of alarming news reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1998). JAC PROSECUTOR INVESTIGATES PLOT TO KILL BEREZOVSKII. The office of the chief military prosecutor has reopened its investigation into a plot to murder influential businessman and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 November, FSB officers provided evidence that Lieutenant-Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko received orders to kill Berezovskii. Litvinenko, who refused to carry out those orders, is reportedly being persecuted and narrowly evaded an attempt on his own life. The previous day, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that William Webster, former director of the CIA, told a Duma delegation visiting the U.S. that Berezovskii illegally purchased $72 million worth of real estate in Antigua. Berezovskii, speaking to Interfax on 11 November, dismissed the charges as a Duma provocation, saying that "the entire island of Antigua probably costs less than $72 million." JAC NDR FACING REGIONAL PRESSURE... At a leadership meeting of the Our Home is Russia (NDR) party on 14 November, NDR leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin found himself facing increasing criticism of his leadership. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov joined Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, who earlier had voiced criticism of Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 15 October 1998). Ayatskov proposed that the party elect a new chairman, saying the movement risks losing many of its members to other parties, according to Interfax. Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of NDR's Duma faction, said that real problem is not who heads the movement but that its various parts are not working well together, ITAR-TASS reported. He cited problems in relations between the movement's leadership and regional leaders. JAC ...WHILE SEEKING TO FORM ELECTORAL BLOC. Unlike Yabloko and the Communist Party, which have declared their unwillingness to form a coalition in anticipation of presidential and parliamentary elections, NDR stressed its desire to create a bloc of center-right parties. According to a resolution, the party will aim to retain--if not increase --its number of representatives in the Duma. JAC RUSSIAN AIRLINES SLASH PRICES, REDUCE SERVICE. Aeroflot reduced its prices by 30 percent from 10 November until 31 March 1999 for business class travelers on international flights, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 November. The special rates will not be available during the period from 16 December to 1 January. Vnukovo Airlines has also cut its fares for internal flights. Earlier Transaero reduced its service to some Russian cities, cutting back its total number of flights by 30 percent. Domestic airlines are struggling since passenger travel plunged 30 percent in September and October compared with last year. JAC NEWSPAPER BLAMES U.S. CONSUL OFFICIAL FOR ACCIDENT. "Komsomolskaya pravda" has suggested that a U.S. consulate official was at fault in a traffic accident in Vladivostok that left a 23-year-old "maimed" and in need of expensive medical treatment. Citing a local television broadcast, the newspaper reported that while the US official has admitted his guilt and volunteered to pay for the boy's treatment, no money has yet been forthcoming. The daily also noted that the boy is receiving round-the-clock care "not from a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, but from his mother." It concluded that "we do not dispute [the U.S. diplomat's] right to refuse 'to breathe into a tube' [take a breath analyzer test after the accident] but we do dispute his moral right to cripple a man and then carry on blithely with the rest of his life." JAC CHECHEN PRESIDENT GREETS VLASOV'S RELEASE. Aslan Maskhadov expressed his pleasure on 13 November at the release of Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov, who had been abducted on 1 May on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, Interfax reported. Maskhadov also praised Vlasov's strength of character and said that he hopes Vlasov will resume his mission in Chechnya soon. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told Interfax that Vlasov was not held on Chechen territory and that the Chechen leadership was not informed of the operation to secure his release. Details of that operation have not been publicized. Chechen Deputy Security Minister Nasrudi Bazhiev rejected Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin's claim that no ransom was paid. He accused Stepashin of encouraging criminal groups that engage in kidnappings. LF WAS MOSCOW INVOLVED IN OCALAN'S ARREST? Russian government and Foreign Ministry spokesmen refused on 14 November to comment on the implications of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan's arrest on arrival in Rome on a Russian Airlines flight from Moscow on the night of 12-13 November, according to Interfax. Russian officials had repeatedly said they could not confirm media reports that Ocalan was in Russia. But "Segodnya" on 14 November quoted Can Altan, an adviser at the Turkish Embassy in Moscow, as implying that Russian intelligence may have tipped off the Italian authorities and thus facilitated Ocalan's arrest. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA MODEST TURNOUT AT GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS. Initial returns indicate that turnout at the 15 November Georgian municipal elections was low, though above the required 33.3 percent minimum nationwide, according to Caucasus Press. The ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia reportedly received a majority in Tbilisi and in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe-Djavakheti. Voting was marred by minor procedural violations in a number of places, including Krtsanisi, where President Eduard Shevardnadze was allowed to cast his vote without producing his passport. LF GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS. As widely anticipated, Shevardnadze on 14 November accepted the resignation of 28- year-old Mikhail Chkuaseli, who had served as finance minister since May 1997. Chkuaseli told journalists that he had intended to resign two months ago but had changed his mind after the parliament approved changes in the tax code and the government implemented IMF recommendations to mobilize tax revenues. But those measures have not had the desired effect: Chkuaseli complained on 11 November that budget revenues do not exceed 100,000 lari ($75,000) per day, while state expenditures are 2 million lari per day. Addressing the state financial stabilization commission the same day, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze said the budget shortfall for the first 10 months of 1998 was 160 million lari. LF NO COMPROMISE ON ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW. Representatives of the Yerkrapah parliamentary group, the largest in the legislature, held three-day talks last week with opposition representatives but failed to reach agreement on a new election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 November. Yerkrapah wants most seats in the new parliament to be allocated under a majoritarian system, while an alternative draft law supported by 11 other political parties represented in the parliament prefers the proportional system. Eduard Yegorian, leader of the Hairenik group and author of the alternative draft law, termed the talks "a farce" and accused Yerkrapah of unwillingness to compromise on any major issue. LF ARMENIA POSTPONES PLANNED POPULATION CENSUS. Minister of Statistics Stepan Mnatsakanian told ITAR-TASS on 14 November that the nationwide census planned for next year has been postponed until 2001 because the draft budget for 1999 does not provide the necessary funds. As of 1 November, Armenia's population was officially estimated at 3,780,000. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER CHARGED WITH INSULTING PRESIDENT. The Ministry of Justice announced on 13 November that former President Abulfaz Elchibey, chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, has been charged with defaming the honor and dignity of his successor as president, Heidar Aliev, Reuters and Interfax reported. That crime is punishable by up to six years' imprisonment. Elchibey had affirmed in articles published in two independent newspapers last week that Aliev was instrumental in the creation of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). On 14 November, the recently formed Movement for Democracy that unites 23 opposition parties called off a demonstration planned for the following day after the Baku city authorities refused permission to hold it, Interfax reported. On 13 November, the Azerbaijani parliament had passed legislation limiting the right to hold public demonstrations. LF ANOTHER KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARRED FROM RUNNING. Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Zagipa Baliyeva told Interfax on 13 November that Asylbek Amantai, who heads the Oton public movement, cannot register as a candidate for the 10 January presidential elections. She explained that in February, Amantai was sentenced by a local court on charges of violating regulations for convening meetings and demonstrations. Former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin has also been refused registration as a presidential candidate on the same grounds. LF TURKISH PRESIDENT IN KYRGYZSTAN. Arriving in Bishkek on 13 November, Suleyman Demirel discussed bilateral relations with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev. The following day, he opened the Kyrgyz-Turkish university in Bishkek, in which Turkey has invested $13 million, and visited several Kyrgyz-Turkish joint ventures. Discussing economic cooperation, Demirel warned that Turkey will extend further loans to Kyrgyzstan only after irregularities in the use of a $75 million loan in 1993 have been clarified, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The total volume of Turkish-Kyrgyz trade is $60 million, and Turkey has invested $18 million in Kyrgyzstan's Manas free economic zone. Demirel had left Turkmenistan for Kyrgyzstan on 13 November without either signing an anticipated joint communique or holding a press conference with his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported. LF UZBEKISTAN AGAIN DENIES ABETTING TAJIK REBELS. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 13 November rejecting as "completely groundless" accusations made the previous day by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov that the Uzbek leadership provided support to the leaders of the failed revolt in Tajikistan two weeks ago, Reuters reported. Addressing the Tajik parliament the same day, Rakhmonov softened his rhetoric, urging deputies not to fuel enmity between the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 13 November, Tajik National Reconciliation Commission chairman Said Abdullo Nuri, who also heads the United Tajik Opposition, appealed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan officially to condemn the revolt in order to deter UN members from further interfering in Tajikistan's internal affairs. In Bishkek on 14 November, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii warned that the deterioration in Tajik-Uzbek relations poses a threat to the entire CIS. LF END NOTE REPLACING SKRUNDA by Paul Goble In yet another indication that Moscow can still find funds for activities it deems essential, the Russian military will soon open a radar base in Belarus to replace the Skrunda site in Latvia, which was shut down in the summer. According to a recent report in the Moscow newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta," construction of the new base, to be located near the Belarusian city of Baranovichi, was delayed for five years because of "insufficient funding." As a result of those delays, much of the equipment for it is no longer in working order after being stored for so long. But, the newspaper reports, Moscow recently found the funds and ordered construction carried out at "forced march tempi." The early warning radar system will soon be in service to protect Russia's Northwest. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggests that this project reflects the growing military cooperation between Moscow and Minsk. Indeed, it published this story under precisely that rubric. But in fact, the opening of what the newspaper called an "alternative" to Skrunda points to three much larger issues. First, Moscow's construction of a new site in Belarus undermines Russia's long-standing claims, supported by many in the West, that the Skrunda site was integral to East-West arms accords and that Moscow had no choice but to continue to operate the Skrunda site in Latvia long after Soviet power fell there. Indeed, it was largely on the basis of these Russian claims that the Latvian government was pressured into allowing the Russian military to continue to operate the Skrunda site until this summer, four years after the last Russian soldier left, and to have another 18 months to dismantle it. Second, Moscow's ability to find the funds needed for this plant at a time when the Russian government faces so many financial problems seems certain to raise a number of questions in Western countries to which Moscow has applied for assistance. Indeed, the Baranovichi installation is not the only one of its kind: the Russian military is putting on line a variety of new weapons systems even as some of its units are forced to open soup kitchens for soldiers and officers. Some governments are likely to ask just how cash-pressed the Russian government is if it can construct such expensive bases. They may also inquire where the Russian authorities got the cash for such installations. Did the Russian government divert some Western assistance intended for shoring up the Russian economy into strengthening the Russian army? Johannes Linn, World Bank vice president for Europe and Central Asia, recently told RFE/RL that the bank does not have control over the exact use of its so-called structural adjustment loans, granted in exchange for policy changes that the bank believes will be beneficial to the debtor country as whole. At the same time, Linn said that while the bank does not control every dollar the Russian government spends and in particular, does not control the military budget, it has recently agreed to review with Moscow the government's public expenditures program in order to identify high- and low- priority expenses. But while closer control over budget allocations may appease concerns in some quarters, there is likely to be considerable resistance in the West to any plans for providing monetary assistance to the Russian government following the announcement about Baranovichi. At the very least, Russian military construction of the kind taking place in Belarus almost certainly will cause Western governments to conclude they should supply only non-cash aid to Moscow because such assistance, be it food or medical supplies, is far less easy to divert to other purposes. Third, Moscow's decision to build this site in Belarus points to one of the ways the Russian authorities are coping with their loss of control over the Baltic States. Their willingness to live up to their commitment to shut down the Skrunda site in Latvia demonstrates that most in Moscow are coming to accept that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are no longer part of what some in Russia call its natural "sphere of influence," which they view as also embracing the former Soviet republics. This does not mean that Moscow will avoid using a variety of non-military means to put pressure on the governments of these countries. Rather, it suggests that the Russian authorities recognize that any direct use of military power in that region would almost certainly be counterproductive. Moreover, Moscow's acceptance of this new reality in the Baltic States makes its interest in Belarus and other former Soviet republics along its western borders all the greater. That, in turn. suggests that Moscow is likely to press for additional forms of military cooperation with these countries, either bilaterally or under the cover of the Commonwealth of Independent States. To the extent that happens, replacing Skrunda with Baranovichi appears likely to reverberate through the new security architecture of this still unsettled region. 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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