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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 233, Part I, 4 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 233, Part I, 4 December 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 * RUBLE CONTINUES TO PLUNGE * RUSSIA WANTS NEW CFE BEFORE NATO EXPANSION * OSCE CALLS FOR POSTPONEMENT OF KAZAKH ELECTIONS End Note: THE STATE OF ECONOMIC EMERGENCY IN BELARUS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUBLE CONTINUES TO PLUNGE. The ruble fell for the sixth consecutive day on 4 December to 19.57 rubles per dollar, losing almost four percent of its value from the previous day. The rate was one of the lowest in three months but remained above the post-devaluation nadir of 20.82 rubles to the dollar recorded on 9 September. The ruble has dropped about 15 percent since 1 November. Bloomberg attributed the decline to the Central Bank's loosening of restrictions imposed on exporters and commercial banks access to foreign currency, while the "Moscow Times" on 3 December quoted traders as saying that continuing uncertainty over the restructuring of Russia's domestic debt is behind the plunge. The Central Bank set the ruble's official exchange for 4 December at 18.83 rubles per dollar. JAC RUSSIA WANTS NEW CFE BEFORE NATO EXPANSION... Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 3 December that an updated version of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty must be ratified before NATO admits any former Warsaw Pact countries. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are scheduled to join NATO in April. JAC ...KALININGRAD CALLED DETERRENT, WEAK LINK. Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov told reporters on 2 December that troops in Kaliningrad Oblast will play the role of a "deterrent" in response to the possibility of Lithuania and Poland joining NATO. However, he noted that the deployment of those troops is not intended to "intimidate." "Poland is joining NATO, and we've got to put up with this...whether we like it or not," he commented. The same day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" labeled Kaliningrad as one of most unstable regions in Russia. The newspaper noted that the prospect of the Baltic States joining NATO puts the region in a complex geopolitical situation. In addition, the oblast is isolated territorially from the rest of Russia and depends on imported goods for 80 percent of its consumption. Moreover, a quarter of its population is unemployed. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC YELTSIN SENDS BACK REGIONAL ECONOMIC LAW. President Boris Yeltsin described a draft law on the organization of economic associations of Russian regions as "unconstitutional," Interfax reported on 3 December. The president recommended further work on the bill, which was passed by the State Duma in the first reading on 21 October. The next day, "Izvestiya," commenting at length on Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's recent call for a strengthening of vertical authority, concluded that the restoration of vertical power in which all levels are elected will require changes to the Russian Constitution. The newspaper also noted that while "the governors want to abolish the institution of presidential representatives in the regions," Moscow will still demand some means of influencing the governors. LUKoil and Oneksimbank are major investors in "Izvestiya." JAC LUZHKOV SAYS NO TO KIRIENKO, YES TO NDR? Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzkov ruled out an alliance with former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on 3 December after "Kommersant-Daily" carried a report the previous day that negotiations were taking place between them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1998). Luzhkov declared that he has no intention of uniting with those who were responsible for the events of 17 August. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Segodnya" on 3 December, "Our Home is Russia" (NDR) faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin said that the NDR is ready to sign a "non-aggression pact" with Luzhkov's movement in which both groups would unite to take away votes from leftist organizations. In response to the question of whether former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin would remain the NDR's future presidential candidate, Shokhin avoided answering directly, saying only that the NDR has the "right to claim the post of prime minister" in the coalition. JAC SBERBANK PAYS OUT FOR SOME CUSTOMERS. After missing its original deadline of 30 November, Sberbank offered customers access to savings transferred from Menatep, Most Bank, Mosbiznesbank, and Promstroibank on 3 December. Customers from Inkombank and SBS Agro still have no access. A Sberbank spokesman said a statement on the SBS Agro accounts will be issued later. The fate of Inkombank customers' accounts remains uncertain, since the bank failed to complete necessary paperwork and no longer has a license (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998). Earlier, the Central Bank had promised to cover all savings accounts transferred to Sberbank. JAC ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURG CANDIDATE ARRESTED. Another would-be participant in the already scandal-ridden St. Petersburg elections was arrested on 3 December. Sergei Nirov, a member of the Honor and Motherland political movement, led by Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, was picked up on suspicion of making false charges against a police investigator, Russian Television reported. ITAR-TASS reported that "libelous flyers" with a forged imprimatur of the Central Election Committee have been circulating in the city. Those flyers make false claims about the past criminal records and drug habits of certain candidates. Meanwhile, some candidates have found that opponents with the same name are running against them in their own districts, and local individuals have been offering their votes for sale on the Internet, Reuters reported on 4 December. Elections for the local assembly are scheduled for 6 December. JAC WORKERS LAUNCH NEW PROTESTS. Civilian defense workers in Rostov na Donu staged a work stoppage on 3 December to protest unpaid wages, NTV reported. In Khabarovsk Krai, 43 hospital workers began a hunger strike on 2 December to protest a growing backlog of unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported. Personnel at a nearby emergency medical aid service are also on strike. According to a local health workers' union, unpaid wages amount to more than 260 million rubles ($14 billion). Meanwhile, around 1,500 mourners gathered in Ulyanovsk for the funeral of the 43-year-old teacher who died while on a hunger strike, AFP reported. JAC GLASNOST ENDS IN STAVROPOL? Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov has signed a new, vaguely worded document on official secrets, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 December. According to the newspaper, local officials are broadly interpreting that document in order to deflect a variety of media inquiries. The krai government finance minister said that the question of how much budget money was spent on celebrating the anniversary of the Komsomol in the region has been declared an official secret. JAC RUSSIAN SMOKERS WOULD RATHER SWITCH. Russian-made cigarettes are enjoying new popularity as the price differential between a pack of Marlboros and a pack of Russian Yava cigarettes has increased almost 200 percent since early August, the "Moscow Times" reported on 4 December. Because of import tariffs and the devaluation of the ruble, a pack of Marlboros now sells for 18.50 rubles ($1), compared with 7 rubles previously. Russian cigarette production soared 25 percent in October, compared with the previous month. JAC FORMER VOLOGDA OBLAST GOVERNOR SENTENCED. Nikolai Podgornov has been sentenced to a one-year suspended jail term for using public funds to buy parts for his jeep, AFP reported on 3 December. The local prosecutor had accused Podgornov of embezzling public funds, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. JAC FOREIGN PEACE GROUPS LABELED CORRUPTERS OF YOUTH. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 December that a three-day conference organized by the Westminster Democracy Foundation in Novgorod was "teaching Novgorod youths how to escape conscription and avoid criminal responsibility." According to the daily, two international organizations, the Peacekeeping and Social Development Center and the Movement Against Violence, were joined by representatives from the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, the Human Rights Protection Center, and "pacifists from Finland, Great Britain, and the U.S." JAC TATAR OPPOSITION OUTLINES OBJECTIVES. Speaking at a news conference in Kazan on 2 December, the recently elected chairman of the All-Tatar Public Center, Zali Zainullin, said that organization's priorities are to "gain true independence for Tatarstan and eliminate the bureaucracy in both the Tatarstan and Russian governments," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Zainullin, a retired colonel, is known as the "Tatar Dudaev" for his radical views, which until recently have not enjoyed wide support. The center is also campaigning for multi-candidate presidential elections and for the cancellation of what it terms grandiose and unnecessary construction projects, including the Kazan subway. The center has accused the Russian federal authorities of igniting ethnic and religious conflicts in Tatarstan, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT WILL RUN FOR SECOND TERM. In an interview with Interfax on 3 December, Aslan Maskhadov conceded that the Chechen opposition "has influence on a certain category of the population" but said that its systematic attempts to sabotage his policies, including those aimed at combating crime, will not succeed. Maskhadov said that most of Chechnya's population supports him and that he intends to run for a second presidential terms in January 2002. Maskhadov also spoke highly of Russian Premier Primakov's role in resuming a dialogue between Moscow and Grozny and his efforts to implement the agreements on financial aid for Chechnya reached at their talks Vladikavkaz in late October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 1998). Also on 3 December, Maskhadov's spokesman, Mairbek Vachagaev, said the president will not attend an upcoming conference in Nalchik of Muslim leaders of Russian regions. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA OSCE CALLS FOR POSTPONEMENT OF KAZAKH ELECTIONS... The OSCE on 3 December warned Kazakhstan that if the country goes ahead with planned early presidential elections next month, it "could severely damage its reputation as a country committed to democratization," an RFE/RL correspondent in Almaty reported. The OSCE criticized the decision of the country's Central Elections Committee to exclude two candidates from the elections "because of minor administrative convictions." It also warned that the OSCE will not consider the election results valid if the ballot is held, as planned, on 10 January. The October decision of Kazakhstan's parliament to hold elections within the following three months "does not allow for adequate preparations to ensure a democratic election," the OSCE argued. The organization added that there was no equal media access for those taking part in the elections and that voters are being intimidated "to force their support" for incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev. BP ...WHILE KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER PRAISES OSCE. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev, addressing the OSCE foreign ministers' conference in Oslo on 3 December, focused his comments on positive developments in his country, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Tokayev spoke of the "progress achieved by Kazakhstan in cooperation with the world, including European states." He also said the opening of an OSCE center in his country will promote civil society. And he praised OSCE activities in Central Asia as having "given strong impetus to the advancement of democracy in the region," Interfax reported. BP KAZAKH OPPOSITION MEETS IN MOSCOW TO MAP OUT STRATEGY. Leaders from some of Kazakhstan's opposition groups met in Moscow on 3-4 December to discuss strategy, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The meeting was chaired by former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. The group discussed a common approach in the struggle against the "totalitarian regime" in Kazakhstan and in seeking to establish democracy in the country. The group said it was forced to meet in Moscow owing to the "oppressive measures of the Kazakh government against them and the impossibility of holding such a meeting on Kazakh territory." It also adopted an address to be distributed among the Kazakh nation. BP TURKMENISTAN TO INTRODUCE MORATORIUM ON DEATH SENTENCE. At the OSCE conference in Oslo on 3 December, Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov announced his country's intention to impose a moratorium on the death sentence, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Shikhmuradov said legislation will be introduced that will reduce the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty. He also commented that "by taking this step, Turkmenistan proved in practice its principled loyalty to humanistic values and OSCE ideals." Turkmenistan's decision comes at a time when many human rights organizations have been complaining about the fate of two people found guilty of attempting to kill the Turkmen president. Khoshaly Garaev and Muhhametguly Aimuradov had been expected to have death sentences handed down at a 30 November court session "behind closed doors." The two allegedly had been plotting to overthrow the government while in prison on other charges. The 30 November session, however, was postponed. BP TAJIK OPPOSITION GRANTED MORE GOVERNMENT POSTS. The United Tajik Opposition has been granted five more government positions, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. The post of first deputy chairman of the country's Tax Committee was given to Aslidin Sohibnazarov. Alijan Latifi will take over the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Mirzomuhammed Mirzohodi the Ministry of Culture, and Hukmiddin Saaddin the Ministry of Communications. Zayd Saidov has been named deputy chairman of the Committee for Precious Stones. BP KILLERS OF OTAKHON LATIFI ARRESTED. Tajik law enforcement authorities say they have caught the persons responsible for murdering leading opposition figure Otakhon Latifi, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said he believes the murder was politically motivated and that he is "99 percent sure" those in custody are responsible. The search continues for those who ordered Latifi killed. The murder took place outside his Dushanbe home on 22 September. BP UZBEK-TAJIK BORDER REMAINS CLOSED. The Uzbek-Tajik border has been closed for the past two weeks, the "Izvestiya" reported on 4 December. Uzbekistan closed the border when relations with Tajikistan grew increasingly strained following a rebellion in northern Tajikistan in early November. The Tajik government claims that uprising was made possible in part by Uzbek support, but Uzbekistan continues to deny those charges. The article claims that occupants of the few cars with Tajik license plates that are allowed to cross the border are forced to pay a $260 fee. BP OSCE CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF KARABAKH TALKS. Speaking in Oslo on 3 December at the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting, Chairman-in-Office Bronislaw Geremek called for a speedy resumption of negotiations on resolving the Karabakh conflict, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Geremek said he hopes that the conflict parties will demonstrate the political resolve and willingness to consider all legitimate interests and concerns. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian had said at that meeting that Azerbaijan's rejection of the most recent OSCE Minsk Group peace plan demonstrates Baku's inability or unwillingness to seek a solution to the conflict based on mutual compromises. His Azerbaijani counterpart, Tofik Zulfugarov, told Reuters he believes the mediators will abandon the concept of a "common state," which is contained in the latest peace plan, in the light of growing international opposition. Zulfugarov repeated Baku's willingness to grant the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic "a high degree of self-rule." LF ARMENIA WANTS IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH TURKEY. Speaking in Oslo on 3 December, Oskanian also said that Yerevan is ready to start "a productive dialogue" with the new Turkish government once it is formed, RFE/RL reported. Oskanian said that Armenia's withdrawal of its previous objections to Istanbul as the venue for the next OSCE summit, now scheduled for 14-15 November 1999, is intended to promote better bilateral and regional cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May and 30 November 1998). LF GEORGIAN CURRENCY LOSES VALUE. The Georgian lari fell from 1.48 to $1 on 25 November to 1.62 on 3 December, despite intervention by the National Bank on 30 November on the recommendation of the IMF, Interfax reported. One month ago, the lari was trading at 1.35 to $1. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December quoted unnamed experts as describing Georgia's financial situation as catastrophic and attributing the deteriorating economic situation to the huge budget deficit, endemic corruption and tax evasion, and industrial stagnation. In his weekly radio address on 30 November, President Eduard Shevardnadze had said that international financial organizations are prepared to provide emergency assistance but that IMF recommendations will necessitate "difficult and painful" decisions. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DEPLORES DEFILEMENT OF JEWISH CEMETERY. President Shevardnadze on 3 December condemned as "barbaric and inexplicable" the destruction by vandals of some 50 gravestones in Tbilisi's Jewish cemetery the previous day, Interfax reported. Shevardnadze said that the attack, for which no one has yet claimed responsibility, will not affect Georgians' traditionally good relations with the country's Jewish minority. LF ARE AZERBAIJANI CONSCRIPTS DYING OF MALNUTRITION? Naval Captain Janmirza Mirzoev told journalists in Baku on 3 December that hundreds of servicemen in the Azerbaijani army suffer from malnutrition and that some have died as a result, Turan reported. Mirzoev also commented that Academician Zia Buniatov, whose February 1997 murder has not been solved, was in possession of documents proving embezzlement within the country's Defense Ministry at the time of his death. Those documents later vanished, Mirzoev claimed. LF END NOTE THE STATE OF ECONOMIC EMERGENCY IN BELARUS by Jan Maksymiuk It seems as if suddenly things have started going wrong for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka . At least, that is the impression one gains from Belarusian official propaganda. As recently as in August, the Statistics Ministry reported a remarkable 12 percent growth in the country's GDP. When the financial crisis hit Russia that month, Lukashenka boasted that Belarus was the only oasis of economic stability on post-Soviet territory. In September, Lukashenka vowed to organize "centralized food supplies" to stave off famine in Russia and even offered to act as economic adviser to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. One month later, in October, with Belarus facing serious food shortages, Lukashenka's self-assuredness began to subside. And by November, Lukashenka himself began needing advice. "Why are our people becoming poorer and poorer every month while we are so dynamically developing industry and agriculture?" he asked his ministers at a televised cabinet meeting. None was able to provide an answer. Signs of a looming calamity in Belarus's Soviet- style economy began to appear in early September, when Belarusians launched a run on shops in a bid to use up their meager savings before they became completely worthless. Although the National Bank maintained the official dollar exchange rate below 50,000 Belarusian rubles, the street exchange rate plummeted to 120,000. And in noncash transactions between Russian and Belarusian companies, one dollar was equal to 220,000 Belarusian rubles. By the beginning of December, those figures had nearly doubled. Owing to the de facto insolvency of Russia, which accounted for 70 percent of Belarusian exports before the current economic crisis, Belarusian enterprises have been forced to reduce output and/or hoard products in storehouses. Experts estimate that Belarus's industrial production will continue to slump by up to 12 percent monthly at least for the next four months. Every month, Belarusian revenues fall short by some $100 million because of reduced exports to Russia. The acute shortage of foodstuffs, which has led to rationing in many regions, may be attributed to several factors. First, Belarus's grain harvest this year was down by 1 million tons, compared with 1997. Second, state-controlled food prices are too low to make food production profitable. Third, Belarus has to supply food to Russia to repay its $250 million gas debt. And fourth, it cannot be ruled out that, owing to much lower food prices in Belarus, some goods are smuggled into Russia and Ukraine, particularly since there are no customs controls on the border with those countries. To deal with the crisis, the Belarusian president in November set up a "national headquarters"--an emergency task force headed by his administration chief, Mikhail Myasnikovich. In this way, Lukashenka has prevented the cabinet from managing the economy. Prime Minister Syarhey Linh has been subordinated to Myasnikovich and charged with the task of normalizing food provisions in the Minsk region. None of the administrative measures taken by the authorities to improve food supplies--including the introduction of police and customs patrols on the Belarusian-Russian border--has proven effective, however. In November, the government was forced to increase food prices by an average of 30-40 percent. The price of vodka--which in the former Soviet Union continues to affect political and social trends among the electorate--went up by 75 percent in one fell swoop. Lukashenka publicly blamed the prime minister for that hike, accusing him of "hating the people." The president did not, however, reduce the price. In addition to price increases, the government has made some other moves toward liberalizing financial policies. National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich once again pledged to introduce a single exchange rate (to replace the current four) and limited the devaluation rate of the Belarusian ruble to 1,500 rubles per interbank currency-exchange session. Commercial banks have been allowed to sell and buy hard currency at rates exceeding the official one by up to 50 percent. And according to some reports, the National Bank promised the IMF in mid-November to considerably limit money emissions, until now the most popular method of stimulating production in Belarus. In other words, Belarus has tentatively resorted to some market economy tools. However, it is too early to say that Belarus has moved over to such an economy. Rather, it is the state of economic emergency and the urgent need to obtain a $100 million loan from the IMF that has prompted the Belarusian leadership to take such unorthodox (by Belarusian standards) and unpopular measures. At the same time, facing the threat of trade union mass protests, Lukashenka vowed to control prices after the November hike and not to increase them by more than 3-4 percent a month. And in a successful bid to avert a trade union rally on 2 December, the "national headquarters" pledged to increase wages. Since Belarus does not have large hard-currency revenues, that pledge can only mean printing more inflationary money. This week, the authorities were able to make the trade unions back down and thereby extinguish the incipient social unrest. But it is hardly conceivable that the government will be able to substantially increase the living standards of Belarusian workers, whose average monthly wage is equal to some $35. It is only a matter of time until workers start making demands again. The authorities, for their part, are finding it increasingly difficult to meet such demands as they continue to shy away from radically reforming Belarus's ineffectual and antiquated economy. 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. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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