|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 236, Part I, 9 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 236, Part I, 9 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 NEW EMAIL NEWSLETTERS: RFE/RL IRAN REPORT & RFE/RL IRAQ REPORT Subscribe to one or both of these biweeklies to receive a review of developments in Iran and Iraq, compiled by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. For a Web version and subscription info for the Iran Report, go to: http://www.rferl.org/iran-report/index.html For the Iraq Report, see: http://www.rferl.org/iraq-report/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * FOUR FOREIGN HOSTAGES SLAIN IN CHECHNYA * BUDGET HEADED FOR REJECTION * UTO CANDIDATE FOR DEFENSE MINISTRY AGAIN REJECTED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA FOUR FOREIGN HOSTAGES SLAIN IN CHECHNYA. The severed heads of three Britons and a New Zealander who had been abducted in Grozny on 3 October were found on 8 December in a Chechen village close to the border with Ingushetia. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov expressed his indignation and regret at the killings, which he attributed to a struggle between the "great powers" for influence in the Caucasus. Chechen Prosecutor-General Mansur Tagirov told ITAR-TASS on 9 December that the kidnappers may have killed their hostages in panic following the 5 December arrest of one of their associates, whom they feared might betray them to the Chechen authorities. But a spokesman for the British firm that employed the dead men said he believes they were killed during a botched attempt by Chechen security forces to release them. President Boris Yeltsin, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook have all condemned the killings. LF BUDGET HEADED FOR REJECTION... State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 8 December that the Duma is likely to reject the 1999 budget in its first reading, which is currently scheduled for 11 December. He added that a tripartite commission would likely be formed to consider the draft and submit it to the legislature later. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters the same day that the draft budget might not be approved by the Cabinet until 11 December and would be submitted to the Duma on either 12 or 13 December. "Vremya MN" on 7 December described the version of the budget it reviewed as extremely difficult to implement. It noted that budget revenues are set at 12 percent of GDP, which no government has recently been able to collect. On 9 December, Interfax reported that the government has raised its estimate of GDP from 3.8 trillion ruble ($187 billion) to 4 trillion rubles. JAC ...AS MILITARY RECEIVES MORE CASH. The government of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov also agreed to increase the amount of money allotted to the military by raising defense expenditures from 2.5 percent of GDP to 3.1 percent. Part of the new spending will be covered by reducing the planned cut in value-added tax from the current 20 percent to 15 percent instead of 14 percent. "Kommersant-Daily" suggested on 9 December that the government is in fact going to pursue its economic policy in two stages: emissions, followed by a period of "superausterity." The newspaper based its conclusion on the Central Bank's monetary and credit policy that was released the previous day. JAC TAX BILLS READIED FOR DUMA SCRUTINY. The government has prepared 19 tax bills for submission to the Duma, Russian agencies reported on 8 December. Among these is a draft law establishing a tax of 12 percent for incomes between 60,000-120,000 rubles ($2,900-$5,900), 17 percent for 120,000-180,000 rubles, 22 percent for 180,000-240,000 rubles, and 32 percent tax for those above 240,000 rubles. Income from second jobs would be taxed at a higher rate. Federal Tax Service head Georgii Boos told reporters on 9 December that the nation's new tax system will be in place by 1 March. JAC YELTSIN LEAVES HOSPITAL FOR HOME. Russian President Boris Yeltsin again checked out of the hospital on 9 December and headed this time to his country residence to recuperate. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated on 8 December that Prime Minister Primakov was behind the recent firing of top Kremlin officials. The daily noted that "Primakov was the last one to see Yeltsin" at the hospital before the dismissals began. It concluded that Yeltsin trusts Primakov completely and therefore undermined those entities that were able to operate independently of him, such as the presidential staff and the Security Council. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives funding from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. The same day, Berezovskii himself told Reuters that the government reshuffle should have extended to the entire government lineup, with the exception of Primakov. JAC GOVERNMENT DECIDES BIGGER IS BETTER IN OIL SECTOR... Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak told reporters on 8 December that 13 oil companies are more than the country can afford under present conditions but to comply with the country's anti-monopoly legislation, no fewer than three or four should exist. A government commission chaired by Bulgak will choose within two weeks between three proposals for merging Russia's oil companies. Four Russian oil companies--Rosneft, Slavneft, Onako, and Zarubezhneft--signed a memorandum declaring their intent to form a single company, Interfax reported on 8 December. LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov proposed merging his company with Slavneft and Onako, while Yukos President Mikhail Khodorkovskii suggested teaming his company with Rosneft and Onako. JAC ...SUBMITS NEW PSA LEGISLATION. In the meantime, the government submitted a new bill listing fields that could be developed on the basis of production-sharing agreements (PSA), Interfax reported on 8 December. State Duma Subcomittee for Fuel Resources Chairman Valerii Yazev told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 1 December that Western oil companies have alienated the Duma's left wing with their overly aggressive lobbying for PSA legislation. He added that a new compromise will have to be forged between the right, the left, and the oil companies. JAC GOVERNMENT RELEASES LIST OF NAUGHTY REGIONS. The Finance Ministry released a list of regions that it accuses of misusing federal monies allocated for wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 December. At the top of the list are Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Kemerovo Oblast, Magadan Oblast, and Arkhangelsk. All had accumulated wage arrears of more than four months. The next day, First Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Khristenko told Prime-TASS that the government is proposing earmarking 33 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) from the budget to provide financial support for the regions. "Vremya MN" reported on 7 December that "in exchange for their political support of the cabinet, the governors are demanding that Primakov produce a schedule for debt repayment and grant money on a large scale." JAC MISSILE PASSES SIXTH TEST. The Topol-M missile successfully completed its sixth flight and design test, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 December. According to the newspaper, the single-warhead missile has only failed one of six tests carried out since 20 December 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1998). JAC SOCCER CHIEF HOLDS ONTO JOB. Vyacheslav Koloskov, head of the Russian Soccer Union, managed to hold onto his job for another five years, after a bruising struggle against other contenders such as Nikolai Tolstykh, head of the Russian Professional Soccer League, and President of Kalmykia Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Koloskov faced criticism after Russia failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years. He also faced charges of corruption from his main rival Tolstykh. Koloskov, in turn, accused Tolstykh of threatening his life. "Vremya MN" argued on 9 December that Koloskov won because he promised to give regional soccer clubs more power as well as a share of profits. After his victory, Koloskov announced that he is planning to work full time at the Russian Olympic Committee, the "Moscow Times" reported. He also said he will hire a chief operating officer to run the union. JAC PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS ON THE RISE. Over the past five years, the incidence of neurosis rose 10 percent, depression 35 percent, alcoholism 30 percent, and drug addiction 600 percent, according to Valerii Krasnov, director of the Institute of Psychiatric Research, "Kontinent" reported in its December issue. Krasnov also claimed that every third draftee in the army has a psychiatric disorder. JAC BREZHNEV SCION SUGGESTS ANDROPOV MONUMENT. Andrei Brezhnev, grandson of the former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and leader of the recently formed All Russia Communist Socio-Political Movement, told reporters on 8 December that a monument to former KGB chief Yurii Andropov would be more appropriate than one for Dzerzhinskii because it "will not cause emotions to run so high." He added that "without a monument, Lubyanka Square lacks architectural completeness." JAC IMMINENT SLEIGH SHORTAGE? The reindeer population in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug faces extinction, according to the Emergencies Ministry, Interfax reported on 8 December. A sudden thaw followed by a sharp drop in temperature caused ice to form on the ground, making fodder inaccessible. Some 40,000 reindeer have been moved to southern areas where food is more available. JAC CORRECTION. "RFE/RL Newsline" on 8 December in correctly identified Vladimir Ryzhkov, deputy speaker of the State Duma, as a member of the Yabloko faction. He belongs to the Our Home is Russia faction. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENTS IN TBILISI... Meeting on 7 December, Valeriy Pustovoytenko and Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze signed a 10-year agreement on economic cooperation as well as accords on trade, banking, culture, and transportation, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The two leaders discussed coordinating efforts to prevent a further devaluation of their countries' currencies. Pustovoytenko also held talks with President Eduard Shevardnadze, parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili. The Ukrainian leader told Menagharishvili that Ukraine is willing to host talks between Georgian and Abkhaz representatives on confidence-building measures in order to expedite a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. LF ...VISITS TO POTI, BATUMI. The next day, Pustovoytenko inspected the oil terminal under construction at Georgia's Black Sea port of Supsa and again affirmed Ukraine's interest in exporting via its territory Caspian oil shipped by tanker from Supsa to Odessa, Interfax reported. Pustovoytenko also visited Batumi, where he discussed the prospects for bilateral cooperation with Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. A rail ferry service between Batumi, Poti, and Ilichevsk is to begin operating on 19 December after several postponements. LF ARMENIA HOPES AZERBAIJAN WILL RECONSIDER KARABAKH PEACE PLAN. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on 7 December that he hopes Azerbaijan will reconsider its approach to resuming talks on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict even though it has rejected what he termed the "compromise variant" of a "common state" proposed in the latest OSCE Minsk Group draft plan. Oskanian was speaking in Brussels, where he is heading the Armenian delegation to a regular meeting of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. At a press briefing in Yerevan on 8 December, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian said, "We think the most recent proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen on resolving the Karabakh conflict is the only version on the basis of which progress, and later the full settlement of the conflict, will be possible," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF AZERBAIJAN WANTS RUSSIAN ACTION OVER YEREVANGATE. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev told journalists in Baku on 8 December that Prime Minister Artur Rasi-zade recently wrote to his Russian counterpart Yevgenii Primakov, to protest alleged continuing shipments of Russian arms to Armenia and to demand that those weapons supplied in 1993-1996 be returned, Turan reported. Rasi-zade has not yet received a response to that demand. The trilateral Russian- Azerbaijani-Armenian commission established last year to investigate the charges of illicit Russian arms supplies to Armenia has not met since April 1998. LF UTO CANDIDATE FOR DEFENSE MINISTRY AGAIN REJECTED. RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe on 7 December confirmed that the United Tajik Opposition re-nominated Mirzo Ziyoyev as defense minister sometime between 4 and 6 December. The government, however, once again rejected his nomination, proposing instead that Ziyoyev receive a lower-ranking position in the Defense Ministry. Under the terms of the Tajik Peace Accord, signed in June 1997, the UTO are to receive 30 percent of the seats in the government. That process is nearly completed. Ziyoyev proved a capable military commander during the Tajik civil war and has strong ties to UTO leadership. BP TAJIK PREMIER DOWNPLAYS REGIONAL TENSIONS. Using language reminiscent of Soviet press attacks on "bourgeois falsifiers" during the 1980s, Tajik Prime Minister Yakhye Azimov has harshly criticized "newly- baked politologists" who he claims seek to undermine Tajikistan's sovereign status by overstating and fanning inter-regional tensions. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December, Azimov concedes that "separatist aspirations" and "regional self-identification" still exist and constitute the main obstacle to the emergence of a sense of Tajik nationhood. But he rejects charges by unnamed international organizations that officials from southern Tajikistan are carrying out "genocide" against persons from other parts of the country. Azimov also denies that only individuals who come from the southern region of Kulyab (as does President Imomali Rakhmonov) are appointed to leading positions, naming a dozen senior officials, including himself, who are from Leninabad, in the north. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev and his putative accomplice in last month's abortive uprising, former premier Abdumalik Abdullojonov, both come from Leninabad. LF TURKMENISTAN PRINTS MORE MONEY, DOLLAR RATE ON BLACK MARKET SOARS. The decision by the Turkmen government to print more money has sent the unofficial dollar exchange rate soaring to nearly three times the official rate, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported on 8 December. Central Bank chief Khudaiberdi Orazov announced that decision on 4 December. According to Reuters, there had been a near riot in late November at an Ashgabat Daikhanbank exchange office following the announcement that some banks would be nationalized. The official exchange rate is 5,200 manats to $1, but the unofficial rate is reportedly more than 13,000 to $1. BP KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER CONTINUES U.S. VISIT. Kasymjomart Tokayev, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on 8 December, said that his country will hold presidential elections, as planned, next month and that they will be fair, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Tokayev also said that while those elections will be democratic, it will be "democracy suited to Kazakh culture." It is unfair to compare democratic structures in the U.S. with those in Kazakhstan, he argued, noting that his country welcomes constructive criticism but asks for fairness. The decision to move presidential elections forward by nearly two years has drawn criticism from the U.S. and the OSCE, as have subsequent incidents in the registration process. BP FURTHER REPORTS ON COMMUNIST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S COMMENTS. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, the presidential candidate of the Kazakh Communist Party, said at an 8 December press conference that he believes he will win the January elections, Interfax reported. Abdildin said he expects to take 70 percent of the vote, pointing to strong support from Kazakhstan's "impoverished masses," who he said make up 90 percent of the country's population. He added that is counting on "most of the 4 million unemployed and 3 million pensioners" to vote for him, but he noted that he believes the election will be rigged unless members of the Communist Party are allowed to monitor the vote. According to Reuters the same day, Abdildin said the international community is correct in labeling the January elections "unfair." But he said does not believe incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev will postpone the elections, despite the OSCE's 3 December call to do so. BP PREPARATIONS FOR ELECTION CAMPAIGN UNDER WAY... The chair of the Central Election Commission, Zagipa Baliyeva, said on 8 December that the January presidential elections will be held in any weather and regardless of the will of individual figures, Interfax reported. Baliyeva noted that candidates have been nominated and registered in accordance with the law and in a way that she described as "democratic enough." She also criticized the OSCE's call to postpone the election, saying that the organization "cannot recommend" that a government delay such a vote. Baliyeva said her commission is doing everything possible to ensure the ballot will be "open, honest, and transparent." The state will make time available for all four candidates on television and radio and has reserved advertising space in newspapers. All the candidates have received 2.44 million tenge ($30,000) which is equivalent to the sum the candidates paid as a registration fee. Baliyeva dismissed rumors that two of the candidates, which she did not name, will withdraw on the eve of the election. BP ...WHILE BOYCOTT THREATS EMERGE. More than 5,000 workers at the Shymkent Lead and Zinc plant have sent an open letter to the government announcing their intention to boycott the January election if they are not paid back wages, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 9 December. Those workers did not receive wages from 1994- 1996, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, Interfax reports that workers at the Severnii coal mine, recently acquired by Russia's United Energy Systems (UES), received 39 million rubles (some $2 million) in back wages promised by UES chairman Anatolii Chubais during his late November visit to northern Kazakhstan. Chubais had promised 49 million rubles but said the remaining 10 million will arrive by 15 December. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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