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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 240, Part I, 15 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 240, Part I, 15 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 * YELTSIN LOOKING ENERGIZED? * DUMA TO SAVE BUDGET FOR LATER * AZERBAIJAN NOT TO ATTEND COUNCIL OF EUROPE KARABAKH HEARINGS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN LOOKING ENERGIZED? President Boris Yeltsin may have gotten "his political second wind," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 December. Three days earlier, Yeltsin not only delivered a radio address but also appeared at a holiday reception at the Kremlin Palace's banquet hall, looking "vastly better than usual," according to the newspaper. Yeltsin has made several public appearances since his three hour stop-over in the Kremlin on 7 December, when he dismissed the leadership of his administration. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC EBRD TO PROVIDE BIG BUCKS IF BIG IMPROVEMENTS FORTHCOMING... European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Horst Koehler held out the prospect of $1 billion worth of new loans in 1999 for Russia pending an improvement in its investment climate. Speaking at a quarterly meeting of the Foreign Investment Advisory Council in Moscow on 15 December, Koehler said that the EBRD is closely monitoring Russia's banking sector reforms. "Our concern is that some insolvent banks are operating too long without getting some substantive control from the Central Bank or even being liquidated," he said. Koehler also called for improvements in Russian corporate governance, including strengthening minority shareholders' rights. The EBRD will release approximately $150 million before the end of 1998 to finance projects that had already been agreed on. JAC ...AS GOVERNMENT PLEDGES TO IMPROVE INVESTMENT CLIMATE. In his address to the council, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov outlined a series of measures intended to lure foreign investment to Russia. He spoke about creating a "powerful state insurance agency" to protect foreign investors and to streamline bureaucratic mechanisms that hamper foreign investment. He also promised to introduce changes in customs and tax regulations as well as accelerate the adoption of a law on free economic zones. He added that "none of the major foreign investors who has made direct investments in the real sector of the economy has withdrawn from our market." First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov noted that Russia has "already adopted a law on changes to the production- sharing legislation, exempted foreign investors from the profit tax until their enterprises reach estimated capacity, and passed laws on foreign investment and leasing." JAC DUMA TO SAVE BUDGET FOR LATER. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma will likely not consider the government's 1999 budget until 23 December, Interfax reported on 15 December. Seleznev pointed out that the budget has 2,550 pages and that reading it will take time. The government submitted the budget on 11 December after many delays (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). The same day, the Duma passed a bill banning all reconstruction work on Red Square that would destroy its historical facade. The vote was 280 to one. Aleksandr Kotenkov, presidential representative to the Duma, said President Yeltsin might veto the measure because it conflicts with UNESCO's guidelines for maintaining places of historical or cultural value. JAC RUSSIA RETURNS TO DEBT NEGOTIATING TABLE. Russia's foreign debt has soared to 120 percent of GDP, up from 20 percent of GDP in 1992, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told Russian Television on 13 December. On 11 December, Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that the government will continue talks with foreign investors on a scheme for repayment of the government short term defaulted treasury bonds. Earlier, foreign holders of short-term treasury bonds rejected the government's plan to start swapping new bonds for old defaulted ones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 1998). JAC ARE TWO MAYORS BETTER THAN ONE? Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko named former Deputy Mayor Yurii Kopylov acting mayor of Vladivostok on 14 December, while former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov named Nikolai Beletskii. Cherepkov, who was dismissed by presidential decree on 11 December, had dismissed Kopylov from the government, and Kopylov himself ran for mayor unsuccessfully this summer, ITAR-TASS reported. Both "mayors" held working meetings with municipal services staff, the agency reported on 15 December. Meanwhile, reporters from Russian Public Television, NTV and Russian Television could not transmit their reports to Moscow because of an order issued by a local television and radio company. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 December that several dozen Cherepkov supporters have set up a 24- hour vigil outside the mayor's office. JAC ANOTHER ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENT IN KRASNODAR. Krasnodar Krai, which has already been placed on the watch lists of human rights organizations because of a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents, experienced yet another such incident on 11 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). Dozens of residents received leaflets in their mail boxes calling for the extermination of all Jews in Krasnodar. The leaflets also called for Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko to run for president of Russia in 2000. Kondratenko earlier had expressed his support for Communist Party member and Duma deputy Albert Makashov, who has been widely criticized for anti-Semitic remarks. JAC SUICIDE THINNING SOLDIERS' RANKS. The number of soldiers in Defense Ministry units who died during service from non-combat related causes rose 2 percent from 1996 to 1997, "Kommersant vlast" reported on 8 December. Forty- six percent of the 1997 deaths were suicides. JAC ZYUGANOV VISITS TRIPOLI. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli on 14 December to discuss bilateral and international issues. In an address to the Libyan parliament, Zyuganov said UN sanctions against Libya contravene all international values and principle. He called for a "world free of sanctions and aggressions in the 21st century." JAC RUSSIA DEBATES ASIAN ISLANDS. Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Legislative Duma of Khabarovsk Krai, said on 15 December that the idea of developing Bolshoi Ussuriiskii and the Tarabarov Islands is "unacceptable," ITAR-TASS reported. Ozerov said he and other officials in the krai are concerned at Chinese moves to infringe on navigation of Russian vessels in the Amur. He claimed that there is no need to develop the islands as they are already used for agriculture by Russians living nearby. Meanwhile, Russian residents of Kunashir Island, which is one of the Kuril chain, are debating renting plots of land to Japan for a period of 99 years. Japanese Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi said on 9 December that in negotiations with Moscow, his country will be "persistent" in demanding that the Kuril islands are ceded to Japan. BP NEW INSIGHT INTO PUSHKIN? One of only 30 known books inscribed with a dedication from Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin appeared on public display and for possible sale at a Moscow antiques gallery, the "Moscow Times" reported on 15 December. The copy of "Eugene Onegin" reads "To Her Highness the Princess Maria Arkadyevna Golitsyna from Pushkin." The daily quoted Petr Druzhinin, a rare books expert at the gallery, as saying that "Absolutely everything has been said about Pushkin.... [But] this short text is worth more than an enormous amount of articles and speculations." JAC CONFUSION OVER MOBILIZATION OF RESERVISTS IN CHECHNYA. Meeting in emergency session on 14 December, the Chechen parliament declared President Aslan Maskhadov's mobilization of reservists "unconstitutional," arguing that the Chechen Constitution provides for the call-up of reservists only in the event of an external threat, Interfax reported. But deputy speaker Selim Beshaev told NTV that owing to the lack of a quorum, the parliament was unable formally to condemn Maskhadov's action, which it will continue debating on 15 December, Reuters reported. Also on 14 December, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Yusup Soslambekov said that the reservists will be deployed to crack down on terrorism only after the parliament has set a date for the beginning of that action, according to ITAR-TASS. Soslambekov predicted that the Chechen anti-crime measures will be coordinated with the Interior Ministries of Russia and the North Caucasus republics. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJAN NOT TO ATTEND COUNCIL OF EUROPE KARABAKH HEARINGS. Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov told deputies on 11 December that Azerbaijan will not send a delegation to attend the 16 December Paris hearings on the Karabakh conflict, Assa-Irada reported. That meeting has been organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. An Armenian delegation headed by parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian left Yerevan on 14 December to participate in those hearings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The hearings were originally scheduled for early November but were postponed after Baku objected to the participation of a separate delegation from the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic headed by President Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 October 1998). It was subsequently agreed that the Azerbaijani delegation to the talks would include representatives of the Azerbaijani community who were forced to flee Karabakh during the war. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER SUMMONED FOR QUESTIONING. Former President and Azerbaijani Popular Front chairman Abulfaz Elchibey was summoned to the Prosecutor- General's office in Baku on 14 December in connection with his 6 November statement that President Heidar Aliev was instrumental in creating the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Turan reported. Two days earlier, Elchibey was required to give a written undertaking that he will not try to leave the country. LF INDEPENDENT AZERBAIJANI NEWSPAPER FINED. A Baku city court handed down a $125,000 fine to "Azadlyg" on 14 December for publishing reports that members of President Aliev's family had purchased expensive real estate in the UK, AP reported. The newspaper was also ordered to print a front-page retraction of those allegations. Also on 14 December, editors of independent newspapers voted to postpone indefinitely a resumption of their suspended hunger strike after meeting with presidential administration member Ali Hasanov. Some 20 editors began a hunger strike in November to protest libel cases they believe are intended to bankrupt them. LF DEMOLITION OF ARMENIAN MONUMENTS REPORTEDLY HALTED. The destruction and removal of Armenian stone crosses and gravestones from a cemetery in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan has stopped, according to Groong on 14 December. Armenian observers in Iran had reported the demolition earlier this month, eliciting protests from Armenian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1998). LF REWARD OFFERED IN ARMENIAN MURDER CASE. The Armenian Defense Ministry has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the clarification of the 10 December shooting of Deputy Defense Minister Vahram Khorkhoruni, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 December, citing the Prosecutor-General's Office. Khorkhoruni was close to Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, reputedly one of the most powerful men in Armenia. LF ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT TO REVIEW COGNAC FACTORY SALE. Armenia has agreed to a request by Pernod-Ricard, the purchaser of the Yerevan Cognac Factory, to review the terms of the sale and extend for six months the deadline for the main payment, Reuters reported on 14 December, quoting Economy and Finance Minister Eduard Sandoyan. Pernod-Ricard had requested the delay after the financial crisis in Russia in effect wiped out demand for Armenian brandy. Russia is the plant's main market. Armenian opposition parties had protested the sale of the plant to Pernod Ricard, arguing that the price of $30 million was too low. LF IMF EQUIVOCAL ON SUPPORT FOR GEORGIA. Hunter Munroe, the IMF representative in Tbilisi, told journalists on 14 December that "Georgia will receive the support of international financial organizations only if the government adopts a stronger economic policy," Caucasus Press reported. Munroe refused to predict how soon the Georgian lari would stabilize, after losing almost 50 percent of its value since early December. He said the IMF will take a decision on whether to release the next tranche of an ESAF loan after a delegation visits Georgia in January. Also on 14 December, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze ruled out a monetary emission to counter the lari's loss in value, Interfax reported. The IMF and World Bank have earmarked $200 million to cover half the estimated $400 million budget shortfall faced by six countries hardest hit by the Russian financial crisis: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Tajikistan, Reuters reported on 11 December. LF RUSSIANS, ABKHAZ ACCUSE GEORGIA OF MILITARY BUILDUP. Nikolai Rusak, a senior officer of the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, told Caucasus Press on 15 December that Tbilisi has violated a September 1998 agreement limiting the number of troops either Georgia or Abkhazia may station in the border zone. Rusak claimed that Georgia currently has 1,300 regular troops stationed in the region, as opposed to the 365 permitted under the agreement. On 11 December, Abkhaz Interior Minister Amazbei Kchach accused the Georgian government of sending 300 troops into Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, AP reported. A Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected that claim as "a provocation." LF KAZAKH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE OSCE ADVICE. Presidential candidate and head of the Customs Committee Gani Kasymov on 14 December commented on the OSCE'S 3 December call to postpone the January presidential elections, Reuters reported. Kasymov said that "as in every government, we have our constitution, and to say how it should work and moreover to give orders, right or not, is unsuitable." Revealing something about his own political standpoint, Kasymov commented that "democracy and a firm hand go well together," adding that "the people demand it and it is what they need." Senate speaker Omirbek Baigeldi also criticized OSCE statements on the presidential elections, Interfax reported on 14 December. Baigeldi said the early October decision of the country's parliament to hold elections in January 1999 "expresses the will of the Kazakh people." He viewed the participation of four candidates in the upcoming election as "the best proof" that the vote will be democratic. BP RUSSIA INCREASES KAZAKH OIL QUOTA. Russia's Ministry of Fuel and Energy has offered to pump via Russian pipelines an additional 1.5 million tons of Kazakh oil and gas to countries outside the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 December. Kazakh Minister of Energy, Industry, and Trade Mukhtar Ablyazov called the offer a "gesture of goodwill," noting that 30 percent of his country's budget is based on sales of hydrocarbon resources. As a result, Kazakh oil exports to countries outside the CIS will increase from 3.5 million tons annually to 5 million tons. The Russian offer was made last week when Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymjomart Tokayev was in Washington to hold talks with U.S. oil and gas companies. BP NUCLEAR TESTING SITE NEEDS $43 MILLION FOR CLEANUP. A UN official, speaking in Almaty on 14 December, said that at least $43 million is needed to clean up the damage caused at the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site in northern Kazakhstan during the Soviet era, Interfax reported. The official said the UN General Assembly discussed the issue in mid-November and agreed to submit 38 projects to the governments of donor countries. Kazakh Minister for Natural Resources Serikbek Daukeyev said his country cannot afford to clean up the environmental disaster in Semipalatinsk on its own. He added that negotiations are under way with a UN nongovernmental organization that is to offer between $5-7 million. BP VOLSKII WRAPS UP VISIT TO KYRGYZSTAN. Arkadii Volskii, the chairman of Russia's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, ended his two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan on 14 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Volskii held meetings with Kyrgyz government and business leaders, after which he said trade between Russia and Kyrgyzstan can easily be doubled. Volskii said if Kyrgyzstan exported rare earth elements to Russia and if transportation and energy tariffs were regulated, there would be "an instantaneous effect" on bilateral trade. Volskii also favored trade based on barter rather than hard currency. BP AKAYEV SAYS DRUGS NO. 1 PROBLEM. In an interview with the Russian newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda" published on 15 December, President Askar Akayev said that drug- trafficking is his country's number one problem, followed by "the infiltration of Muslim fundamentalist ideas into Kyrgyzstan." Akayev said the cyanide spill near the popular lake resort of Issik Kul this summer was not overly dangerous, "something immediately clear to me as an engineer-physicist." He commented that he is unsure whether he will run in the 2000 presidential elections but added that if the situation in Kyrgyzstan grows much worse, he will definitely not run. 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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