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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 243, Part I, 18 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 243, Part I, 18 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 * KREMLIN CONDEMNS NOT ONLY U.S. BUT ALSO NATO * DUMA PASSES MORE PSA LEGISLATION * NAZARBAYEV SAYS IT'S HIS "DUTY" TO ENSURE FAIR ELECTIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA KREMLIN CONDEMNS NOT ONLY U.S. BUT ALSO NATO... Russian leaders continued to call for an end to air strikes against Iraq and used the Iraq attack as a new pretext to criticize NATO. Both President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov called for an immediate end to military action. Primakov also called the action against Iraq "intolerable" and "outrageous," while AFP reported that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov demanded the dismissal of UN weapons inspector Richard Butler, whom he and the majority of Russian newspapers blame personally for the attack on Iraq. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that Russia should ask itself what use is Russia's relationship to NATO, if NATO members simply ignore its views. Sergei Kislyak, Russia's permanent envoy to NATO, added that although NATO itself is not involved in the attack, two of its members are. He added that Russian policymakers are concerned about what kind of precedent is being set. JAC ...AS DUMA RECOMMENDS HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING. Meanwhile in the State Duma, rhetoric was even harsher. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called the strikes "an act of terror" and "an extreme manifestation of international gangsterism," while Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called the U.S. "a bandit state that staged a barbarous act." Deputies adopted a resolution condemning the air strikes and calling for an increase in defense spending. They also recommended that the government review Russia's current and future relations with the U.S., Britain, and NATO as well as end Russian compliance with UN sanctions against Iraq. On 18 December, Russia recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Britain to Moscow for consultations. JAC START-II RATIFICATION SWITCHES TO INDEFINITE HOLD. The years-long delay of START-II ratification is likely to be extended for at least another six months, according to various Russian politicians. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told reporters on 18 December that chances for ratification have "really faded." A spokesman for First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, who had been one of the treaty's most vocal advocates in Primakov's government, said that although the treaty should still be ratified, it would be inappropriate to do so while air strikes are occurring. JAC STRIKES AT IRAQ A BLOW TO RUSSIA'S WORLD POWER STATUS? Influential businessman Boris Berezovskii told Interfax that with the onset of the air strikes, "Russia joined a number of countries that don't have to be reckoned with." One of Berezovskii's arch foes, Zyuganov, agreed, saying that the U.S. does not reckon with Russia as a major nation. Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev echoed the general sentiment, concluding that the "United States has once again showed who is the master in the world, while Russia showed its weakness." JAC DUMA PASSES MORE PSA LEGISLATION. After a two-year delay, the State Duma passed in the second reading a package of amendments to the production sharing agreement (PSA) law on 17 December. The vote was 342 in favor and 12 opposed. The amendments will bring 12 federal laws into compliance with the PSA law and are expected to give new impetus to foreign investment in Russia's oil sector, which has been languishing in part because of unfavorable tax treatment. Last week, the Duma passed another set of amendments to the PSA law in what was widely perceived to be a breakthrough in a long legislative stalemate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). President Yeltsin is expected to approve both bills. JAC NEW ROUND OF DEBT TALKS PROMISES TO BE TENSE. Russian government officials and international bank representatives on 17 December began a new round of talks on the terms for resettling debt from the government's defaulted short-term treasury bonds (GKOs). In an interview with the "Financial Times," Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said "only technical issues" remain to be resolved. However, discussion of these "technical issues" promises to be heated, since the first item on the bankers' long agenda for their talks is their contention that the government is trying to set terms unilaterally, according to Reuters. MFK Renaissance wrote in one of its reports that the "concerns of foreign holders of GKOs have now been placed a long way down the list of priorities," after the budget and restructuring of foreign debt, the "Moscow Times" reported on 18 December. The government announced earlier that it will reimburse only 5 percent of the its defaulted debt in cash--half the amount previously pledged. JAC LUKASHENKA WINDS UP RUSSIAN TRIP... Belarusian Alyaksandr Lukashenka finished a two-day trip to Russia on 17 December after meetings with Prime Minister Primakov, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, and President Yeltsin. Lukashenka told reporters that a "concrete decision" on whether Belarus will switch to a common or a single currency with Russia will be reached soon. According to Lukashenka, Gerashchenko supports the introduction of a common currency, such as the so-called "transfer ruble," which would then be followed by a single currency. Lukashenka also promised that in the near future Russia and Belarus would sign an agreement offering businesses in both countries equal economic conditions, such as the right to pay the same railway tariffs. On 17 December, Primakov and Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Linh signed an agreement establishing a new method of paying for Russian gas with foodstuff from Belarus. JAC ...AND COMMENTS ON ANTI-SEMITISM... Asked about the increasing controversy over anti-Semitism in Russia, Lukashenka echoed the official response of Russia's Communist Party. He told Mayak Radio on 16 December that "the problem of anti-Semitism has been engendered by Jews themselves, the ones who work for mass media." He added that he "would not allow the mass media to fan up these problems the way it is being done in your country." JAC ...WHILE FINANCE MINISTER SAYS BELARUS CAN TAKE RUBLE OR LEAVE IT. Finance Minister Zadornov told Ekho Moskvy that idea of a transferable ruble is a non-starter and that the only way Belarus could unite its currency with Russia would be to adopt the Russian ruble, Russian tax legislation, and the monetary policies followed by the Russian Central Bank. Lukashenka did not meet with Zadornov during his visit. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that although the idea of a union between the two countries is supported by public opinion as well as the new Russian government, "it is no longer possible to speak for certain of the possibility of closer unification" because "the Belarusians and Russians hold very different opinions of the conditions for such unification." JAC ZHIRINOVSKY TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR OF SVERDLOVSK? LDPR leader Zhirinovsky announced that he will compete in the August 1999 gubernatorial elections in Sverdlovsk Oblast, according to "EWI Russian Regional Report" on 17 December. According to the report, the LDPR's popularity in the oblast is growing and a number of mayors in small towns and several enterprise heads have joined the party. Earlier, Zhirinovsky announced his plans to run for governor of Leningrad Oblast, a move that spurred slain Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova to enter the race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September 1998). However, those elections have been postponed. According to the report, Zhirinovsky will launch his campaign at the LDPR conference on 19 December. JAC ORPHANAGES VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS ROUTINELY. Tens of thousands of Russian children abandoned by their parents live in orphanages where conditions can be prison-like or worse, Human Rights Watch revealed in a report released on 16 December. According to the report, at least 30,000 children in orphanages for the severely disabled are treated in violation of UN covenants and international human rights; some never learn to walk and are confined to bed or tied to furniture. Children deemed normal are often kept in dark rooms or sedated without medical supervision. About 40 percent of the 15,000 children released from orphanages annually become homeless, according to data released by the Prosecutor- General's Office, AP reported. About 40 percent commit crimes, 30 percent become alcoholics or drug addicts, while 10 percent commit suicide. JAC PRESS HARRASSMENT IN KALMYKIA CONTINUES. Kalmykian authorities are continuing to harass the editors and publishers of the opposition newspaper "Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 December. Gennadii Yudin detailed the government's efforts to curb the newspaper at a Moscow news conference. Yudin became the newspaper's editor after the former editor in chief, his wife, Larisa Yudina, was killed under mysterious circumstances six months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June and 26 August 1998). JAC CHECHENS CALL ON PRESIDENT TO NEUTRALIZE OPPONENTS. Participants in a mass demonstration in Grozny on 17 December called on Aslan Maskhadov to expel from Chechnya foreign armed groups, crack down on criminal gangs, and neutralize field commander Arbi Baraev and his men without resorting to force, Interfax reported. They also said Maskhadov should rein in his radical Islamist deputy, Vakha Arsanov, if necessary by abolishing the post of vice president. Addressing the demonstrators, Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev said the deteriorating situation in Chechnya was to be blamed on defeated presidential candidates Shamil Basaev and Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, whom he accused of supporting criminal elements. Atgeriev added that a coup is being prepared in Chechnya but he did not say by whom, according to Interfax. Speaking on Chechen Television on 17 December, Maskhadov vowed to liquidate all illegal armed formations by exclusively legal means, without resorting to large-scale combat operations, ITAR-TASS reported. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SOME CIS CENTRAL ASIAN STATES CRITICIZE ATTACKS ON IRAQ... Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 December expressing "deep regret and concern" over the U.S. and British missile attacks on Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. That view was shared by the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry, while the country's Muftiat roundly condemned the attack, which is taking place in the month that is "sacred to all Muslims," alluding to the start of Ramadan at sunset on 19 December. The Tajik Foreign Ministry said the next day that it is "alarmed" by the strikes and that it hopes military action will cease immediately. BP ...WHILE OTHERS EXPRESS UNDERSTANDING, SUPPORT. Richard Morningstar, the U.S. presidential adviser on energy in the Caspian region, said at a press conference in Ashgabat, on 17 December, that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov "expressed understanding for the reasons behind U.S. bombing of Iraq," Interfax reported. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said the next day that "what occurred in the Persian Gulf was to be expected." Karimov added, however, that it was "a pity" the attacks were launched without the UN's sanction," ITAR-TASS reported. BP ARMENIA, GEORGIA RESPOND TO IRAQI BOMBINGS. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 17 December that the U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq "are of serious concern to the Armenian government," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "We hope that the bombardment will be halted very quickly and the problem will be solved by diplomatic means," he said. In Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze called for an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council "to ensure the unconditional fulfillment of [the council's] resolutions," ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze said that events in Abkhazia testify to the "tragic consequences" of non-fulfillment of UN Security Council resolutions. LF U.S. PROMISES FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR TURKMEN PIPELINES. Morningstar, the U.S. presidential adviser on energy in the Caspian region, said in Ashgabat that the U.S. Exim Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation are prepared to finance the Transcaspian gas pipeline and insure it against "political risk," ITAR-TASS reported. Morningstar said many U.S. companies have come forward with proposals for the project. He said much depended on creating an "atmosphere of mutual trust," which is why the U.S. is ready to act as a "mediator" between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in their dispute over sectors s of the Caspian Sea. Morningstar said he received promises of support for the project from Azerbaijani leaders when he visited Baku on 16 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998). BP NAZARBAYEV SAYS IT'S HIS "DUTY" TO ENSURE FAIR ELECTIONS. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in a statement released in Astana on 17 December that it is "my duty to draw the attention of all state power structures...to the need to avert any illegal interference with the election process and create equal conditions for all candidates" during the campaign for the 10 January presidential elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Nazarbayev continued that "some insignificant irregularities, not affecting the election campaign as a whole, have been reported." He added that "any officials standing in the way of presidential candidates, electoral commissions, observers or electoral headquarters, will be held accountable." BP CASPIAN LITTORAL STATES FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT. Meeting in Moscow on 16-17 December, deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan narrowed but failed to resolve their disagreement over how to divide the sea into national sectors, Reuters and Interfax reported. Russia and Kazakhstan continue to advocate dividing the seabed into national sectors, leaving the waters for common use. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan want to divide both the seabed and the waters into such sectors. Iran signaled at the meeting that it might agree to that approach, which it had previously rejected, but only on condition that all national sectors of the sea are of equal size. Under the present delineation, the national sectors vary in size. A third meeting of the deputy foreign ministers' working group will be held in May in Tehran. LF ARMENIA REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO MEDZAMOR CLOSURE. Speaking in Yerevan on 17 December following the annual meeting of the EU-Armenia commission, Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian said Armenia will abide by its commitment to shut down the Medzamor nuclear power plant by 2004, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. An EU statement said the two sides will create a working group to study the prospects for developing alternative sources of energy. Medzamor currently generates some 35 percent of Armenia's electricity. EU officials announced some ECU 50 million ($58.8 million) in new grants and loans to Armenia, raising the total amount of EU aid to Armenia since 1991 to more than ECU 250 million. LF TALKS ON ABKHAZ CONFLICT OPEN IN GENEVA. Liviu Bota, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to Georgia, told journalists in Geneva on 17 December that the security situation in Abkhazia is "rapidly deteriorating," Reuters reported. Bota said that the incidence of terrorist activities is increasing and rumors are circulating of a possible resumption of hostilities (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 42, 16 December 1998). Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and Abkhaz Premier Sergei Bagapsh began two days of behind-closed-doors talks on 17 December that will focus primarily on the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons, which Bota termed "a humanitarian priority." U.S., French, British, German, Russian, and OSCE representatives are also present at those talks. LF SUPPORTERS OF DECEASED GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ARRESTED. Several hundred police rounded up supporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who were staging an unsanctioned protest demonstration on 17 December outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. The demonstrators were demanding that the building be turned over to what they called the legitimate Georgian parliament elected in November 1990. Gamsakhurdoia's supporters had a clear majority in that parliament. Most of the demonstrators were transported several kilometers outside Tbilisi and then released. LF AZERBAIJAN, TURKEY TO FUND BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE? Addressing members of the youth organization of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party on 17 December, Ilham Aliev, son of the Azerbaijani president, said that Azerbaijan and Turkey may jointly fund construction of the proposed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil if the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) which is engaged in extracting that oil, declines to do so, Turan reported. The AIOC has repeatedly postponed making a firm commitment to the pipeline, saying the estimated cost of $3.5 billion is not viable. Ilham Aliev also denied categorically that he will accept the post of chairman of the Yeni Azerbaycan party. LF 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. 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