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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 248, Part I, 29 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 248, Part I, 29 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 YEAR IN REVIEW 1998 A roundup of articles examining major news events in 1998 in the RFE/RL broadcast region and beyond. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/yearend98/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * MOSCOW WARNS U.S. ON IRAQ * FYODOROV CALLS 1999 BUDGET UNREALISTIC * ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW End Note: LUZHKOV'S "OTECHESTVO" HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MOSCOW WARNS U.S. ON IRAQ. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 28 December warning against "actions that would not contribute to the creation of a favorable atmosphere for resuming the search for a political solution to the Iraq problem," Russian agencies reported. Ministry officials told Interfax that the statement was a response to the exchange of fire between U.S. aircraft and Iraqi air defense units. Earlier on 28 December, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeated Moscow's opposition to any use of force in Iraq or in Kosova, and called for a rapid review by the UN of Iraqi weapons programs. Ivanov also blamed the Kosovar Albanians for the problems in Kosova and said that any use of force against Serbia "would only exacerbate" the situation. PG YELTSIN PLEDGES TO PRESS AHEAD WITH DEMOCRATIC REFORMS. In a letter to Moscow's "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 December, the Russian President acknowledged that 1998 had not been "easy for any of us," but said that "there is no path for Russia except the one towards democracy, towards a state based on the rule of law." He suggested that "many people, especially 'Kommersant' readers, may have thought that the country was moving backwards. It is not so!" "As president, I affirm -- there is no way back," Yeltsin said. PG DUMA DEPUTY DENIES PROBLEMS IN RUSSIA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM. "Despite recent statements by US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, we are able to provide for absolute safety in power engineering in Russia as well as in other countries where we construct nuclear power plants," Vladimir Gusev told ITAR-TASS on 28 December. Gusev, who is chairman of the Duma committee with oversight in this area, said that the situation in Russia's nuclear power engineering was "normal but not disastrous." PG FYODOROV CALLS 1999 BUDGET UNREALISTIC ... Boris Fyodorov, the former finance minister and deputy premier, told a Moscow news conference on 28 December that the state budget given preliminary approval by the Duma on 25 December was based on "phoney" assumptions, Interfax reported. He suggested that inflation would be at least double what the budget assumed, that the ruble- dollar exchange rate would fall much further than projected, and that there is no reason to expect any economic growth in 1999. And Fyodorov said that the recent printing of "at least" 10,000 million rubles meant that the situation could "get out of hand within the next few months." The leader of the Forward Russia political party said his group will issue a detailed forecast in January 1999. PG ... AND SAYS TAX RECEIPTS MAY FALL BY HALF. Fyodorov, who also served as head of the State Tax Service, added at his 28 December news conference that he fears the actual collection of taxes may fall 30 to 50 percent, Interfax reported. Such declines, Fyodorov said, would make it impossible for Moscow to fulfill its promises to the international financial community and could lead to Russia's economic and political "isolation." PG YELTSIN CALLS FOR TIGHTER CIS. Pronouncing himself satisfied with the performance of the country's foreign ministry, President Yeltsin told Foreign Minister Ivanov on 28 December that his priorities for the year ahead include closer integration within the Commonwealth of Independent States, the promotion of nuclear non- proliferation, and solving the Iraq and Kosova problems, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin also said that he hopes to expand Moscow's ties with Europe. To this end, Ivanov said, Yeltsin plans to visit Paris in late January 1999. PG RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION PROPOSAL SPARKS DEBATE. Vladimir Pokrovskii, the Russian official who has been responsible for expanding ties between Moscow and Minsk under the earlier union accords, told Reuters on 28 December that "nothing will happen or suddenly flower" as a result of the documents signed on 25 December by Presidents Yeltsin and Lukashenka. Pokrovskii said that the process of bringing the two countries closer together will be long and complex, with more than 2,000 issues still to be decided. But officials in Karelia, Murmansk, and Belgorod all greeted the proposed union, arguing that it reflects the combined will of the Russian and Belarusian peoples. PG RUSSIAN COMMUNISTS URGE CLOSER TIES WITH UKRAINE. In a statement released following the ratification of the Russia-Ukraine friendship treaty on 25 December, the Communist faction in the Duma released a statement calling for expanded ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 December. The statement called on Kyiv to help ensure that Russia's Black Sea fleet can operate on Ukrainian territory and not to do anything that could "destroy the spiritual and historic unity of both peoples." PG IVANOV DENIES RUSSIA BEHIND CONFLICTS ON CIS TERRITORY. Following a 28 December meeting with visiting Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said that "speculations about Russia's alleged interest in the maintenance of tension in various regions for the sake of preserving its presence or its influence there are absolutely groundless," ITAR- TASS reported. Instead, Ivanov continued, Moscow is "interested in the full and final settlement" of all such conflicts "because this is in line with our national, strategic, long-term interests." PG YELTSIN SAYS MILITARY REFORM GOING "SLOWLY." During a meeting with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 28 December, the Russian president said that military reform is taking place "but still slowly," ITAR-Tass reported. He welcomed the reduction in the number of troops to 1.2 million, congratulated Sergeev on the introduction of the Topol-M missiles, and praised the government for increasing its financial support for the military. PG RYZHKOV SAYS RUSSIANS HAVE NEVER BEEN NATIONALISTIC. Speaking in Barnaul on 28 December, Vladimir Ryzhkov, the first deputy speaker of the Duma, denounced recent nationalistic statements by his colleagues. He called on Siberians to voice their opposition to such statements. And he argued that "nationalism has never been characteristic of Russian people and never will be, as this contradicts our entire history." PG KARAGANOV PRAISES RUSSIA-INDIA-CHINA AXIS. Sergei Karaganov, the head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, told Interfax on 27 December that he welcomes Prime Minister Primakov's plans for a Russia-India-China axis. Not only would "we like to use our cooperation to counterbalance the excessive power of the United States," Karaganov said, the creation of such a structure, along with a Russia-European Union accord will promote stability at a time when the international relations system "is very rapidly falling apart." PG LUZHKOV SAYS HIS FATHERLAND MOVEMENT IS "FOREVER." Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told Interfax-Moscow on 28 December that his new Fatherland Movement was not simply a means for competing in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections but rather had been created to last "forever." He said that the movement is preparing a program for discussion at its second congress in April 1999. And Luzhkov added that he has no interest in forming "any alliances or unions" with former prime minister and current Our Home is Russia leader Viktor Chernomyrdin. (See also "End Note") PG LEBED CALLS FOR REINSTATEMENT OF DEATH PENALTY. In order to put the country in order, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed said on 28 December that the country should impose harsher penalties on criminals, including the reinstatement of the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the West would "greet" such a step if it were effective, even though it would put Moscow at odds with the requirements of the Council of Europe. In other remarks, Lebed called for lifting parliamentary immunity so that the courts could prosecute legislators, and for giving the police expanded freedom to shoot to kill. PG SKURATOV URGES TOUGHER SENTENCES FOR CORRUPTION. Russian Prosecutor General Yurii Skuratov on 28 December called for tougher sentences to be handed out in corruption and bribery cases, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that he is surprised by the number of those convicted who are sentenced to probation rather than prison. And he said he is disappointed that the Swiss authorities have not used evidence provided by Moscow to convict Sergei Mikhailov, who is widely thought to be a Russian mafia chieftain. PG PUBLIC TV CHIEF SAYS YELTSIN LOAN WON'T AFFECT PROGRAMS. ORT General Director Igor Shabdurasulov said on Ekho Moskvy on 28 December that President Yeltsin's decision to open a credit line for the hard-pressed network will not affect its programming decisions, ITAR-TASS reported. Shabdurasulov said that Yeltsin had made the loan rather than the government because ORT had been created by presidential decree, and he said that the government is fully protected from any losses by ORT assets. PG MOSCOW TO RESTRICT MILITARY COOPERATION TO STATE-OWNED FIRMS. Trade Minister Georgii Gabunia told Prime-Tass on 28 December that the Russian government planned to prohibit any firm that is less than 50 percent owned by the state from carrying out military-technical cooperation with foreign countries. Such an arrangement will allow the authorities to control the situation more effectively as they seek to generate increased revenues from such programs. PG CUSTOMS TO CREATE "GREEN CORRIDOR" FOR LAW-ABIDING ... State Customs Committee chairman Valerii Draganov told ITAR-TASS on 28 December that he plans to crack down on smuggling but will create special and easier border -- something he called the "green corridor" -- clearing procedures for those businesses which have demonstrated they obey the law. Draganov said that his committee is compiling a list of approximately 100 to 150 such companies. PG ... BUT TIGHTEN CONTROLS TO RAISE REVENUES. Draganov added that the Russian Federation should increase customs duties 2.5 times in 1999 in order to raise revenue. He noted that the Customs Committee accounted for 30 percent of budget revenues in 1998, a figure he said would rise to 45 percent in 1999. And he added that his committee is preparing a plan for self-financing of its own activities. PG FOUR OUT OF FIVE RUSSIANS SAY LIFE BECOMING HARDER. A December poll of 1600 Russians found that 82 percent believe that their lives have become more difficult over the past year, Interfax reported on 28 December. Asked by the Public Opinion Fund to name the three most important events of 1998, 43 percent said the August financial crisis, 32 percent volunteered the murder of Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, and 30 percent indicated the growing inflation. PG HUMANITARIAN AID MATCHES FALL IN IMPORTS. Trade Minister Gabunia told Prime-Tass on 28 December that humanitarian assistance from abroad would not have any dramatic effect on domestic producers because "the volume of humanitarian deliveries is the same size as the reduction of imports" following the August 1998 financial crisis. PG BODIES OF SLAIN ENGINEERS FLOWN TO U.K. The remains of one New Zealand and three British telephone enginers executed in Chechnya three weeks ago were transported from Chechnya via Dagestan to Baku on 28 December and flown from there to London the following day. The Chechen leadership had vetoed transporting the bodies to Moscow. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev told Interfax on 28 December that the investigation into the murders "has advanced considerably." He said the suspected murderers will be tried in a Shariah court and executed if found guilty. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Vartan Oskanian held talks in Moscow on 28 December with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov, and the Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Yurii Yukalov, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at a joint news conference, Oskanian and Ivanov positively assessed cooperation and bilateral relations in 1998. Ivanov said that he and Oskanian had discussed the possibility of "direct talks" on resolving the Karabakh conflict "with the assistance of the OSCE and with Russia's participation." (Such talks would presumably involve Armenia, Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, although Ivanov did not say so explicitly.) Ivanov said there are no "ready formulae" for resolving the conflict, and the "political will" to do so is essential. Both ministers denied that Russian-Armenian military cooperation is directed against any third country. Oskanian said that cooperation is "absolutely transparent" and implemented within the framework of the CFE treaty. LF TOP ARMENIAN OFFICIALS RECEIVE SALARY INCREASE. The Armenian parliament passed legislation on 28 December quadrupling the salaries of leading government, parliament and judiciary officials, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The president, prime minister, ministers and their deputies, heads of government departments and parliament leadership will in future receive an average monthly salary of 187,500 drams ($370). Parliament also passed legislation requiring top officials to complete an annual declaration of their income and property, ITAR-TASS reported. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR CONDEMNS RUSSIAN 'NEO- IMPERIALISM.' Vafa Gulu-zade told Turan on 28 December that a statement by Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin during last week's debate on ratification of the Russian-Ukrainian Treaty is "a manifestation of the imperial ambitions of Russia's political elite." Baburin had recalled that Russia "ceded Kars and other Armenian territories" to Turkey in the 1920s. Gulu-zade also condemned deliveries to Armenia of Russian weaponry, which he said included S-300 missiles. He equated the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict with "the long-drawn-out Russian-Turkish conflict, in which Armenia implements its master's will," and said that "the Azerbaijani people have fallen victim to the Russian national idea of world domination," according to Interfax. LF AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT DELEGATION VISITS IRAN. An Azerbaijani parliament delegation headed by chairman Murtuz Alesqerov held talks in Tehran on 22-23 December with Iranian parliament chairman Ali Akper Nateq Nouri and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Turan reported. The talks focussed on improving bilateral relations, regional conflicts and the status of the Caspian Sea. The Azerbaijani delegation then travelled to Meshed, where the possibility of beginning regular flights between that city and Baku was discussed. On 25 December the delegation visited Tabriz, the second largest city in Iran and the cultural center of that country's large Azerbaijani minority. It was the first visit to Tabriz by a delegation from the Azerbaijan Republic. LF AZERBAIJAN ANNOUNCES SELECTIVE AMNESTY. President Heidar Aliev has submitted to the Azerbaijani parliament a bill that would amnesty up to 12,000 prisoners, Turan reported on 25 December. Those eligible include World War II veterans, persons unjustly repressed in the Stalinist period, refugees and internally displaced persons, and persons over 60. But as Azerbaijan Popular Front Party member Alimamed Nuriev pointed out to Turan, persons convicted for slander, violating public order, insulting the president and giving false evidence are not eligible for amnesty. LF CHEVRON REAFFIRS COMMITMENT TO KAZAKH DEVELOPMENT. Senior Chevron Corporation official Kenneth Derr told Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a 28 December meeting in Astana that his company will increase production at the Tengiz field despite the fall in world oil prices, Interfax and RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. Derr said the Tengizchevroil joint venture plans to raise annual output from 8.6 million metric tons in 1998 to 12 million tons by mid-2000. Derr told journalists after the meeting that measures to scale down production costs at Tengiz, including cutting transportation costs, were also discussed. LF KYRGYZ PREMIER'S POWERS TO BE BROADENED. Presidential press secretary Kanybek Imanaliev said in Bishkek on 28 December that President Askar Akayev will shortly issue a decree giving newly-appointed Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov greater authority in appointing government officials and regional leaders, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Hitherto all ministerial appointments have been the exclusive prerogative of the president, according to Interfax. But Imanaliev added that the delegation of additional powers from the president to prime minister will only be temporary, without specifying for how long a time period. LF TURKMENISTAN SHELVES TRANS-IRANIAN GAS PIPELINE. The President of BP-Dutch Shell, Hank Dajkgraaf, told journalists in Ashgabat on 24 December after meeting with President Saparmurat Niyazov that plans to proceed with construction of a gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran have been postponed indefinitely, Interfax and Turan reported. Dijkgraaf said that the Turkmen leadership prefers the alternative Trans-Caspian route, and that "it is impossible to implement simultaneously two large-scale gas pipeline projects oriented towards the Turkish market." BP-Dutch Shell holds the exclusive rights to create a consortium to construct a gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey. LF NEW POLITICAL PARTY FOUNDED IN UZBEKISTAN. The founding congress of the Fidokorlar national democratic party was held in Tashkent on 28 December, RFE/RL's bureau in the Uzbek capital reported. Participants at the congress elected the former deputy director of the Uzbekistan Strategic Research Institute, Erkin Norbotaev, as party general secretary, and approved the party program and statutes and the founding of a party newspaper. Meeting earlier this month with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the party's founders assured him of their "progressive views" and ability "to assume responsibility for democracy, justice and the happiness of the people," according to Interfax. LF END NOTE LUZHKOV'S "OTECHESTVO" HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS by Floriana Fossato The registration deadline for political movements wishing to contest Russia's next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 19 December 1999, expired at midnight on 19 December 1998. The last movement able to meet that deadline was the newly formed "Otechestvo" [Fatherland], which on the same day held its founding congress and elected Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov as its leader. Russian media called the achievement "impressive." Under Russian law, a political organization must submit to the Justice Ministry both its charter and documentation on its funding in order to obtain formal registration. The ministry then has one month to examine those documents and decide whether to register the movement. In the case of "Otechestvo," just a few hours after the necessary documents had been brought to the ministry, Justice Minister Pavel Kresheninnikov told Luzhkov that registration had been granted. Luzhkov, in turn, thanked Kresheninnikov for his ministry's "business-like approach" and explained that registration had been possible because 59 regional branches of the movement, set up after Luzhkov launched "Otechestvo" in November, had duly provided the requested documentation. The protocol of the 19 December founding congress was the only document still needed. At "Otechestovo"s founding congress, which took place in the prestigious Column Hall in downtown Moscow, Luzhkov received support from more than 1,100 delegates, when he detailed his vision for Russia's future. Observers present at the meeting were struck by the organizational efforts, the wide range of the delegates' backgrounds and the security measures. In all of those respects, many thought the gathering reminiscent of Communist Party congresses. Calling for a revival of the defense industry and the country's nuclear forces, Luzhkov told delegates that Russia needs "a modern army and a reliable nuclear deterrence system" in order to restore its role as a leading world power. This need, he said, was illustrated by the U.S.-led attacks against Iraq, which Russia strongly opposed but was unable to stop or influence. Luzhkov also said that he wants to create a state system "based on social democracy, strong state power, and a combination of market-economy methods and social policies." And he commented that to achieve these goals, he wants to draw support from both the right and left of the political spectrum. According to the daily "Vremya-MN," Luzhkov's "declared centrist line" prompted him to use phrases that "should appeal to many...and will probably become a slogan textbook for his supporters." However, another daily,"Segodnya," said that Luzhkov's words illustrate that the movement's election campaigns "will be based on strong criticism of radical- liberal reform and of the results of the activities of governments led first by [Viktor] Chernomyrdin and then by [Sergei] Kirienko." Without naming any names, Luzhkov lambasted reforms carried out in Russia during the last seven years. He commented that "for the second time in this century," Russia has been overtaken by doctrines that are "alien to its culture." "If the situation in the country remains as it was," Luzhkov added, "we will all be up against some serious difficulties." According to Luzhkov, the implementation of reform, which has enriched just a few and left the majority of Russians struggling to make ends meet, has proved a dangerous "experiment." He said that "vulgar monetarism can be implemented, but for this one should choose a country and a people one does not feel sorry for." He concluded by telling delegates that "Now, dear sirs, the experiment is over." Those words were greeted with warm applause from the audience, composed of many industrialists of the early perestroika period as well as by regional bosses and politicians who had earlier suppported President Boris Yeltsin. Luzkhov, who is seen as one of the leading contenders to replace Yeltsin in an election set for the year 2000, also called for "experienced managers" of the Soviet-era to be reinstated in leading positions and for property that had been privatized illegally to be returned to the state. Luzhkov's message is one of patriotism and national unity, both of which have been wounded by the many political and economic crises of the last few years and, in particular, by the fallout of the August financial collapse. Luzhkov's critics, however, argue that it was the very reforms that he now condemns that helped Moscow's growth. Taxes on emerging businesses were largely collected in Moscow to the benefit of the local budget. Luzhkov is popular in the capital and enjoys consistently strong ratings in opinion polls. But many observers question whether there is support for the Moscow mayor in Russia's regions. Over the past 12 months, Luzhkov has been cultivating a network of supporters among regional leaders. The founding congress of "Otechestvo" was crowded with regional bosses. Some, including Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Ivan Sklyarov and his Novosibirsk colleague, Vitalii Mukha, were sitting among presidium members. Others said that Luzhkov has an "excellent chance" to become Russia's next president, adding that they would support "Otechestvo" back home. Still others were more cautious. "Vremya MN" quoted an unnamed regional governor as saying he is waiting to see how developments unfold and to find out whether Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov supports "Otechestvo" Primakov has so far made no public statement on Luzhkov's movement. For his part, President Yeltsin did not send any message to the congress. Kremlin aide Oleg Sysuev, a member of Kirienko's former government, wished the new movement well but distanced himself from Luzhkov's criticism of reforms. Luzhkov responded by saying that Sysuev's comments only show that the presidential administration does not understand the real situation in the country. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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