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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 5, Part I, 8 January 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 5, Part I, 8 January 1999 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 * MOSCOW TRIES AGAIN TO TIGHTEN ALCOHOL CONTROLS * GOVERNMENT TO SELL MORE SHARES IN LUKOIL? * CANDIDATES IN KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WRAP UP CAMPAIGN End Note: SEA CHANGE IN GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MOSCOW TRIES AGAIN TO TIGHTEN ALCOHOL CONTROLS... President Boris Yeltsin on 7 January signed a law amending and expanding state regulation of the production and sale of alcohol. Three months earlier, Yeltsin had signed a similar measure intended to tighten control over the alcohol market and reduce illegal alcohol sales. On 6 January, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov criticized cabinet officials for failing to fully implement plans to prevent the illegal production and sale of alcohol. Primakov said that reprimands have been given to "those who did not take their tasks too seriously." Disciplined or not, the government faces a difficult task. Sergei Lukashuk, production manager of the Kristall vodka factory in Moscow, told the "Globe and Mail" on 29 December that "it's very easy to produce vodka in underground plants. You can set up a factory in a week. It's easy to get bottles and spirits, and it's big money." JAC ...AS SARATOV ABOLISHES DRUNK TANKS. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov issued a resolution disbanding the region's "drying-out" centers, where police take drunken citizens to sober up, as of 1 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. The decision was made after reports of numerous violations of local citizens' human rights by a regional commission on human rights. The country's economic crisis may have put a small crimp in alcohol consumption. In September, after the devaluation of the ruble, the Russian population bought 17 percent less alcohol and beer, compared with the same month last year, "Vremya MN" reported on 3 November 1998. JAC COURT HEAD EXAMINES RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION. Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai told Ekho Moskvy on 7 January that although he welcomes the idea of integration between Russia and Belarus, Belarusian and Russian leaders "have not yet approached the problem of unification in earnest." He explained that the Russian Constitution contains provisions for states to join the Russian Federation as a constituent member, but Belarus, as a sovereign with its own constitution and elected bodies, "will hardly want to become a constituent member of the Russian Federation." He concluded that to become one state, Russia and Belarus would have to adopt a single constitution. On 8 January, former parliamentary speaker Ivan Rybkin suggested that President Yeltsin would be a "realistic" candidate to head a unified Russian-Belarusian state, Interfax reported. JAC IMPACT OF POSSIBLE CLINTON RESIGNATION PONDERED. If U.S. President Bill Clinton is forced to resign, Russia will have a harder time obtaining foreign loans, Georgii Arbatov, honorary director of the USA and Canada Institute, told Interfax on 7 January. He added that in the case of Clinton's departure, Russia "should not expect an improvement of [its] relations with the Americans, given that the present Congress" includes "rather conservative people who may hardly be seen as [Russia's] friends." Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policies, on the other hand, expected little impact on the provision of loans to Russia. He suggested that U.S.-Russia relations may improve following Clinton's possible resignation because Vice President Al Gore is a strong advocate of cooperation with Russia. "That is exactly why it is unlikely that Clinton will be forced out of office, because such a development may prove worse for the Republicans," he commented. JAC GOVERNMENT TO SELL MORE SHARES IN LUKOIL? The government continues to revise its tentative list of companies to be privatized in 1999, Interfax reported on 7 January. "Segodnya" had reported earlier that the Russian government plans to sell packages of shares in six large enterprises: Gazprom, Svyazinvest, Onako, Sovkomflot, Aeroflot, and the Moscow River Steam Navigation Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1998). Also on the block may be shares in Samara-based Zavod Maslinnikova, Vologda-based Rotor, Bor in Primorskii Krai, Moscow's Moselektrolfolga, and the Balashovskii Bakery Combine in Saratov Oblast, according to Interfax. In addition, three companies will join the Sukhoi aircraft production holding, whose shares will then be offered to investors. Between the first and third quarter of 1999, the government will offer a block of 9 percent of Lukoil for a starting price of 4 billion rubles ($193 million), Interfax reported. JAC RUSSIA REPEATS CALLS FOR UNSCOM OVERHAUL. Russian representative to the UN Sergei Lavrov has repeated his country's demand that the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) be reformed, according to Radio Rossii on 7 January. According to Lavrov, the "UNSCOM report that was used as a pretext for carrying out attacks against Iraq in December was an act of provocation." Lavrov added that Russia no longer has faith in UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler. JAC JAPAN DENIES REJECTING RUSSIAN PROPOSAL ON DISPUTED ISLANDS. The Japanese Foreign Ministry released a statement on 8 January denying reports published by the Japanese press the previous day claiming that Tokyo has rejected a Russian proposal on the four Kuril Islands, ITAR-TASS reported. The Kyodo news agency reported that Tokyo had rejected a proposal made by Moscow in November for a settlement of the territorial dispute over the islands. It added that the reason for the rejection as that "neither a concrete date nor a concrete place where the demarcation line will be drawn has been mentioned." And it commented that "more and more Russian officials have been skeptical about the prospects for a settlement of the problem" by 2000. The Japanese Foreign Ministry statement said the report was "conjecture by the press." BP PATRIARCH HOSTS ELITE GATHERING. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II entertained an array of Russian politicians, statesman, military officials, and scientists and artists, at a Moscow concert hall on 7 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Among those attending were Prime Minister Primakov and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Addressing the guests, Primakov called for a joint effort to get Russia out of its crisis. In interview with Moscow's TV Center on the same day, Patriarch Alexii II described the past year as a difficult one for Russians and a tough one for the Orthodox Church. He noted that religious faith remained especially strong in Russia's remote regions, where external difficulties have brought neighbors together. JAC STATE TO AUGMENT FINGERPRINT COLLECTION. In accordance with a new law that took effect on 1 January, more than 30 million people, including workers with dangerous or sensitive jobs, will be subject to compulsory fingerprinting, the "Moscow Times" reported on 6 January. Other categories of individuals requiring fingerprint registration are foreigners seeking political asylum and citizens who cannot identify themselves, such as the mentally disabled. The previous day, "Segodnya" described the fingerprinting effort as "an experiment" that, if successful, will lead to "every Russian leaving his or her fingerprints at police stations." The newspaper also argued that the law has raised no serious concerns among human rights organizations because they were involved in the drafting of the legislation. However, the "Moscow Times" quoted Sergei Grigoryants, chairman of Glasnost Public Foundation, as saying the law "is undoubtedly an infringement on civil rights" and represents an attempt "at total surveillance." JAC RUSSIAN RAILWAYS CHUG INTO THE BLACK? Russian Minister of Railways Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters on 8 January that his ministry finished 1998 with a profit, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the ministry has no outstanding debts to the federal budget or to the pension fund. According to the minister, 320,000 railway workers were laid off in 1998, while energy- and time- saving devices were introduced at all railway stations and depots. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA COMMUNIST CANDIDATE IN KAZAKHSTAN'S ELECTION WRAPS UP CAMPAIGN... Three of the four candidates in the 10 January presidential elections continued to campaign on 8 January, the last day of the election campaign, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Serikbolsyn Abdildin of the Communist Party held a press conference at the Press Club in Almaty, repeating that the government has paid no attention to his ideas or criticisms about the campaign or the vote itself. Abdildin said that his success in the elections would be a victory for democracy in Kazakhstan and that he would institute constitutional reform within one or two years and make changes in the institution of the presidency. He added that if he were to lose, he would work to unite various opposition groups. On 7 January, leaders of Kazakhstan's Workers Movement said they will support Abdildin in the upcoming poll. BP ...AS DO TWO OTHER CONTENDERS. Gani Kasymov, the chairman of the country's Customs Committee, was also campaigning in Almaty. At a press conference, Kasymov did not reply to questions about what he would do should he lose the election, nor did he respond to a question about his possible appointment to a cabinet post if he were defeated in his bid for the presidency. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meanwhile, met with voters in the village of Chemolghan, where he grew up. There are no reports that the fourth candidate, parliamentary deputy Engels Gabbasov, was campaigning on 8 January. BP PREPARATIONS FOR ELECTIONS FINALIZED. The chairwoman of the Central Elections Commission, Zagipa Baliyeva, said on 8 January that the new computer system for tallying votes in the presidential election is up and working, ITAR-TASS reported. Updates will be given from around the country every two hours during the vote count. Baliyeva also noted that the commission has registered 6,147 observers from local organizations, the largest number of whom are from the Communist Party. In addition, 75 foreign journalists and 133 foreign observers--from Austria, Great Britain, Romania, the Czech Republic, Israel, the U.S., and India have been registered. RFE/RL correspondents report that a delegation from the U.S.'s Republican Party have arrived in Kazakhstan to be present during the elections. BP TAJIK GOVERNMENT SAYS CUTS NOT TO AFFECT UTO. Presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov on 8 January said that cuts in the number of government officials will not affect the number of cabinet posts held by the United Tajik Opposition, ITAR-TASS reported. As of 1 January, 10 percent of government posts at all levels are to be abolished. Under the terms of the 1997 Tajik Peace Accord, the UTO is to receive 30 percent of cabinet posts. That process has still not been completed, however. BP SEVERAL DEAD IN AZERBAIJANI PRISON REVOLT. An unknown number of convicts and guards were killed on 8 January before guards succeeded in quelling an uprising at the Gobustan prison, southwest of Baku, AP and Reuters, reported quoting Interior and Justice Ministry officials. It is unclear how many of the prison's estimated 500 inmates participated in the uprising. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER DENIES ADVOCATING DEFENSE PACT WITH TURKEY... In an exclusive interview with Turan on 7 January, Vafa Guluzade denied having called for a bilateral agreement on defense cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey analogous to that between Russia and Armenia. The Turkish daily "Zaman" quoted Guluzade on 31 December as saying such a pact is desirable in view of the "Cold War" between Russia and Turkey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). Guluzade told Turan he had merely advocated more intense military cooperation between Baku and Ankara. LF ...ACCUSES RUSSIA OF SUBVERSION. In a lengthy article published in "Ayna/Zerkalo" on 26 December, Guluzade argued that what he terms the "Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict," meaning the war waged by the Karabakh Armenians for independence, was a proxy struggle between Russia and Turkey. He quoted an unnamed senior Armenian official as having admitted that the 1993 Armenian occupation of several Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh was not an Armenian initiative but undertaken at Moscow's instigation. Guluzade also quoted then Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Adamishin as having proposed in April 1993 the deployment of "at least one battalion" of Russian troops in Azerbaijan's Kelbadjar Raion, located between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier, in exchange for the withdrawal of the Armenian forces that had recently occupied the region. LF AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY NOT PLANNING COOPERATION WITH IRAN. Eldar Sabir oglu, a spokesman for the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party, has rejected allegations that the party has discussed with a senior Iranian diplomat in Baku the possibility of cooperation with Iranian political parties, Turan reported on 7 January. Those allegations were made at a press conference in Baku two days earlier by Piruz Dilenchi, one of the leaders of the Movement for the Liberation of Southern Azerbaijan. LF EU GRANT FOR GEORGIA. Georgian Finance Minister Davit Onoprishvili and the head of the EU mission in the Transcaucasus, Denis Corboy, signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 7 January whereby the EU will give Georgia 6 million ecus ($7.05 million) to underpin policies for overcoming the country's current financial difficulties, ITAR-TASS reported. LF END NOTE SEA CHANGE IN GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS? by Liz Fuller Over the past five years, Russian-Georgian relations have been characterized by tension, threats, recriminations, and mutual suspicion. Most Georgians suspect individuals or interest groups in Moscow of doing everything in their power to undermine Georgian sovereignty, torpedo domestic political stability, and prevent the economic upswing that is expected to result from the export via Georgia of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. Many Russian observers, for their part, view with misgivings what they perceive as Georgia's unequivocally pro-Western orientation. In particular, they impute to Georgia the ambition of wanting to join NATO. But in the course of the last several months, there are indications of changes in this relationship. If these changes continue, they are likely to have a major impact on the role of both Russia and Georgia in the future. Despite an obvious asymmetry in their abilities to affect outcomes, each side has at its disposal levers that can be brought into play in order to rein in, or extract concessions from, the other. Georgians systematically accuse Moscow of encouraging the secessionist Abkhaz leadership to delay indefinitely any settlement of that conflict that would create secure conditions for the repatriation of an estimated 200,000 increasingly angry and militant displaced persons, for whom the Georgian government can provide neither jobs nor permanent homes. The Georgian parliament, for its part, refuses to ratify a 1994 agreement on the status of Russian military bases on Georgian territory until Moscow helps to restore Tbilisi's jurisdiction over Abkhazia and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. Over the past two months, however, Russian and Georgian leaders appear to have reached a series of interrelated agreements possibly intended to pave the way for a less confrontational relationship. In early November, Georgian and Russian officials signed a formal agreement whereby Georgia would assume full control over guarding its sea borders as of 1 January 1999 and gradually take over full responsibility for protecting its land borders, currently guarded jointly by Russian and Georgian contingents. The Georgian parliament, which has been consistently more outspoken in its condemnation of alleged Russian interference in the country's internal affairs than has President Eduard Shevardnadze, had passed a law in July 1998 calling for Georgia's border guards to have full control over the country's land frontiers within two years. But there may have been a quid pro quo for this apparent Russian concession to Georgian demands. During talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow later in November, Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze reportedly agreed that the Russian military bases in Georgia should not be closed (another maximalist demand by the Georgian parliament), as they constitute a "stabilizing factor" in the Caucasus. Less easy to evaluate is Russia's role in the most recent failure of Georgian and Abkhaz leaders to sign documents intended to address the aftermath of the 1992- 1993 war. In early fall, both sides expressed confidence that President Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba would meet in November to sign a protocol on peace and confidence-building measures and an agreement on Georgian economic aid for Abkhazia and on terms for the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. By the end of the month, however, Tbilisi and Sukhumi were accusing each other of sabotaging the meeting by seeking radical amendments to the previously agreed texts. Interviewed by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in mid- December, Abkhaz Prosecutor-General and presidential envoy to the peace talks Anri Djergenia suggested that the Georgian leadership may in fact have no interest in reaching an agreement with Abkhazia, as the unresolved conflict serves as a unifying factor in Georgian political life. He said that in late November, unnamed Russian mediators had tried to persuade the Abkhaz to soften their position, which inclined him to suspect that Moscow and Tbilisi had concluded some kind of secret deal. Pointing to previous occasions when an agreement appeared to be within reach, Djergenia observed that "whenever problems arise in relations between Russia and Georgia, Tbilisi adopts an openly anti-Russian stance, and we, in turn, begin to step up the negotiation process and try to achieve some kind of results, after which Georgia alters its position vis-a- vis Russia and begins to play tactical games with [Russia], then Moscow begins to pressure us and Abkhazia becomes a bargaining chip." It is possible that, having wrested agreement from Tbilisi that Russian military bases should remain in Georgia, Moscow is now prepared to allow the current stalemate in the Abkhaz negotiating process to continue indefinitely. A recent comment by Shevardnadze indirectly corroborates both that hypothesis and the suggestion that the Georgian leadership considers the unresolved conflict advantageous since it diverts attention from acute social and economic problems, especially in the run-up to the Georgian parliamentary elections due in the fall of 1999. The Georgian president told journalists in Tbilisi on 31 December that he considers it unlikely that a political solution to the Abkhaz conflict will be reached this year and that such a solution will depend largely on the outcome of the Georgian presidential elections next year (in which he intends to run for a second term). But Ardzinba's presidential term also expires in 1999, and it remains unclear whether he will run for re-election. How a change of leadership in Sukhumi would affect either the negotiating process or the shifting relations between Russia, Georgia, and Abkhazia is difficult to predict. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 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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