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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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?
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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.
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