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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 6, Part I, 11 January 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 6, Part I, 11 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 * FINANCE MINISTRY DENIES RUSSIA IN DEFAULT * OIL CAN'T BE ECONOMY'S 'LOCOMOTIVE,' SIBNEFT OFFICIAL SAYS * NAZARBAYEV WINS MORE THAN 80 PERCENT OF VOTE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA FINANCE MINISTRY DENIES RUSSIA IN DEFAULT. In a statement released on 9 January, the Russian Finance Ministry denied reports that Moscow has defaulted on its foreign debt or faces seizure of its assets abroad as a result, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry said that Moscow has taken a series of "civilized steps" to deal with the Russian debt. But in an indication that Moscow may not soon pay all its debts, the ministry acknowledged that Russia has budgeted only $9.5 billion of the $17.5 billion required for debt servicing this year. And the statement said that Moscow would seek more foreign help to cover its debts. In the absence of such help, officials said, Russia's economic and political situation would deteriorate even further. PG MASLYUKOV TO CUT SHORT U.S. TRIP TO MEET WITH IMF MISSION. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov will cut short his visit to Washington in order to return to Moscow on 15 January, Interfax-FIA reported on 10 January. Finance Ministry officials said they expect a mission from the IMF to arrive before the end of January, but they acknowledged that no date has been set. PG DUMA TO CONSIDER BUDGET THIS WEEK. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said on 9 January that the Duma may debate the 1999 state budget at an extraordinary session on 19 January, Russian agencies reported. He added that the budget might receive final approval in early February. Meanwhile, Russian Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov told RIA that the lower house of the parliament will pass the budget by the end of January. But the Duma's budget committee on 10 January called for cutting 1999 expenditures on the country's state administration by some 1.8 billion rubles ($85 million), Interfax reported. PG CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO EXAMINE IMPEACHMENT QUERIES. Mikhail Mityukov, Yeltsin's representative to the Constitutional Court, told Interfax on 8 January that the court will consider a Duma inquiry about when a prime minister should assume the powers of the president and when elections should be held if the president is no longer physically capable of performing his functions. Mityukov said that this inquiry is part of what the Duma's "long-lasting 'medical' impeachment campaign." PG YELTSIN URGED NOT TO TAX JUDGES... The leaders of Russia's highest courts have called on Yeltsin to block the levying of taxes on judges' incomes, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 January. An amendment to tax legislation submitted to the Duma would tax their incomes for the first time, cutting their incomes by almost a third, the appeal said. They also suggested that such a tax would "provoke a mass exodus of judges" while contributing little revenue to the state. Yeltsin reportedly has directed Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to modify the legislation in response to the judges' concerns. PG ...VOIDS SAKHA GOLD DECREE. The Russian president on 10 January revoked an August 1998 decree by Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) President Mikahil Nikolaev on the disposition of gold supplies, Interfax reported. Yeltsin's decree said that Nikolaev's decree violates the law on precious metals and must be revised. Officials at the Russian state gold holding agency Goskhran said that Yeltsin's action would "have a positive influence on gold mining companies" in Yakutia. PG A BAD YEAR ON RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET... Total trading on Moscow's RTS exchange fell from $15.65 billion in 1997 to $9.26 billion in 1998, Interfax-FIA reported on 8 January. Price declines meant that the capitalization of the shares on RTS fell from $72 billion on 5 January 1998 to approximately $11 billion a year later, an 85 percent decrease. PG ...WHILE PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS DUBININ RESPONSIBLE FOR AUGUST CRISIS. Yurii Skuratov said on 10 January that he will ask President Yeltsin to review the activities of the Central Bank in August 1998 at a meeting of the Russian Security Council, Interfax reported. Skuratov said that in his view then-CBR chairman Sergei Dubinin was "directly responsible for what has happened" since that time. PG GOVERNMENT PROMISES TO PAY OVERDUE PENSIONS BY JULY. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told Ekho Moskvy on 10 January that the government will pay 28.6 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) in overdue pensions by July, ITAR-TASS reported. She also said that pensions will be adjusted twice but she acknowledged that the hikes will not keep up with inflation. PG OIL CAN'T BE ECONOMY'S 'LOCOMOTIVE,' SIBNEFT OFFICIAL SAYS. Speaking in Omsk on 9 January, Konstantin Popov, the vice president of the Sibneft oil company, suggested that "Russia's oil industry is in no position to be a locomotive for the Russian economy," ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that his company cut output by 4 percent in 1998 and that it will be a long time before oil prices recover to where they were several years ago. Meanwhile, the Russian government announced plans to sell another 2.5 percent of Gazprom shares once the market becomes more favorable. It added that it will consider expanding the size of oil companies in order to raise more revenue, Interfax said on 8 January. PG YELTSIN SIGNS AMENDMENTS TO PRODUCTION-SHARING LAW. The Russian president on 8 January approved amendments to the Production Sharing Law that are intended to make it easier for foreign firms to invest in the petroleum and natural resource sectors, ITAR-TASS reported. The new law provides legal guarantees for foreign investors. PG FIVE OF RUSSIA'S 10 LARGEST BANKS INSOLVENT. The Interfax Center for Economic Analysis announced on 9 January that five of Russia's 10 largest banks-- Inkombank, SBS Agro, Unexim Bank, Rossiiskii Kredit, and Menatep--are no longer able to meet their financial commitments. Only one of the five still solvent banks-- the International Industrial Bank--is controlled by Russian private capital. On the basis of this, the Interfax Center for Economic Analysis predicts that what it calls "pro-state banks and the subsidiaries of foreign financial markets" will improve their positions in the Russian banking scene in 1999. PG RUSSIA INTRODUCES EXPORT DUTIES. Moscow on 4 January introduced customs duties on scrap non-ferrous metals and certain kinds of lumber exported to countries outside the CIS, Interfax reported. The new levies, up to 10 percent of the value of the products, are intended to help stabilize the country's economic situation, officials said. PG MAKASHOV CASE RETURNED TO FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE. Prosecutor-General Skuratov said on 10 January that his office had returned the investigation of the October 1998 statements by Duma deputy Albert Makashov to the Federal Security Service's Moscow department, ITAR-TASS reported. Skuratov described as "illegal" the termination of the investigation for Makashov's anti- Semitic statements under the article of the criminal code that punishes appeals for changing the constitutional system. PG RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT CALLS FOR OUSTER OF UNSCOM CHIEF. Sergei Lavrov, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, said on ORT on 10 January that UNSCOM's methods "have completely discredited themselves" and that Richard Butler should be dismissed as UNSCOM chief. PG VORONTSOV TAKES POSTS WITH UN, RUSSIAN BANK. At a Washington reception, Yulii Vorontsov, who has been Moscow's ambassador to the U.S., said that as of 1 February he will become deputy secretary-general at the UN and chairman of the Board of the Russian-U.S. Investment Bank, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 January. Vorontsov's successor in Washington, Yurii Ushakov, is to arrive in the U.S. capital shortly, the Russian agency said. PG MERGER OF AIR FORCE UNITS COMPLETED. Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov, the commander in chief of the Russian Air Force, told Interfax on 8 January that the merger of the Military Air Force and the Air Defense Forces has been completed. He suggested that the "new structure" will improve combat effectiveness in the event of need. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Duma defense committee, Roman Popkovich, called on Yeltsin to explain why the military will not get more funds for 1999. PG JAPANESE AMBASSADOR CALLED IN OVER KURIL REPORTS. The Russian Foreign Ministry last week called in the Japanese ambassador to discuss reports in the Tokyo press that Moscow was ready to return two of the disputed Kuril Islands to Japan, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 January. Both the Russian and Japanese governments have denied those reports. Representatives of the two countries are scheduled to meet to discuss the islands on 21 January prior to a February visit to Tokyo by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. PG INTENSIFIED SEARCHES CUT DESERTION RATE. Lieutenant- General Pavel Labutin, the chief of the Leningrad military district headquarters, told ITAR-TASS on 8 January that as a result of intensified searches and greater willingness by commanders to report the number of soldiers absent without leave, his officers reduced the number of deserters from 110 to only 48 during last year. Labutin indicated that other military districts are also stepping up their efforts to reduce the desertion rate, but he noted that it is most difficult to find deserters from those military units now stationed in the Caucasus. He also said that "in many cases," because of cash shortages in the army, deserters who are caught are forced to continue their service in the military districts where they are found. PG OMON POLICE TAKE CREDIT FOR QUIET IN RUSSIAN CAPITAL. Colonel Vyacheslav Kozlov told ITAR-TASS on 10 January that his OMON units were responsible for the "tranquil" holding of 675 public events in Moscow during 1998. He noted that OMON forces had confiscated more than 130 guns, 800 pieces of ammunition, and some 31 kilograms of drugs last year. And he added that some 908 criminal proceedings had begun on the basis of OMON submissions. PG LOCAL COURT CANCELS UPCOMING VLADIVOSTOK VOTE. The Leninskii district court in Vladivostok on 10 January declared that plans to hold mayoral elections in that city on 17 January are illegal, ITAR-TASS reported. The court acted on the basis of an appeal by local citizens who argued that the city must first elect a council and then draft a charter under which mayoral elections would be held. Local officials have said that they will appeal, but they added that the vote will not take place on the scheduled date. PG GORBACHEV CALLS FOR RENEWAL OF CP, USSR. Expressing his frustration with the continued presence in the Russian Communist Party of those who led the August 1991 coup against him, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on 9 January that the party needs to undergo a renewal, Interfax reported. "Those people," Gorbachev said, "dealt the heaviest blow, something Boris Yeltsin took advantage of," and thus allowed the demise of the Soviet Union. Now, he insisted, even those who supported the dissolution of the USSR are saying that "Gorbachev was apparently right all along and that a soft union was the best option." PG ONE RUSSIAN IN THREE OBJECTS TO FOREIGN WORKERS. According to the All-Russia Public Opinion Center, some 34 percent of Russians object to Russian firms' hiring workers from Ukraine, Belarus, and other countries, Interfax reported on 10 January. Of the 1,600 respondents, only 28 percent supported such hires, while 33 percent said they are indifferent. PG BASHKORTOSTAN BANS TATAR NATIONALIST ORGANIZATION. A district court in Ufa, the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, has banned the Tatar Public Center following an appeal by the Ministry of Justice, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 January. The court ruled that the center had called for the secession from Bashkortostan of a region populated mainly by Tatars and for the ouster of Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov. Tatar Public Center chairman Zagir Khakimov told a Tatarstan Radio correspondent that the center did not advocate Rakhimov's ouster but merely called on the population not to vote for him in the 1998 presidential elections. The center has also protested the draft language law passed in the first reading by the parliament of Bashkortostan in December. That bill designates Bashkir and Russian as state languages but not Tatar, despite the fact that Tatars constitute a larger share of the population of Bashkortostan than do the Bashkirs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1999). LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES NEW ISLAMIC CONSTITUTION. Speaking on Chechen Television on 9 January, Aslan Maskhadov said a commission has been created to draft within three years "a concept of an Islamic state [and] a new constitution...based on the Koran," ITAR-TASS reported. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held once the constitution is completed. Also on 9 January, the deputy commander of the Chechen national guard, Sulim Yamadaev, said that Islamic radicals from unnamed Middle Eastern countries, rather than ethnic Chechens, perpetrated the bomb explosion in which he was injured last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 1999). On 10 January, ITAR-TASS retracted reports it had issued earlier that day claiming that Maskhadov had held talks in Ingushetia with Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NAZARBAYEV WINS MORE THAN EIGHTY PERCENT OF VOTE... Nursultan Nazarbayev was re-elected president of Kazakhstan in the 10 January elections, gaining 81.75 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. With most votes counted, Serikbolsyn Abdildin of the Communist Party received 12.08 percent, Customs Committee chairman Gani Kasymov 4.72 percent, and parliamentary deputy Engels Gabbasov 0.78 percent. The Central Elections Commission reports that 86.28 percent of the electorate turned out to vote in the country's first "alternative presidential elections." Observers have so far reported no serious violation at the polls, although Central Elections Commission chairwoman Zagipa Baliyeva admitted there were instances in which one person attempted to vote for other family members. BP ...DECLARES HIMSELF 'SATISFIED' WITH OUTCOME. At a press conference in Astana on 11 January, Nazarbayev said he is satisfied with the preliminary results of the election, RFE/RL correspondents in the capital reported. Nazarbayev commented that of the approximately 20 percent that voted against him, "10 percent is the result of my opponents' activities, [while] the other 10 percent are people who are in poverty now." He noted that he will retain Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev in that post and that the government will remain essentially the same, although he added that there will be some changes. When leaving the voting booth in Astana the previous day, Nazarbayev had said he will continue his reform program, but he rejected the suggestion that Kazakhstan will join the Russian-Belarusian union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). BP FIVE MORE 'WAHHABIS' SENTENCED IN UZBEKISTAN. A Tashkent court on 8 January found five men guilty of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from two to 12 years, AFP reported. The five are reported to be members of an Islamic sect, the Wahhabis, and to have links to Obidkhan Nazarov, the former Imam of Tashkent's Tokhtoboy Mosque, who has been in hiding for nearly one year. All five pleaded innocence, and the head of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, Mikhail Ardzinov, said the charges were "a fabrication." BP KULIK IN TASHKENT. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik was in Tashkent on 8-9 January for a meeting of the Russian-Uzbek intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation and for talks with various Uzbek officials, including President Islam Karimov. ITAR-TASS reported. Karimov noted that "both sides are interested in deepening mutually advantageous economic relations," while Kulik said "Russia attaches special attention to the development of long term ties with Uzbekistan. BP KARIMOV MEETS WITH TAJIK PREMIER. The Uzbek president and Tajik Prime Minister Yahye Azimov met in Tashkent on 8 January to discuss trade and economic cooperation. The two sides agreed on a formula to resume natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan. It was the first official meeting between Tajik and Uzbek officials since Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov accused Uzbekistan of harboring mutineers who had tried to seize territory in northern Tajikistan in early November. BP UZBEKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN HOLD TALKS. An Uzbek delegation was in Turkmenistan on 8 January to discuss rail tariffs, the use of land in border areas, and payment for the transit of Turkmen electricity via Uzbek territory, ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides also discussed a schedule for the payment of goods and services already delivered but were unable to reach agreement on that issue. BP TURKMEN PRESIDENT DISMISSES DEPUTY PREMIER. Saparmurat Niyazov dismissed Boris Shikhmuradov as deputy prime minister on 8 January because of Shikhmuradov's involvement in leasing a book store to companies that do not sell books, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. RFE/RL corespondents in Ashgabat reported that Shikhmuradov had been criticized in the country's state-owned press in December. Shikhmuradov retains his post as foreign minister, however. BP ARMENIAN CURRENCY AGAIN DROPS IN VALUE. The dram lost 3 percent of its value against the dollar on 8 January, falling from 525 to 550 against the U.S. currency, but stabilized at 545 after intervention by the Central Bank, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Senior Central Bank official Aram Vartanian attributed the dram's weakening to commercial banks' short-term needs and "shadow [currency] circulation." A spokesman for the Armenian Prime Minister told Noyan Tapan the same day that the rise in the dollar rate falls within the framework of the government's credit and monetary policy and does not constitute grounds for concern. But two leading Armenian businessmen predicted that the dram's depreciation will hurt both the business community and the population at large. LF AZERBAIJAN LINKS PRISON REVOLT WITH COUP ATTEMPT. Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov told a news conference in Baku on 10 January that the uprising two days earlier at a maximum security prison south of Baku was the continuation of attempts three years ago to oust President Heidar Aliev, Reuters reported. Usubov claimed that the revolt was masterminded by former army General Vakhid Musaev and Faig Bakhshaliev, a close associate of special police commander Rovshan Djavadov. He suggested that unnamed foreign intelligence services may have been involved. But Usubov also said that the insurgents possessed weapons and means of transportation and had demanded safe passage out of the country, either by air or through a land corridor to Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Interfax. Musaev and Bakhshaliev were serving prison sentences for having allegedly planned to assassinate Aliev in 1995. They were among 11 prisoners killed during the insurrection. Two prison guards also died in that incident. LF CASPIAN OIL STARTS FLOWING THROUGH GEORGIA. Senior officials and diplomats from Azerbaijan and Georgia attended a 8 January ceremony near the frontier between the two countries to mark the pumping of the first Azerbaijani Caspian oil into the Georgian section of the Baku-Supsa export pipeline. Giorgi Chanturia, chairman of the Georgian International Oil Corporation, told journalists that more than 2.5 million metric tons of oil will be exported through the pipeline in 1999, as a result of which the Georgian budget will receive between $2-3 million in transit fees. LF GEORGIA ISSUES ANOTHER ULTIMATUM OVER CIS PEACEKEEPERS. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 January that Georgia will consent to the extension of the expired mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia only if that mandate is altered to reflect Georgia's demands, Russian agencies reported. Tbilisi wants those peacekeepers to be given broader powers to protect ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. On 10 January, Russian President Yeltsin approved unspecified proposals by Security Council secretary Colonel Nikolai Bordyuzha to increase the effectiveness of the peacekeepers' role. On the night of 10-11 January, Abkhaz-Georgian police detachments began patrolling the security zone on the border between Gali Raion and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. No incidents were reported. LF 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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