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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 14, Part I, 21 January 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 14, Part I, 21 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 * RUSSIAN OFFICIALS HOPE FOR COMPROMISE WITH IMF * BUDGET'S FATE LINKED WITH RUBLE RATE * AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REFUTES RUMORS OF HEART PROBLEMS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIAN OFFICIALS HOPE FOR COMPROMISE WITH IMF... An IMF mission arrived in Moscow on 20 January for another round of negotiations, which is expected to last at least three to four weeks. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said he expects the mission to "understand [Russia's] reality, making it possible to bring their positions closer together." He added that Russia "is not asking the IMF for money for any of our domestic spending as [former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais did. Our interest lies purely in refinancing our debts to the fund itself." Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that he also expects the IMF "to meet Russia halfway" during talks. The head of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said on 18 January that his organization will appeal to the IMF to include provisions for unpaid wages in its agreement with Russia. JAC ...AS DIFFERENCES ELABORATED. According to Maslyukov, the fund and the government must iron out three key differences on economic policy. The fund is advocating high export duties on oil and non-ferrous metals, which the government believes would impose an unnecessary burden on producers already suffering from slumping world prices. In addition, Maslyukov said, the fund wants a three-fold increase in the primary budget surplus, which would require that "the already meager social sphere be dismantled completely." The fund would also like the division of budget revenues between the center and the regions to be revised to benefit the center. Maslyukov raised no objections to this stipulation. During his recent trip to Washington, fund officials appeared to like Maslyukov, according to "Vremya MN," citing Russian delegation sources. But the newspaper added that Maslyukov had a hard time discussing "such technically complicated documents as budget and fiscal legislation." Therefore, the daily concluded, the mission will "continue the discussion at the level of specialists and not politicians." JAC BUDGET'S FATE LINKED WITH RUBLE RATE. State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters on 20 January that if the ruble exchange rate slips to 25 rubles to $1 before the budget is passed, the budget will have to be submitted to another first reading. The next day, the ruble fell slightly, finishing at 22.72 rubles to $1. The Central Bank has been intervening to maintain the ruble's value, spending close to $4 billion according to some estimates, currency traders told "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 January. Foreign exchange analysts believe that the Bank is only buying time and that unless it limits currency circulation, the exchange rate will reach 30 to 35 rubles to $1 in February, according to the daily. If it reaches 25 rubles after the budget has passed the Duma, corrections can be made to the budget on a quarterly basis, according to Zhukov. JAC ALBRIGHT WANTS A LOOK AT YELTSIN? Although illness will prevent Russian President Boris Yeltsin from visiting foreign capitals for at least two months, his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright scheduled to take place in Moscow sometime during 25-27 January has so far not been canceled, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 January. Citing "informed diplomatic sources," ITAR-TASS reported that U.S. officials were probing for a possible meeting with Yeltsin during Albright's visit. Doctors on 21 January ruled out surgery after conducting an endoscopy of the president's ulcer. JAC RUSSIA, EU SIGN FOOD DEAL. Russia and the EU signed an agreement on 20 January for the provision of $500 million worth of food aid. Beginning in mid-February, Russia will receive 1 million tons of wheat, 50,000 tons of rye, 50,000 tons of rice, 150,000 tons of frozen beef, 100,000 tons of frozen pork, and 500,000 tons of skim dried milk. JAC RUSSIAN OFFICIALS WARN AGAINST NATO INTERVENTION IN KOSOVA. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters on 20 January that although the Kosova situation "has recently deteriorated, efforts to settle the conflict by peaceful political means should not be stopped." The same day, the Duma unanimously backed a statement that "NATO's interference in the Balkans is inadmissible" and that the current wave of tension was "preceded by provocations, including the murder and kidnapping of Serbs." The previous day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned that any military interference in Kosova would only complicate the situation. He repeated his calls for a renewed political dialogue (see also Part II). JAC TERRITORIAL DISPUTE BREWING OFF ALASKA? Some Alaska residents are protesting the U.S. State Department's decision to transfer to Russia "nine U.S. islands" that are rich in oil and fish reserves, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 January. The islands are located near the 49- kilometer U.S.-Russian border between the Bering Strait and Chukotka Sea. According to the newspaper, the Russian State Duma never ratified an intergovernmental agreement on dividing the Chukotka and Bering Seas, which the U.S. Congress approved in 1991. The latest round of negotiations on the border area was completed in Seattle recently "with nothing to show for it," the daily reported. However, Vladimir Izmailov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Fishing Committee and head of the delegation to the talks, reported that the two sides agreed to continue looking for a compromise. JAC KALININGRAD OFFICIALS CALLS FOR TALKS WITH LITHUANIA. Valerii Ustyugov, chairman of Kaliningrad Oblast's legislature, has called for the Russia to begin urgent negotiations with Lithuania because if both Lithuania and Poland are admitted to the EU, Kaliningrad's borders will be closed, "Segodnya" reported on 20 January. According to the daily, Ustyugov believes that increasing cooperation between Lithuania and Moscow would prevent the possibility of an economic blockade of Kaliningrad. JAC TRIAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNALIST BEGINS. The espionage trail of Captain Grigorii Pasko, former military newspaper reporter, began in Vladivostok on 21 January. Pasko was arrested in November 1997 for supplying classified information to Japan about the Russian nuclear fleet's environmentally hazardous dumping practices. Pasko's case has attracted the attention of a variety of international human rights organizations, and Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience. On 20 January, Reporters Sans Frontieres called on the Russian government to release Pasko since the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, which Russia has signed, protects freedom of expression, Reuters reported. JAC BORDYUZHA WARNS JOURNALISTS. Presidential administration head and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha called on heads of Russian mass media outlets to play a more responsible role in the dissemination of information on political extremism. The mass media "sometimes copy remarks of political extremists to advertise them," Bordyuzha told a gathering of media executives on 20 January, Interfax reported. He added that the "State Print Committee fails to exercise any control on mass media" and urged executives to use the media "to thwart trends that fuel ethnic differences and political extremism." JAC CENTER-RIGHT COALITION NAMES ITSELF. The new coalition of so-called "center-right" political groups revealed its new name, Just Cause [Pravoye Delo] at a press conference on 20 January. The new coalition includes former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, former First Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Chubais, and former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko. The coalition's economic program will probably be based on Gaidar's ideas, Russian Public Television reported. According to Interfax, the coalition will hold a conference on Russian-Belarusian integration, organized by Boris Nemtsov, in March. JAC NEW ACTING STATE PROPERTY HEAD APPOINTED. Aleksandr Braverman, until recently first deputy minister of state property, was appointed acting minister of state property on 20 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Minister of State Property Farit Gazizullin suffered a heart attack last August and still cannot carry out his duties in full. Interfax reported the same day that "government sources" said Gazizullin has offered his resignation, but a State Property Minister spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report. JAC RUSSIA DEVELOPS CHEAPER 'STEALTH' TECHNOLOGY. Russian scientists have developed a new "plasmatic coating" for aircraft that conceals them "completely" from radar, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The new technology is also cheaper than the U.S.'s competing "stealth" technology. Keldysh Research Center Director Anatolii Koroteyev told the agency that the coating around aircraft weighs less than 100 kilograms and therefore does not affect a plane's aerodynamics. JAC FORMER SOVIET PREMIER REJECTS "GUBERNIYA" MODEL FOR RUSSIA. In the latest round of debate over whether the Russian Federation should be redivided into guberniyas, replacing the present system of national republics, oblasts, and krais, Nikolai Ryzhkov has endorsed the status quo. In an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 20 January, Ryzhkov termed the present system "a sensible political principle" but conceded that it needs to be amended to abolish discrepancies in the political status of the territorial formations and in their contributions to the Russian economy. He argued that there is nothing "unusual or illegal" in the present system of subsidies to some national republics, given the differences in economic potential and climatic conditions between them, but he warned against "huge, unjustified concessions" to preserve stability in certain regions "for purely political purposes." Ryzhkov also categorically condemned attempts by the "titular" nationality of any given republic to monopolize its national resources. LF TATARS PROTEST BASHKORTOSTAN LANGUAGE LAW. Police arrested seven members of a group of 20 or so Tatars who picketed the Bashkortostan parliament in Ufa on 21 January to protest the republic's draft language law, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, the parliament of Tatarstan sent a note to the legislature of Bashkortostan expressing its concern over the law's failure to include Tatar among the state languages of Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 11 January 1999). Bashkir and Russian are accorded that status in the draft. Tatarstan State Council chairman Farid Mukhametshin noted that the draft law has given rise to apprehension in Tatarstan. He expressed the hope that his parliament's "respectful appeal" would persuade Bashkortostan's parliament to amend the law in the second reading, scheduled for 21 January. Russians are the largest ethnic group in Bashkortostan, followed by Tatars and then Bashkirs. LF TATARSTAN TAKES OVER DEFENSE INDUSTRY ENTERPRISES. The government of Tatarstan has assumed control over the seven largest defense industry enterprises in the republic, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 21 January citing "Kommersant-Daily." Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov told Tatarstan Television that no one in Moscow has shown any interest in the enterprises in question. He said the Tatarstan authorities will not prevent the enterprises from continuing to fulfill orders for military hardware from Moscow, but he added that in the future they will also produce civilian goods in order to remain profitable. LF LENIN'S TOMB TO CLOSE FOR SPRING CLEANING. The mausoleum containing former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin will be close from 2 February to 5 April for a planned disinfection, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. The same day, citizens of Ulyanovsk honored the 75th anniversary of Lenin's death by laying flowers at his statue in the town's central square. The agency also reported that the Russian Orthodox Church believes that burying Lenin, as some current leading Russian politicians have suggested, would be at variance with Russian historical tradition. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CONCERNED ABOUT 'POWER STRUGGLE.' National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian told a press conference in Yerevan on 20 January that the present Armenian leadership has done nothing to improve the situation in the country and cannot claim the credit for the positive shift in the OSCE's approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian said that the leadership is composed of "disparate groups" that no single individual controls, and he noted that there is "an obvious clash of interests" between President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian. Manukian predicted that only nationwide mass protests can prevent the authorities from falsifying the results of the May parliamentary elections. He added that the level of popular discontent is currently higher than before the 1996 presidential elections. Senior officials recently admitted that the 1996 vote was rigged to prevent a runoff between Manukian and incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossian. LF ARMENIAN BANKS FORM ALTERNATIVE 'ECONOMIC COURT.' Representatives of Armenia's leading banks told journalists on 20 January that they have created a "mediation court" that will resolve economic disputes without state participation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The constitution provides for such courts. Armenian Bank Association chairman Bagrat Asatrian, who served as Central Bank chairman from 1994-1998, said the court will deal with disputes between those business entities that would accept its legitimacy in advance. Vahe Stepanian, a former minister of justice, has been named court chairman. He told journalists the official courts of first instance can intervene in the mediation court's affairs only if one of the conflicting sides refuses to recognize the mediation court's verdict. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REFUTES RUMORS OF HEART PROBLEMS. Heidar Aliev, speaking to Russian Public Television (NTV) on 20 January, said Turkish media reports that he was suffering from "cardiac insufficiency" are untrue, Reuters reported. One of Aliev's doctors similarly told NTV that Aliev is only suffering from acute bronchitis. "Milliyet" had reported on 20 January that Aliev was diagnosed as suffering from heart disease, characterizing his condition as "serious but not critical." LF UKRAINIAN PREMIER IN KAZAKHSTAN. Valeriy Pustovoytenko met with his Kazakh counterpart, Nurlan Balghymbayev, in Astana on 20 January after attending the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, RFE/RL correspondents reported the following day. The two prime ministers signed a joint communique on trade and economic cooperation and discussed bilateral trade prospects, including the possible participation of Kazakh companies in tenders for the privatization of the Lissichansk and Kherson oil refineries and the transportation of Kazakh crude to the West via Ukraine. Possible purchases by Kazakhstan of Ukrainian agricultural machinery were also discussed. Pustovoytenko told journalists after the talks that his country will import up to 5 million tons of oil from Kazakhstan this year, Interfax reported. LF KAZHEGELDIN APPLIES TO REGISTER POLITICAL PARTY. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the former prime minister of Kazakhstan who was barred from participating in the 10 January presidential election, has applied to Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice to register his Republican People's Party, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported on 21 January. The party held its founding congress last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998). LF KYRGYZSTAN NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN DEFENDS FREE EXCHANGE RATE. At his first press conference in Bishkek on 20 January, Ulan Sarbanov said that a free exchange rate for the som is the most feasible and efficient policy and that the bank will intervene to support the national currency only in the event of serious fluctuations against the dollar, Interfax reported. The som fell sharply against the dollar in mid-November but later stabilized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998). Sarbanov, who is 31 and a graduate of Novosibirsk University, was named deputy finance minister on 18 January and acting National Bank chairman one day later, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF KYRGYZSTAN GRAPPLES WITH REFUGEE PROBLEM. Helmut Buss, who is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek on 20 January that the country's failure to address the problems of refugees may result in cuts in aid from donor countries, Interfax reported. RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau noted that there are currently 14,500 registered refugees in Kyrgzystan, most of whom are ethnic Kyrgyz who fled the civil war and Tajikistan and do not wish to return to that country. Buss said 1,150 Tajik refugees returned from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan in 1998. LF 'DEAR TURKMENBASHI...' Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has received more than 13,000 letters of complaint and protest from the population since he invited residents some six weeks ago to alert him to instances of injustice and bureaucratic indifference, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 January. The majority of complaints were directed at law enforcement agencies, prompting Niyazov to declare an amnesty for more than 3,000 prisoners, some of whom were apparently unjustly convicted. At a conference of regional police and government officials to evaluate the complaints, Niyazov said that most senior officials are neither willing nor able to deal with people's grievances. A new law stipulates procedures for examining such complaints. 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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