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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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Headlines, Part I

* RUSSIAN OFFICIALS HOPE FOR COMPROMISE WITH IMF

* BUDGET'S FATE LINKED WITH RUBLE RATE

* AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REFUTES RUMORS OF HEART PROBLEMS
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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

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