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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 16, Part I, 25 January 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 16, Part I, 25 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 * ALBRIGHT ARRIVES TO FACE TOUGH QUESTIONING * LEBED TRIES TO EXERT CONTROL OVER LOCAL MEDIA * ARREST OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SOUGHT End Note: MESSAGES SENT, MESSAGES RECEIVED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA ALBRIGHT ARRIVES TO FACE TOUGH QUESTIONING. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Moscow on 23 January for a two-day official visit. On 25 January, she met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Moscow Mayor and head of the Otechestvo [Fatherland] party Yurii Luzhkov. Other meetings with Russian officials, such as State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, are planned for the same day. A telephone conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin is also tentatively scheduled. Before their meeting, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that the ABM treaty would be a primary discussion topic. Sergei Yastrzhembskii, former presidential spokesman and current deputy prime minister of the Moscow city government, told TV-6 on 24 January that Mayor Luzhkov will pose tough questions to Secretary Albright since the U.S. "is embarking on a course of neutralizing Russia, to which Moscow should respond." JAC LEBED TRIES TO EXERT CONTROL OVER LOCAL MEDIA... Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed on 23 January dismissed both the director and chief editor of Krasnoyarsk State Television and Radio Company, establishing police cordons outside company headquarters to prevent those officials from entering. Inside, Lebed introduced his new appointee to head the company, Oleg Nelzin, a local legislator and member of his Honor and Motherland movement. Lebed explained his actions by saying that the regional TV head had "prepared documents for the transfer of the company to federal authorities," ITAR-TASS reported. However, Chairman of the All Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Mikhail Shvydkoi told Russian Television the next day that legally, the head of a subsidiary company is appointed by VGTRK and the regional head, adding that "the 'law and order governor' has violated the law." JAC ...AS HIS PARTY SPLITS. NTV on 23 January reported that a split has appeared in Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement, after Viktor Zubarev, former chairman of the movement's council, left Lebed's "team." Both Lebed and Zubarev chaired their own meetings of the Honor and Motherland movement on 23 January, after which Zubarev issued a statement that Lebed is no longer the movement's leader and that the local branch of the movement would now be called Strong Regions, Strong Russia. In the latest of a series of articles highly critical of Lebed, "Izvestiya" on 23 January said "Lebed has failed to become a real governor and has remained a general, using security structures as his controlling instruments." The newspaper also predicted that Lebed's "political burial is at hand," with Krasnoyarsk Aluminum chief Anatolii Bykov as his undertaker. JAC LEBED PROTEGE LOSES ELECTION. Preliminary results show that Nikolai Ashapov, acting mayor of Achinsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, lost the second round of mayoral elections on 24 January to local factory director and member of the communist party Mikhail Achkasov, ITAR- TASS reported on 25 January. Ashapov, who had been appointed by Krai Governor Lebed, was considered a Lebed protege (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999). JAC NEW ELECTION CONTROVERSIES EMERGE IN VLADIVSTOK. Without waiting for election results to be confirmed, the newly elected members of the city assembly in Vladivostok passed a new charter on 23 January stipulating that the office of mayor is no longer an elected position. They then appointed former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov as the new city head. Earlier, assembly members had elected Cherepkov as their speaker. Chief of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha told NTV on 24 January that "it is too early to say that Cherepkov has been elected mayor" since the proper procedures have not been followed by the city's legislature. Only when city assembly election results have been confirmed can deputies approve a new city charter, he added. The local election commission reported the next day that official results will not be available until 26 January. Meanwhile, Cherepkov has flown to Moscow to attend a Supreme Court session that will examine his appeal against President Boris Yeltsin's earlier order removing him from office, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC PRIMAKOV GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR FOOD PRICE MONITORING. Agricultural production in Russia plummeted 12.3 percent in 1998 compared with the previous year, partly due to an unusually poor wheat harvest. according to the State Statistics Committee. Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov called for replenishment of the country's strategic grain reserve, which had totaled 20-25 million tons last year but had been "eaten up," Russian Public Television reported on 21 January. Semenov recommended that regions monitor food prices and implement a maximum ratio of prices of raw materials to those of final products. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman is scheduled to meet with Semenov and Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik on 25 January to discuss the effectiveness of U.S. food aid and a possible Russian request for maize and vegetable seeds for this year's harvest. JAC LUZHKOV CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Moscow Mayor and likely presidential contender Luzhkov on 23 January called for amending the Russian Constitution so that it would regulate the issue of the president's health. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin responded by saying that the issue of the president's health is fully reflected in the constitution and that statements like Luzhkov's "are full of political intrigue." JAC GAZPROM CUTTING WORKFORCE... After recording heavy losses in 1998, Gazprom has launched a series of lay- offs intended to remove up to 35,000 workers from its payroll, the "Moscow Times" reported on 23 January. Over the next two years, Gazprom plans to reduce its workforce from 350,000 to 250,000 by spinning off non- production companies. Tens of thousands of these jobs will be eliminated outright, according to the daily, while others may still exist at those spun-off subsidiaries that manage to survive on their own. Gazprom also plans to accept fewer payments in barter and demand more in cash. According to preliminary results, Gazprom posted a loss of 45 billion rubles ($2 billion) in 1998, AFP reported on 19 January. JAC ...PULLS AWAY FROM POLITICS? Gazprom is also abolishing its department for media and public affairs, "Novie izvestiya" reported on 22 January. That move follows a meeting earlier this month between Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev and Prime Minister Primakov, who wanted the company to stop engaging in political activities. According to the newspaper, in exchange for giving up "its lobbying activities," Primakov granted Gazprom an exemption from export duties on hydrocarbons. The daily also argued that the abolition of the media and public affairs department pulls "the information and financial carpet out from under [former Prime Minister] Viktor Chernomyrdin and his [presidential] election campaign." Sergei Zverev, former president of Most Group, supervised the department as deputy chairman of Gazprom's board of directors and "came to Gazprom mainly for the purpose of organizing Chernomyrdin's election campaign." JAC 'MIR' NO LONGER HEADED FOR RETIREMENT. Prime Minister Primakov signed a resolution on 22 January extending the operational life of the space station "Mir" until 2002. "Mir" will be financed by non-government sources beginning in the second half of 1999, according to the resolution. The Russian Space Agency and Academy of Sciences will determine within three months the space station's new sources of financing. Earlier, it was reported that Energiya had found an unknown private investor willing to finance the station for another three years. The station's new life "will probably be met without enthusiasm by NASA," according to "Izvestiya," because the U.S. agency "would like, on the one hand, to channel all of Russia's resources into the international space station, dominated by the U.S., and, on the other hand, to push rivals in space exploration to the back of the stage." JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NEW GOVERNMENT APPROVED IN KAZAKHSTAN. President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 22 January endorsed all 14 cabinet nominations by Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev. Most of the 14 were members of the previous cabinet, which resigned following Nazarbayev's inauguration on 20 January. The most significant change, however, is the appointment of former First Deputy Premier Uraz Djandosov as finance minister. Reuters quoted financial analysts in Astana as characterizing Djandosov as "honest, committed, bold" and a convinced reformist. Speaking after the new government was sworn in, Nazarbayev pledged to continue with privatization and economic reform, Interfax reported. LF TAJIK GOVERNMENT NEUTRALIZES WARLORDS. Government forces killed Saidmukhtor Yorov and three of his bodyguards in a shoot-out on the outskirts of Dushanbe on 24 January, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. A second warlord, Ravshan Gafurov, and five of his supporters were arrested. The Tajik government said the men were not aligned with the United Tajik Opposition and that they had engaged in kidnapping civilians for ransom. On 22 January, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Tajik prosecutors have concluded the preliminary investigation into the November 1998 insurrection in Leninabad Oblast. The trial of 162 insurgents on charges of treason will begin shortly. LF IMF DELEGATION IN KYRGYZSTAN. Tanas Katsambas, head of an IMF delegation to Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek on 23 January that the country's government has taken the "necessary measures" in order to minimize the impact of last autumn's Russian financial crisis, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Earlier, Katsambas met with President Askar Akayev, Finance Minister Marat Sultanov, and National Bank acting Chairman Ulan Sarbanov. LF POLICE GENERAL APPOINTED HEAD OF KYRGYZSTAN'S STATE OIL COMPANY. President Akayev has named General Bakirdin Subanbekov, former head of the Chu Oblast police, as director-general of the Kyrgyzgazmunaizat state joint- stock company, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 24 January. Subanbekov replaces Shalkar Jaisanbaev, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued on charges of large-scale embezzlement and suspected involvement in murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1999). LF U.S. OIL COMPANY EMPLOYEE MURDERED IN TURKMENISTAN. Turkmen police are investigating the death by strangulation of a 45-year-old U.S. oil company employee in the Caspian city of Turkmenbashi, AP reported on 22 January, citing Interfax. The man's body was discovered on 11 January in his apartment, which had been burgled. LF ARREST OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SOUGHT. Armenian parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian told RFE/RL on 25 January that state prosecutors will ask the parliament to lift the immunity of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian in order to facilitate his immediate arrest. He did not specify, however, what charges would be brought against Siradeghian. A close associate of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Siradeghian is currently chairman of the board of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement. Last year, Siradeghian was twice interrogated by law-enforcement agencies in connection with a group of men arrested on murder charges in January 1998. LF ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REVIEWS TELECOM MONOPOLY. The Armenian Constitutional Court on 23 January began examining an appeal by 72 parliament deputies that the 1998 telecommunications law is unconstitutional, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That law granted the ArmenTel company exclusive rights to operate the country's telecommunications network. The Greek telecommunications giant OTE paid $142 million in late 1997 to acquire an 80 percent stake in ArmenTel and 15- year exclusive rights. ArmenTel's recent decision to increase the monthly telephone fixed fee by 50 percent sparked mass protests and prompted some smaller pro- government parties to appeal to the population not to pay their telephone bills. A presidential spokesman told journalists on 22 January that Robert Kocharian has not yet agreed to a demand by opposition parliamentary deputies to convene an emergency debate on ArmenTel's privatization. LF ARMENIAN PRIVATE TV, RADIO STATIONS PROTEST FEES RISE. Owners of more than one dozen private television channels and radio stations have strongly protested the government's recent decision to increase the monthly fee for use of air frequencies from $40 to $1,000, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 January. One radio station owner conceded that those rates are not high by international standards but said they are "inappropriate" under Armenian economic conditions. LF IRAN, RUSSIA UNHAPPY OVER POSSIBLE U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE IN TRANSCAUCASUS. Speaking in Tehran on 23 January, the chief of Iran's armed forces joint staff, Major-General Hassan Firuzabadi, warned that the opening of a U.S. military base in neighboring Azerbaijan would have undesirable consequences, ITAR-TASS and Xinhua reported. Azerbaijan's ambassador to Iran, Abbasali Hassanov, has denied Turkish media reports that the U.S. and Azerbaijani leaderships are currently discussing such a base. On 22 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning claims by Azerbaijani politicians that Russia plays a destabilizing role in the Transcaucasus, and that a U.S. military base in Azerbaijan is necessary to counter the Russian presence in the region, Russian agencies reported. The statement said such claims are aimed at undermining Russian- Azerbaijani relations. LF GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE TO CREATE JOINT PEACEKEEPING FORCE. Meeting in Baku on 21-22 January, the defense ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine discussed the creation of a joint peacekeeping force that, according to an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman, could be deployed to guard the proposed oil export pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia, Reuters reported. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze had proposed such a force last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). The three ministers also signed a joint communique on coordinating their relations with NATO and the UN and on holding joint maneuvers. The defense minister of Moldova, the fourth country in the GUAM alignment, had been scheduled to attend the meeting. No explanation was offered for his failure to do so. LF RETURN OF GEORGIANS TO ABKHAZIA DISCUSSED. UN special envoy Liviu Bota and senior Western diplomats met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sukhumi on 23 January to discuss the latter's unilateral proposal to allow ethnic Georgia displaced persons to return to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion beginning 1 March. The French and Russian representatives at the talks expressed satisfactions with that offer but questioned how it could be implemented without Georgian approval and support, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. On 22 January, a delegation representing the Georgian displaced persons flew to the U.S. to participate in a 31 January session of the UN Security Council that is to discuss the Abkhaz conflict. The delegation will seek to persuade the Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning the alleged policy of genocide conducted by the Abkhaz against the Georgians during the 1992-1993 war. It will also demand the replacement of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia by a multilateral UN force. LF ADJAR LEADER SETS CONDITIONS FOR PARTICIPATION IN GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT. Deputies elected from constituencies in the Adjar Autonomous Republic will resume their participation in the work of the Georgian parliament only after that body finally enacts legislation on creating free economic zones in Georgia and elects a representative of the Adjar leadership as a deputy speaker, according to Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. The Adjar deputies suspended their participation in the work of the Georgian legislature last summer. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 January quoted Abashidze as accusing Georgian border guards of engaging in espionage activities in Adjaria with the aim of destabilizing the political situation there. LF END NOTE MESSAGES SENT, MESSAGES RECEIVED by Paul Goble The statements of Russian politicians notwithstanding, the Russian military has sent a message that suggests many in Moscow are coming to terms with the idea that the three Baltic States will eventually become members of NATO. But just as in 1990, when Moscow's military commanders indicated that they did not expect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to be part of the USSR by the year 2000, the Russian generals are giving out signals that some in both the region and the West appear likely to misinterpret. On 29 December, Lieutenant-General Pavel Labutin, the chief of the Leningrad Military District, told ITAR- TASS that he has re-established a Russian army group "in the Baltic direction" as a result of "NATO expansion to the East and the prospect of admitting the Baltics into this bloc." Labutin's remarks suggest that he and his officers have been planning the reorganization of their forces not so much to prevent the expansion of NATO but rather on the assumption that the Western alliance will sometime in the near future include the three Baltic countries. In taking that position, General Labutin appears to be out in front of, if not out of step with, the Russian political elite. But precisely because his remarks suggest such is the case, Labutin's actions have been interpreted in a very different way not only by some in the region but also by a few analysts in NATO capitals. Not surprisingly, some Baltic officials see the restoration of this army group in the same way as they viewed last summer's Russian military exercise "Operation Return" near their borders: as a direct threat to themselves and as an effort to intimidate the West. Some observers in NATO capitals have drawn a similar conclusion. They have argued that this Leningrad Military District reorganization is a direct challenge to NATO and that the Western alliance must take notice of it. Moreover, they have argued that this latest shift may represent a potential violation of the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement. Such Baltic and Western comments may lead some in NATO capitals to draw exactly the opposite conclusion from the one that Labutin's words and actions suggest. And they may thus lead some in those cities to argue for putting off the inclusion of the Baltic States into the Western alliance. If that happens, there will be a repetition of events that took place nine years ago. One day after the Lithuanian government declared the restoration of its independence, a Washington newspaper published a map showing how Soviet generals perceived the security architecture of Europe in the year 2000. That map, the product of extensive interviews with these generals by a U.S. Defense Department analyst, showed that the generals did not believe that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would be part of the Soviet Union by that time. But to a remarkable degree, the publication of that map had a very different impact on U.S. thinking about the Baltic pursuit of independence than the most obvious reading of it would appear to have suggested. Instead of leading more people in the West to conclude that Russian acceptance of eventual Baltic independence could allow the West to increase its support for the Balts, the appearance of this map led some writers to conclude that the West should be even more circumspect lest it exacerbate divisions in Moscow. As subsequent events proved, the Soviet military's assessment of the facts on the ground was far closer to reality than the one given out by the Soviet political establishment. And had that been more widely understood at the time, all the parties might have avoided some of the difficulties they subsequently faced. Labutin's action, one he almost certainly did not undertake on his own, appears to be yet another such message about the Russian military's understanding of the situation. And just as in 1990, how it is received is likely to have a major influence on the fate of the Baltic countries over the next several years. 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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