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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 22, Part I, 2 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 22, Part I, 2 February 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 * DUMA TO REJECT PRIME MINISTER'S PEACE PROPOSAL * GOVERNORS BLOC ATTRACTING MORE FOLLOWERS * AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S BROTHER ACCUSES OPPOSITION OF ESPIONAGE End Note: PRIMAKOV'S AMBITIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA TO REJECT PRIME MINISTER'S PEACE PROPOSAL. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev on 2 February to discuss Primakov's proposal for a political peace treaty between Russia's executive and legislative branches. "Kommersant-Daily" predicted on 30 January that Primakov's plan has little chance of acceptance, citing the negative assessments of the proposal by Seleznev, who had declared "we do not intend to be a pushover for either the president or the government chairman." RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 2 February that the Communist party has already expressed its dissatisfaction with Primakov's proposal and that Yabloko is also unenthusiastic, according to faction member and deputy Yelena Mizulina. JAC PRIMAKOV OFFERS MINERS MORE CASH. Speaking at the All- Russia Miners Congress in Moscow on 1 February, Prime Minister Primakov pledged to double state subsidies to the coal industry from the 5.8 billion rubles ($256 million) earmarked in the current version of the 1999 budget. Primakov acknowledged that wage arrears in the industry typically build up for five months on average. "While this is primarily the fault of the employers, the state must also share some blame," he said. Primakov also called on miners and their union representatives to refrain from threatening the government and to work together to modernize the industry. Independent Miners' Union head Aleksandr Sergeev reacted favorably to Primakov's speech, welcoming his commitment to be flexible on the closure of unprofitable mines, Interfax reported. However, he noted that discontent in the coal regions of Rostov Oblast and Komi Republic remain high. JAC GOVERNORS BLOC ATTRACTING MORE FOLLOWERS... The election bloc of regional leaders set up by Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov will have its official legal status by 15 February, Titov told reporters on 2 February. Titov revealed that in addition to the regional leaders previously reported as interested in joining the new movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1999), the governors of Sakhalin, Irkutsk and Astrakhan Oblasts are taking part in talks. "Segodnya" argued on 29 January that if the new regional bloc is "not a political false start" and regional "heavyweights" join the bloc in the future, "it may become the force that determines both the formation of the next Duma and Yeltsin's successor in the Kremlin." Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed told reporters on 30 January that he will steer clear of the new alliance, saying "I will go it alone." JAC ...AS BORDER DISPUTES PREDICTED TO GATHER FORCE. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on 29 January that "the threat of separatism must be much more serious and constant than it appears to certain Moscow observers" since Prime Minister Primakov has suggested that a ban be introduced on territorial agreements that lead to the revision of regional borders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). According to the daily, there are many more territorial claims than just "Ingushetia's claims to the Prigorodnii district of North Ossetia." The newspaper concluded that "it is possible that by 2000 conflicts between oblasts and autonomous okrugs may acquire an open form, the more so if the central powers continue to lose influence in the [Russian] Federation." JAC TATARSTAN, MOSCOW IN BUDGET DISPUTE. Meeting with faculty members of the Kazan Institute of Economy and Finance on 1 February, Tatarstan's Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov said his government considers it expedient to reduce payments to the federal center since the federal budget was formed without taking into account Tatarstan's needs and does not provide for "the minimum of required allowances" for the Tatarstan Republic. "We are a donor region", he said, "we are not asking for federal subsidies, we are asking for our own money." Minnikhanov did not indicate what percentage of its proposed contribution to the federal budget Kazan would withhold. LF CHINA SUGGESTED TO JOIN DISCUSSION ON ABM TREATY. Igor Sutyagin of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute has reacted negatively to news of a U.S. government proposal to compensate for the deployment of two anti-ballistic missile systems by giving Russia permission to have three warheads on its Topol-M missile system. Sutyagin told ITAR-TASS that the U.S. is apparently trying to find a way to alleviate Russia's concerns stemming from the U.S.'s proposal to modify the ABM treaty. He said that the idea of giving Russia permission to have missiles with three warheads in exchange for "its consent to deploy the ABM system looks very attractive[but] only resolves the problem of Russia's relations with the U.S.," not with China. Sutyagin recommended that China be drawn into the discussion of the problem of the creation of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile system. JAC RUSSIA SAYS NO INTERNATIONAL PEACE-KEEPING FORCE NEEDED IN KOSOVA. "Russian diplomatic sources" told Interfax on 1 February that Moscow sees no sense in deploying an international peacekeeping force in Kosova similar to the one deployed in Bosnia. According to those sources, an international force should be sent only after the conflicting sides have worked out an agreement on Kosova and Yugoslavia has given its consent for the deployment of such a force. JAC SIDANKO ON VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY... Russia's fifth-largest oil company, Sidanko, announced on 29 January that it is facing bankruptcy proceedings because of overdue loan payments. Sidanko is controlled by so-called oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros holding company, the core of which is the now struggling Oneksimbank. Citing an "industry source with ties to Sidanko," the "Moscow Times" reported on 2 February that Interros is now "bankrupting" Sidanko to set up a new company and has transferred titles of the shares of its subsidiaries to offshore companies. According to another anonymous source, the newspaper reported, this is a bankruptcy in the typical style of Boris Jordan, the controversial banker who assumed the helm of Sidanko in November. Both Sidanko and Interros deny the allegations, the daily noted. JC ...AS SLAVNEFT, ONAKO SAY 'NO' TO MERGER. Two of the three companies selected by the Russian government to be merged into one company, which reportedly would be one of the world's largest in terms of oil reserves, have expressed their opposition to the plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). Onako would rather transfer its government-controlled majority stake to Orenburg Oblast, the "Moscow Times" reported on 2 February. Slavneft President Vasilii Duma said after a shareholders' meeting that Slavneft would be best left untouched. The newspaper suggested that the Belarusian Property Ministry, which owns 10 percent of Slavneft, likely opposes the merger. The ministry, however, has so far made no public statement. JAC EXTREMIST GROUP MARCHES IN MOSCOW. Protestors from the extremist National Bolshevik Party led by novelist Eduard Limonov disrupted a meeting of the Democratic Choice party in Moscow on 30 January by chanting the names of "Stalin" and "Beria" and making Nazi salutes, Ekho Moskvy reported. A fistfight eventually broke out between members of the two parties, Interfax reported. The next day, another group, Russian National Unity, marched through Moscow. Presidential chief of staff Nikolai Bordyuzha told "Izvestiya" that the march was a provocation intended to stir trouble and that it is "nonsense" that Russia has no clear law defining political extremism. Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov told Interfax on 1 February that the presidential commission for combating political extremism will discuss the group at its next meeting. JAC SOUTH KOREA ASKS RUSSIA FOR HELP WITH MILLENNIUM BUG IN NORTH KOREA. The military attaché of the South Korean Embassy in Moscow has delivered a letter to "Russian defense structures" asking Moscow to help North Korea examine possible computer problems associated with the Millennium Bug, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. Seoul is worried that computer problems in North Korea associated with the turn of the century could result in the accidental firing of rockets. Seoul has requested Moscow's help because most of North Korea's rocket and computer technology was supplied by the former Soviet Union. BP YELTSIN LOOKING CHIPPER AT BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION. Russian Public Television carried film footage of a small celebration of President Boris Yeltsin's birthday on 1 February. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II and Prime Minister Primakov brought bouquets and hugged Yeltsin, who appeared cheerful. The same day, the Duma's impeachment commission held hearings on the last charge against Yeltsin, genocide against the Russian people, Interfax reported. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that following the signing of his most recent decree, Yeltsin now has only three presidential advisers, only two of which receive a salary: his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and Mikhail Zybarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1 February 1999). Valentin Yumashev also acts as an adviser but does not draw a salary. JAC CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDERS SEND MIXED SIGNALS? Meeting on 1 February, former Chechen acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, former Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, and leading field commanders Shamil Basaev and Ruslan Gilaev adopted a formal petition to President Aslan Maskhadov calling on him to introduce Shariah law throughout Chechnya immediately, Interfax reported. Last week, they had drafted a program of reform measures addressed to Maskhadov that entailed curtailing the powers of the president and the creation of a "state council," the powers and functions of which are unclear, according to "Izvestiya" on 28 January. But that program made no mention of either Islam or Islamic law. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA PASSES LAW ON NUCLEAR ENERGY. The Armenian parliament on 1 February passed a law outlining procedures for the safe use of nuclear energy, including the import, export, and storage of nuclear and radioactive materials, Interfax reported. Ashot Martirosian, head of the Armenian nuclear supervision agency, said the law could serve as the basis for a future nuclear code. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S BROTHER ACCUSES OPPOSITION OF ESPIONAGE. Addressing the parliament on 1 February, Jalal Aliev described opposition politicians, including Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar, as "traitors," "spies of foreign states," and "enemies," Turan reported. Aliev demanded legal action against those politicians and against media outlets that provided what he termed inappropriate coverage to President Heidar Aliev's recent illness. Information Minister Siruz Tabrizli tried to persuade Jalal Aliev to refrain from statements inappropriate for a member of the presidential family, but speaker Murtuz Alesqerov repeated the charge that unnamed deputies are agents of foreign intelligence. He added that newspapers printing "non-objective" information should be barred from covering parliamentary proceedings. Gambar told Turan he is considering legal action against Aliev. On 2 February, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" claimed that the U.S. is increasing its intelligence gathering operations in Azerbaijan, including contacts with opposition political parties. LF WESTERN CONSORTIUM TO CUT OIL EXPORTS VIA RUSSIA? The Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the first international consortium to export Azerbaijani Caspian oil to international markets, may cut exports through the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline in 1999 as the tariffs are far higher than for the alternative route via Georgia, Reuters and Turan reported on 1 February. Speaking at a press conference in Baku, AIOC President David Woodward said that the company's budget has been slashed by 20 percent as a result of the slump in world oil prices, necessitating cuts in production and operating costs. He said that the AIOC may ask Transneft, the operator of the Russian segment of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, to reduce its tariffs from the present rate of $15.67 per metric ton. The total tariffs for the Baku-Supsa route are $3.10 per metric ton. By mid-1999, the throughput capacity of that pipeline is expected to rise from 100,000 to 130,000 barrels per day. LF GEORGIA ASPIRES TO EU MEMBERSHIP. In his weekly radio broadcast on 1 February, President Eduard Shevardnadze said that the 28 January decision to admit Georgia to full membership of the Council of Europe is not the final stage in the process of the country's integration into European structures, Interfax reported. Arguing that "we are in fact Europeans," Shevardnadze said that "the main task" is Georgian membership in the EU. But he conceded that it will take years to achieve that objective. Shevardnadze again said that Georgia's admission to the Council of Europe will be a key factor in promoting stability in the Caucasus. LF NAZARBAYEV ORDERS CUTS IN GOVERNMENT COSTS. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has taken measures aimed at cutting the government's administrative expenses, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. A presidential decree bans government officials from buying vehicles or expensive office equipment, renovating offices, or holding conferences in the former capital, Almaty, without the president's consent. The decree also limits the number of officials authorized to use cellular phones. Nazarbayev has ordered the government to inventory administrative offices and official vehicles and to reduce their number. The measures are expected to save the government $120 million this year. BP KAZAKHSTAN CONSIDERS MORE IMPORT QUOTAS. Kazakhstan's Minister of Energy, Industry, and Trade Mukhtar Ablyazov has said his country may impose limits on imports from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Interfax reported on 1 February. Ablyazov said such steps are necessary to protect domestic producers but would not be as far- reaching as those imposed on some Russian imports on 11 January. Ablyazov said that a committee will be formed to review the prices of imported goods and that duties of 100-200 percent will be imposed to stop dumping. Ablyazov claimed the measures will not damage the CIS Customs Union (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Russia) as Russia already "discriminates against Kazakh goods." Moscow has separate tariff systems for producers from Russia and Kazakhstan. He warned that his country's industry "may grind to a halt [under] the currency devaluations of nearly all our CIS neighbors" but added that Kazakhstan will not devalue its currency. President Nazarbayev had said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 29 January that his country will introduce measures to protect domestic manufacturers. BP TURKMEN SECURITY FORCES BREAK UP JOURNALISTS' MEETING. Officers of Turkmenistan's National Security Committee broke up a gathering of journalists in Ashgabat on 29 January at which the participants were expected to announce the formation of an Independent Journalists' Association, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. The officers took down the names of those in attendance at the meeting and detained five people who had organized the meeting. One journalist present, Galina Shipotkina of the state-owned newspaper "Neitralny Turkmenistan," was dismissed, but no reason for her dismissal has been given. BP END NOTE PRIMAKOV'S AMBITIONS By Floriana Fossato Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov may or may not want to be a presidential candidate, but at the very least he seems to view himself as the kingmaker of Russian politics. Since his appointment as premier last September, Primakov has studiously avoided showing any enthusiasm for the idea of becoming a presidential candidate. However, shortly after his appointment, Primakov, a former diplomat and spymaster, started promoting former security officials to sensitive media and government jobs. Among those ex-security officials is Grigorii Rapota, a career spy and former deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council. Last November, Rapota was named head of Russia's state-owned arms exporter, Rosvooruzhenie. He replaced Yevgenii Ananev, considered an associate of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Rapota has worked closely with Primakov in the past. He was the deputy head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Before his 1996 appointment as foreign minister, Primakov had headed that agency. According to Russian media reports, control over the lucrative Rosvooruzhenie has been the subject of bitter rivalry among senior politicians. In a rare interview, published in "Kommersant- Daily" last week, Rapota said Rosvooruzhenie does not expect to earn more than $2 billion in arms sales abroad this year, owing to Russia's economic crisis and increased competition in the world arms markets. The figure, he said, is the same as that in 1998. (Before the August financial meltdown, exports of Russian arms had been estimated to earn some $3.5 billion this year.) That helps explain the fierce competition for control over the company, which in the past was reported to be an important source of financing during election campaigns. Recent unsuccessful moves to appoint a retiring counter-intelligence general to a senior position at the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) also drew attention. General Yurii Kobaladze is a former public relations head at SVR, where he also served under Primakov. His appointment had initially appeared to be certain. But last week, he was named first deputy director of the ITAR-TASS news agency. He filled the post left vacant after Leonid Nevzlin, close to the Rosprom-Yukos industrial group, quit in the wake of the August financial meltdown. Before any decision had been formalized, Kobaladze himself said that VGTRK chairman Mikhail Shvydkoi had offered him the job. However, Shvydkoi's deputy, Mikhail Lesin, had ruled out that possibility. Lesin is one of the founders of Video International. That company has a monopoly on advertising at VGTRK, which is the latter's main source of revenue. VGTRK includes the second nationwide channel of Russian Television, the channel Kultura, Radio Russia, the RIA news agency, a network of radio and television stations across Russia, as well as the national transmission network. Despite serious financial difficulties, VGTRK and other media holdings are expected to play a key role in influencing the outcome of presidential and parliamentary elections. Even if Kobaladze did not achieve his goal, other former security service officials already working at VGTRK now reportedly hold top jobs. In December, Lev Koshlyakov, who until 1994 worked for the counter- intelligence service, was named to head the news program "Vesti." He coordinates the network of correspondents both for the program and for the RIA news agency. Judging from a number of recent government appointments, other officials who--unlike Rapota and Kobaladze--never worked with Primakov but made their careers in security organs have been promoted to top positions in government agencies considered potential key sources of campaign financing. In October, former First Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Yegorov was appointed first deputy head of the Customs Committee. The same month, Aleksei Shestaperov, formerly deputy head of the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) was chosen to head the state-owned company Rostek, which reportedly has links with the Customs Committee since it deals with customs payments. In November, a Defense Ministry officer, General Vladimir Kovalev, became deputy transport minister. The Transport Ministry, together with the power grid Unified Energy Systems and the gas monopoly Gazprom, is one of Russia's so-called natural monopolies. Most analysts in Moscow expect those monopolies to be a source of patronage and financing ahead of parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections scheduled for June 2000. This trend indicates that even if he does not become a presidential candidate, Primakov, with his extensive political and economic influence, will be one of the country's most powerful kingmakers. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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