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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 23, Part I, 3 February 1999


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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 23, Part I, 3 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

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Headlines, Part I

* PROSECUTOR-GENERAL 'QUITS'

* DOES VAT CUT POSE KEY HURDLE TO IMF AGREEMENT?

* UZBEKISTAN TO LEAVE CIS DEFENSE PACT
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RUSSIA

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL 'QUITS.' President Boris Yeltsin on 2
February accepted the resignation of Prosecutor-General
Yurii Skuratov, who quit for health reasons. Deputy
Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika told Interfax that
Skuratov has been hospitalized, but the Russian press
speculated that poor health is not the real reason for
Skuratov's departure. Officials from the Prosecutor-
General's Office also denied that there was any link
between Skuratov's resignation and the raid on Sibneft
offices the same day (see below). Citing an anonymous
"high-level Kremlin source," "Kommersant-Daily" reported
that President Yeltsin had been unhappy with Skuratov
for a long time because of his inadequate efforts to
combat political extremism and his inability to solve
some high-profile criminal cases, such as the murder of
journalist Dmitrii Kholodov. "Izvestiya" reported that
the majority of its sources believe that Skuratov had to
resign because of his close ties with the political
left. JAC

SIBNEFT RAIDED... One of the last investigations
Skuratov launched was into allegations published in
"Moskovskii komsomolets" article that at financial
magnate Boris Berezovskii's request the Atoll private
security company was bugging Yeltsin's office and home.
On 2 February, investigators raided the headquarters of
the Sibneft oil company, which is partly owned by
Berezovskii, in search of evidence of illegal
surveillance activities. Investigators also searched
more than 20 offices and apartments in Moscow the same
day, according to Interfax. A Sibneft spokesman said the
company has had only "very limited" dealings with Atoll,
while Berezovskii claimed earlier that he has ceded all
control over Sibneft and acts only as an adviser to the
company. JAC

...AFTER BEREZOVSKII EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT FUTURE
GOVERNMENT REPRESSION. The previous day Berezovskii
spoke out against the government's plan to release
94,000 inmates from crowded prisons and replace their
ranks with those who, in the words of Prime Minister
Yevgenii Primakov, are "plundering Russia" and "robbing
society" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February1999).
Berezovskii told Interfax that the plan "would bring us
back to Soviet times when authorities operated on the
principle that you can always find something to charge
someone with." Berezovskii added that Primakov's pledge
that "despite the amnesty, there will be no easing of
the government's measures against economic crimes"
transforms the "very act of amnesty from a humanitarian
one into a simple clearing of space for upcoming
repressions." Citing an "unofficial source at the
Federal Security Service, "Izvestiya" suggested on 3
February that investigators might have been searching
Sibneft's premises for evidence of criminal code
violations in the company's dealings in the refined
product market. JAC

DOES VAT CUT POSE KEY HURDLE TO IMF AGREEMENT? The
government missed the 1 February deadline to submit a
memorandum about its economic program to the IMF because
the cabinet had rejected a draft version of the program
as "too liberal," Reuters reported on 3 February. The
document was based on a plan drawn up in July 1998 by
former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais and
supplemented with figures from the 1999 budget, which
still awaits its fourth and final reading by the State
Duma, according to the agency. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the
previous day described the draft memorandum as composed
of extremely "naive" and "general" answers to a series
of questions posed by the IMF. The same day, citing a
"high-ranking government official," "Kommersant-Daily"
reported that if the government stopped insisting that
VAT be cut, an agreement could be reached with the fund
this month. JAC

COURT SAYS NO DEATH PENALTY WITHOUT JURY TRIAL FIRST.
The Constitutional Court on 2 February ruled that the
death sentence cannot be carried out against prisoners
who do have a jury trial, noting that the constitution
requires such a trial for capital punishment to be
imposed. Presidential representative to the court
Mikhail Mityukov told Interfax that the ruling does not
apply to those 1,000 or so people who have already been
sentenced to receive the death penalty but have not yet
been executed. According to Interfax, only nine Russian
regions are currently conducting trials by jury as "a
judicial experiment." JAC

ANOTHER OLIGARCH DOWN? Vladimir Potanin's Oneksimbank
may be the first Russian bank to default on its Eurobond
debt, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 February.
According to the newspaper, Oneksimbank owes foreign
creditors more than $300 million--not including debt
owed on unfulfilled futures contracts. The previous day,
another company within Potanin's Interros holding
company, Sidanko, announced that it is facing bankruptcy
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). JAC

COAL MINERS UNIMPRESSED WITH PRIMAKOV SPEECH? Just one
day after Prime Minister Primakov promised coal miners
to double government subsidies to the industry, miners
in three regions went on strike. Four hundred miners in
Sakhalin oblast stopped work to protest unpaid back
wages of some 2.5 million rubles ($110,000), Interfax
reported on 2 February. Meanwhile, in the Vorkuta area
of Komi Republic and the Kuzbass region of Kemerovo
Oblast, miners have refused to leave the shaft until
unpaid wages are met. According to Interfax, the miners
in Vorkuta were told the previous day about Primakov's
promises but refused to cancel their action. JAC

UNEMPLOYMENT BY REGION. Regions with the highest
unemployment in 1998 were the Republics of Kalmykia,
Dagestan, and Komi, along with Orlov, Pskov, and Chita
Oblasts, "Segodnya" reported on 1 February. These
regions had unemployment rates of 14-22 percent compared
with the national figure of 11.7 percent, according to
the newspaper. The regions with the lowest rate of
unemployment were Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kursk and
Orenburg Oblasts. JAC

ULYANOVSK TO INCREASE ROLE OF STATE IN ECONOMY.
Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Yurii Goryachev, an outspoken
critic of privatization and "liberal" economic reform
policies, is planning to increase his government's role
in managing the local economy by acquiring a controlling
stake in the oblast's major enterprises, "EWI Russian
Regional Report" reported on 29 January. This will be
accomplished by allowing enterprises to transfer some of
their shares to the oblast government in lieu of paying
their tax debts. The government already owns stakes in
180 local enterprises. JAC

IVANOV WINDS UP VISIT TO GERMANY. Foreign Minister Igor
Ivanov wrapped up a two-day official visit to Germany on
2 February after meeting with German Foreign Minister
Joschka Fischer and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder the
previous day. According to Ivanov, the German government
supports the Primakov cabinet's economic program and
shares its desire to find a solution to the Kosova
situation. On 1 February, the German-based Kommerzbank
became one of the first foreign banks to receive a
Central Bank of Russia license since the 17 August
crisis. JAC

KIRIENKO TO RUN IN MOSCOW MAYORAL ELECTIONS? Former
Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko has reportedly
established a working group to prepare for his possible
campaign for the office of mayor of Moscow should the
current mayor, Yurii Luzhkov, decide to run for
president, Interfax reported on 2 February. JAC

DISMISSED ADVISERS NAMED. In a follow-up to an earlier
decree trimming Kremlin staff, President Yeltsin signed
a decree on 2 February listing the names of the
dismissed officials. Presidential advisers Sergei
Krasavchenko and Emil Pain are now former advisers, as
are Viktoriya Mitina and Lyudmila Pikhoi. Aleksei Ogarev
was dismissed as deputy head of the presidential
administration and appointed as deputy secretary of the
Security Council. JAC

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION UNCONVINCED BY FAIR ELECTION PLEDGE.
Several prominent Armenian politicians have responded
with skepticism to Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian's
pledge to ensure that this summer's parliamentary
elections will be free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau
reported on 2 February. Speaking at the founding
congress of the Republican Party on 30 January, Sargsian
had invited other political parties to hold discussions
to ensure such elections. Democratic Fatherland Party
leader Eduard Yegorian suggested that Sargsian prevail
upon the majority Yerkrapah group in the parliament to
amend the election law currently under discussion, which
the opposition perceives as encouraging election fraud.
Shavarsh Kocharian of the National Democratic Union said
that as nominal head of the Yerkrapah union of veterans
of the Karabakh war, Sargsian bears a share of
responsibility for election violations committed by
Yerkrapah members during the 1996 and 1998 presidential
elections. LF

TRIAL OF AZERBAIJANI EX-PRESIDENT AGAIN POSTPONED. A
Baku district court has again postponed the trial of
Azerbaijani Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz
Elchibey on charges of insulting President Heidar Aliev,
Turan reported on 2 February. No reason for the
postponement was given. The trial was originally
scheduled to begin on 25 January but was adjourned at
the request of Elchibey's defense lawyers (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 26 and 28 January 1999). LF

BP SHOWS INTEREST IN UKRAINIAN OIL EXPORT ROUTE. British
Petroleum/Amoco is considering the feasibility of
exporting Caspian oil from Baku via Ukraine's Odessa-
Brody pipeline as an alternative to the proposed Baku-
Ceyhan route, Interfax reported on 2 February, quoting
Vladislav Tarashevsky, chairman of the Ukrainian state
committee for oil and gas. Interfax also quoted the oil
company's vice president, Richard Nilton, as saying that
the company is considering alternatives in view of the
"political pressure" to opt for the Baku-Ceyhan route.
The U.S. government is actively lobbying in favor of
that route. In other news, on 29 January Canada's
Alberta Energy Co. acquired a 5 percent stake in a
consortium created by BP/Amoco, Norway's Statoil, a
Turkish company, and the Azerbaijan state oil company
SOCAR to exploit the Alov, Araz, and Sharg off-shore oil
fields, UPI reported. LF

TURKS INTERCEPT ENRICHED URANIUM FROM AZERBAIJAN.
Turkish intelligence agents have arrested four people in
the city of Bursa who attempted to sell 100 grams of
enriched uranium from Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported on
2 February. The four, whose nationality is unknown,
wanted $700,000 for the uranium. LF

WILL GEORGIA DEMAND ABKHAZ LEADER'S INDICTMENT FOR WAR
CRIMES? "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 February cited
unnamed Georgian sources close to the Abkhaz peace talks
as hinting that Tbilisi may ask the UN Security Council
to demand that Vladislav Ardzinba be brought to trial
for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during
the 1992-1993 Abkhaz war. Those sources noted that the
council has already called for the arrest of former
Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic on similar
charges. The previous day, Caucasus Press reported that
the Opposition Committee of Abkhazia, which represents
the Georgian displaced persons forced to flee Abkhazia
during the fighting, intends to appeal to the
International Court at The Hague to indict Ardzinba for
ethnic cleansing. The committee argued that it would
thereby expedite the restoration of friendly relations
between the Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. LF

UZBEKISTAN TO LEAVE CIS DEFENSE PACT. The Uzbek Foreign
Ministry on 2 February confirmed that Uzbekistan will
not extend its participation in the CIS Collective
Security Treaty, Interfax reported. The Russian daily
"Vremya MN" reported the same day that the reasons for
Tashkent's move are dissatisfaction with Moscow's
policies in the Caucasus, namely supplying Armenia with
the S-300 air-defense missile system and modern fighter
aircraft. According to the article, Tashkent believes
such policies create instability in the region. It also
objects to Russia's expected signing of a similar deal
with Tajikistan when the Tajik president visits Moscow
in April and to the continued presence in Tajikistan of
the CIS peacekeeping force, which is composed mainly of
Russian troops. "In the Uzbek government, they question
[the need for that force when] the Mujaheddin of the
Islamic opposition are no longer in Afghanistan and are
almost all incorporated into the Tajik national army,"
the daily commented. BP

UZBEK PRESIDENT WANTS DEMOCRATIC PARLIAMENTARY
ELECTIONS. In an interview published in the daily
"Turkiston" on 2 February, Islam Karimov said the key
task for his country this year will be conducting honest
and democratic parliamentary elections in December,
Interfax reported. Noting that his country has already
held free elections, he argued that its experience in
this area is "insufficient" as other countries "have
many centuries of experience of elections." He
encouraged Uzbek political parties to "make an all-round
analysis of reality and the social situation" and
express views that are objective and well thought-out.
Karimov welcomed international monitoring of the
elections, saying he hopes it will contribute to the
spirit of objectivity, democracy, and openness. BP

KYRGYZSTAN SETS DATES FOR ELECTIONS. The Central
Election Commission on 2 February announced that
elections to the parliament will be held in February
2000, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported.
Elections to regional and district assemblies will be
held at the same time. Municipal elections are scheduled
for October 1999. The parliament's press service
reported that the Legislative Assembly rejected a
provision in the election code, drawn up by the
government and presidential administration, that 15
members of the 60-seat Legislative Assembly will be
elected on party lists. Omurbek Tekebaev, the leader of
the Ata-Meken Party, told RFE/RL correspondents that
current members of the assembly will never allow such a
system of representation. BP

CONCERN OVER CONTINUED VIOLENCE IN TAJIKISTAN. At a 2
February meeting in Dushanbe chaired by Tajik President
Imomali Rakhmonov, representatives of the government,
the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), and the UN observer
mission to Tajikistan all expressed their concern over
continued violations of the 1997 peace accord, ITAR-TASS
reported. The meeting followed a raid on the Faizabad
police station last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1
February 1999), but speakers at the meeting pointed to
several other violations by UTO fighters since the
beginning of 1999. President Rakhmonov said all means
must be taken to implement the peace accord even if that
entails "disarming the armed groups." BP

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