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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 23, Part I, 3 February 1999
________________________________________________________ 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * PROSECUTOR-GENERAL 'QUITS' * DOES VAT CUT POSE KEY HURDLE TO IMF AGREEMENT? * UZBEKISTAN TO LEAVE CIS DEFENSE PACT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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