|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 30, Part I, 12 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 30, Part I, 12 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 * PRIMAKOV SOURCE CONFIRMS PRIME MINISTER, BEREZOVSKII AT WAR * IMF CLAIMS NO KNOWLEDGE OF CENTRAL BANK'S OFFSHORE HIDEAWAY * CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CLOSED End Note: COUNTING TROUBLE IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRIMAKOV SOURCE CONFIRMS PRIME MINISTER, BEREZOVSKII AT WAR. Tomas Kolesnichenko, a close friend of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and head of the ANCOM-TASS analytical service, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 12 February that business tycoon Boris Berezovskii has issued a "declaration of war" to Primakov and that is precisely what is now occurring. Kolesnichenko also confirmed that Berezovskii was the real target of raids on the offices of Sibneft and Aeroflot and that Berezovskii's influence on Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his family is fading (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 3 February 1999). According to the newspaper, Kolesnichenko and Primakov have been friends for the last 40 years. JAC IMF CLAIMS NO KNOWLEDGE OF CENTRAL BANK'S OFFSHORE HIDEAWAY. An IMF spokeswoman said the fund knows nothing about the Central Bank's use of an offshore firm on the Channel Island of Jersey to manage some of its hard-currency reserves, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 11 February. Phil Poole, director of Emerging East European Markets for ING Barings, told RFE/RL that while it is normal for Central Banks to use private financial firms to help invest their foreign reserves, he does not understand why such a firm would have been set up from scratch since any number of reliable firms already exist. He added that the transactions should have come to light during the normal course of IMF routine evaluations. According to the "Financial Times" on 12 February, the transactions were not illegal, but they could "complicate the Russian government's talks with foreign creditors." JAC PRIMAKOV LOBBYING FOR POLITICAL PACT. At a closed-door session with Duma faction leaders, Prime Minister Primakov managed to soften some factions' opposition to his proposed "political peace treaty," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 February. According to the newspaper, Yabloko transformed its position from one of categorical hostility to "critical equanimity." Before the meeting, the Communist Party outlined a series of demands, such as a fundamental change in the country's socio-economic policy, that would have to be met before it considered joining a political peace effort. The daily noted, citing eyewitness reports, that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was "far more restrained than usual" at the meeting. However, the newspaper concluded that Primakov's victory is far from final and he will "find it harder and harder...to pacify the contrary Duma deputies with his mere presence alone." Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov told RFE/RL that most factions are still seeking changes in the Russian Constitution. JAC RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER SLAMS CIA REPORT. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 February accused the U.S. of pursuing a "deliberate policy to discredit Russia's image by portraying it as one of the main culprits in the proliferation of nuclear weapons." The newspaper was responding to the CIA report submitted to the U.S. Congress that named Russia, along with China and North Korea, as main source countries for the proliferation of missile and dual-use technology. First Deputy Prime Yurii Maslyukov, whose views are usually at odds with that of the daily and its patron, influential businessman Boris Berezovskii, voiced a similar charge, suggesting that the accusations must "have been made for political reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 February 1999). The newspaper concluded that in the future, it is possible that "Western democratic states will take control of Russian nuclear weapons if they believe that the situation in Russia poses a threat to the world." JAC RUSSIA, CHINA EXPRESS CONCERN OVER US-JAPAN MILITARY COOPERATION. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on 11 February that both Russia and China are concerned about a package of bills on revised Japanese-U.S. military cooperation now before the Japanese parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation aims to implement the U.S.-Japan military agreement adopted in 1996, which, according to Rakhmanin, contains vague language calling for a significant strengthening of bilateral military ties in the case of "emergencies in regions adjacent to Japan." JAC RUSSIA REPEATS DEMAND THAT YUGOSLAVIA REMAIN INTACT. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov repeated Russia's opposition to a split of the Yugoslav Federal Republic, saying "Russia has opposed any settlement [of the Kosova problem], which breaches Yugoslavia's territorial integrity," Interfax reported on 11 February. According to Ivanov, the issue has not even been raised at talks at Rambouillet, France. State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy on 9 February that Russian armed forces "should take an active part" in any kind of peace-keeping contingent in Kosova. JAC DEATH TALLY RISES IN SAMARA FIRE. The number of persons who died in the fire that engulfed the regional Interior Ministry headquarters in Samara Oblast has risen to 51, of whom only 17 have been identified, RFE/RL correspondent in Samara reported on 12 February. The official death tally remains much lower. Head of the Federal Security Services Public Relations Center told Interfax that while arson is not the lead theory on why the blaze occurred, it has not been ruled out. JC FLEETING LIFE SIGNS REGISTERED IN STOCK MARKET... The Russian stock market has experienced a slight decline after a five- day rally: on 12 February, the Russian Trading System index fell 2.1 percent after rising 5.7 percent the previous day, Bloomberg reported. Despite the five-day rise, analysts believe that real demand for equities has not fully revived and will not for some time. "The long term view is that we need political change, reform, and a feasible economic plan, improvement in tax revenues--all the same issues as before," Gary Kinsey, a trader with Aton Capital Brokerage told AFP. He added, "Otherwise, it will be nothing but hot money and the markets will be in-and-out, up-and-down." JAC ...AS DUMA PASSES FOREIGN INVESTOR PROTECTION LAW. The Duma passed a new version of a law to protect investors on the securities market on 12 February, Interfax reported. The Duma had passed an earlier version of the law in July 1998, but the Federation Council rejected that draft two weeks later. According to the agency, the law would impose strict fines or suspensions on brokers and dealers who infringe on the legal interests of investors. JAC LENINGRAD, ST. PETERSBURG MERGER STILL YEARS AWAY. Despite support from relevant local officials, Leningrad Oblast Legislative Assembly Chairman Vitalii Klimov believes that it will take two to five years to unite Leningrad Oblast with the city of St. Petersburg, according to "EWI Russian Regional Report" on 11 February. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev supports the merger, despite the oblast's myriad financial difficulties. The St. Petersburg assembly, whose members were just elected or re-elected in December 1998, have not yet declared their position on the issue. According to the publication, the most difficult part of the unification process will be harmonizing the laws of the two regions. For example, St. Petersburg has a 5 percent sales tax, while Leningrad Oblast does not. Another complicating factor may be upcoming oblast gubernatorial elections on 19 September 1999. JAC RUSSIA TO SPEND $23 MILLION ON CAUSE OF SLAVIC UNITY? The executive committee of the Russian-Belarusian Union will consider a draft 1999 budget for the union on 12 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the current draft, expenditures will total 800 million rubles ($35 million), with 520 million rubles contributed by Russia and 280 million rubles contributed by Belarus. In his opening remarks to the committee, Prime Minister Primakov said that the achievement of the "unification of Russia and Belarus must be backed up economically." According to ITAR-TASS, he also said that "a single currency of the Russian-Belarusian Union will be introduced within the coming weeks." JAC RUSSIAN, INGUSHETIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS CONTROVERSIAL REFERENDUM. Meeting in Moscow on 11 February, Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and Russian Security Council First Deputy Secretary Vyacheslav Mikhailov failed to reach a compromise whereby Ingushetia would not proceed with the referendum scheduled for 28 February, Interfax reported. That referendum is intended to formalize amendments to the republic's constitution and criminal code, allowing the president to appoint local police chiefs without Moscow's prior sanction and legalizing such local traditions as the abduction of a girl by her future bridegroom. Aushev has said the referendum will take place as planned if further talks on 16 and 17 February do not result in a compromise. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA LUZHKOV IN YEREVAN. During a one-day visit to Yerevan on 11 February at the head of a delegation of city officials and businessmen, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed several agreements with Armenian government officials aimed at expanding economic cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Luzhkov held talks with Prime Minister Armen Darpinian and President Robert Kocharian. Characterizing Armenia as "Russia's strategic partner," Luzhkov said his Otechestvo movement is interested in strengthening cooperation with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) and other Armenian political parties. Otechestvo and the HHD concluded a cooperation agreement in December 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1999). LF MURDERED ARMENIAN OFFICIAL BURIED. General Artsrun Markarian was buried at the Yerablur military cemetery on 11 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian's body was discovered late on 9 February with bullet wounds in the chest and head. Two of his bodyguards who were arrested on suspicion of murder have denied killing him, saying that he threatened them shortly before leaving his car late on the night of 8 February. A senior Armenian official at the Prosecutor-General's Office told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that the possibility of suicide cannot be ruled out. But Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who attended the funeral on 11 February, told Armenian Television that he categorically rejects the theory that Markarian killed himself. LF CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CLOSED. Acting on a 10 February proposal by President Heidar Aliev, a Baku City court has closed the criminal case against Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported the following day. Elchibey had been accused of insulting the honor and dignity of President Aliev by claiming he was instrumental in creating the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Elchibey said the charges against him have been dropped because he committed no crime, but an unidentified Western diplomat told Reuters that the decision was the result of international diplomatic pressure on the Azerbaijani leadership. Elchibey has appealed to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, and former acting Premier Shamil Basaev to seek ways of overcoming their differences in order not to jeopardize Chechnya's independence, Turan reported on 11 February. LF AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES MILITARY COOPERATION WITH TURKEY. "Obshchaya gazeta" on 11 February quoted Safar Abiev as saying that among the topics of discussion during his official visit to Turkey last December was the possibility of a bilateral military alliance similar to that signed in 1997 by Russia and Armenia, AFP and Interfax reported. Abiev said that Yerevan is helping to train Kurdish terrorists and that "all the Russian military equipment supplied to Armenia will be used in Nagorno-Karabakh if Armenia resumes military actions against Azerbaijan." At the time of Abiev's visit to Turkey, Turan quoted an unnamed source within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry as saying that Turkey is ready to provide "aid to Azerbaijan" to resolve the Karabakh conflict. LF COORDINATING COUNCIL DISCUSSES ABKHAZ REPATRIATION. An Abkhaz government delegation headed by Prime Minister Sergei Shamba traveled to Tbilisi on 11 February for a one-day meeting of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council, which was set up created in November 1997 to address practical aspects of resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Russian Foreign Ministry and OSCE representatives as well as several Western ambassadors also attended the five-hour session. The talks focused on the plan proposed last month by Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba to allow Georgian displaced persons to return to their homes in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. Also on the agenda was the question of how to halt repeated violations of the cease- fire regime in Gali. Bagapsh, who met separately with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, told journalists that the repatriation process will begin on 1 March and that the Abkhaz and Georgian sides hope to reach agreement on the necessary logistical arrangements by 25 February. He said that 18,000 displaced persons have already applied to return and that a special 120-strong militia composed of both Georgians and Abkhaz will be created to protect them. LF GEORGIAN WARLORD'S LAWYER LODGES APPEAL. Gogmar Gabunia on 11 February appealed to the Georgian Supreme Court to annul the verdict handed down in the trial of Djaba Ioseliani, leader of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation, Caucasus Press reported. Ioseliani was sentenced in November 1998 to 11 years in prison on charges treason, robbery, and of attempting to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Gabunia argues that Ioseliani's trial was illegal, since at the time of his arrest, in November 1995, he was a parliamentary deputy and thus immune from prosecution. He said if the Supreme Court rejects his plea, he will appeal to the International Human Rights court in Strasbourg. In September 1998, Tornike Berishvili, Mkhedrioni's political secretary, quoted the presiding judge at the trial as admitting that the case against Ioseliani is flawed (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 29, 22 September 1998). LF JAILED GEORGIAN EX-MINISTER URGED TO ABANDON HUNGER STRIKE. Doctors have appealed to former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani to abandon the hunger strike he began on 3 February, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. Kitovani was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in 1996 for allegedly attempting to launch an insurrection. He is demanding that the case against him be reopened and that he be formally acquitted (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 6, 10 February 1999). Many observers consider that case to have been fabricated. LF KAZAKHSTAN TO RAISE TARIFF ON KYRGYZ, UZBEK GOODS... Kazakhstan's Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Trade has announced that foodstuffs and other goods imported from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will be subject to a 200 percent tariff beginning 11 March, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. Two days earlier, Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev had announced import quotas on cooking oil, butter, vegetable oil, cigarettes, and alcoholic and soft drinks from Uzbekistan as well as on margarine, mayonnaise, yeast, and other products from Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan says the quotas will protect domestic producers from lower-priced products from neighboring countries. BP ...DRAWING COMPLAINTS FROM KYRGYZSTAN. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has responded angrily to the import quotas, saying they are another example of an attempt by other CIS countries to isolate his country, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. "The countries of the CIS are sparing no effort to organize an economic blockade against us," Akayev said. He claimed these countries are put out by Kyrgyzstan's entry into the World Trade Organization last year, arguing that the import quotas are an example of the "traditional habit of punishing anybody who moves forward." Akayev added that Uzbekistan is drawing up similar measures. RFE/RL correspondents in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have reported recently that Uzbek customs officials are already charging $16 for every $100 worth of goods crossing into Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan. BP WORLD BANK APPROVES $100 MILLION LOAN FOR KAZAKHSTAN. The board of directors of the World Bank has approved a $100 million loan to Kazakhstan for the reconstruction and maintenance of roads, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. World Bank experts estimate that only 37 percent of the country's roads are currently in good condition. They also emphasized the importance of an adequate transportation network for domestic and international trade. BP KARIMOV SAYS HE'LL DEFEND UZBEK INTERESTS AT UPCOMING CIS SUMMIT. Speaking about his 11 February meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Russian Federal Council chairman Yegor Stroev said they "talked openly and eye to eye" and added "we may not agree with [the Uzbek representatives] but we must respect them," ITAR-TASS reported. Stroev spoke highly of Uzbekistan as "the sole country inside the former Soviet Union that has not allowed its industrial production to fall from the 1990 level." He also praised Uzbekistan for combating Islamic fundamentalism, which he described as "a dangerous political phenomenon." Karimov confirmed he will attend the CIS summit on 26 February but warned "it does not mean that I won't insist on the interests of the state that I govern." BP U.S. COMPANIES AWARDED CONTRACTS IN TURKMEN DEAL. Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said on 11 February that President Saparmurat Niyazov has selected the companies that will take part in building the Trans-Caspian pipeline, Reuters reported. He also named the U.S. companies Bechtel and General Electric Capital to head the consortium. BP END NOTE COUNTING TROUBLE IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION By Paul Goble The population census just completed in Azerbaijan and the one about to held in Kazakhstan open a new era for the post-Soviet states, one in which they are likely to discover just how political population statistics inevitably are. Yuri Shokamanov, the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's statistical administration, announced earlier this week that on 25 February, his agency will conduct its first census since the 1989 USSR count. Azerbaijan has just completed taking its first post-Soviet population census, and several other former Soviet republics will follow suit over the next two years. (Armenia and Kyrgyzstan intended to conduct censuses this year but have postponed them for financial reasons.) But in making this announcement, Shokamanov did not call attention to just how dramatic a step his government's action really is or just how much controversy such undertaking are almost certain to generate. For three reasons, these first post-Soviet censuses are likely to be especially controversial. First, there will be heated debates over just which questions to ask and equally which questions not to ask. Should the census-takers ask questions about ethnicity and nationality or only about citizenship? If they ask about ethnicity, the censuses in several of these countries are likely to reveal major shifts in the percentage of various national groups. In Ukraine, for example, surveys suggest that the percentage of the population that will declare itself ethnically Russian is likely to be far smaller than the percentage that identified itself that way in the last Soviet census of 1989. Such shifts would almost certainly have major and immediate political consequences, and thus there will be some who are likely to advocate that the census-takers avoid such questions. But if the census does not ask questions about ethnicity, there will similarly be consequences. Some ethnic minorities will undoubtedly conclude that they are going to be "swallowed up" or at least ignored by the dominant group. Thus, these minorities almost certainly will fight to include questions about ethnicity as a way to help preserve their status in the post-Soviet states. Second, there are going to be political battles over which information to release and when. Because many people in the post-Soviet states retain their Soviet-era reluctance to provide full and accurate information to officials who ask for it, at least some of them are going to be concerned about the release of any information from the census. Some will undoubtedly argue that census data should be kept extremely confidential, lest their declarations come back to haunt them. But at the same time, any efforts by officialdom to impose controls over the release of information from the census almost certainly will increase suspicions that the results have been distorted to benefit officials at the expense of the citizenry as a whole. And third, there are going to be even more intense struggles over how the information gathered is used for political redistricting or for budgetary allocations. These last struggles are likely to continue well after the censuses are completed. If the data gathered are used to change the size of electoral districts or to change the allocation of funds, those who would benefit will press for its release, while those who would lose will almost certainly oppose it. And if, as seems certain, these censuses prove to be incomplete-- journalists can be counted on to highlight cases where the census-takers have missed someone--then many people in this region are likely to look at any use of the numbers gathered as a political plot. None of these fights is unusual. In the U.S., for example, questions about how to conduct the census in the year 2000 have already divided the Congress and sparked a series of closely-contested court cases--just as they did before earlier counts. But because the post-Soviet states will be conducting these surveys for the first time and will almost certainly want to establish precedents that break from past and not always satisfactory Soviet practice, all these controversies are likely to be even greater. And thus something that on the face of it seems quite neutral--the counting of the population--could become one of the most contentious political issues across this region over the next two 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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