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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 32, Part I, 16 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 32, Part I, 16 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 * MINI IMF MISSION WINGING ITS WAY TO MOSCOW? * WORST MAY NOT YET BE OVER FOR RUSSIAN BANKS * FIVE BOMBS EXPLODE IN TASHKENT End Note: LEAVING AFGHANISTAN, TRANSFORMING THE WORLD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MINI IMF MISSION WINGING ITS WAY TO MOSCOW? Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said on 15 February that one or two experts from the IMF may visit Moscow this week to help work on the government's economic program. He added that he hopes a full mission will return to Moscow by the end of the month. These "one or two" specialists are likely to be tax experts, who may assist in negotiations between the fund and the State Tax Service, "Vremya MN" reported. While tax service head Georgii Boos has claimed "considerable convergence" over the government's tax plan, differences remain between the two sides. The newspaper reported that in its "extremely diplomatic" remarks on the government's economic memorandum, the fund continues to insist that the primary budget surplus be increased from 1.65 percent to 2.3 percent of GDP. JAC CHERNOMYRDIN FOLLOWS IN CHUBAIS'S FOOTSTEPS... Also on 15 February, Vyugin told Interfax that the appointment of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to the post of presidential envoy to international financial institutions would not surprise him. The agency also cited sources among Chernomyrdin's circle as saying that "in all probability, Chernomyrdin will initially hold talks with IMF officials in a private capacity and then, if they are successful, he will be appointed special envoy." "Komsomolskaya Pravda" reported on 13 February that Chernomyrdin is already acting as envoy but his appointment is "being kept a secret in order not to annoy the Communists." According to the newspaper, Chernomyrdin will also attend a meeting of the Gore-Primakov Commission in Washington in March because Chernomyrdin's direct style of speech is more intelligible to U.S. Vice President Al Gore than Yevgenii Primakov's "diplomatic devices." JAC ...RETURNS TO GAZPROM. Chernomyrdin, who is also the former head of Gazprom, announced on 15 February that the government has another job lined up for him as a member of Gazprom's board of directors. "Vremya MN" reported that Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev vigorously opposes Chernomyrdin's appointment, but his opinion has apparently been disregarded. JAC COMMUNIST PARTY PROTESTS JUSTICE MINISTRY INVESTIGATION. Communist Party members reacted angrily to the Justice Ministry's announcement that it is launching an investigation into the party's activities to determine whether they are in accordance with Russian law. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 16 February that the Justice Ministry apparently wishes to derail the talks between the Communist-dominated Duma and government over the political peace treaty proposed by Prime Minister Primakov. Duma Security Committee Chairman and member of the Communist Party Viktor Ilyukhin described the Justice Ministry's statement as a declaration of a "witch-hunt." JAC WORST MAY NOT YET BE OVER FOR RUSSIAN BANKS. Moody's Investors Service released its assessment of the Russian banking system on 15 February, which concluded that the development of the Russia's banking sector was set back several years by the breakdown of Russian financial markets in 1998. Mergers and consolidations among the surviving banks may eventually resuscitate the entire banking system, but there may be more breakdowns before the system has fully revived. Moody's commented that the government's bank restructuring program "lacks specifics, and it will take time, know-how, and large financial resources to implement it." JAC NEW THEORY PROFFERED FOR SAMARA FIRE. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin has suggested that the recent fatal blaze in Samara may have been set, as was a recent fire in Togliatti, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 16 February. According to the newspaper, a Federal Security Service building in Togliatti caught fire destroying all documents; as a result more than 500 investigations had to be dropped, including a number of criminal proceedings against the company AvtoVAZ. However, local police investigators are trying to pour water on the theory that the fire was set by a "criminal group," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 February. They suggest that the fire was more likely the work of "ordinary weirdoes who did not realize where their actions would lead." The newspaper also reported that many witnesses, according to law enforcement agency sources, agree that the fire started in several places simultaneously. JAC YELTSINS DISMISSES THREE MORE OFFICIALS. President Boris Yeltsin on 15 February dismissed Federal Migration Service head Tatyana Regent, presidential envoy to the republics of Adygei, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, and Stavropol Krai Petr Marchenko and State Committee for the Film Industry chairman Armen Medvedev, ITAR-TASS reported. Medvedev is retiring, and Marchenko reportedly asked to be removed from his post. JAC BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT. Petr Stoyanov concluded his two-day unofficial visit to Moscow on 15 February by meeting with Prime Minister Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Luzhkov noted that the two countries have a common destiny and that political transformations cannot alter the bonds of Slavic brotherhood, according to ITAR-TASS. After meeting with Primakov, Stoyanov said their discussions confirmed that the two countries have managed to eliminate the "deficit of friendliness and trust" that existed a year ago. After arriving in Sofia, Stoyanov stressed that Russia has agreed to pay its $50 million debt by supplying spare parts for Soviet-made Bulgarian aircraft, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Details of the arrangement will be elaborated at an upcoming session of the intergovernmental commission for trade, economic, scientific, and technical cooperation in Moscow, chaired by Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov and Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev. JAC NEW ELECTION DATE SET FOR VLADIVOSTOK. The election commission in Primorskii Krai announced that elections to the Vladivostok city assembly will be held on 16 May, Interfax reported. The current assembly in Vladivostok does not have a quorum and has no legal right to make decisions, according to the commission. JAC ICE BLOCKING FUEL DELIVERIES TO FAR EAST. A stretch of more than 100 kilometers of thick ice is preventing tankers with refined products from making deliveries to the Magadan Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. A navigation safety expert told the agency that a heavy ice-breaker is urgently needed. Meanwhile, a tanker in Khabarovsk Krai cannot leave the port of Vanino because of ice. JAC NEXT MISSION OF 'MIR' MAY BE ITS LAST. Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev told Ekho Moskvy on 15 February that negotiations with the anonymous foreign investor interested in funding the space station "Mir" for the next three years have stalled and no sources for additional financing have been found. Koptev concluded that his agency could ensure the space station's operation only until July or August 1999, provided federal budget allocations are forthcoming. Viktor Afanasev, commander of the crew that is scheduled to leave on 20 February, has said his mission is likely to be the last one, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. JAC BREZHNEV CONSULTS WITH CASTRO. Andrei Brezhnev, grandson of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and head of the All- Russian Communist Socio-Political Movement, met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, according to the February issue of "Vek." Brezhnev told the publication that the situation in Cuba is far better than that in Russia and that Cuba may have some recipes for economic survival that would be helpful for Russia. JAC CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov told journalists in Moscow on 15 February that the meeting of CIS heads of state scheduled for 26-27 February has been postponed, probably until sometime in March, Interfax reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had said he could not attend because of a previously scheduled state visit to Turkey. Gustov said the summit participants will discuss CIS reform, including cutting the staff of CIS administrative bodies from 2,340 to 600-700. According to a plan drafted by CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, all CIS administrative structures except for that which provides logistical support for the CIS Heads of State Council, will be merged into one body. Gustov declined to say whether Berezovskii will be its head. LF KURDS BREAK INTO GREEK EMBASSY IN MOSCOW. Some 30 Kurdish activists who broke into the Greek embassy in Moscow on 16 February agreed to leave after negotiations with Russian security officials, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Russian capital reported. The Kurds remained in the vicinity of the embassy chanting slogans in support of Kurdistan Workers' Party chairman Abdullah Ocalan, Interfax reported. Ocalan was arrested in Kenya late the previous day. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN KURDS TAKE UN OFFICIALS HOSTAGE. Several Armenian Kurds briefly occupied the UN mission in Yerevan on 16 February and took its personnel hostage, threatening to immolate themselves and their hostages unless Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Ocalan was released and granted political asylum, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The hostage-takers left the building after releasing their prisoners. It is not known whether charges will be brought against them. A group of some 100 Kurds who had gathered outside the building marched to the Interior Ministry after receiving reports that police had arrested several ethnic Kurds during a demonstration outside the Greek embassy earlier the same day. They were dispersed by police. LF ARMENIAN PREMIER PROPOSES NEW TAX SYSTEM FOR BUSINESSES. Meeting on 13 February with leading businessmen, Armen Darpininan proposed a system whereby taxes for companies would be set on the basis of anticipated turnover and the companies freed from systematic checks by tax officials, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 February, citing the government's press service. "The most superficial estimates show that 50 percent of the economy is not being taxed," Darpinian was quoted as saying. "The government's task is to prevent an increase in the tax burden on those taxpayers who work [honestly] and pay taxes." The government intends to boost its tax revenues by 47 billion drams ($87 million), in line with 1999 budget targets. On 15 February, the opposition Hanrapetutiun parliamentary faction harshly criticized Darpinian's proposal. LF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN REJECTS IMF EVALUATION. Zurab Zhvania has criticized as "unsubstantiated" a statement by Hunter Munroe, the IMF representative in Tbilisi, that the volume of the 1999 draft budget is $100 million larger that the total agreed on with the IMF. Zhvania said the discrepancy between the two figures is only $40 million. In a statement issued by the IMF on 12 February, Hunter called on the Georgian government to implement a strong economic program and to raise tax revenues, an RFE/RL financial correspondent in Washington reported. Hunter said government expenditure increased in December and tax revenues dipped the following month. He praised the Georgian government's decision not to intervene to prevent a fall in the value of the lari in December, but he said that falling tax revenues are pushing the value of the lari down and fuelling inflation. On 16 February, the lari was trading at 2.285 to the U.S. dollar, Caucasus Press reported. LF MORE FATALITIES IN ABKHAZIA. Six Abkhaz policemen were shot dead in two separate incidents in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion on 13-14 February, Caucasus Press reported. Those deaths bring the number of police killed since late May 1998 to at least 24. An Abkhaz Interior Ministry official blamed the shootings on Georgian guerrillas. LF AZERBAIJANI EX-PREMIER'S LAWYERS SLAM 'POLITICAL' VERDICT. Vladislav Tsimbal, a defense lawyer for former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, told Reuters on 15 February that the sentence of life imprisonment handed down earlier that day by the Azerbaijan Supreme Court was politically motivated. Tsimbal said he will appeal that sentence at the European Court of Human Rights. Huseinov was found guilty on charges of attempting a coup d'etat, treason, and drug smuggling. LF FIVE BOMBS EXPLODE IN TASHKENT... Five bombs went off in the Uzbek capital on 16 February. Four explosions occurred at 11:15 a.m. local time, two inside the Interior Ministry building, one near the Uzbek National Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs, and one on Independence Square, where the government's headquarters are located. Another went off 45 minutes later in the vicinity of the airport. Uzbek Television reported that terrorists had tried to kill President Islam Karimov, who had just been arriving at government headquarters for a scheduled meeting of the Council of Ministers when the bombs began exploding. Prior to his arrival, a car smashed through barricades around the square and a shoot-out ensued between the occupants of the car and Uzbek police. Casualties have been reported, but no figures are available to date. BP ...WHILE KARIMOV VOWS TO PUNISH THOSE RESPONSIBLE. Shortly after the explosions, Karimov appeared on national television appealing for calm among the citizens of the capital, ITAR- TASS reported. The president said the bombings were "aimed against our system, our independent policy, the independence of our state," adding that they constituted an "attempt on my life." He stressed that "no one will intimidate us" and promised to "eliminate the scoundrels" who organized the bombings. BP EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS TO BE HELD IN KAZAKHSTAN? The chairman of the lower house of the parliament, Marat Ospanov, told journalists in Astana on 13 February that a dispute between the government and parliament over amendments to the budget could lead to a crisis of confidence and early elections to the parliament, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The leader of Kazakhstan's Communist Party, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, told RFE/RL correspondents that Ospanov was expressing the opinion of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. BP OSCE DELEGATION MEETS WITH KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT. A delegation from the OSCE headed by Haly Dine met with Nazarbayev on 13-14 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Dine told Nazarbayev that last month's presidential elections fell "far short" of international standards and that the OSCE hopes this year's parliamentary elections will come closer to conforming with international norms. BP JAILED FOREIGNERS AMNESTIED IN TURKMENISTAN. More than 250 foreign citizens currently imprisoned in Turkmenistan will be set free under Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's latest amnesty, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 15 February. Among those to be freed are citizens of Afghanistan (129), Russia (85), and Iran (40). BP TAJIK, RUSSIAN MUFTIATS SIGN AGREEMENT. A delegation from Tajikistan's Muftiat met with representatives of Russia's Muftiat in Moscow on 15 February and signed an agreement on cooperation in several areas, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement provides for regular conferences on spiritual matters, the opening of new medressahs and mosques, and regular meetings between delegations from the two countries. The Russian Muftiat has already concluded similar agreements with the Muslim spiritual boards in Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine, and Crimea. BP END NOTE LEAVING AFGHANISTAN, TRANSFORMING THE WORLD by Paul Goble Ten years ago, the last Soviet army units left Afghanistan, closing a chapter on Moscow's disastrous military intervention there and opening the way to the disintegration of the Soviet system as a whole. But as dramatic as those changes were, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to affect that country, the post-Soviet states, and the Western world in ways that may ultimately prove to be even more dramatic. That is because the withdrawal called into question many of the assumptions that had governed the international system during the Cold War and thus opened the way not only to a post- Soviet but also to a post-Cold War world. That process began on 15 February 1989, when General Boris Gromov led approximately 400 Soviet soldiers across the Afghan border into the USSR, just five minutes before the deadline set for their withdrawal by the U.N.-sponsored Geneva accords of April 1988. In addition to the impact of the event itself--the first Soviet withdrawal from any territory since the Austrian State Treaty more than 30 years earlier--its larger implications for the Soviet Union were suggested by two articles that appeared in the Moscow press on the same day. In a front-page commentary, the Communist Party newspaper "Pravda" argued that any future commitment of Soviet troops must "not be decided in secrecy," as had been the case when Moscow decided to intervene in Afghanistan in December 1979, but only "with the approval of the country's parliament." The Moscow weekly "Literaturnaya gazeta," for its part, published one of the first detailed accounts of Soviet atrocities in the Afghan war, which many Soviet citizens had known about but which the Soviet authorities until then had consistently refused to acknowledge. All three of these events--the withdrawal itself, the acknowledgement that the Soviet intervention lacked popular support, and the description of the atrocities--had the effect of further delegitimizing the Soviet system. Thus, they played a key role in its ultimate destruction. But precisely because this withdrawal proved to be so pivotal in the history of the region, it has generated a set of images that continue to mold opinions not only in Afghanistan but also in the post-Soviet states and the Western world. These opinions appear likely to reshape the future even as the withdrawal itself already has reshaped the past. In Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal had much the same effect as Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War more than 80 years earlier. It encouraged Afghans, other Muslims, and indeed many non-Europeans to think that they could take on a major power and win, something few had assumed until then. That shift in assumptions helped power the Taliban in Afghanistan itself, and many other challenges to European and U.S. dominance of international affairs. Indeed, much of the current terrorist challenge to the West has its roots in the Soviet withdrawal not only because the Mujaheddin demonstrated that a European power could be defeated on the field of battle but also because it showed that a great power would be willing to withdraw rather than continue to fight. In the post-Soviet states--and particularly in Central Asia and the Caucasus--Moscow's withdrawal from Afghanistan has led many to conclude that political power is fragile and that popular groups inspired by Islam can successfully challenge it. Some groups in Tajikistan and elsewhere have challenged the authorities, while many of those in power have sought to justify repressive policies in the name of preventing the kind of societal and political chaos that Afghanistan suffered in the wake of the Soviet occupation. And on a global scale, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to serve as a reminder that however strong a state may appear to outsiders, it can be defeated and even destroyed if it loses all popular legitimacy. Before the Soviet withdrawal, many in both the Soviet Union and the West assumed that the Soviet Union would continue forever. After that event, many in both places recognized that the days of the Soviet power were numbered. Such prophecies not only proved to be self-fulfilling, but they also have led people in other countries, far different and far removed from the USSR, to think about changing structures that many had assumed could never be dislodged. In 1975, four years before Moscow invaded Afghanistan and 14 years before it withdrew, the yearbook of the "Kabul Times" claimed that Afghanistan was "the beginning of the end of everything." To a larger extent than the editors of that newspaper knew, their claim has proved true, first by the Soviet withdrawal and then by the impact of that withdrawal on the world. 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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