|Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. - Sir Winston Churchill|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 36, Part I, 22 February 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 36, Part I, 22 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 * RUSSIA STILL HOLDING OUT FOR BREAKTHROUGH AT RAMBOUILLET * G-7 BACKS UP IMF IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH RUSSIA * ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CAUTIOUS ABOUT CALL FOR PRESIDENT'S IMPEACHMENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA STILL HOLDING OUT FOR BREAKTHROUGH AT RAMBOUILLET. As Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov again stressed his country's opposition to using force to settle the Kosova conflict, Moscow Mayor and Otechestvo movement head Yurii Luzhkov and Duma Speaker and Communist Party member Gennadii Seleznev on 20 February condemned possible NATO airstrikes. Luzhkov said that inter-ethnic problems "exist in nearly every European country" and "cannot be solved by military actions," while Seleznev threatened that Russia is likely to withdraw from its treaty with NATO if force is used in Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation on 20 February, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that a political solution in Kosova is still possible. Primakov told reporters the next day that the Rambouillet negotiations between Belgrade and Kosova should not be regarded as a failure. "The negotiation process is continuing and we count on its success," he said JAC PRIMAKOV SUGGESTS THAT GOVERNORS BE APPOINTED... Prime Minister Primakov suggested at a 21 February session of the Leningrad Oblast government that the Russian Constitution needs amending to strengthen "vertical power" but that such a step not be taken this year. In particular, he recommended that governors be selected by local elective bodies from a list of candidates provided by the president, Interfax reported. Primakov explained that "at present governors are chosen directly by the people and it is impossible to exert influence over a governor," Reuters reported. Primakov's announcement could damage the support he has managed to win among the country's governors. "Kommersant-Daily" argued on 20 February that Primakov has managed to woo governors away from Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and his Otechestvo movement by convincing them at a January meeting on federal policy that "consent emanates from the regions, not the center" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). JAC ...WHILE LUZHKOV BIDS FOR HEARTS, MINDS OF MAYORS. The new governors' election bloc headed by Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov has also provided some competition for Luzhkov's Otechestvo movement, prompting Moscow's mayor to consolidate his support among the heads of other Russian cities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 February. Some 700 mayors, local manufacturers, bankers, and chairs of city assemblies gathered in Moscow on 19 February for a conference whose formal purpose is to discuss how to support municipal economies, according to the newspaper. However, its unofficial purpose was to rally around Luzhkov and support the cause of strengthening the powers of city officials to the disadvantage of regional and federal officials. Among the city officials expressing support for Luzhkov were the mayors of Omsk, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Perm, Krasnodar, Trekhgornii, Severodinsk, Yakutsk, and Maykop. According to the daily, governors who had earlier attended Otechestvo constituent meetings in droves "grew noticeably cooler toward Luzhkov" after Titov had announced the idea of an independent bloc of "governors." JAC 1999 BUDGET BECOMES LAW. Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the 1999 budget into law on 22 February, Interfax reported. The Federation Council had approved the budget on 17 February. The document sets aside $9.5 billion to pay foreign creditors, who are owed at total of $17.5 billion in 1999, according to Interfax. The amount devoted to defense was increased by 17 billion rubles ($744 million) to 107 billion rubles, while other programs were cut. The budget calls for expenditures of 575 billion rubles and revenues of 474 billion rubles. JAC G-7 BACKS UP IMF IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH RUSSIA. After meeting in Bonn on 20 February, finance ministers and central bankers from the G-7 nations issued a statement criticizing Russia for failing to adopt "a concerted policy response to ongoing financial and macro-economic instability." They also said that "a viable budget for 1999" and "significant improvement in government revenues" are necessary for an agreement with the IMF and that an agreement with the IMF is necessary for a debt restructuring agreement with the Paris Club. French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kohn slammed the government's plan to cut value-added tax, calling it "illusory," AFP reported. Members of the Russian delegation to the meeting remained upbeat. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told ITAR-TASS that "recommendations issued were positive" and that Russian officials "did not see the same obstinacy we witnessed at previous rounds of talks between the IMF and Russia." JAC DUMA REJECTS IMF ADVICE ON CENTRAL BANK LAW... Duma Speaker Seleznev dismissed the IMF's reservations about proposed changes in the law on the Central Bank now being considered by the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 February. He said that the "IMF can give recommendations but it cannot insist on which laws we shall adopt." He added that the IMF "has gotten used to telling us what they would like to see. Luckily, this government tells them what Russia needs." In a letter to Central Bank head Gerashchenko on 12 February, IMF deputy director of the department dealing with Russia, Jorge Marquez-Ruarte, said that the amendments would reduce the bank's independence and negatively effect the inflation rate and stability of the ruble, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Marquez-Ruarte found a proposed amendment restricting the Central Bank's ability to set interest rates "particularly disturbing." JAC ...AS OFFSHORE FIRM CONTROVERSY CAUSES CENTRAL BANK TO CLOSE RANKS? Marquez-Ruarte did not address the issue of the Central Bank's use of a tiny offshore firm to handle its hard currency reserves, although he said that the IMF supports the bank's "increasing transparency and accountability" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The controversy surrounding the use of the Channel Islands-based FIMACO has prompted an "unprecedented closing of ranks" between former and current Central Bank officials across Russia's political spectrum, from current chairman Gerashchenko to his predecessor, Sergei Dubinin, the "Moscow Times" reported on 19 February. On the other hand, "Izvestiya" noted on 13 February, that there are "clear political overtones" to the assault on the Central Bank as well as "signs of a desire to take revenge on the former Central Bank team, which held very specific political views." JAC RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS JAPAN... Igor Ivanov, speaking at a press conference at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo on 22 February, addressed Japanese-U.S. plans to create a regional anti-missile defense system in the Pacific area, Russian and Japanese press reported. Ivanov warned the two countries against expanding their sphere of operations and stressed "alliances and groupings ...should have a strictly defensive character." Ivanov said his country expects "the actions of such alliances to be most transparent." Ivanov also denied reports in the international press that quoted him as saying it is "impossible" to conclude by the year 2000 a peace treaty with Japan officially ending World War II. Ivanov is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi and to hand over a letter from President Boris Yeltsin. BP DISCUSSES PEACE TREATY. The previous day, Ivanov met with his Japanese counterpart, Masahiko Komura, but the two failed to make progress on deciding the fate of the Kuril Islands. Ivanov had said before arriving in Japan that he has no "magic formula" and expects no breakthrough on discussions about the future of the islands. And he had noted that "it would be an anachronism to negotiate just a peace treaty with Japan half a century after World War Two ended." Questions also remain over Yeltsin's planned visit to Japan this year. The Japanese hope he will visit in the spring, but Russian officials say Yeltsin's health and domestic issues make that unlikely. Obuchi said on 22 February that his government will "persistently, persistently, and more persistently" meet with Russian officials to discuss the islands' fate. BP DUMA CONDEMNS OCALAN ARREST. By a vote of 344 to two with one abstention, the State Duma adopted a resolution on 19 February expressing "extreme indignation" at the 15 February capture of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, Reuters reported. It termed the arrest a violation of international law. Duma deputies called on President Yeltsin to request that a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem be included in the agenda of the UN Security Council. They also asked the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to review whether Turkey meets that body's standards on human rights. Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Putin told Duma deputies later that day that Russia neither invited Ocalan to Russia nor deported him from the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin similarly denied that Moscow had rejected a request by Ocalan for political asylum, saying Ocalan had never made any such request. LF DID PRIMAKOV BROKER CASPIAN OIL DEAL? "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 February suggests that Ocalan did apply for political asylum in Russia last year and that his request was turned down as part of a broader plan devised by Prime Minister Primakov. According to that plan, which the newspaper claims was agreed on by Primakov and Chevron President Richard Matzke at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Moscow will not impede construction of the Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. (A firm commitment to that project by the Western companies engaged in Azerbaijan is on hold indefinitely because plummeting oil prices make it economically unviable.) In return, Kazakhstan's crude will be exported via the planned pipeline from Tengiz to Novorossiisk and Turkey will not prevent its passage in tankers through the Turkish straits. LF RUSSIA ASKS FINNS FOR MONEY TO STOP BALTIC SEA DUMPING. Prime Minister Primakov held talks with his Finnish counterpart, Paavo Lipponen, on 21 February in St. Petersburg to discuss the construction of a gas pipeline through Russian and Finnish ports to supply Western Europe and Russian dumping of sewage into the Baltic Sea. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who attended the meeting, told reporters later that Russia is dumping large amounts of waste that it cannot afford to reprocess. He said that the city of St. Petersburg alone dumps 1 million cubic meters a day and added that Russia needs $1 billion to resolve the problem. Primakov said that already friendly Russian-Finnish relations are "on the rise" and that Russia and Finland have proved that "when one country joins the EU, that does not mean the curtailment of tiesor a smaller interest in the development of relations with the other [non-EU member]." JAC TEACHERS IN ALTAI LAUNCH THIRD PROTEST THIS YEAR... Teachers in Altai Krai on 22 February began an indefinite strike to protest unpaid wages totaling 59 million rubles ($2.6 million), ITAR-TASS reported. Two strike actions by teachers in the krai earlier this year resulted in a transfer of some 8 million rubles in overdue wages, but educational workers are now demanding that the balance be paid in full (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1999). JAC ...WHILE MINERS IN KOMI TAKE PROTEST TO RAILWAY. Meanwhile, coal miners at the Intinskaya mine in Komi Republic, who began a strike action on 15 February, are now picketing the Moscow-Vorkuta railway, ITAR -TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 1999). JAC PENTECOSTALS IN MAGADAN FACING POLICE PRESSURE. The Word of Life Church in Magadan filed a complaint on 15 February with the oblast's Prosecutor-General's Office about harassment by local police and tax officials, Keston News Service reported on 20 February. In December and January, local tax officials raided the Church and removed documents, which have still not been returned. In February, local police officials threatened Church members during a night raid on the pretext of a hunt for drug dealers, according to the UK-based agency. According to the Church's pastor, the Pentecostal organization has some 800 followers in the city of Magadan and branches throughout the oblast. A local expert on religions reckons that the Pentecostals are the biggest denomination in Magadan after the Orthodox Church. Last month, some 350 members of the Church appealed to the U.S. embassy in Moscow for political asylum. JAC CHECHEN OPPOSITION ELECTS LEADER. Following two days of deliberations, the Shura [council] established by opposition field commanders on 9 February has elected former acting premier Shamil Basaev as its head, Russian agencies reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). Former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax that Basaev's powers have not been clearly defined, nor have his deputies been named. The Shura demands that following the proclamation of Islamic law in Chechnya, the president and parliament resign and a new constitution be drafted. The following day, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov dismissed Prosecutor-General Mansur Tagirov at the insistence of the Supreme Shariah Court because he had served in the Russian police force during the 1994-1996 Chechen war. LF LEBED GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. Prime Minister Primakov attended the premiere of Nikita Mikhalkov's latest film, "The Barber of Seville," on 20 February, AFP reported. Some Russian newspapers called the film, which reportedly has a strong patriotic theme, the opening bid in Mikhalkov's presidential campaign, but Mikhalkov told those attending the premiere that he has no such ambitions. Meanwhile, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed will attend an Academy Awards party at the Beverly Hills Hotel to benefit director Martin Scorsese's film foundation, "Variety" reported. According to the newspaper, the party invitation was first issued to Russian President Yeltsin, who passed it on to Lebed. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CAUTIOUS ABOUT CALL FOR PRESIDENT'S IMPEACHMENT. Opposition parties have reacted cautiously to the 17 February demand by parliamentary deputy and chairman of the National Democratic Party--21st Century Davit Shahnazarian, to form an interim parliamentary commission to consider impeaching President Robert Kocharian for violating the constitution, Noyan Tapan reported on 19 February. Albert Bazeyan of the majority Yerkrapah group said that the initiative is inadvisable in the current strained situation. Hrant Margarian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which like Yerkrapah supports the president, suggested the initiators of the proposal oppose Kocharian's anti-crime strategy. Nerses Zeynavaldian of the Self-Determination Union observed that Shahnazarian has not specified the grounds for impeaching Kocharian, while Mkrtich Gimshian of the Hayrenik group expressed support for Shahnazarian's proposal. Shavarsh Kocharian of the National Democratic Union said he believes that the proposal is correct, but he added that it could be interpreted as an act of revenge. LF ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REVIEWS KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS... Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan on 19 February, Vartan Oskanian said that in Armenia's view the only option for the resumption of the deadlocked OSCE-mediated talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict lies in the plan proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairman last year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Baku has rejected that plan, which envisaged the creation of a "common state" by Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Oskanian said that the Minsk Group has issued a statement saying that the co- chairmen are trying to find a mutually acceptable basis for the resumption of negotiations. LF ...RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA, GULF STATES. Oskanian also rejected claims that Armenia's ongoing military cooperation with Russia is directed against other countries, such as Turkey and Azerbaijan. He said Armenian policy is purely defensive and directed not at polarizing, but at promoting rapprochement and peaceful coexistence between the states of the region, according to ITAR-TASS. Summarizing his visits to Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, Oskanian said Armenia will open an embassy in the UAE and hopes for intensified economic cooperation with the Persian Gulf states, Noyan Tapan reported. LF GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS CONTINUE PROTEST. Several hundred Georgians forced to flee their homes in Abkhazia continue to block passage over the Inguri bridge linking Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia, Georgian media reported on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). The Russian peacekeeping force deployed along each side of that internal border has condemned the protest as illegal. The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry has issued a statement condemning the protest as intended to prevent those displaced persons who wish to return to Abkhazia from doing so. It also asked the Georgian Foreign Ministry to halt such obstructions to the repatriation process, Caucasus Press reported on 20 February. LF GEORGIAN INSURGENCY LEDAER ISSUES NEW THREAT. Colonel Akaki Eliava, who led the failed one-day insurgency in western Georgia last October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19-20 October 1999), has threatened to seize the strategic Black Sea port of Poti if 60 of his supporters arrested in the wake of that revolt are not released, Caucasus Press reported on 19 February, citing "Akhali taoba." Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze implicitly blamed the Georgian law enforcement organs for failing to apprehend Eliava. Interior Ministry representatives had held talks with Eliava in January in an attempt to persuade him to surrender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 January 1999). LF THREE CENTRAL ASIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN ASTANA... The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, taking part in a Central Asian Union summit in Astana on 19 February, signed a memorandum on coordinating efforts to cushion the impact of the global economic crisis and a protocol on implementing the January 1997 Eternal Friendship Treaty. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev said it is "important" for each country "not to take unilateral steps," and he called the Central Asian Union "more essential today than ever before" if economic problems are to be alleviated. The presidents established a working group of their countries' prime ministers to coordinate measures to combat the economic crisis. By mutual agreement, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev will continue to act as chairman of the union for another year. The next summit is scheduled to take place in Kyrgyzstan in June. BP ... TAJIK PRESIDENT STAYS AWAY Tajikistan, which is a candidate member of the Central Asian Union, was not represented at the 19 February summit in Kazakhstan's capital. In talks with RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe the previous day, several government officials were unaware of the meeting. There have been no reports that any invitation was extended to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Tajikistan was expected to become a full member of the union at the first summit this year. BP WHILE UZBEK PRESIDENT HOGS LIMELIGHT AT PRESS CONFERENCE. At a press briefing in which he was the focus of attention, Islam Karimov called the CIS Collective Peace Treaty "ineffective" but said it is up to the nine participating countries to decide for themselves if they will extend their participation or withdraw from the treaty. Karimov also spoke about the 16 February bombings in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, confirming that security forces there are seeking "religious fanatics." Karimov said two men who had parked a car containing explosives near government buildings fled just before the car blew up, shouting "Allah Akbar." Karimov credits the commander of the presidential guards, Rustam Ajayev, with saving his life. Ajayev halted Karimov's car 150 meters from a car that exploded seconds later. BP IRAN UNHAPPY WITH TURKMEN TRANS-CASPIAN PIPELINE AGREEMENT. The Iranian Foreign Ministry on 20 February warned Turkmenistan about "any initiatives aimed at building oil and gas pipelines under the Caspian Sea," AP and dpa reported. Turkmenistan the previous day had named the U.S. companies Bechtel Corp. and General Electric as the leaders in a consortium to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline to bring Turkmen natural gas to Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999). The Iranian Foreign Ministry pointed out that treaties signed by Iran and the Soviet Union in 1921 and 1940 "are still in force" and that any action taken without the consent of all the littoral states will be considered "illegal." The Iranian Foreign Ministry said "the perpetrators of such action are held fully responsible for any harmful consequences to the Caspian Sea, such as environmental damage." BP STREET PATROLS IN ALMATY INCREASED. Following a violent demonstration by ethnic Kurds last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999), Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry said it has intensified police patrols until 26 February, Interfax reported. Viktor Khrapunov, the mayor of Almaty, has called on members of the Kurdish community to abide by Kazakhstan's laws and maintain ethnic and civil peace. Elders of the Kurdish community in Kazakhstan have apologized for not preventing the demonstration and have promised not to allow any further such protests. BP BROTHER OF UZBEK OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER ARRESTED. Muhammed Begjon, whose brother, Muhammad Solih, is the leader of the Uzbek opposition party Erk, was arrested in Khwarezm on 18 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Police came to Begjon's home and requested he drive his car to the police station. Once there, police searched Begjon's vehicle and reportedly discovered gun cartridges. Begjon remains in detention. 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