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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 37, Part I, 23 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 37, Part I, 23 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 KEEPS UP VERBAL PRESSURE ON NATO, U.S. * U.S., RUSSIA REACH STEEL AGREEMENT * ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW SPARKS NEW ACCUSATIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA KEEPS UP VERBAL PRESSURE ON NATO, U.S. Top Russian officials on 23 February continued to warn against the use of force in Kosova. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation, said NATO strikes against Yugoslavia without the consent of the UN Security Council would "nullify all achievements and throw relations between Russia and NATO backward." Ivashov noted that Russia would participate in a peace-keeping force in the region only with leave from the UN Security Council and under the auspices of the OSCE, while Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov added that Yugoslavia as a sovereign state "should determine the degree of the presence of international forces, civilian or military." According to Ivashov, "the U.S. is trying to impose complicity in blood- letting on its European partners." JAC U.S., RUSSIA REACH STEEL AGREEMENT. Russia on 22 February agreed to reduce its steel exports to the U.S. by almost 70 percent in exchange for the U.S. government's agreeing to drop plans to impose punitive sanctions against Russian steel producers. Under the package of accords, Russia will refrain from exporting hot-rolled steel to the U.S. for six months and will then sell an amount fixed by an annual quota at a minimum price, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Russian steel makers Novolipetsk and Magnitogorsk already switched about half of their exports to cruder products, such as steel slabs, which have lower profit margins, the "Moscow Times" reported on 16 February. The agreements are expected to be signed in late March, after a public discussion period has elapsed, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC U.S. REPORTEDLY BEGINS TALKS ON ABM TREATY. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott began the first day of his official visit to Moscow on 22 February, meeting with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Luzhkov's aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS that the two officials discussed the recent cooling in U.S.-Russian relations and the Kosova crisis. The next day, Talbott and other State Department and U.S. National Security Council officials met with members of the Russian-American strategic stability group, diplomatic sources told Interfax. According to the agency, talks will focus on the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which the U.S. has suggested revising. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 February that an exchange of views on the treaty is the key goal of Talbott's visit. JAC RASH OF REGIONS HEADING FOR DEFAULT? Citing Finance Ministry sources, "Kommersant-Daily" predicted on 23 February that nearly half of Russia's regions may default on their debt owed to foreign creditors. Leading the pack may be Leningrad Oblast, where legislators are now considering in the third reading a 1999 budget that does not make provision for paying a 1.8 billion ruble ($80 million) debt, $50 million of which is owed foreign banks, according to the newspaper. Ministry of Finance officials fear that other regions will follow Leningrad Oblast's example, forcing the federal government to decide whether or not to bail them out. The same day, Standard & Poor's lowered Sverdlovsk Oblast's long-term foreign-currency issuer credit rating from CCC- to "selective default." The 1999 federal budget contains only $9.5 billion for foreign debt payment while nearly $17.5 billion is owed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). JAC PRIMAKOV MAKES MORE SUGGESTIONS FOR REGIONS. After a meeting of the Coordination Council of the North-West Interregional Economic Association on 22 February in St. Petersburg, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told reporters that federal authorities should do everything in their power to strengthen the role of the eight interregional economic associations, both as a basis for a future organizational structure of the Russian federation's subjects and as a means of furthering the country's economic integration, Interfax reported. Primakov first raised the issue of merging Russia's constituent territories in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). On the first day of his trip to St. Petersburg, Primakov suggested that governors be appointed rather than directly elected, echoing an earlier suggestion of the Communist Party that came in response to Primakov's calls for a political peace treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). JAC AS FOOD PRICES RISE, HURDLES TO AID REMOVED? The price of 25 basic foodstuffs rose 12 percent in January, while consumer prices in general rose 8.5 percent, according to the State Statistics Committee, Prime-Tass reported on 22 February. In the regions, the basket of foods cost the most in Yakutsk, at 832.8 rubles ($37.17) compared with 476.7 rubles nationally and only 347.4 rubles in Ulyanovsk. Meanwhile, the State Customs Committee announced on 20 February that it will simplify clearance rules for EU and U.S. food aid to Russia, Interfax reported. The committee's announcement follows the signing of an additional EU-Russian memorandum on food aid. Earlier in February, the EU postponed the delivery of such aid, accusing Moscow of imposing extra requirements that were unreasonable and not mentioned in the original Russian-EU food aid memorandum. JAC RUSSIAN STOCKS RISING AGAIN. Shares on Russia's stock market soared 7.4 percent on 22 February, according to the benchmark Russian Trading System, but inched up only 0.76 percent on 23 February. Analysts say the gains are driven by primarily speculative interest sparked by a government plan to allow foreign investors holding defaulted short-term treasury bonds to invest discounted proceeds into stocks, Bloomberg reported. However, one nay-sayer, investment manager Mark Mobius of Templeton fund managers, predicted last week that Russia would have the best performing emerging market this year, the "Moscow Times" reported. According to Bloomberg, Russia's stock index has risen 29 percent so far in 1999, outperforming all other primary stock indexes. Earlier in the month, stocks experienced a five-day rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). JAC RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO JAPAN. Igor Ivanov's four-day visit to Japan finished on 23 February after a meeting the previous day with Japanese Prime Minister Keidzo Obuchi, Russian press reported. Ivanov handed over a letter to Obuchi from Boris Yeltsin in which the Russian president said he is highly satisfied with the progress to date of Russo-Japanese relations. Ivanov mentioned that Moscow expects Tokyo to respond at the next Russo-Japanese summit to Russian proposals related to the treaty concluding World War II and ownership of the four Kuril Islands. Yeltsin made those proposals when Obuchi visited Moscow last November. Ivanov admitted the two sides are still far from reaching an agreement on how the two issues should be addressed. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" criticized Ivanov's decision to go to Japan when negotiations are ongoing in France over the Kosova problem. The newspaper wrote "when a very acute international crisis is under way, routine consultations are relegated to the background." BP SHARANSKY REVIEWS HIS KGB FILE. On an official visit to Moscow on 22 February, Israeli Minister of Industry and Commerce Natan Sharansky met with Federal Security Service chief Vladimir Putin, who allowed him to review materials from the criminal file KGB authorities compiled on him in the late 1970s. At that time, Sharansky, who was one of Russia's most vocal advocates for the rights of Jews to emigrate to Israel, was jailed on charges of being a CIA spy. During his visit, Sharansky also met with First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, and Moscow Mayor Luzhkov. The last-named, according to Interfax, reassured Sharansky that Moscow would not allow expressions of anti-Semitism or pogroms against the Jewish population. According to Luzhkov, anti-Semitic leaflets containing references to him have appeared in Krasnodar Krai. JAC UNEMPLOYMENT INCHES UP. Unemployment grew 0.29 percent in January compared with the previous month, reaching 8,956,000 people or 12.4 percent of the population that is "economically active," according to preliminary estimates by the State Statistics Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February. Official unemployment statistics are generally assumed to understate unemployment. JAC MURMANSK SHIP WORKERS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS. Some 1,000 civilian workers at the Northern Fleet's ship repair facilities in Murmansk staged a protest in the city's central square on 22 February to demand the payment of back wages, Interfax reported. Wage arrears for the Northern Fleet's civilian employees total 90 million rubles (some $4 million). AFP cited NTV as reporting that workers at dry-docks on the Kamchatka peninsula, on the Baltic Sea, and in Arkhangelsk have expressed support for their Murmansk colleagues. JC CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Newsline" on 22 February incorrectly identified Nikita Mikhalkov's new film as "The Barber of Seville." Its correct name is "The Barber of Siberia." TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW SPARKS NEW ACCUSATIONS. Opposition parliamentary deputies have accused Viktor Dallakian, the author of the new election law, of arbitrarily introducing changes to the bill after it passed in the final reading, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 February. Those changes increased the powers of the Central Electoral Commission and stipulated that the law takes effect immediately after it has been signed by the president and published. The original wording said the law takes effect 10 days after its publication. On 22 February, deputies demanded criminal proceedings against Dallakian, who rejected charges of deliberate falsification. He said that it is normal practice in Armenia to edit the text of a bill after its passage in the parliament. LF ARMENIAN SCIENTIST CORROBORATES AIDS CURE CLAIMS. The sensational claim by Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian that Armenian scientists have developed a cure for AIDS is true, former Armenian Health Minister Emil Gabrielian told journalists in Yerevan on 22 February. Gabrielian, who currently heads the national agency for authorizing distribution and sales of pharmaceuticals, said the cure has been tested on 14 AIDS patients, whose condition has improved dramatically. He said the drug will be registered and patented within the next few days, but he added that it must be subject to international tests. Sarkisian announced on state television on 19 February that he and unnamed businessmen financed the research program that yielded the new drug, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION REJECTS DUAL CITIZENSHIP. The presidential Commission for Constitutional Reform voted on 19 February not to include the introduction of dual citizenship in a package of proposed constitutional amendments to be submitted to the parliament later this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 February. President Robert Kocharian implicitly endorsed the introduction of dual citizenship for Diaspora Armenians during his 1998 election campaign, but Armenia's chief military prosecutor, who is a member of the commission, argued that the provision would enable young Armenians to avoid military service. Self- Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hairikian may resign as chairman of the presidential commission if Kocharian does not overturn the commission's decision, a senior Self- Determination Union member said on 22 February. LF RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY WARNS GEORGIA OVER PICKET. In a statement issued on 22 February, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern at what it termed the recent aggravation of the situation on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The statement blamed this development on the Georgian displaced persons who have been blocking the bridge over the River Inguri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 February 1999). It accused them of threatening the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the internal border and of preventing the repatriation of displaced persons. LF GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER REJECTS SMUGGLING CHARGE. Zurab Samushia, commander of the White Legion guerrillas operating in Abkhazia, told Caucasus Press on 22 February that there is no truth to charges by a west Georgian police official that his men smuggle scrap and ferrous metals from Abkhazia to the Georgian port of Batumi. Samushia added that his men currently operate only in the Ochamchire, Tkvarcheli and Sukhumi Raions of Abkhazia but not in Gali. At least one dozen civilians and Abkhaz police officials have been killed either by landmines or in ambushes in Gali since the beginning of this year. LF GEORGIAN ARRESTED FOR SHEVARDNADZE CAR BOMB ATTACK. Austrian police arrested Rudiko Goguadze, a former Georgian convict, in Vienna on 20 February on suspicion of involvement in the failed 1995 attempt to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press and AP reported. Goguadze is also suspected of planning to assassinate Shevardnadze's nephew Nugzar. LF U.S. OFFICIAL UPBEAT ON CASPIAN PIPELINE PROSPECTS. U.S. special presidential adviser on the Caspian Richard Morningstar told journalists in Baku on 22 February that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will sign an agreement in June on the demarcation of their respective sectors of the Caspian, thereby removing a major obstacle to the proposed construction of a Trans-Caspian pipeline to export gas from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev informed Morningstar that the documentation for the proposed Baku- Ceyhan oil export pipeline has been completed, according to Interfax. But the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 22 February that the Turkish government and oil industry officials are engaged in cut-throat negotiations on the financing of that project. Georgian President Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 February that a "special unit" has been created to guard the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline but that it does not include NATO troops, according to ITAR-TASS. LF MORE COMPLAINTS FROM IRAN ABOUT TURKMEN PIPELINE DEAL... The Iranian daily "Iran News" ran an article on 22 February criticizing the Trans-Caspian pipeline deal signed by Turkmenistan and two U.S. companies last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999). While the article notes that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has been a frequent visitor to Iran, it claims that "this latest move by Turkmenistan is in effect rejecting the hand of friendship extended by Iran." The article mentioned that Turkmenistan still plans a pipeline to Europe through Iran but noted that "the recent move by Ashgabat has caused Turkmenistan to fall into the U.S. trap." It added "the U.S. presence in Turkmenistan will not benefit that country in the long run." BP ...WHILE TURKMEN PRESIDENT URGES NOT TO 'POLITICIZE' DEAL. Saparmurat Niyazov said at the 19 February signing of the Trans-Caspian pipeline deal that "unfortunately, politicizing is frequent in new international projects," ITAR-TASS reported. The news agency reported, however, that Niyazov was responding to a note he had received from the Russian Foreign Ministry complaining about the "negative effect" the pipeline could have on the ecological and seismic situation of the region. Niyazov said Turkmenistan is seeking several export routes because the country urgently needs to sell its major exports. He added that the need is greater for his country now than it was "in Soviet times, when Turkmenistan exported in the late 1980s and early 1990s via Russia more than 85 billion cubic meters of natural gas, worth $15-20 billion. But "profits were distributed unequally and we were given kopecks," he commented. BP BOMB BLAST IN ALMATY. A vehicle exploded in the former Kazakhstani capital on 21 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The car was in the center of the city near a gas station when it exploded, killing one person and injuring another. The explosion comes less than one week after several bombs went off in the capital of neighboring Uzbekistan. BP KAZAKHSTAN TO RECEIVE FOREIGN AID FOR VICTIMS OF NUCLEAR TESTING. The Kazakh leader of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti- nuclear movement, Olzhas Suleimenov, told a news conference in Almaty on 22 February that international organizations have promised $43 million for the victims of nuclear tests conducted in the area around Semipalatinsk, Interfax reported. Suleimenov said that between 1949 and 1989, 473 nuclear explosions were carried out in the region. Suleimenov said Kazakhstan's government does not have the funds to care for the surviving victims. BP UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS 30 ALREADY ARRESTED FOR BOMBINGS. Islam Karimov told diplomats and journalists on 23 February that 30 people are in custody in connection with the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Karimov said all detainees have ties to "extremist religious groups" and all underwent training in sabotage in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Tajikistan. He added that most of the arrested are Uzbek citizens but that the main organizers of the attacks, which left 15 people dead and more than 100 injured, are not among the detainees. BP FORMER IMAM'S RELATIVES AMONG THOSE DETAINED? Uzbek law enforcement officials on 21 February brought in for questioning the mother, wife, and son of the former Imam of Tashkent's Tokhtoboy Mosque, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Nazarov has been in hiding over the past year, since police began to investigate his links to Wahhabis. Nazarov's mother and son were released the same day, but his wife remains in custody. It is unknown if they are among the suspects in the 16 February bombings. BP KYRGYZSTAN TO WITHDRAW BATTALION FROM TAJIKISTAN. Interfax on 22 February quoted a "high-ranking source in the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry" as saying the Kyrgyz battalion serving with CIS peacekeeping troops in Tajikistan will be withdrawn by 25 February. The source said the decision is based on the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Kyrgyzstan, which is to be completed by the end of this year. Kyrgyzstan will then be responsible for guarding its own borders but has insufficient funds to protect both its and Tajikistan's borders. The source also said the decision had "undoubtedly been influenced by the withdrawal of the Uzbek contingent from Tajikistan," which took place last November. The departure of the Kyrgyz battalion leaves only one Kazakhstani battalion and several Russian units as part of the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan. BP UZBEK-KYRGYZ BORDER REOPENS. According to Rustam Anarbotoev, the head of the Kara-Suu District, the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border reopened on the weekend of 20-21 February, following its closure in the wake of the 16 February bombings in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1999), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. BP 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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