Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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Headlines, Part I

* RUSSIA KEEPS UP VERBAL PRESSURE ON NATO, U.S.

* U.S., RUSSIA REACH STEEL AGREEMENT

* ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW SPARKS NEW ACCUSATIONS
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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

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