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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 38, Part I, 24 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 38, Part I, 24 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 HAILS RAMBOUILLET RESULTS * U.S., RUSSIA TO LAUNCH JOINT EARLY WARNING SYSTEM CENTER? * TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF NEW THREAT FROM AFGHANISTAN End Note: LOOKING BACK TO THE FUTURE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA HAILS RAMBOUILLET RESULTS. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters on 24 February that even though no agreement was reached at Rambouillet, the talks yielded "positive results." He said that "in the course of two weeks it proved possible to work out a very important political document that opens the way towards settling the [Kosova] problem." Ivanov criticized NATO for its effort to try to "impose on Belgrade an additional document," which had caused "the situation over the past few days" to become "overdramatized." Adopting a similar line, First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev said that "common sense prevailed at the talks" and that now NATO bombing of Serbia is out of the question. The previous day, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev warned that NATO strikes against Yugoslavia would lead to "another Vietnam" in the heart of Europe. JAC U.S., RUSSIA TO LAUNCH JOINT EARLY WARNING SYSTEM CENTER? Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 23 February. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov told reporters that the two officials discussed the anti-ballistic missile treaty as well as the situation in Kosova and Iraq. Citing only an "information leak from Washington," "Izvestiya" reported on 24 February that Talbott and Primakov agreed to open a joint early warning system center by September. According to the newspaper, a U.S. delegation headed by Assistant Defense Secretary Ted Warner recently returned from Moscow where productive talks on the matter were held. JAC GOVERNORS REJECT PRIMAKOV'S PROPOSAL? Prime Minister Primakov's call for an amendment to the constitution providing for governors to be appointed rather than elected drew a cool response from Russia's regional heads (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 February 1999). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February, governors were "outraged" at Primakov's suggestion, and following his speech to the Sever-Zapad interregional association, Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, and Republic of Karelia Chairman Yurii Katanandov all harshly criticized federal government policy on various issues. However, Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Nikolai Petrov told the "Moscow Times" that Primakov's proposal should prove appealing to governors because they would get to appoint mayors, who can be their biggest headaches, and avoid the risk of not being re-elected. He predicted that "the elite--federal, regional, and local--is close to reaching a deal at the expense of the electorate." JAC RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKING DISTANCE FROM STEEL DEAL. The Russian government says that the Russian-U.S. steel agreement concluded by its trade negotiators in Rome on 23 February is not yet a done deal. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters that the government has not yet reached a final decision on the agreement and that doing so "will be very difficult." Also on 23 February, Vladimir Ponomarev, the head of exports at Severstal, one of Russia's largest steel producers, told Bloomberg that the minimum price set by the agreement is too high and will shut his company's goods out of the U.S. market. But Magnitogorsk Director-General Viktor Rashnikov told ITAR-TASS that he approves in principle of the agreement. JAC GERMANY RELUCTANT TO WRITE OFF DEBT. The Ministry of Finance has postponed until 1 March announcing the terms it is offering foreign holders of defaulted short-term treasury bonds. First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said foreign investors will be allowed to buy shares on the secondary market using ruble proceeds from exchanging defaulted bonds. Meanwhile, German government officials and bankers are opposed to writing off Russia's debts inherited from the former Soviet Union, "Segodnya" reported. According to the newspaper, Germany would be satisfied with payments in oil, gas, and gold, as proposed by Commerzbank, but "sober financial logic" dictates that Germany, which holds 40 percent of the Soviet Union debt, must insist on repayment. Earlier, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who met with German creditors in Bonn at the Primakov government's request, had suggested that the Soviet debt be written off. JAC COURT LIMITS RETAIL BANKS' DISCRETION WITH INTEREST RATES. The Constitutional Court on 23 February prohibited banks from changing interest rates on savings accounts without first concluding a new agreement with their depositors, ITAR-TASS reported. Association of Russian Banks Vice President Vyacheslav Zakharov said the ruling will lead banks to conclude shorter-term contracts with their customers. Banking analysts concluded that the decision will limit retail banks' flexibility and encourage banks to be very conservative at a time when they should be innovative to lure back customers, according to AFP. JAC SAMARA FIRE LABELED ACCIDENTAL. Vladimir Solovev, the prosecutor leading the investigation into the blaze that killed 67 people at regional Interior Ministry headquarters in Samara Oblast earlier this month, told Ekho Moskvy on 23 February that arson was an unlikely cause. He said there is no evidence to conclude the fire was caused by sabotage or arson; however, the final conclusion will follow the end of the investigation in about two months. Head of the regional fire brigade General Aleksandr Zharkov also concluded that the fire must have been caused by negligence, ITAR-TASS reported. But as of 18 February, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin remained unconvinced. He told reporters that he still has not ruled out that an "evil plot" was behind the blaze. JAC PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY TO PRIMORSKII KRAI RELIEVED OF DUTIES. President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 23 February relieving General Viktor Kondratov from his duties as presidential envoy to Primorskii Krai. Yeltsin appointed Kondratov in May 1997, at which the latter was already serving as chief of the regional administration of the Federal Security Service (FSB)--a post he still holds. First deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev told Interfax that FSB head Vladimir Putin had asked that Kondratov be relieved of his duties as presidential envoy in order allow him to concentrate on local FSB matters. JAC ONLY FIVE REGIONS HAVE PAID WAGES IN FULL. Russian regions were allotted 30.4 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) during 1998 for the payment of wages and reduction of debts from the federal budget, according to a State Duma press release, Interfax reported. During the same period, regions also received 2.5 billion rubles in loans from the center. At present only five regions do not have outstanding debts to state workers: the cities of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Yamalo-Nenetsk and Taimirskii Autonomous Okrugs. JAC PATRIARCH WANTS CHAPLAINS BACK IN ARMY. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II suggested on 23 February that the post of regimental chaplain in the armed forces be reinstituted. The Bolsheviks abolished the post after the 1917 revolution, according to Interfax. The patriarch noted that the post should be reintroduced gradually. JAC LUTHERANS WIN COURT BATTLE IN KHAKASSIA. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia rejected on 12 February a request by the republican prosecutor-general to strip the Evangelical Lutheran mission of its registration in the region, Radiotserkov reported. According to the report, the prosecutor-general's office intends to appeal the case further. JAC DID OCALAN ASK YELTSIN FOR ASYLUM? At a press conference in Moscow on 23 February, Mahir Valat, a senior official of the Kurdistan National Liberation Front (which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party), produced documentary evidence that Ocalan had appealed to President Yeltsin in October 1998 for asylum in Russia, Interfax reported. Russian FSB director Putin denied on 19 February that Ocalan had ever made such a request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). Valat appealed to Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to insist that Ocalan be tried in a third country (that is, not Turkey) and in an open trial. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER ABDUCTED. Aleksei Mitrofanov, who advises Aslan Maskhadov on issues related to Chechnya's Russian-speaking population, was kidnapped on his way to work in Grozny on 23 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Addressing a rally the same day to mark the 55th anniversary of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia, opposition state Shura [council] head Shamil Basaev criticized Maskhadov's alleged insincerity and pro-Russian orientation, Interfax reported. Basaev said that Maskhadov issued his 3 February decrees imposing Islamic law in Chechnya only under pressure from the opposition. Maskhadov addressed a similar rally elsewhere in Grozny the same day. LF RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MONGOLIA... During a one-day visit to Ulan Bator on 23 February, Ivanov met with President Natsagiin Bagabandi, to whom he handed a letter from Yeltsin, ITAR-TASS reported. In that letter, the Russian president wrote that Moscow wants to continue strengthening traditional bilateral ties in the spirit of the 1993 agreement on friendly relations and cooperation. Ivanov said his conversation with Prime Minister Zhanlavyn Narantsataralt was "concrete and constructive," noting that they discussed, among others, boosting trade between Mongolia and Russian regions bordering the Asian country. A protocol on cooperation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries was signed, as was an agreement on cooperation in the use of diplomatic archives. BP ...AND TAJIKISTAN. On 24 February, Ivanov stopped off in Dushanbe where he signed an agreement with his Tajik counterpart, Talbak Nazarov, on cooperation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries, ITAR-TASS reported. The two ministers also agreed to hold talks on improving the legal basis for bilateral relations, cooperating within the framework of the CIS and in regional and international organizations, including the UN. An information exchange will take part between the two leaders ministries, and there will be joint training programs for personnel. Ivanov met with officials from the UN and the United Tajik Opposition to discuss the peace process. He also met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss the Tajik president's April visit to Moscow. BP TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS DISTANCE FROM ELECTION LAW CONTROVERSY. Robert Kocharian was unaware when he signed the election law on 18 February that the text had been amended since the parliament had passed the bill in the final reading three days earlier, presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told journalists on 23 February. Gabrielian said Kocharian had neither vetoed nor raised any objections to the law because of the relatively short period remaining in which to organize the poll, but the spokesman said that the president does not exclude subsequent amendments to it, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian intends to hold talks with leading political figures in the near future on the conduct of the elections, according to ITAR-TASS. Opposition parliamentary deputies continue to protest the changes introduced into the text by the bill's author, Viktor Dallakian, after the final reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1999). LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN FLOATS REGIONAL COOPERATION INITIATIVE. Khosrov Harutiunian has written to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Murtuz Alesqerov, to solicit the latter's support for Harutiunian's proposal to convene a meeting of Transcaucasus parliamentary chairmen under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 February. The letter stresses the importance of peaceful dialogue in seeking a solution to the region's problems. It also proposes conducting seminars on regional cooperation under PACE auspices. A spokesman for the Azerbaijani parliament told Turan on 23 February that Alesqerov has not yet received the missive, which Armenia's ambassador in Moscow was to deliver to his Azerbaijani counterpart (Armenia and Azerbaijan have no diplomatic relations). LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'RESOLUTE ACTION' ON KARABAKH CONFLICT. In a letter addressed to the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Heidar Aliev urged those officials to "act resolutely" to find a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Interfax reported on 23 February. Aliev said that his country's position is "constructive," but he repeated that Azerbaijan "flatly rejects" the most recent peace plan proposed by the Minsk Group. He said that plan, which advocates a "common state" comprising Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, "pushes the peace process back and reduces the chance of a settlement." But the Russian co-chairman, Yurii Yukalov, has denied that the Minsk Group will deviate from its most recent peace proposal, Turan reported on 23 February, citing Snark. LF PREPARATIONS UNDER WAY FOR OSCE CHAIRMAN'S KARABAKH MEDIATION TRIP. Meanwhile, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry delegation held talks with senior officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan on 21- 22 February in preparation for the planned visit to the Transcaucasus in April of Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who is currently the OSCE chairman-in-office, Noyan Tapan and Turan reported. Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian told the delegation that he hopes Vollebaek's visit will give new impetus to the peace process. Ghukasian stressed the Karabakh Armenians' desire for a "strong peace" based on mutual concessions and dialogue. The Norwegian delegation will arrive in Baku on 24 February. LF AZERBAIJANI BY-ELECTION TURNOUT FALSIFIED? A spokesman for Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission told Turan on 22 February that by-elections held the previous day in two districts of Baku were valid, with more than 60 percent of registered voters participating. The spokesman said the CEC has received no complaints about violations of voting procedure. But on 23 February, Nureddin Mamedli, chairman of the committee for the defense of the rights of former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, said that in the Khatai district, which Guliev represented in the parliament until being stripped of his mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1997), only between 2,000 and 3,000 of the 47,000 eligible voters actually went to the polls. Candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party have been declared elected in both districts. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CLARIFIES POSITION ON CIS SECURITY TREATY. Eduard Shevardnadze's press service issued a statement on 23 February denying that Shevardnadze stated unequivocally that Georgia will not renew its membership in the CIS Security Treaty after that treaty expires in April, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement quoted Shevardnadze as having said the previous day that the treaty has not benefited Georgia and that he intends to coordinate with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov his position on whether to recommit Georgia to membership. Karimov has said his country will not renew its membership in the treaty. Shevardnadze said on 8 February that Georgia would renew its membership in the treaty "if our interests are taken into consideration" with regard to the Abkhaz conflict and the continued presence of Russian military bases in Georgia. LF FORMER GEORGIAN SECURITY CHIEF'S WHEREABOUTS STILL UNCLEAR. The Georgian embassy in Egypt and the Russian embassy in Damascus have both said they can neither confirm nor deny British press reports that Igor Giorgadze has been granted asylum in Syria, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. The Georgian authorities say former Security Minister Giorgadze helped to organize the failed August 1995 car bomb attack on Shevardnadze at Moscow's instigation. The Georgian press last month quoted a French publication as claiming that Syrian President Hafez Assad granted Giorgadze asylum in October 1998 at the request of the Russian Federal Security Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). LF KURDISH PROTESTS CONTINUE IN SEVERAL CIS STATES. Ethnic Kurds in several CIS states continue to protest the arrest of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan and to demand his release. Some 30 Kurds, including an 11-year-old girl, are continuing a hunger strike outside the UN building in Yerevan, which they began on 19 February, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 February. In Tbilisi, several hundred Kurds staged a protest march, bringing traffic in the city center to a standstill, and then demonstrated outside the Turkish embassy to demand a fair trial for Ocalan, AP and "Rezonansi" reported. In Kazakhstan, some 200 ethnic Kurds began a hunger strike in the city of Taraz on 23 February, Interfax reported. LF/BP TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF NEW THREAT FROM AFGHANISTAN. Imomali Rakhmonov, speaking on 23 February at a ceremony marking Defenders of Fatherland Day, warned that he had information about a threat from terrorists training in Afghanistan, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Rakhmonov said there are some 400 people undergoing sabotage training in various areas of Afghanistan, with the goal of "creating chaos" in parts of Tajikistan. He did not elaborate. BP UN CALLS FOR SPEEDIER PROGRESS IN TAJIKISTAN. The UN Security Council, in a statement issued on 23 February, called on the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to intensify their efforts at implementing all the terms of the June 1997 Tajik National Peace Accord, signed in June 1997. The council noted that progress toward holding a constitutional referendum and presidential and parliamentary elections has been slow during the last three months. (All three votes are planned for this year.) The council also expressed concern about security in some parts of the country, reminding Tajik officials that international aid is dependent on a stable environment. And it repeated calls for a full investigation into the murders of four UN employees last July in central Tajikistan, requesting that the UTO "contribute more effectively to the investigation." BP IRAN, RUSSIA NEED TO PLAY 'KEY ROLE' IN TAJIKISTAN. UN special envoy to Tajikistan Jan Kubis told journalists in Tehran on 23 February that Iran and Russia have been active participants in establishing peace in Tajikistan. He called on both countries now to play a "key role" in speeding up the peace process there. And he thanked Iranian officials for their help in seeking a "full and final normalization of the situation in Tajikistan," ITAR-TASS reported. BP KARIMOV REVEALS MORE DETAILS OF LAST WEEK'S BOMBINGS. Uzbek President Islam Karimov, addressing diplomats and journalists in Tashkent on 23 February, revealed more details of the 16 February terrorist bombings. One of the primary suspects, Ulughbek Babajanov, had visited government headquarters six times before the bombings, he said. Babajanov, who is still at large, obtained permission to enter the building from a deputy prime minister who Karimov did not name. That official was guilty of negligence and poor judgment rather than complicity in the attack, the president argued. Karimov also said that not only Wahhabis but members of Hezbollah were involved in planning the attack. According to AP, Karimov said the attacks were planned in a foreign country, but he did not name which one. BP LOCAL UZBEK OFFICIALS ASKED TO HELP IN INVESTIGATION. ITAR- TASS reported on 22 February that passport control in Uzbekistan has been tightened and the government has asked local officials and committees to help in the investigation of last week's bombings. The news outlet quotes a "high official in the country's passport agency" as saying these local officials and committees are, in effect, carrying out a census in order to identify suspicious individuals. Crime has reportedly decreased dramatically in Uzbekistan since the attacks, and while no curfew has been imposed, the streets of Tashkent are reportedly almost deserted after 9:00 p.m. local time. BP KYRGYZ AGRICULTURAL MINISTRY REVIEWS LAST YEAR'S RESULTS. The Agricultural Ministry on 23 February announced that last year's agricultural output totaled 19.6 billion som ($654 million), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov noted that most of the money from foreign loans for agriculture has been embezzled, and he advised more stringent control over such funds. He added that agriculture is the only sphere of the Kyrgyz economy that can ensure "real growth" of GDP in 1999-2000, Interfax reported. BP END NOTE LOOKING BACK TO THE FUTURE By Paul Goble A 19th-century Russian foreign minister has again been held up as a model for Moscow's foreign policy because of his ability to use "the force of the word" to prevent other powers from exploiting Russia's time of relative weakness. Writing in the latest issue of the Russian Foreign Ministry's journal "International Affairs," Viktor Lopatnikov follows on from the celebration begun by Yevgenii Primakov last year of Aleksandr Gorchakov, Russia's foreign minister for nearly a generation after the country's defeat in the Crimean War. Lopatnikov, who represents the Foreign Ministry in Saint Petersburg, argues that Gorchakov's approach to dealing with the outside world remains "amazingly topical today." And he suggests that Russian officials study three aspects of Gorchakov's approach in order to learn how to act in the future. First, Lopatnikov says, Gorchakov's immense dignity in the face of the indignities Russia suffered following its defeat in Crimea not only helped restore Russian national pride but had the effect of demonstrating to foreigners that Russia is, in the poet Fyodor Tyutchev's words, "a country that cannot be measured by an ordinary yardstick." To the extent that foreign powers recognize that fact, Lopatnikov argues, they did not in the 19th century and will not be interested in the future in exploiting Russia when it is "concentrating" on its domestic affairs. These powers, he continues, will thus find themselves once again caught between their own recognition that Russia is a country unlike any other and their acceptance of Russian demands that Russia be treated as an equal. Being thus trapped, they will be forced to give more deference to Russia than its position might otherwise justify. Second, Lopatnikov argues, Gorchakov understood that Russia simultaneously must be extremely selective in deciding where it will actually get involved. It must also insist on its right to deploy its diplomatic and political muscle wherever it deems necessary. On the one hand, as Gorchakov showed, that stance will keep other powers off balance and thus allow Russia to use diplomacy rather than force to prevent any combination from arising against its interests. And on the other, it will allow Russia to focus on the recovery of its domestic economy, the ultimate source of its power. As Primakov argued last spring on the 200th anniversary of Gorchakov's birth, this domestic focus both provides an anchor for stabilizing Russia's foreign policy and guarantees that Russian advances internationally can always be justified in terms that other powers are likely to find acceptable rather than aggressive. And third, Lopatnikov suggests, Gorchakov recognized that the chief focus of Russian foreign policy must be along its own borders. The 20th-century diplomat notes the praise his 19th-century predecessor received for doing just that. In 1864, Aleksandr II formally congratulated Gorchakov for his use of "the force of the word" to disarm the enemies of Russia, an action the tsar said guaranteed that Gorchakov's name would be entered in "the future chronicle of the Fatherland." Lopatnikov does not provide the text of Gorchakov's message that won Aleksandr's approval. But most of his readers are likely to recall with precision just what policy the 19th-century foreign minister was advancing. On 21 November 1864, Gorchakov issued a dispatch justifying the Russian imperial advance into Central Asia. He argued in terms that many of his European counterparts would have found difficult to answer: "The position of Russia in Central Asia is that of all civilized states which come into contact with half-savage, nomadic populations who possess no fixed social organization." In such cases, Gorchakov said, "the more civilized state is forced, in the interests of security and commerce, to exercise a certain ascendancy over those whose turbulent and unsettled character makes them most undesirable neighbors." Presumably, Lopatnikov would not endorse these specific terms for the present and future. But his and Primakov's enthusiasm for Gorchakov who uttered them may confuse some Russian diplomats and create problems for others. 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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