|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 43, Part I, 3 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 43, Part I, 3 March 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 * MASLYUKOV ORDERS COUNTERPROBE OF NEWSPAPER * CONSIDERATION OF START-II TREATY DELAYED * OPPOSITION GROUPS REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN End Note: RUSSIAN MEDIA LOSING ACCESS TO INFORMATION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MASLYUKOV ORDERS COUNTERPROBE OF NEWSPAPER... First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov announced on 2 March that he will ask the Prosecutor-General to investigate "Nezavisimaya gazeta" over the second in a series of articles implicating him in criminal wrongdoing, ITAR-TASS reported. Maslyukov's spokesman clarified the next day that Maslyukov is not seeking curbs on press freedom but merely wants an investigation into slanderous media reports about the government. On 2 March, the newspaper did a follow-up to an earlier piece, suggesting that Maslyukov and his aides somehow embezzled $130 million of budget funds. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JAC ...COMPLAINS ABOUT IMF. Maslyukov also accused IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus of "pressuring" Russia during negotiations in a way that is "simply indecent," Interfax reported on 2 March. He added that "Mr. Camdessus wants too much to score an easy victory and make us do something that we will not accept." Maslyukov's comments follow an announcement by Camdessus the previous day that Russia's 1999 budget remains unrealistic and unworthy of a new loan in the near future. JAC CONSIDERATION OF START-II TREATY DELAYED. The State Duma Council on 2 March decided not to include the START-II treaty on the Duma's agenda for 5 March, as the Liberal Democratic Party had proposed, Interfax reported. Defense Committee Chairman and member of the Our Home Is Russia faction Roman Popkovich, who supports ratification of the treaty, said the proposal to include the treaty on the Duma's agenda was "a provocation" designed to defeat that document. Popkovich repeated his earlier conviction that before considering the START-II treaty, the Duma must pass in the first reading a bill on financing of the strategic nuclear forces until 2010. JAC RUSSIA SPILLING MORE OIL THAN QATAR PRODUCING. Russia lost almost 20 million tons of oil--more than is annually produced by Qatar, an OPEC member--during drilling and transport, the state pipeline company Transneft reported on 2 March. According to ITAR-TASS, losses amounted to some 6.5 percent of last year's annual production. JAC INTERNATIONAL ACCOUNTING FIRM TO AUDIT FIMACO. Three days after Duma Deputy and Budget Committee member Nikolai Gonchar made new accusations against the Central Bank for its involvement with the Channel Islands-based FIMACO investment firm, the head of the Duma's Audit Chamber, Khachim Karmokov, told reporters on 2 March that his organization has "not uncovered any serious, large-scale violations" of Central Bank procedures. However, he also noted that his chamber has not tracked the flow of capital outside Russia. Karmokov disclosed that his agency has filed a report on the Central Bank but added that the document is not available to either the public or the press. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko plans to ask the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of FIMACO, Interfax reported. Central Bank Deputy Chairman Oleg Mozhaiskii said, "Our professional and business reputation is more important than the money that will have to be spent on an audit. " JAC STAND-OFF BETWEEN POLICE, RELIGIOUS GROUP IN SAKHA GETS STRANGER. Members of the evangelical Christian group that seized a public building in Aldan Raion in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) on 28 February have asked police to shoot them, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 March. They promised they would forgive the police and others for any "injustices" perpetrated against them. According to Reuters, the group has rejected offers of money and broken off negotiations with the police. In a statement released to the press, the group added that in addition to wanting the police to shoot them, they also would like the Sakha government to recognize financial debts owed the group, according to ITAR-TASS. The agency also reported that the leader of the group, Pastor Yevgenii, has served a 13-year prison sentence for killing his wife. JAC RUSSIA HAILS LIBYA, DEMANDS END TO STRIKES AGAINST IRAQ. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on 2 March that U.S.-U.K. air strikes against Iraq "must end immediately" since they "cannot be justified from a legal or a moral point of view and hinder the settlement of the problem, which is being sought by the UN Security Council." Rakhmanin also called for the earliest possible implementation of the UN Security Council's resolution on starting a trial in The Netherlands of the suspects in the downing of the Pan-Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Rakhmanin added that Libya "has made noticeable progress" in implementing the UN Security Council's resolution on initiating the trial. JAC NEW DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER, ENVOYS NAMED. Sergei Ordzhonikidze was appointed deputy foreign minister on 2 March by presidential decree, Interfax reported. Ordzhonikidze previously headed the International Organizations Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry. Also appointed by decree were Vladimir Chistyakov and Leonid Semergei as presidential envoys to Novgorod and Volgograd Oblasts, respectively, ITAR-TASS reported. Envoy to the Republic of Kalmykia Vyacheslav Bembetov and envoy to Krasnodar Krai Vitalii Spiridonov were relieved of their duties the same day. JAC COAL MINERS CALL FOR BROADER PROTEST. Leaders of coal miner unions in the Donetsk basin called on 1 March for large-scale protests nine days later, ITAR-TASS reported. At a plenum of Rostov Oblast unions representing 120,000 miners in the region, leaders drafted a message to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov noting that the government still owes miners unpaid wages as well as disability and other benefits amounting to 1.3 billion rubles ($56 million). Meanwhile, dozens of miners in Komi Republic declared their willingness on 2 March to join 10 of their colleagues who launched a hunger strike last month over unpaid wages. The miners work for the Severuglestroi coal company, in the city of Vorkuta. According to ITAR-TASS, company officials say that they cannot pay workers wages because the mine where they work is to be liquidated. JAC FOUR YEARS LATER, NO BREAKTHROUGHS ON LISTIEV CASE. 1 March marked the fourth anniversary of the contract slaying of Vladislav Listiev, famous television journalist and first director-general of Russian Public Television (ORT). An anonymous senior official in Russian law-enforcement bodies told ITAR-TASS that investigators still involved in the case are now working on a theory that Listiev's murder was connected with the re-division of ORT's advertising market. Financial magnate Boris Berezovskii told reporters the same day that he does not doubt that President Yeltsin's former security head Aleksandr Korzhakov was invovled in the killing. The next day, two unidentified men tried to kill a local military journalist in Rostov na Donu, Aleksandr Tolmachov. JAC TATARSTAN REJECTS CONSOLIDATION WITHIN RUSSIAN FEDERATION. State Council chairman Farit Mukhametshin has categorically rejected Russian Prime Minister Primakov's recent proposal that the number of subjects of the Russian Federation be drastically reduced by means of consolidating the present 89 federation subjects into fewer, larger territorial entities, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 2 March. "There can be no discussions on affiliating the Tatarstan Republic with any of the other territorial entities of the Russian Federation. This issue cannot be a topic for discussion by Tatarstan's government," Mukhametshin said. Also on 2 March, Tatarstan's enlistment officer Major-General Rim Mustaev, told Tatar- Inform that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's proposal to merge the Volga and Urals military districts is premature. LF DOUGHNUTS LATEST VICTIM OF ECONOMIC CRISIS? The Dunkin' Donuts chain, specializing in doughnuts and coffee, has closed its two shops in Moscow because Russia's economic crisis negatively impacted sales, AP reported. In October, another U.S. fast food chain Pizza Hut announced plans to shut its two Moscow locations. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA BEREZOVSKII VISITS TBILISI... CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii held talks with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi on 2 March on the first leg of a tour that will take him to the capitals of six CIS member states to discuss CIS reform, Interfax reported. Berezovskii told journalists after his meeting with the Georgian president that Georgia's misgivings about extending its participation in the CIS Security Treaty reflects that pact's inadequacy and thus constitutes a problem for the CIS as a whole. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told Interfax that Georgia is ready to work on revising the treaty and may extend its membership if those revisions meet its needs. Menagharishvili implicitly endorsed Berezovskii's performance as CIS executive secretary. Berezovskii also discussed with Shevardnadze the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons, echoing Shevardnadze's objections that the security guarantees offered by Abkhazia are inadequate. LF ...AND YEREVAN. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan the same day after talks with President Robert Kocharian, Berezovskii said he believes individual CIS states support his proposals for CIS reform, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Berezovskii added that his talks with Kocharian focused on creating a CIS free trade zone--an initiative first proposed in 1994 and revived by Berezovskii last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). Berezovskii said the most acceptable development model for the CIS is the EU and that the former Soviet Union is totally unsuitable in that respect. He rejected the argument that the viability of the CIS depends on CIS states' continued participation in the Collective Security Treaty. LF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO CRITICIZE ELECTION LAW. The majority Yerkrapah group within the parliament convened an emergency debate on 2 March to propose 31 minor amendments in the controversial election law passed in the final reading last month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Those amendments do not address the opposition's main objection to the bill, which allocates 75 of a total of 131 seats in single-mandate constituencies. During the debate, Mkrtich Gimshian of the Hayrenik faction claimed to possess proof that changes in the text of the law after its passage were made not by the bill's author, as previously believed, but by the staff of President Kocharian, Noyan Tapan reported. Aram Manoukian of the former majority Hanrapetutiun faction claimed that the bill was adopted with numerous violations of both the parliament's regulations and the country's constitution. LF ARMENIAN KURDS END HUNGER STRIKE. Some 30 ethnic Kurds announced on 2 March that they are abandoning the hunger strike they began two weeks previously outside the UN building in Yerevan to protest the arrest of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1999). In Tbilisi, some 80 members of Georgia's estimated 25,000 Kurdish minority staged a demonstration on 2 March to demand that Ocalan be tried not in Turkey but by the International Court in The Hague, Caucasus Press reported. LF AZERBAIJAN CLAIMS EX-PARLIAMENT SPEAKER PLANNED EX- PRESIDENT'S ASSASSINATION. Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 1 March saying that former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev hired a contract killer in Russia to murder former President Abulfaz Elchibey early last month, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported on 2 March. The statement added that the ministry had warned Elchibey about the threat to his life. Guliev, who left Azerbaijan for the U.S. after being dismissed from his post in September, 1996, dismissed the claim as "stupid," according to Turan. Almost all other leading Azerbaijani opposition politicians expressed either total disbelief or strong skepticism over the allegations. Elchibey has declined to comment, but Azerbaijan Popular Front Party deputy chairman Assim Mollazade said he considers the allegations "unlikely." Guliev and Elchibey were among a group of five prominent opposition leaders who jointly boycotted last year's presidential elections. LF RUSSIA DENIES VIOLATING AZERBAIJANI AIRSPACE. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told Interfax on 2 March that there is no truth to Azerbaijan's 27 February claim that a Russian fighter aircraft stationed in Armenia entered Azerbaijan's airspace two days earlier. Rakhmanin said that the plane had turned back 15-20 kilometers before the frontier. In Yerevan, Colonel Anatolii Balaev, military attache at the Russian embassy, said the incident is still being investigated, according to Noyan Tapan on 2 March. He conceded that the aircraft in question might inadvertently have entered Azerbaijani airspace, noting that Russian pilots have been stationed in Armenia only for a short time and are not yet familiar with the terrain. LF GEORGIA PROTESTS SERGEEV STATEMENT ON PEACEKEEPING. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has sent a note to its Russian counterpart protesting a statement made by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on NTV on 25 February, Caucasus Press reported on 2 March. Commenting on the possibility that Russia may contribute troops to a peacekeeping operation in Kosova, Sergeev said that "Russian peacekeeping forces will perform their duties as they do in Bosnia, Tajikistan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjaria." Tbilisi protested that the Russian military contingent in Georgia's Black Sea Adjar Republic is part of the Russian Group of Forces in the Transcaucasus and that its duties do not include peacekeeping. The Georgian protest termed Sergeev's statement a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the situation in Adjaria. Speaking on Georgian Radio on 1 March, President Shevardnadze had termed Sergeev's statement offensive, adding that the Russian minister apparently "doesn't know his geography," Interfax reported. LF OPPOSITION GROUPS REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN. Months after submitting their registration applications, the People's Republican Party and the Orleu Movement were registered by the country's Justice Ministry, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 3 March. The People's Republican Party is headed by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was barred by a court decision from participating in the presidential elections held in January. The Orleu Movement is led by journalist Seydakhmet Kuttykadam. BP ANOTHER KYRGYZ DEPUTY COMPLAINS ABOUT UZBEK TELEVISION... The day after deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbayev told the Kyrgyz parliament that Uzbek Television is broadcasting anti-Kyrgyz propaganda, his colleague Adakham Madumarov told the parliament he has received complaints from his constituency about the same problem, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 2 March. According to Madumarov, who represents the Uzgen District of southern Kyrgyzstan, Uzbek President Islam Karimov appeared in a television interview saying "5,000 poor citizens of the country led by the scientist come to Uzbekistan every day to buy 10,000 loaves of bread." Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev is a physicist by training. In 1990, the Osh riots, which turned into a violent conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, began in Uzgen. BP ...WHILE OTHERS RAISE ISSUE OF WATER. Also on 2 March, Dooronbek Sadyrbayev and deputy Omurbek Tekebayev raised the question in the parliament of the use of water from reservoirs straddling the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in the Fergana Valley, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Both claimed that water from these reservoirs flows only to the Uzbek side of the border. More than 90 percent of Kyrgyz territory is mountainous, and the area where the reservoirs are located is also one of the few agricultural regions in Kyrgyzstan. BP UZBEKISTAN INTRODUCES NEW REGULATIONS ON RESIDENCY, VISAS. According to a presidential decree signed on 1 March, foreign citizens, including those of CIS countries, may reside in Uzbekistan only if they have a permit issued by law enforcement authorities, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. Citizens of CIS countries visiting Uzbekistan for more than three days must obtain a visa. Regulations remain the same for non-CIS citizens. BP NEW TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS. The National Movement Party held its founding congress in Tajikistan on 27 February, Asia Plus reported three days later. Hokim Muhabbatov, the editor of the newspaper "Junbish," was elected chairman of the party. The major goals of the party are reported to be establishing peace and national accord, repairing damage caused by the civil war, achieving political and economic independence, combating factionalism and regionalism, and integration into the CIS as well as the Central Asian and world communities. BP TAJIK PRESIDENT ORDERS INTEGRATION PROCESS EXPEDITED. Imomali Rakhmonov issued a decree on 2 March ordering all obstacles to implementing the terms of military protocol removed by 12 March, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The decree calls for complete integration of soldiers from the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) into the regular army forces. The decree also orders opposition leaders amnestied and reinstated to the post they held before the outbreak of the civil war in 1992. BP TAJIKISTAN OFFERS UZBEKISTAN COOPERATION IN COMBATING TERRORISM. Tajikistan has proposed to Uzbekistan establishing a joint force to inspect remote mountainous areas of Tajikistan and locate suspected terrorist training areas, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. After the 16 February bomb explosions in the Uzbek capital, President Islam Karimov said some of the terrorists involved had trained in camps in Tajikistan. BP END NOTE RUSSIAN MEDIA LOSING ACCESS TO INFORMATION by Floriana Fossato Relations between Russian authorities and the media have often been strained since the end of the Soviet-era grip on information. President Boris Yeltsin has repeatedly said he backs freedom of the press and access to information. But past governments never sought to push through a Russian version of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The current government of Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has given abundant signs that it is willing to work with journalists only if it can establish the rules of the game. Russian media specialists, who in recent years had registered a trend toward relative openness among officials, are now concerned about what they see as signs of a tightening of control over information. They say that indications of reduced information transparency are most pronounced at the regional level as parliamentary and presidential elections approach. Aleksei Simonov, president of the media watchdog Fund for the Defense of Glasnost, told RFE/RL's Russian Service recently that on-going political power struggles and the collapse of the advertising market make Russian journalists extremely dependent on authorities for their financial survival. According to Simonov, Russian media increasingly "have to live with the fact that authorities do not want to deal with independent journalists". He added that there is virtually no possibility of independent journalists having an influence over how they receive information, particularly since the August financial and political crisis. Simonov noted that two years ago "there were some visible centers of opposition [to control over information] as there were rather independent media, interested in defending their freedom. Today, they are just not visible. The level of self-defense and [the preservation] of standards was shifted from publishers to individual journalists. We can have hope only in people who have not lost their integrity, including journalists. I personally do not have any other hopes." As regards the situation in the regions, Simonov commented that the authorities are ready to work with the media "only following old Soviet patterns, when they have control over journalists and are sure that media are carrying out tasks that have been imposed on them." He noted that last year a new trend in the conflict between many authorities and journalists started in a number of regions and was linked to local elections. He said that some governors introduced regional legislation tightening their grip on the media "in accordance with their wish and in full opposition to the existing federal media laws." As a result, Simonov said, suits are being filed in court against journalists accused of failing to comply with regional rules. Russian media have widely reported the worsening of the situation since last September, when the Primakov cabinet started taking measures to limit access to information in Moscow, too. However, the journalistic community appears to be too fragmented and too weak to respond to the threat. The precarious financial situation of most journalists in the regions and --after the August crisis-- also of Moscow's journalists weakens their willingness to protest. Many journalists are understandably more concerned about their salaries, often delayed for months by the state and private structures that control Russia's media. Iosif Dzyalashinskii, professor of journalism at Moscow University and president of the human rights fund "Commission on Freedom of Media Access," told RFE/RL that journalists in Moscow need to pay more attention to what is happening to their colleagues in the regions, where, he notes, "the right of journalists to obtain information is frequently violated by local authorities," with the latter's "grasp increasing the further one goes away from the capital." "We would like the journalistic community to take notice of the problem in the regions," he commented. "There is what I would call a certain arrogant attitude [in Moscow] vis-a- vis the regions. Moscow journalists are in a more privileged position. The conflict with the authorities has not yet touched them, at least not to the extent it has affected regional journalists. We would like the journalistic community, ranging from the Union of Russian Journalists to individual professionals, to try to keep the situation under control." Dzyalashinskii said that in Russia's regions, "the possibility of obtaining information has been curtailed." He called for greater cooperation among journalists, their employers, and others interested in the availability of information. He also noted that at present, there are some 70,000 non-governmental organizations that have both the necessary experience and the desire to pressure the authorities on access to information. If these groups and the media can find common ground to cooperate at least on this point, "the trend [of blocking access to information] that we witness now in Russia could be resisted," Dzyalashinskii argued. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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