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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 46, Part I, 8 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 46, Part I, 8 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 * BEREZOVSKII FIRING WINS PRAISE * SENIOR RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN GROZNY * GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT NATO MEMBERSHIP, TURKISH BASES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BEREZOVSKII FIRING WINS PRAISE... Russian political figures across the political spectrum have backed President Boris Yeltsin's decision to dismiss Boris Berezovskii as CIS executive secretary, Russian agencies reported on 5 March. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that the CIS leader failed to act "with the authorization of the CIS chief executive," (that is, Yeltsin). State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev said Yeltsin¼s decision was an occasion for raising "a glass of champagne or something stronger." Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said the sacking was of no consequence for Russia itself, while Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said it was "long overdue." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that "justice has finally prevailed." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called Yeltsin¼s action "an insignificant event" calculated to obscure reports of corruption in the government. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin said that Russian law enforcement agencies are not currently investigating Berezovskii. PG ...FUELS SPECULATION ABOUT MORE CHANGES... Russian political analysts generally viewed the dismissal of Berezovskii as a victory for Primakov, Interfax reported. While some suggested that the firing marked the end of Berezovskii's political career, Georgii Satarov on 5 March said he "does not consider Berezovskii¼s political future hopeless." But the chairman of the State Duma's CIS Affairs Committee, Georgii Tikhonov, told Interfax the same day that Berezovskii's dismissal may lead to more attacks on Primakov's government. "A person possessing such huge funds as Berezovskii will not just calm down; he will fight together with his team and do a lot of harm," Tikhonov concluded. And "Izvestiya" suggested on 6 March that Yeltsin may sack others, including members of the government, because "the president does not make 'asymmetric' firings." PG ...SURPRISES SOME CIS LEADERS. The presidents of several CIS member states have expressed surprise at Yeltsin's decision to fire Berezovskii as CIS executive secretary, suggesting that such a decision does not lie within the competence of the chairman of the CIS Heads of State Council. Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliev said Berezovskii's dismissal should have been discussed beforehand by all CIS presidents. Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze said he was not consulted in advance. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghimbayev told Interfax that consensus is needed to remove the executive secretary from his post. Moldova's Petru Lucinschi told Interfax that he supported the decision, as did spokesmen for Armenia's Robert Kocharian and Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akayev. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma predicted that his colleagues will endorse Yeltsin's decision at the next CIS summit, but he did not say whether he personally approved it. Ivan Korotchenya, named by Yeltsin on 5 March to succeed Berezovskii, told Interfax that the next summit will be held on 30 or 31 March or 2 April. LF YELTSIN AIDE CRITICIZES PRIMAKOV FOR 'COMPLACENCY.' Appearing on ORT television on 6 March, Oleg Sysuev, Yeltsin¼s first deputy chief of staff, criticized the prime minister for "complacency" and added that Yeltsin "undoubtedly has no complacency about the government," Interfax reported. Sysuev noted that Primakov enjoys a great deal of public support "but this does not mean that this confidence is endless." And he noted that Yeltsin is not "unconditional" in his support of the government and is especially concerned about the slow pace of negotiations with the IMF. If things do not improve on that front, Sysuev said, Yeltsin may intervene directly. Asked if all this meant that the president is preparing to make new changes in the government, Sysuev said that such changes are "the prerogative of the president" and that no official should conclude that he will remain "in the government forever." PG DRAFT YELTSIN ADDRESS REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO REFORM. "Izvestiya" on 6 March reported that it had acquired a copy of a draft speech that Yeltsin plans to give once he has recovered, ITAR-TASS said. The newspaper indicated that the text is a manifesto of liberal reforms and reaffirms Yeltsin's commitment to market-oriented transformations. But on 8 March, Russian agencies reported that Yeltsin will remain in the hospital until the end of March. PG MOSCOW DECRIES REPORTED CIA INVOLVEMENT IN UNSCOM... A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that reports in the "Washington Post" that the U.S. had used UNSCOM as a cover for its intelligence operations against Iraq are disturbing. He said that this report "proves that the special commission has discredited itself by once again crudely violating the mandate" of the UN Security Council. PG ...CALLS FOR CONSULTATIONS ON BOSNIA, KOSOVA. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 6 March calling for urgent consultations with Western governments to discuss the future of the Bosnian peace process following the decision by the international community's high representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Carlos Westendorp, to sack the president of the Bosnian Serb entity, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement also questioned the decision to establish a Brcko district in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Regarding Kosova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said Moscow is opposed to any unilateral use of force in Kosova without the approval of the UN Security Council. In a related move, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev met with his Yugoslav counterpart, Pavle Bulatovic, in Moscow on 6 March. The two also said that any use of force by NATO in Kosova is "inadmissible." PG CENTRAL BANK PROMISES TO DEFEND RUBLE. As the ruble fell below 23 to $1 on 5 March, Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said that the Central Bank of Russia has sufficient resources "both to prevent a sharp drop of the ruble exchange rate and to make foreign debt payments," Interfax-FIA reported. He added that Moscow has extended until 1 May the period in which Treasury bills and Finance Ministry bonds are to be restructured. PG INFLATION SLOWED IN FEBRUARY. The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 5 March that monthly inflation fell to 4.1 percent in February, down from 8.5 percent in January and 11.6 percent in December. PG DUMA BACKS MEASURE TO MAINTAIN STATE CONTROL OVER ORT... The lower house on 5 March gave preliminary approval to a bill that would maintain government control over Russian Public Television network and prohibit foreigners from owning any shares in the station, AP reported. At present, Berezovskii, newly fired as CIS executive secretary, is the largest shareholder in the network after the government. Deputies reportedly acted to prevent him from selling his shares to Rupert Murdoch. PG ...PASSES LAW TO PROTECT SMALL ETHNIC GROUPS. The next day, the Duma approved in the third reading a bill intended to provide special protection for indigenous ethnic communities, ITAR-TASS reported. The law requires Russian government agencies to provide these communities with support and allows the communities in turn to set up territorial self-government bodies and seek compensation when economic development harms their lands. PG CORRUPTION IN RUSSIA REACHES 'UNPRECEDENTED' LEVELS... Acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika told the Duma on 5 March that corruption in Russia has reached "unprecedented" levels and become "a destructive force" in the country, Interfax reported. Chaika said that prosecutors have exposed some 56,000 crimes involving government officials over the last three years. The same day, Interior Minister Stepashin asked the Duma to ratify an extradition accord with Europe in order to help fight corruption, and he announced that a new agreement with Switzerland will allow Moscow to track down funds illegally transferred to that country. PG ...WHILE CIVILIAN CRIME UP, MILITARY CRIME DOWN. Chaika also noted that crime in Russia rose by 8 percent in 1998, with some 2.6 million crimes registered by the authorities, Interfax reported. But crime fell almost 6 percent in the military, Russian army prosecutors told Interfax. PG EFFORT TO BAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES CONTINUES. A Moscow judge hearing a case brought by the government to ban the activities of the Jehovah¼s Witnesses religious organization in Russia has called for experts to examine their literature, AP reported on 5 March. The civil trial, the first effort by Russian prosecutors to use the religion law to ban a group, will now be further delayed. Defense attorneys suggested that the judge's move was designed to avoid having the Jehovah¼s Witnesses acquitted, something they said powerful political forces are against. "In any court of law, we think that now the judge would be in a position to render a decision and we could be exonerated. But not here," said a spokesperson for the group. Meanwhile, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said that "if organizations naming themselves religious violate civil and moral norms, the law enforcement bodies have all grounds to take adequate measures," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. PG YELTSIN ACTS ON VARIOUS LEGISLATION. Yeltsin on 7 March signed into law various acts that will protect stock market investors and govern state grain purchases, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, on 5 March, he vetoed legislation that would have modified the country¼s civil code and changed the status of Federation Council deputies. In a related matter, Yeltsin on 7 March submitted a resolution on the draft law concerning Russian social security urging greater specificity on the sources of revenue and spending limits. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Primakov signed a resolution setting rules on natural monopoly tariffs and issued an order to cut spending on administrative costs in the government. PG BORDER GUARDS CHIEF DENIES REORGANIZATION PLANS. Federal Border Guards Service Director Konstantin Totskii on 6 March denied reports that his service will be consolidated with the Federal Security Service, ITAR-TASS reported. "This is not just a rumor, this is gossip," he said. In other comments, he noted that the most difficult problem facing border guards in the Caucasus is a severe shortage of housing for officers and warrant officers. PG KURDS RALLY IN MOSCOW. Approximately 1,000 people took part in a rally in Moscow on 6 March in support of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, now under arrest in Turkey, Russian agencies reported. Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and Communist Duma Deputy Leonid Petrovskii pledged that their groups will support the Kurds and their demand for an independent Kurdish state. PG RUSSIA DEVELOPS RADAR TO DETECT STEALTH AIRCRAFT. Unnamed Russian military expects told Interfax on 6 March that Moscow has developed the first radar system in the world capable of identifying very small targets such as cruise missiles and also stealth aircraft. The new system, according to these sources, "shows a stealth aircraft just like 'an ordinary one.'" PG BLACK SEA FLEET WON¼T BE BASED IN KRASNODAR. Admiral Vladimir Komoedov told Interfax on 5 March that his fleet will not leave Sevastopol and be home-based in Krasnodar, as recent rumors suggested. PG RUSSIAN POPULATION AGING, BUT LIFE EXPECTANCY LOW. The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 6 March that while the average age of Russians is increasing, some 40 percent of all Russian males now at age 16 will not survive until age 60 "if current life expectancy levels in Russia are maintained." The committee said that life expectancy at birth is 58 for males and 71 for females. PG REFERENDUM, PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS HELD IN DAGESTAN. Some 70 percent of Dagestan's 1.24 million electorate voted for a third time on 7 March to oppose the introduction of a directly elected presidency, Reuters reported the following day. The post of head of state will continue to be held by the chairman of the State Council, on which Dagestan's 14 autochthonous ethnic groups are represented. Results of simultaneous elections to the People's Assembly, in which 490 candidates were competing for a total of 121 seats, are not yet known. LF SENIOR RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN GROZNY... Five armed masked men on 5 March seized Major- General Gennadii Shpigun from the aircraft at Grozny airport in which he was about to fly to Moscow. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov immediately set up a working group tasked with solving the kidnapping. Russian Interior Minister Stepashin briefed President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Primakov the next day on the measures taken to secure Shpigun's release. The border between Chechnya and Dagestan was closed to motor traffic, and Russian Interior Ministry troops in the North Caucasus republics bordering on Chechnya were placed on the alert. LF ...PROMPTING ACCUSATIONS, DENIALS... AP quoted witnesses to Shpigun's abduction as saying that the kidnappers said that in exchange for Shpigun, they intend to demand the release of two Chechen women sentenced by a Stavropol Krai court last month for a bomb attack on a North Caucasus railway station in April 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 17 February 1999). Chechen presidential adviser Danilbek Tamkaev told ITAR-TASS on 6 March that renegade field commander Salman Raduev was responsible for the kidnapping, but Raduev's deputy Lom-ali Yakhyaev denied this, adding that Raduev is still seriously ill and recovering from surgery. Raduev had vowed reprisals against Russia for the sentencing of the two Chechen women. Chechen investigators said on 6 March they believe that Shpigun's kidnappers hope to extract a ransom for his release. Speaking on NTV on 7 March, Stepashin implicitly accused Chechen opposition state council head Shamil Basaev of masterminding the abduction. He vowed to secure Shpigun's release. LF ...AND DEPARTURE OF RUSSIAN REPRESENTATION. The Russian mission in Grozny informed the Chechen leadership on 6 March that it would evacuate its personnel to Mozdok in North Ossetia. President Maskhadov provided armed guards to accompany those Russian bureaucrats, whose convoy left Grozny at midday on 7 March. The same day, Basaev accused Russian special services of masterminding Shpigun's abduction in order to discredit Chechnya. Basaev's ally, former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov, announced the creation of a commission charged with assessing alleged violations by Moscow of the May 1997 bilateral treaty on peace and mutual relations. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told Interfax on 7 March that a Russian warplane had dropped bombs in a rural district south of Grozny the previous day, but a Russian air force spokesman denied that charge. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS. Some 350 delegates attended the 11th congress of the center-right Armenian Pan-National Movement in Yerevan on 5-6 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The congress adopted a resolution describing the present Armenian leadership's advent to power as "illegal" and as resulting in the "criminalization" of the government and the establishment of a "military-police system." Delegates vowed to thwart the present leadership's alleged "plans to form a puppet parliament" by falsifying the outcome of the 30 May parliamentary elections. The resolution also called for the creation of a shadow cabinet. The congress failed to elect either a new 40-person ruling board or a new board chairman to replace former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, who left Armenia in late January and is wanted for questioning in connection with his suspected complicity in a series of murders. LF NEW LOAN FOR ARMENIA POWER SECTOR. The International Development Association (IDA) approved a loan of some $21 million on 4 March to help Armenia put its electric power industry on an efficient commercial footing, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington. The credit is the first of an anticipated total of some $53 million the World Bank plans to allocate to Armenia over the next four-and-a-half years to support power sector restructuring. It will be used to make sure that Armenia's power needs are met in a reliable and cost-effective manner while the industry is updated and made self-sufficient. The plan includes ending subsidies and will focus on three enterprises: Armenergo, High Voltage Electronic Network Company, and Yerevan Distribution. LF AZERBAIJAN IMPLICATES CIA IN ALLEGED ASSASSINATION PLOT. Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 6 March claiming that a former CIA agent advised former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev on the latter's alleged plan to assassinate former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 1999). A CIA spokesman in Washington declined to comment on the allegations. The Baku-based committee to defend Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since his resignation in September 1996, will stage a protest demonstration outside the Ministry of National Security on 12 March, Turan reported on 5 March. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT NATO MEMBERSHIP, TURKISH BASES. Speaking in Tokyo on 5 March, Eduard Shevardnadze admitted that Georgia is unlikely to be admitted to NATO however much it aspires to membership in that alliance, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze also said that Georgia's intensifying military cooperation with Turkey will not extend to the opening of Turkish military bases on Georgian territory. "The subject has never been discussed, the Turkish side has never even mentioned that possibility," ITAR-TASS quoted Shevardnadze as saying. LF RUSSIAN ENVOY, ABKHAZ LEADER DISCUSS REPATRIATION... Russian special envoy for Abkhazia Lev Mironov met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sukhumi on 6 March to discuss the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons, ITAR-TASS reported. Abkhazia formally began the repatriation process on 1 March. Mironov proposed that Abkhazia and Georgia sign a bilateral agreement on repatriation and on economic aid for the restoration of Abkhazia's war-damaged infrastructure. Estimates of the number of Georgians who have returned to Abkhazia differ widely. Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 March that "no process of repatriation has got under way," Interfax reported. But an official with the Russian peacekeeping force told ITAR-TASS on 5 March that "a large number" of displaced persons have returned to the villages of Tagiloni, Nabakevi, and Pichora. LF ...AS GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ISSUES FORMAL PROTEST. The Georgian parliament, meanwhile, issued a statement protesting Ardzinba's unilateral initiative to allow Georgian displaced persons to return to Abkhazia before international guarantees of their security are in place, Caucasus Press reported on 5 March. The statement accused the Abkhaz leadership of seeking to exploit the returnees as cheap labor. It recalled an April 1996 resolution affirming that repatriation will not begin until Georgia's territorial integrity and Tbilisi's jurisdiction over Abkhazia are restored. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ISLAMABAD... Kasymjomart Tokayev was in the Pakistani capital on 5-6 March, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. Tokayev met with his counterpart, Sartaj Aziz, and President Nawaz Sharif to discuss the potential for trade after the opening in May of a highway from Kazakhstan to the Pakistani port of Karachi via Kyrgyzstan and China. Tokayev said Pakistan is interested in buying wheat from Kazakhstan. He also discussed cooperation in banking and aviation as well as cultural and humanitarian exchanges. Both sides confirmed a commitment to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan on the basis of non-interference in that country's internal affairs. BP ...MEETS WITH TALIBAN REPRESENTATIVES. Tokayev also met with Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, an aide to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and said that Kazakhstan favors peace through the establishment of a coalition government in which all warring factions and groups are represented. The Afghan Islamic Press agency was cited by dpa as reporting that the meeting was "positive" and that the two sides agreed to "maintain contact." Tokayev later side-stepped a journalist's question about whether closer ties would be established with the Taliban. "Recognizing or not recognizing the Taliban is not important. The issue is we had direct talks with Taliban," he said. BP PRISONERS IN KAZAKHSTAN ATTEMPT SUICIDE. Twenty-six inmates of the Atyrau prison in western Kazakhstan stabbed themselves in the stomach in what reportedly was a mass suicide attempt to protest conditions in their jail, AP reported on 4 March. All are expected to recover from the wounds that they inflicted on themselves with home-made knives. The inmates were protesting overcrowding, lack of food, and other inhumane conditions that they claim exist in the prison. A similar incident happened at the same prison late last year. The country's Security Council recently discovered that funds slated for the prison have been misappropriated. BP GAZPROM CHIEF COMMENTS ON TURKMEN GAS SHIPMENTS... Rem Vyakhirev, addressing the Russian State Duma on 5 March, explained the state of affairs as regards Turkmen natural gas shipments to Ukraine via Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999), ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Vyakhirev said the system for those shipments allows Russia "to control the fuel supply from Turkmenistan to Ukrainian consumers." Vyakhirev also said Turkmenistan has lost about $1 billion since Turkmen gas shipments to Ukraine ceased in spring 1997 owing to disputes over shipping terms, Ukraine's large debt, and the low price paid to Turkmenistan for the shipments. Vyakhirev said that Gazprom, as the operator of the pipeline, sets the conditions for transportation of Turkmen gas. He also noted that his company will participate in projects to develop new gas fields in Turkmenistan and ship Turkmen gas to China. BP ...AS DOES RUSSIAN MINISTER FOR CIS AFFAIRS. Boris Pastukhov said "the closer we are connected to Turkmenistan's gas and oil sectors, the more the CIS countries, above all Russia, will be the winners." Pastukhov noted that Turkmenistan still plans to build a pipeline to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan and that "sooner or later" this will take place. He recommended that Russia take part in this project. However, Pastukhov said the Russian government should block plans to lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan along the bed of the Caspian Sea. BP TURKMENISTAN, PAKISTAN SIGN MEMORANDUM ON ELECTRICAL SUPPLIES. The Energy Ministries of Turkmenistan and Pakistan have signed a memorandum on conducting a feasibility study for the export of Turkmen electricity to Pakistan via Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 6 March. Two routes will be examined: Mary-Sherberghan-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar and Mary-Herat-Kandahar-Quetta, both of which are some 1,150 kilometers long. Regions in Afghanistan would also receive supplies and two transit stations would be built in that country. BP 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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