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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 48, Part I, 10 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 48, Part I, 10 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 * SKURATOV, PRIMAKOV CUT SHORT VACATIONS * CHECHEN PRESIDENT WANTS TO MEET WITH YELTSIN * GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TRADE ACCUSATIONS OVER REPATRIATION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA SKURATOV, PRIMAKOV CUT SHORT VACATIONS. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov returned to Moscow from his vacation in Sochi on the evening of 9 March, five days earlier than scheduled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1999). Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov also reported for work on 9 March, chairing a meeting with his deputies, Interfax reported. President Boris Yeltsin had accepted Skuratov's resignation in early February, but the Federation Council postponed consideration of the issue until 17 March, requesting that Skuratov himself appear to explain his decision. According to the agency, Skuratov was on leave from 22 February following his release from the hospital, where he had been registered on 2 February. Skuratov has fully recovered, according to one of his closest deputies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 March. The Yeltsin administration apparently remains concerned: administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha told "Argumenty i Fakty" that Skuratov is "a decent person who has truly become very tired." JAC BORDYUZHA OUT, CHUBAIS IN? Citing "high-ranking" sources, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 10 March that President Yeltsin is considering replacing presidential administration head and Security Council Secretary Bordyuzha, whose recent hospitalization for heart pain, the newspaper added, was not coincidental (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). According to these sources, "Kremlin strategists" believe the presidential administration needs someone "strong and tough enough" to shield a sick Yeltsin and become an effective counterweight to the growing influence of Prime Minister Primakov. On the other hand, this official must possess very limited levers of influence so that he or she would still be dependent on the president. According to the newspaper, former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais fits the bill and Yeltsin will make a decision "within several days" on whether to invite him to rejoin the government. JAC IMF MISSION TO RETURN TO MOSCOW... The IMF will send a staff mission to Moscow this week, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 9 March. According to a fund spokeswoman, there are no deadlines for reaching an agreement, but the IMF hopes that the team can make rapid progress. Citing its own sources, the "Times" of London reported on 9 March that the fund and the Russian government are likely to reach an agreement in time for Prime Minister Primakov's visit to Washington, D.C. later in March for the Gore-Primakov Commission. The next day, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters that "there is no need for additional meetings in Moscow" with the IMF mission, because Primakov will discuss "all unsettled issues" in Washington. Ahead of the commission meetings, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will meet with Vice President Al Gore as well as the heads of the IMF and World Bank. He told reporters, however, that he has "no authority" at all to conduct official talks with international financial institutions. JAC ...AS CONTROVERSY CONTINUES TO SHROUD CENTRAL BANK. According to RFE/RL's Washington bureau, Fund officials continue to have questions about the Russian Central Bank's use of the tiny offshore firm FIMACO to manage its hard currency reserves. IMF sources told RFE/RL that the fund sent a mission to the Central Bank to conduct technical training in reserves management, and fund officials recommended that all reserves should be "invested by and in the name of the Central Bank." JAC NEW CALL FOR WRITING OFF SOVIET DEBT. First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is holding consultations with Paris Club "experts" on the possibility of restructuring Russia's external debt, Interfax reported on 9 March. In an open letter to President Yeltsin published by "Kommersant- Daily" on 9 March, Duma deputy Aleksandr Shokhin recommended that the Russian government immediately open negotiations with Paris Club creditors on writing off the country's debts inherited from the Soviet Union by exchanging the debts for those developing countries still owe to the Soviet Union. According to Shokhin, the "nominal amounts of [both sets of] debts and financial assets coincide almost precisely." Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Vyugin told Interfax on 10 March that the Central Bank used nearly $1 billion of its gold and foreign currency reserves in January to make foreign debt payments. In an earlier interview with the "Financial Times," Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov warned that if the Russian government does not reach an agreement with the IMF soon, its hard currency reserves used for repaying foreign debts will be exhausted. JAC ST. PETERSBURG POLICE INCREASING PRESSURE ON RELIGIOUS GROUP. Officials from St. Petersburg's Interior Department have initiated criminal proceedings against Open Christianity, a Dutch religious group, some of whose members have been fighting an attempt by local police to remove them from a building where they have been operating a school for several years, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999). Interior Department head Lieutenant-General Viktor Vlasov told ITAR-TASS that the group has been operating the school's building for commercial purposes for the past four years, charging other groups rent and not paying taxes. According to the agency, an eviction notice will become effective on 12 March. School and human rights group officials argue that the real conflict with city officials is over the right of religious groups to teach their faith. JAC DUMA DEPUTY APPEALS TO RUSSIAN LEADER TO USE DOMESTIC BANKS. State Duma Security Committee Chairman and member of the Communist Party faction Viktor Ilyukhin publicly appealed to President Yeltsin on 9 March to move his personal savings from foreign bank accounts to Russian commercial banks. According to Ilyukhin, Yeltsin should set an example that "business tycoons and 'new Russians'" might follow. He added that the amount of money that would be returned this way would be greater than the sums currently under negotiation with the IMF. Ilyukhin has been outspoken in his demands that Yeltsin resign and is a member of the Duma's impeachment commission. According to "Trud" the next day, Ilyukhin plans to introduce an amendment to the Criminal Code that would make the non-return of assets removed from Russia a criminal offense. JAC REFINED PRODUCT EARNINGS CONTINUE TO SLUMP. Russia's revenues from the export of petroleum products were down by 34.5 percent--$222 million--in January, compared with the same period last year, according the State Statistics Committee, Interfax reported on 10 March. JAC COSMONAUTS BECOME SPACE FARMERS. Crew of the space station "Mir" planted several dozen seeds of varying kinds of wheat in their "hothouse" on 9 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Scientists hope that the wheat can be harvested within 70 to 90 days, proving that space is suitable for agricultural production. Commercial applications of the experiment are likely only in the distant future, since spokesman for the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems Vladimir Sychev told the agency that 20 square meters of grain must be sown to provide enough bread for one person. The same day, cosmonauts marked the 65th anniversary of the birth of Yurii Gagarin, the first man to fly into space. JAC SHAIMIEV CALLS ON REGIONAL BLOCS TO UNITE. Interfax on 9 March quoted Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev as predicting that if all Russia's regional blocs and movements united, they would form a majority in the next State Duma. Shaimiev expressed his support for Samara Governor Konstantin Titov's proposal to create a Golos Rossii [Voice of Russia] movement, adding that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's opposition to that proposal derives from his awareness that such a regional movement is the only force in Russia strong enough to counterbalance the Communists. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT WANTS TO MEET WITH YELTSIN... Speaking on Chechen Television on 9 March, Aslan Maskhadov said a meeting between himself and Russian President Yeltsin is urgently needed to defuse escalating tensions between Moscow and Grozny, Russian media reported. Affirming that "I am doing my best to prevent war," Maskhadov condemned the use of threats and ultimatums as counter-productive. He said more than 20 separate groups are investigating the circumstances of the 5 March abduction from Grozny airport of senior Russian Interior Ministry official Major-General Gennadii Shpigun. Maskhadov has offered a $200,000 reward for information on Shpigun's whereabouts. Also on 9 March, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov deplored the lack of cooperation between Moscow and Grozny in investigating Shpigun's abduction. LF ...CAN COUNT ON MOSCOW'S SUPPORT. Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told Interfax on 9 March that he sees no need for a meeting between Yeltsin and Maskhadov but that it is imperative for either Prime Minister Primakov or a lower-level Russian leader meet immediately with both Maskhadov and Chechen opposition politicians, including adherents of radical Islam, Interfax reported. Primakov is to chair a high-level meeting on policy toward the North Caucasus on 10 March. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin, who on 7 March issued the "threats and ultimatums" to which Maskhadov had referred, said Russia "has been supporting and will support the legitimate Chechen president." Both Yeltsin's special envoy to Chechnya, Valentin Vlasov, who was abducted and held captive for six months last year, and Oleg Sysuev, first deputy chief of the presidential administration, ruled out Moscow's use of force in Chechnya. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SPLITS IN FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY? Two members announced their resignation from the board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement on 9 March to protest the re-election of fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian as board chairman, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Former deputy parliamentary speaker Karapet Rubinian said that he opposes Siradeghian's ideology, describing him as neither a liberal nor a democrat. Samvel Gevorgian said that the defeated candidate for the post, former parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian, would have been "more useful to the party," which a third HHSh member predicted may now spilt. Siradeghian was re-elected in absentia as board chairman on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). LF ARMENIAN JOURNALIST KILLED IN HIT-AND-RUN ACCIDENT. Tigran Hayrapetian, editor of "Nor Ughi," which is published by the eponymous opposition party, died in hospital in Yerevan early on 9 March after being run over by a car in the capital, Noyan Tapan and ITAR-TASS reported. Hayrapetian, who was 35, managed Nor Ughi chairman Ashot Bleyan's unsuccessful presidential election campaign in 1998. He contributed to several opposition publications. LF ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN CYPRUS. Visiting Cyprus on 8-10 March, Vartan Oskanian held talks with his Cypriot counterpart, Ioannis Cassoulides, Nicosia Mayor Lellos Demetriades, and Cypriot parliamentary deputy president Nicos Anastasiades on expanding bilateral relations and cooperation, dpa and Noyan Tapan reported. Discussing with Cassoulides the situation in the Caucasus and the Middle East, Oskanian expressed the hope that Turkey's relations with its neighbors will improve following the parliamentary elections next month. Oskanian also met with President Glafcos Clerides on 9 March. LF ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TBILISI. Vazgen Sargsian met with his Georgian counterpart, David Tevzadze, and parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania in Tbilisi on 8 March to discuss defense cooperation between Armenia and Georgia and creating a legal framework for such cooperation, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The next day, Sargsian met with Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze. Sargsian assured the Georgian officials of Armenia's unswerving support for Georgia's territorial integrity. LF KARABAKH SPOKESMAN DENIES PRESIDENT MET WITH AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS. A spokesman for Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 9 March that an Azerbaijani press report claiming Ghukasian met with two prominent Azerbaijani opposition figures in the U.S. on 5 March is untrue. "Yeni Azerbaijan," the official Azerbaijani government daily, reported on 6 March that Ghukasian met with Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar and former Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev to discuss proposing to Western oil companies that the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil be routed not via Georgia but via Stepanakert and Armenia. Gambar similarly denied the meeting with Ghukasian but admitted he had met with Guliev to discuss the political situation in Azerbaijan, Turan's Washington correspondent reported on 9 March. Ghukasian met in Washington on 8 March with Donald Kaiser, the U.S. co- chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, according to Noyan Tapan. LF CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEE ON DEFENDING AZERBAIJAN'S EX-PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DETAINED. Natik Jabiev, who heads the youth committee to defend Rasul Guliev's rights, was sentenced by a Baku district court on 9 March to 12 days in prison "for resisting the police," Turan reported. Jabiev was detained on 5 March. On 20 February, two other members of the committee were sentenced to 15 days in prison. LF GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TRADE ACCUSATIONS OVER REPATRIATION. Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, meeting with Russian and UN special envoys for Abkhazia Lev Mironov and Liviu Bota in Tbilisi on 9 March, accused the Abkhaz leadership of backtracking on an earlier offer to recruit into the police force of the region's southernmost Gali raion Georgian displaced persons who return to their homes in Abkhazia. Lortkipanidze said the move was aimed at limiting Georgian representation in the force, Caucasus Press reported. In Sukhumi, Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh told journalists on 9 March that unspecified Georgian leaders are trying to prevent displaced persons from returning, according to Interfax. He said 350 have managed to do so since 1 March, adding that of an estimated 30,000 who returned spontaneously earlier, 22,000 have already registered with the Abkhaz authorities. LF GEORGIAN, UZBEK PRESIDENTS MEET... Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, in Tashkent, on 9 March, Russian and western press reported. Karimov called their discussions "rich in content and constructive." Shevardnadze said they focused on problems on of regional and international security as well as bilateral economic cooperation. Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov met with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili the same day to discuss shipping more Uzbek cargo via the "Trans- Caucasus transportation corridor," according to Interfax. Sultanov said his country could supply aircraft, cars, trucks, buses, and agricultural equipment to Georgia. Trade between the two countries has jumped from $600,000 in 1994 to $15.2 million in 1998, according to news agencies. BP ...COMMENT ON BEREZOVSKII'S DISMISSAL. At a press conference following their meeting, both presidents criticized the decision to replace Boris Berezovskii from the post of executive secretary of the CIS. Shevardnadze said it was "inappropriate" for the Russian State Duma to issue an appeal for Berezovskii's dismissal, saying it was "not within [its] authority" to do so. He added that "the decision on Berezovskii's appointment was made jointly (among CIS countries) but that the decision on his dismissal" was made unilaterally. Both presidents agreed that it would have been better if President Yeltsin had requested that Berezovskii step down. BP UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS INVESTIGATION INTO BOMBINGS SOON COMPLETED... At the same press conference, Karimov said the investigation into the terrorist bombings in Tashkent last month will soon be completed. Karimov repeated claims that Islamic groups were responsible, but he contradicted earlier remarks by saying "we do not assume that Chechens have something to do with the criminals who committed that act of vandalism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 26 February and 5 March 1999). Karimov noted that unlike Chechnya, "we will never embark on creating an Islamic, Sharia State [since such a state] is opposed by all Uzbekistan's 24 million people." BP ...CONNECTS POLITICAL OPPOSITION TO BOMBINGS. Karimov linked opposition political groups to the bombings, particularly leaders of the Erk Democratic Party, whom Karimov called "beggars living outside the country." "Realizing they have no other way and relying on money provided by extremist Islamic centers," these forces would rather see "an Islamic state than a civilized democracy," Karimov said. He vowed that those responsible for the bombings will receive "an open and just trial, in line with the letter and spirit of the law, without forgiveness or pity." BP KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN REACH NEW AGREEMENT ON GAS SUPPLIES. The Kyrgyz government's press service announced on 9 March that a new plan to pay for gas supplies from Uzbekistan has been worked out by the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Kyrgyzstan will supply 22,000 tons of wheat to pay off the $3.3 million it owes Uzbekistan for gas supplies. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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