|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 52, Part I, 16 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 52, Part I, 16 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 * PRIMAKOV TO LAST AT LEAST ANOTHER MONTH? * PLOT THICKENS AROUND SKURATOV RESIGNATION * ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DETERMINED THAT ELECTIONS WILL BE FREE AND FAIR xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRIMAKOV TO LAST AT LEAST ANOTHER MONTH? Russian President Boris Yeltsin made a rare television appearance on 16 March in which he reaffirmed his support for Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. He also advised Primakov on how to better handle the media, suggesting that he make himself more available by meeting with top editors and appearing on television more frequently. Political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov, writing in "Izvestiya" on 16 March, argued that Yeltsin will initiate only a minor personnel shuffle in the near term, such as reducing First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov's responsibilities particularly with regard to overseeing IMF negotiations. According to Nikonov, removing Maslyukov altogether would create too much of a stir in the State Duma, although no one there would object too strenuously to the dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik. Yeltsin cannot remove Primakov at the present moment because of his crucial upcoming meetings with U.S. President Al Gore and the IMF, Nikonov wrote. JAC PROSPECTS FOR START-II IMPROVING? Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and member of the Yabloko faction Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy on 15 March that there is a real chance of ratifying the START-II treaty because it is now obvious that the country cannot finance and maintain its armed forces at the proper level. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 16 March that the Duma will ask President Yeltsin to formally start the ratification process. Later on 16 March, Prime Minister Primakov will participate in a televised discussion of the treaty along with First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov. JAC PLOT THICKENS AROUND SKURATOV RESIGNATION. "Moskovskii komsomolets," the newspaper that first unveiled the "news" that influential businessman Boris Berezovskii was engaged in illegal wiretapping of President Yeltsin and his family, reported on 16 March that presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha black-mailed Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov into tendering his resignation with a videotape of Skuratov's "sexual exploits." "Novye izvestiya" offered a different version in its 13 March edition, alleging that Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, forced Skuratov out because he had uncovered Borodin's shady dealings with Mabetex, a Swiss construction company that had done some work at the Kremlin. Interfax reported on 15 March that Skuratov will meet with Switzerland's prosecutor-general shortly. Skuratov is scheduled to tell his side of the story to the Federation Council on 17 March. JAC NEW VERSION OF POLITICAL PACT READIED. The Duma's working group in charge of drawing up a political peace agreement between Russia's various branches of power has completed a nine-point draft document, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Duma deputy and leader of the Our Home Is Russia faction told Interfax on 15 March. That document foresees giving the Primakov cabinet "political guarantees," setting up a working group to prepare amendments to the constitution, and ensuring that regional authorities pledge not to engage in destabilizing actions. The most controversial aspect of the document--at least for the Kremlin--will be the stipulation that beginning in the second half of 2000, the cabinet would be formed by a parliamentary majority. The document must be signed by President Yeltsin and approved by the Duma and Federation Council. Earlier this month, "Vremya MN" noted that a similar draft "failed to satisfy either the Communists or the presidential administration." JAC DOLLAR PLAYING SMALLER ROLE IN RUSSIAN ECONOMY. Writing in "Novye izvestiya" on 13 March, economic analyst Otto Latsis argues that the Russian economy is less dependent on the dollar than a year ago but that the benefits of this "freedom" are hard to detect. In 1998, the amount of hard currency brought into Russia dropped by 2.3 times from the previous year to $16.2 billion, according to the State Statistics Committee. Domestic manufacturers, according to Latsis, are letting the opportunity presented by the devalued ruble slip through their fingers. He notes that in January 1999, output in the ferrous metallurgy, light industry, food, engineering, and metals sectors was lower than during the same period the previous year. On the positive side, the backlog of unpaid wages and pensions has decreased. However, since consumer prices have skyrocketed, state workers are receiving much less than when wage debts were growing. JAC DEFENSE MINISTRY WATCHING ITS MONEY TO LAST KOPEK. In interview with "Obshchaya gazeta" in its issue dated 11-17 March, Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev revealed that his ministry will prepare two or three options for the creation of a joint command for the country's nuclear strategic forces and ask President Yeltsin to choose one of them. Sergeev added that after his trip to India in late March, he will focus on the preparation of these options. He also revealed that economic considerations are the major criterion in decision about combat readiness "these days." According to Sergeev, "we earned $200 million selling equipment and I already know how it will be spent to the last cent. Some money will be spent on repairing combat helicopters. Some will be spent on equipment for troops stationed in the Caucasus." JAC PROBLEM SOLVED: NOT PAYING WAGES IS A CRIME. President Yeltsin signed a law on 15 March that establishes a penalty of up to seven years in prison for heads of enterprises or institutions who fail to pay wages for two months or longer for "selfish or other personal considerations," ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the maximum sentence will be imposed in situations where the nonpayment of wages causes "grave consequences" for the workers. Shorter prison sentences and fines are also an option for deadbeat bosses. JAC NEW COAL MINERS STRIKE PLANNED. Coal miners at the Uralugol company in the Khabarovsk Krai will begin an open-ended strike on 2 April to protest unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. Debts to workers currently total 240 million rubles ($10.4 million). Last week, miners finally got their wages for September 1998 and part of October. JAC CHECHEN OFFICIAL DENIES THAT OPPOSITION FIELD COMMANDER'S FAMILY ABDUCTED. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev, who heads Chechnya's combined state security bodies, told ITAR-TASS on 15 March that reports of the abduction of the parents-in-law and daughter of Jordanian- born opposition field commander Khottab are untrue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 1999). Atgeriev admitted that there was a shooting incident in Gudermes on 13 March, during which Khottab's father-in-law's bodyguard was killed and other persons detained. The father-in-law was later released, and all three have returned to their native village in Dagestan. LF RUSSIA UNIMPRESSED BY KOSOVAR ALBANIAN PLEDGE. Boris Mayorskii, ambassador at large and one of three international mediators at the Paris talks on Kosova, told reporters on 15 March that the Kosova Albanians' agreement to sign the peace plan (see Part II) is "no great surprise" and does not constitute a major breakthrough. He said "obviously, the signing of the agreement by just one side does not resolve the issues, which effectively remain the same." He added, according to ITAR-TASS, that "I do not want to call into question the sincerity of the statement made by the [Kosova] delegation, but the point at issue is the future of the field commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and this problem is far from simple." JAC ...WELCOMES AFGHAN AGREEMENT. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said on 16 March that his country "welcomes" the agreement reached at talks in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, between Afghanistan's warring factions, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmanin said Russia would like to see the UN help the Afghan factions to continue resolving their differences peacefully. The statement comes one day after Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with the UN special envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi in Moscow. No details are available about that meeting. BP DUMA SCHEDULES YELTSIN IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS. The Duma will begin impeachment hearings on 15 April, Duma Chairman Seleznev told reporters on 16 March. The vote on the issue will likely occur later, since debates may be lengthy. JAC INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES FARE WELL IN LOCAL ELECTIONS. In the 14 March election in the Republic of Khakassia, Oleg Pustoshilov and Anatolii Makarchuk were elected as the administration heads of Chernogorsk and Shirinskii Raion, respectively, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 15 March. Both were independent candidates and won more than 50 percent of the vote. Candidates for seats in remaining districts in the republic will compete in run-off elections at the beginning of April, according to the agency. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DETERMINED THAT ELECTIONS WILL BE FREE AND FAIR. Meeting with journalists in Yerevan on 13 March, Robert Kocharian said that he has an interest in ensuring that 30 May parliamentary election poll is free and fair, given the negative international reaction that will inevitably follow if the poll is perceived as flawed by irregularities, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 March. Kocharian downplayed opposition criticism of the election law, adding that he believes the allocation of 56 seats under the proportional and 75 under the majoritarian system is appropriate in current conditions. The Armenian electorate "is politicized but has no certain party affiliation," he commented. LF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION, PENSIONERS PROTEST ELECTRICITY PRICE HIKE. The opposition Hayrenik parliamentary faction has proposed cutting electricity tariffs to the December 1998 level, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 March. Tariffs were raised that month by 30 percent to 25 drams (5 cents) per kilowatt hour. The government opposes any reduction, which it says runs counter to its policy of gradually liberalizing energy prices. That policy has been endorsed by the World Bank. Also on 15 March, some 1,000 pensioners staged a demonstration outside the parliament building to protest the energy price hike, AP reported. LF AGREEMENT REACHED ON FINANCING OF AZERBAIJANI PIPELINE... Giorgi Chanturia, president of the Georgian International Oil Company, told Caucasus Press on 15 March that the Turkish government and international oil companies operating in Azerbaijan have reached agreement on the financing of the so- called Main Export Pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. Under that agreement, the Turkish government will meet additional expenses if the cost of construction exceeds the estimated $2.5 billion. Two routes for the pipeline are currently under discussion: from Baku via the Georgian Black Sea terminal at Supsa to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan and from Baku via the west Georgian town of Zestafoni to Ceyhan. USAID will contribute toward the construction of a new oil refinery at Supsa, for which Japan's Itochu will provide equipment, Chanturia said. LF ...AS A THIRD CASPIAN CONSORTIUM FACES LIQUIDATION. The U.S.- Russian consortium LUKArco, which was created in 1998 to conduct a seismic survey of Azerbaijan's Yalama offshore Caspian deposit, may abandon that undertaking by 30 May unless there are signs that the field contains a minimum of 70 million metric tons of oil, consortium vice president Rim Bagmanov told Reuters on 15 March. Bagmanov said that the results of surveys conducted to date indicate that the Yalama field contains only very small quantities of oil in complex geological structures. The consortium created to exploit the Karabakh field was liquidated last month after three trial wells failed to yield oil in commercial quantities. And the North Absheron Operating Company representing four international oil companies announced earlier this month that it, too, has failed to locate commercial quantities of crude in three test wells (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998 and 4 March 1999). LF SENIOR OFFICIALS ARRESTED IN AZERBAIJAN. Senior Interior Ministry official Nizami Gojaev, who is married to the daughter of parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, was arrested last week on suspicion of attempted murder and complicity to murder, together with four other police officials and seven men accused of kidnapping, murder, and robbery, AP and Turan reported on 12 and 15 March. Azerbaijani media are speculating that the arrest will serve as a pretext for dismissing Alesqerov and appointing President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham as his successor. A warrant has also been issued for the arrest of Shahin Hasanov, who is vice-president of the state Azeravtoyol company and whose brother Eldar is prosecutor-general. Hasanov is charged with embezzling some 31 billion manats ($7.8 million). LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EVALUATES NATO EXPANSION. In his weekly radio broadcast, Eduard Shevardnadze on 15 March described the formal admittance to NATO of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as completing "an important stage in the final reunification of Europe," Interfax reported. Shevardnadze said that NATO expansion will continue but added that it would be premature to speak of Georgia's possible entry to the alliance before Tbilisi establishes a "new model" for relations with Russia and before relations between CIS members states are founded on "an atmosphere of mutual trust and non-interference." In a possible allusion to earlier Russian arms supplies to Armenia, Shevardnadze said that Georgia is opposed to the use of its territory for the transportation of arms to other countries. LF EBRD TO PARTICIPATE IN TRANSCASPIAN PIPELINE PROJECT. Following a 15 March meeting between the deputy vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, David Hexter, chairman of the bank's board of directors, Wilhelm Jaggi and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, the presidential press service announced the EBRD will participate in financing the construction of the Turkmen segment of Transcaspian pipeline project, Interfax reported. The report did not indicate what the EBRD's contribution to the project will be. BP ANOTHER SUSPECT IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN... Another suspect in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, described as a 45-year-old male Uzbek citizen has been detained in Taldy Kurgan, Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 15 March. The man is also described as a "leader" or "organizer" of the bombings. BP ...WHILE UZBEK PRESIDENT CONFIRMS ARRESTS. Islam Karimov confirmed at a 15 March news conference, following a meeting with visiting Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, that suspects in the Tashkent bombings have been detained in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. He gave no further details about those arrests but did name two people he called "organizers" of the terrorist act: Takhir Yuldash and Mohammed Solih (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 March 1999). Yuldash, according to Karimov, is now in Pakistan and has held meetings with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Solih, who is chairman of Uzbekistan's banned Erk Party, has been living in exile for several years. Karimov said he has evidence that Solih has been in Afghanistan, in Russian and Ukrainian cities, and in Istanbul. He commented that "Solih has sunk to the point of dealing with fanatics with whose support he intends to become president." Karimov has asked Interpol to help apprehend Solih and Yuldash. BP UZBEK, TURKISH PRESIDENTS MEET. At the same press conference, Karimov said that his country and Turkey will join forces in combating terrorism, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The two presidents also discussed bilateral economic cooperation during their meeting the same day. Demirel noted that Turkey has invested $1 billion in the Uzbek economy since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991 and that there are currently 400 Uzbek-Turkish joint ventures. Karimov called Turkey's experience in building a secular democratic state "invaluable to us." The two leaders said their countries will build relations on an equal, friendly basis and regard each other as a good neighbor and reliable partner. BP TAJIK PRESIDENT ASSESSES PROGRESS IN PEACE PROCESS. Imomali Rakhmonov on 15 March met with members of the National Reconciliation Commission as well as with officials from the government and law enforcement agencies to assess what progress has been made in implementing a 2 March presidential decree ordering that the terms of the Tajik Peace Accord be met within 10 days, Interfax reported. The secretary of Tajikistan's Security Council, Amirkul Azimov, said registration of fighters from the Untied Tajik Opposition (UTO) has been completed in all regions, except Darband and Tavil-Dara. He added that amnesty has been granted to all but 93 of the more than 600 UTO members against whom charges were brought during the 1992-1997 war. The charges against the remaining 93 are currently under review. Azimov said he expects a decision on whether they will be pardoned to be made "in the next few days." Rakhmonov ordered that those UTO members who have met all conditions for integration into the regular national army be equipped and transferred to new units. BP BELARUS DEFENSE MINISTER IN TAJIKISTAN. Belarus Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakou met with his Tajik counterpart, Sherali Khairullayev, in Dushanbe on 16 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The two ministers said later that earlier bilateral agreements need revising, while in some cases new ones need to be drafted. Chumakou said his country could help Tajikistan modernize its military hardware, in particular armored vehicles and aircraft. Khairullayev said Tajikistan would be interested in training and acquiring information on air defense systems. With regard to NATO expansion, Chumakou noted that "the military situation in Tajikistan is complicated, but it is by no means simpler in Belarus," which shares a border with new alliance member Poland. BP KYRGYZSTAN WILL NOT PRINT MORE MONEY IN 1999... Finance Minister Marat Sultanov told journalists on 15 March that his country will not print more money this year, Interfax reported. He said that to do so "can only harm the Kyrgyz economy." The minister noted that pension and wage arrears for 1998 and January 1999 have been almost completely paid off. And he commented that Kyrgyzstan has sufficient foreign currency reserves to keep the value of the som against the dollar steady. RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek, meanwhile, quoted Sultanov as saying that the government's debt for back wages, pensions and social allowances increased in January and February by 20 million som ($625,000) and that the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs currently owes 410 million som in benefits arrears. BP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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