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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 52, Part I, 16 March 1999


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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

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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
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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

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