|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 54, Part I, 18 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 54, Part I, 18 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 * YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV MEET EMBATTLED PROSECUTOR-GENERAL * RUSSIA HAILS PROGRESS WITH IMF * EX-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN ARMENIA FAIL TO FORM ELECTION ALLIANCE End Note: FEDERATION COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP SKURATOV xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN, PRIMAKOV MEET EMBATTLED PROSECUTOR-GENERAL... Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov met privately with Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov on 18 March, after slamming the Federation Council's decision the previous day to reject Skuratov's resignation. According to the Kremlin press service, "the fight against crime can be conducted only by morally unstained people." Just hours after the Federation Council decision, Russian Television showed footage of a man looking a lot like Skuratov, who is married and the father of two children, dallying with two prostitutes. Before his meeting with Yeltsin and Primakov, Skuratov told NTV that the film was used to blackmail him to drop a case concerning a Swiss firm. Yeltsin ordered a probe into the film itself, ordering the Security Council to conduct a thorough check of information smearing the honor and dignity of an official of the Prosecutor-General's Office, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC ...WHILE DANGLING POSSIBILITY OF DISMISSING HIM AGAIN. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said on 17 March that President Yeltsin may ask the Federation Council to relieve Skuratov of his duties once again, while first deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev told Russian Television that Skuratov has become a tool in a political struggle and that a prosecutor-turned-political figure in the hands of extremists is "explosive" in any state (see also "End Note" below). JAC RUSSIA HAILS PROGRESS WITH IMF. Evaluating the past week's negotiations with the IMF, the Ministry of Economics issued a statement noting that "considerable progress has been made in coordinating the parameters of the Russian government's economic policy." Remaining differences will be settled before Prime Minister Primakov's visit to Washington next week, according to the ministry. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, who was in Asia for most of the time that the IMF mission was in Moscow, told reporters on 18 March that he will meet with the IMF mission on 19 March. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 March that according to its sources, the main sticking points between the fund and the Russian government's remain the latter's desire to cut value- added tax and its reluctance to increase energy export duties. JAC RUSSIA TO COOPERATE WITH OPEC? ITAR-TASS on 17 March quoted Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov as saying Russia will join OPEC oil producers in voluntarily cutting its oil exports in order to boost prices. But "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that the ministry is ready to cut oil production but not oil exports. Generalov told the Federation Council the previous day that Russia has lost $6.2 billion because of the drop in the world market price for oil during 1998. LUKoil Chairman Vagit Alekperov said the same day that Russian producers have already cut back their output enough in recent years and cannot afford further cuts. JAC RUSSIA REAFFIRMING COMMITMENT TO IRAN? After suggesting in an interview with "The New York Times" that Russia is willing to suspend all nuclear cooperation with Iran in exchange for the U.S.'s lifting sanctions against two Russian nuclear research facilities, Atomic Energy Industry Minister Yevgenii Adamov told reporters on 17 March that not only will Russia honor its commitments to Iran with regard to its nuclear energy programs; it will also expand its activities there. The next day, "Izvestiya" attributed Adamov's revelations to the New York daily to the odd phenomenon of Russian officials' "keeping their mouths shut in the presence of their compatriots but embarking on unthinkable revelations when they meet a foreigner." Head of the Russian Chemical- Technological University told "Izvestiya" that he is shocked by the minister's contention that his institute is supplying Iran with information on heavy water technology, saying "it is a mystery where the minister got his information." JAC RUSSIA, NORTH KOREA INITIAL TREATY. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and his North Korean counterpart, Ri In Gyu, initialed a new cooperation agreement in Pyongyang on 17 March, according to Interfax and the South Korean news agency Yonhap. Few details of the treaty have been made public, but Karasin called it "an absolutely normal agreement that complies with international law and is not directed against any third countries." The formal agreement, which replaces the one signed in 1961, is expected to be signed when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visits North Korea later this year. BP THREE LAWS SAIL PAST UPPER LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER... The Federation Council on 17 March passed the law on gas supply and a controversial law on morality in the media. President Yeltsin has already pledged to veto the media law. The Federation Council also passed legislation reducing VAT to 15 percent effective 1 July. The Duma passed the bill five days earlier, ignoring a request by Prime Minister Primakov to delay action on the bill until after negotiations with the IMF, which opposes the measures, have been completed. Tax Minister Georgii Boos told members of the Federation Council's budget committee that the government may submit a draft law to the Duma postponing the lowering of VAT to 1 October or 1 January if the issue becomes a "stumbling block" with the IMF. JAC ...AND ONE PUSHED THROUGH DUMA. The same day, the State Duma passed the law on financing the Strategic Nuclear Forces through 2010 in its first reading by a vote of 376 to zero and one abstention. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich said earlier that passage of this law is critical to the successful ratification of the START-II treaty. According to ITAR-TASS, the legislation clarifies certain aspects of the drafting and implementation of the law on the federal budget where the latter concerns financing of the country's strategic nuclear forces. It also addresses ratification issues of international treaties pertaining to those forces. JAC PRESIDENT VETOES LAW ON FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT. President Yeltsin on 17 March vetoed the law amending Article 7 of the Russian Federation law on rights of citizens to free movement and choice of place of residence. Yeltsin objected to the law in its present form because of a provision that made conducting the military draft impossible since registration of residents would be canceled, "Novosti" reported. JAC YELTSIN PROPOSES FILLING COURT VACANCY. President Yeltsin has nominated Mikhail Mityukov, presidential representative to the Constitutional Court, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Vladimir Oleinik last month, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. Mityukov's nomination must be approved by the Federation Council. JAC CHUBAIS TRIES TO PUT LIKE-MINDED ON UES BOARD. United Energy System (EES) Chairman and former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais has nominated former acting Premier Yegor Gaidar, former Premier Sergei Kirienko, former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and former head of the Federal Tax Service Boris Fedorov as candidates for the EES board of directors, Ekho Moskvy reported on 17 March. Kirienko has already turned down the offer, according to Chubais. Duma Chairman Seleznev said that the Duma will make its own recommendations for board members, noting that the nominees, who are members of the Right Cause party, do not have a strong background in power engineering. JAC YELTSIN SET TO LEAVE HOSPITAL. Presidential spokesman Yakushkin told reporters that President Yeltsin will be released from the Central Clinical Hospital on 18 March. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told reporters two days earlier that the Duma will invite Yeltsin to participate in the debate on his impeachment scheduled for 15 April. JAC HARD TIMES FOR OLDEST PROFESSION. Moscow police officer Viktor Egorin told reporters on 17 March that a night with one of the more desirable prostitutes in Moscow would have cost between $100-$200 before the devaluation of the ruble, but now prices have been cut in half, AFP reported. Part of the problem might be increased supply. According to Moscow Interior Board figures, police arrested 12.7 percent more women on suspicion of prostitution during the first two months of 1999 than during the same period the previous year, AP reported. JAC 'BARBER OF SIBERIA' DRAWING CROWDS. The new film by director Nikita Mikhalkov, the man who would not be Russian president, is attracting record audiences since it opened three-and-a- half weeks ago, Interfax reported on 17 March. According to Mikhalkov, the film, which cost $45 million, has already made $500,000. In other film news, Vissarion Dzhugashvili, the great grandson of Soviet ruler Josef Stalin plans to make a movie about his grand-father, Stalin's son, Iakov, AFP reported. Iakov was shot by the Germans during World War II after Stalin refused to hand over captured German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus in exchange for his son, saying that he refused to exchange an ordinary soldier for a field marshal. JAC BASHKORTOSTAN ELECTS NEW PARLIAMENT. More than 60 percent of Bashkortostan's estimated 2.85 million voters cast their ballots on 14 March in the parliamentary and local elections, Russian media reported. A total of 144 candidates were elected to the lower and 30 to the upper house of the parliament; of those, 83 and 14, respectively, had been members of the previous parliament. Not a single Communist Party candidate was elected to either chamber. But that does not reflect an absence of widespread dissatisfaction with social conditions: "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 March that in 10 constituencies in Ufa the number of votes cast against all candidates for the local council was larger than the combined total of votes for any given candidate. The poll in those districts was therefore declared invalid. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT RESHUFFLES SECURITY AGENCIES. At a cabinet meeting on 18 March, Aslan Maskhadov formally accepted the resignations of Shariah Security Minister Aslanbek Arsanov and Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Maskhadov then confirmed Atgeriev's appointment as head of the newly created Ministry of State Security, which incorporates all previously existing bodies responsible for state security. Maskhadov announced that he will personally take charge of Chechnya's law enforcement agencies. The previous day, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov had criticized Moscow for its refusal to cooperate by sharing information on the ongoing investigation into the 5 March abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun, according to Interfax. Magomadov expressed surprise at Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin's statement that his ministry is aware of both Shpigun's whereabouts and the identity of his kidnappers. LF RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ADVOCATES QUADRILATERAL COOPERATION. Speaking in Tbilisi on 17 March, Stepashin said that "the time is ripe" for cooperation between his ministry and its Georgian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani equivalents to stabilize the situation in the Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin denied media reports that former Georgian security service chief Igor Giorgadze visited Moscow in February as part of a Syrian government delegation. Giorgadze, whom the Georgian authorities accuse of masterminding the assassination attempt on Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, is reported to be in hiding in Syria. In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" the same day, Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov advocated imposing emergency rule in the North Caucasus republics that border on Chechnya. Abdulatipov said the situation in most of those republics "is getting out of control." LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA EX-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN ARMENIA FAIL TO FORM ELECTION ALLIANCE. Vazgen Manukian, chairman of the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM), said in Yerevan on 17 March that former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian has declined Manukian's proposal to form an alliance to contend the 30 May parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian's center-left People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the AZhM are among five parties that observers believe have the greatest chance of surmounting the 5 percent barrier to parliamentary representation under the proportional system. Demirchian and Manukian were among the 12 candidates in the March 1998 presidential poll. Manukian polled third place in the first round, and Demirchian lost to acting president Robert Kocharian in the runoff. Manukian on 17 March also ruled out an electoral alliance with Paruyr Hairikian's Self- Determination Union. Hairikian withdrew his candidacy in the 1996 presidential election in favor of Manukian. LF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS AGAINST 'PRESSURE.' Khosrov Harutunian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 17 March that he will not tolerate "public pressure" on the parliament to adopt in the second reading an opposition-sponsored bill lowering energy prices. Hundreds of opposition supporters picketed the parliament building on 15 March when the bill underwent its first reading. LF AZERBAIJANI OIL CONSORTIUM PLANS TO DOUBLE OUTPUT. In a press release issued in Baku on 17 March, David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium at present extracting off-shore Caspian oil, said the consortium plans to double output in 1999 to 5.2 million metric tons, Turan and Dow Jones Newswires reported. Woodward noted that the two existing export pipelines from Baku via Russia and Georgia have a combined throughput capacity of 10 million tons. The Main Export Pipeline, the optimum route for which he said the AIOC has not yet decided, will be economically viable only when other consortia or other countries (such as Kazakhstan), begin to export oil. That is unlikely to happen before 2003, Woodward predicted. LF AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA DISCUSS DEFENSE COOPERATION. Proceeding on the assumption that the Baku-Ceyhan route will ultimately be chosen for the Main Export Pipeline, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev and Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze discussed in Tbilisi on 17 March creating a legal basis for cooperation between their two countries on protecting oil and gas export pipelines, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 17 March, Abiev said that the Russian military bases in Georgia pose a threat to Azerbaijan, according to Interfax. He also expressed displeasure that a Russian army facility in Tbilisi is engaged in repairing tanks for the Armenian army. Abiev has held talks with his Georgian counterpart, David Tevzadze, and with Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania. LF FOUR SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS ARRESTED IN UKRAINE. Ukrainian police have arrested four Uzbek nationals suspected of involvement in the Tashkent bombings last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February, 1999), Interfax reported. The four were apprehended in Kyiv. In a 16 March statement, Amnesty International names two of the detainees as Yusif Ruzimuradov and Muhammed Bekjon, both members of Uzbekistan's banned Erk Party. Bekjon is the brother of Mohammed Solih, whom Uzbek President Islam Karimov has named as an organizer of the bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). BP KAZAKHSTAN NOT TO WITHDRAW BATTALION FROM TAJIKISTAN. Kazakhstan's border guard chief, Major-General Toktasyn Buzubayev, said at a press conference in Almaty on 17 March that his country will not withdraw its battalion from Tajikistan, Interfax reported. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have withdrawn their troops from the CIS peacekeeping force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998 and 23 February 1999), leaving only battalions from Tajikistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan guarding the Tajik-Afghan border. Interfax also reported that the size of Kazakhstan's battalion in Tajikistan has been reduced from 500 to 300 men. BP NEW CHAIRMAN APPOINTED TO KAZAKHSTAN'S SUPREME COURT COUNCIL. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed Igor Rogov as chairman of the Supreme Court Council, ITAR- TASS reported on 18 March. Nazarbayev had held that post for three years, but a constitutional amendment adopted last year forbids the president from holding this post. BP TURKMENISTAN TO INTRODUCE VISA REGIME FOR MOST CIS CITIZENS. Turkmenistan is to require citizens of most CIS states to obtain a visa before visiting that country, Interfax reported on 17 March. Turkmenistan is the first country to announce it is withdrawing from the CIS Free Travel Agreement. A "source" told Interfax that one reason for the decision is that "mass migration and other travel are becoming increasingly uncontrollable." Another reason, according to the same source, is that Turkmenistan has become a haven for those wanted for crimes elsewhere in the CIS. Citizens from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are exempt from the new requirement, which is expected to go into effect beginning 9 June. BP KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES UZBEK GAS SUPPLIES. Lawmakers on 17 March discussed purchasing natural gas from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Sagyn Ainakulov, the director of the state gas company, Kyrgyzgaz, said that as of 1 March Kyrgyzstan owes Uzbekistan more than $6 million for gas supplies. Several deputies said they have reviewed the contracts with Uzbekistan for gas supplies and have objections to its terms. They noted that Kyrgyzstan pays $50 per 1,000 cubic meters and has resorted to settling its debt through shipments of flour. That flour sells for $220 per ton, but the deputies claimed that the world price for 1,000 cubic meters of gas is $38 and for 1 ton of flour $320. They argued that the government and state gas company are criminally negligent for agreeing to such conditions. BP MORE TAJIK OPPOSITION MEMBERS RECEIVE GOVERNMENT POSTS. Another five members of the United Tajik Opposition have been given government positions in line with terms of the Tajik Peace Accord signed in June 1997, ITAR-TASS and AP reported on 17 March. Abdunabi Sattarov from the democratic wing of the UTO was appointed deputy premier. The other posts given to the UTO are the deputy heads of the Health Ministry, the State Statistical Board, and the Special Property Committee as well as the head of the Geological Board. However, no decision has been taken on the UTO nominations for defense minister and head of the State Committee for Industry. BP END NOTE FEDERATION COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP SKURATOV by Floriana Fossato The surprise 17 March vote in Russia's Federation Council to overwhelmingly reject the resignation of Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has added a new element to a story ripe with political intrigue and economic implications. Skuratov abruptly tendered his resignation to President Boris Yeltsin last month, citing health reasons. For weeks, he was hospitalized at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital. His resignation, however, came just one day after he had revealed that Russia's Central Bank had been channeling billions of dollars in reserves through an obscure off-shore company. Shortly after Skuratov's resignation, security forces raided companies owned by businessman-turned- politician Boris Berezovskii, known for his powerful Kremlin connections. Yeltsin immediately accepted Skuratov's resignation. Speaking by telephone with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 16 March, Yeltsin stressed the need to quickly appoint Skuratov's successor. The Russian Constitution states, however, that accepting the prosecutor-general's resignation is the prerogative of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council. The next day, a healthy-looking Skuratov appeared before the Council and told senators that he is ready to continue his work if "you extend your trust and support to me." The vote was 142 to six to keep Skuratov in his job. Skuratov acknowledged that health was not the reason behind his resignation. Without naming names, he said powerful forces had driven a wedge between him and Yeltsin, forcing him to resign. His revelations lend credence to rumors widespread in Moscow in the last few weeks that he was being blackmailed. Gennadii Seleznev, the Communist speaker of the State Duma--today confirmed those rumors, saying there have been "direct threats from the mass media" to reveal compromising information about Skuratov. "A big contribution to the resignation process came from well-known oligarchs, who have their own interest in criminal cases linked with corruption in top power posts," Skuratov told the upper house of parliament. "Among those cases are, above all, facts concerning [airline] Aeroflot, [car dealer] Avtovaz, private security company Atoll, and others. At the time [of the resignation], my personal contacts with the president also ceased. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I made mistakes; but I was under the impression that I lost the president's support. In the end, facts surrounding my personal life were released. They were obtained by illegal methods, in order to put pressure on me. When I sent my [resignation] letter to the president, I hoped to attract the attention of the head of state to the facts taking place around me and the Prosecutor-General's Office." All the Federation Council members who took the floor on 17 March called for a vote in an effort to keep Skuratov in his job. Some--like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev--went so far as to tell colleagues that the upper house was about to vote, not only on Skuratov's future, but on the very values its members support. They argued that senators would vote "for the victory of criminals or for the victory of the law." Sources in the Federation Council noted, however, that most of the governors taking the floor in support of Skuratov are close to the Communist Party and that some are themselves under investigation for financial wrongdoings, such as Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev. According to those sources, this signals a possible alliance between Skuratov and Yeltsin's communist foes. Skuratov's resignation unleashed an outpouring of speculation in Russia's media and political circles. Virtually no one in Moscow believed failing health was the real reason behind Skuratov's resignation. Moscow's leading newspapers on 17 March ran front-page articles predicting that the Federation Council--after listening to Skuratov's reasons for his move--would quickly vote to accept his resignation. Following a meeting of leading television and media executives on 16 March, the director of Russian Public Television (ORT), Igor Shabdurasulov, said senators should accept Skuratov's resignation immediately and without discussion. ORT is only partly under the control of its major shareholder, the state. Its management is reportedly controlled by Berezovskii, who is fighting with the government and parliament to maintain his grip on the network, which is Russia's largest. Political analysts say the Federation Council 17 March vote--openly contradicting Yeltsin's approval of Skuratov's resignation--indicates that a new conflict between the president and the parliament could be in the making. According to influential Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, the vote "creates a precedent for the independence of the Prosecutor-General's Office from the Kremlin. The consequences could be positive, but also negative. We'll see." Yeltsin's representative in the Federation Council, Yurii Yarov, said Skuratov's decision to remain in his job with the support of the Federation Council is "strange and surprising." Sergei Markov, director of Moscow's Institute of Political Studies, told RFE/RL that "it is absolutely clear that a new, serious conflict is brewing. Yeltsin did sign Skuratov's resignation letter and the Federation Council has just voted against his decision." Markov noted that "what happens next is unclear. The constitution gives no indication in this regard because the law usually includes only rational developments. It is possible that a special commission will be appointed to find a compromise and will try to solve the controversy with political methods." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow. 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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