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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 56, Part I, 22 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 56, Part I, 22 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 * CHECHEN PRESIDENT ESCAPES FOURTH ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT * BORDYUZHA GETS THE SACK * AZERBAIJAN REJECTS RUSSIAN DUMA STATEMENT ON U.S. BASES End Note: A DISASTER THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHECHEN PRESIDENT ESCAPES FOURTH ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT... One person was killed and eight injured when a bomb exploded in central Grozny on 21 March as Aslan Maskhadov's motorcade drove past. Maskhadov escaped uninjured, as he has on two previous occasions. He was slightly wounded in a third assassination attempt last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 1998). Maskhadov, Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov, and Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin all posited a connection between the assassination attempt, the 19 March bomb explosion in Vladikavkaz, and the 5 March abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun. They said all three incidents are intended to destabilize Chechnya and discredit its leadership. Meanwhile no firm date has been set for the proposed meeting between Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. LF ...AFTER RESHUFFLING SECURITY AGENCIES. Interfax on 19 March reported that Maskhadov has changed the name of the Shariah Security Ministry to the Interior Ministry and appointed General Aidamar Abalaev as its head. Abalaev was charged with overseeing the investigation into Shpigun's abduction. Maskhadov also decreed the creation of a Defense Ministry, but newly appointed Minister of State Security Turpal Atgeriev told ITAR-TASS that reports saying that field commander Ruslan Gilaev will be appointed defense minister are "premature." Atgeriev described the duties of his State Security Ministry as "preventing and combating crime that threatens the nation and the lawfully elected government." He compared it to the Soviet-era KGB. LF VLADIKAVKAZ DEATH TOLL RISES. Interfax on 19 March reported that 60 people died and 101 were injured in the previous day's explosion in the central market in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Russian Interior Minister Stepashin, who flew to Vladikavkaz with a group of investigators, said the bomb was clearly intended to exacerbate tensions between ethnic groups in the North Caucasus. Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Oleg Vershinin similarly stated that the explosion was "unequivocally" a terrorist act. Both Stepashin and President Boris Yeltsin sent messages of condolence to North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov. LF BORDYUZHA GETS THE SACK. As was widely expected, former presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha has been dismissed, just hours after returning to work on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999). To replace him, Russian President Boris Yeltsin promoted Aleksandr Voloshin, deputy head of the administration. According to "Segodnya" on 20 March, when Voloshin went into private business in 1993, one of his first business partners was Boris Berezovskii. In November 1997, Voloshin became an assistant to then head of the presidential administration, Valentin Yumashev, who is now an unpaid presidential adviser. Voloshin also prepared Aleksandr Lebed's economic program when the latter was running for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The daily also commented that Yeltsin's choice of Voloshin had less to do with his connection to Yumashev and Berezovskii and more to do with the fact that the two met "rather often" while Yeltsin was in the hospital preparing his annual address to the nation. JAC STATE WORKERS GET PAY RAISE. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov signed a decree on 20 March increasing wages for state workers beginning 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Primakov chaired a meeting to discuss trimming the 300,000 or so workers in federal bodies located outside of Moscow. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" reported that the backlog to state workers was 11.6 billion rubles ($440 million) as of 2 March and the government has had only limited success in reducing it in 1999. JAC START-II, LAND CODE ON DUMA AGENDA FOR EARLY APRIL. The State Duma on 19 March approved the Central Bank's monetary and credit policy for 1999 by a vote of 276 to 45 with no abstentions, Interfax reported. According to the draft statement, M-2 money supply may increase 18-26 percent during the year. In addition, the bank plans to increase the volume of credits available to commercial banks. The Duma took a break on 19 March until 31 March, after which it will consider ratification of the START-II treaty on 2 April, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, the land code will also be considered in April and is likely to pass. He added that the Communist faction will support the legislation. JAC COMMUNISTS REFUSE TO SIGN POLITICAL ACCORD. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 19 March that his faction will not sign the political peace treaty presented by a working committee last week. The deal breaker, according to Zyuganov, is the resignation of President Yeltsin, which is one of the party's main conditions for signing the accord. The previous day, Our Home Is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov told "Kommersant-Daily" that although he participated in the working committee that drafted the accord, he does not like the results, since it contains only a hint of the concrete suggestions made by Duma members He also said that he is upset by the presidential administration's insistence on removing one of the draft accord's nine points--namely, that after 2000 the government be formed on the basis of a parliamentary majority. JAC TWO-THIRDS OF RUSSIAN BANKS TO SURVIVE? Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told the Duma on 19 March that a little over 1,000 of the country's 1,500 commercial banks will survive the economic crisis that began mid-August, Interfax reported. Noting that the Central Bank originally forecast that no more than 250-350 banks would survive, he said that this forecast was overly pessimistic and that many provincial banks are "surviving on their own without significant assistance from the Central Bank." On 16 March, the Central Bank launched a new organization to revive the banking industry, the "Moscow Times" reported. That organization will include members of international financial institutions as well as representatives from the Duma and Federation Council. Banking analysts, according to the daily, believe that the organization's principle goal will be to create the impression that the government is doing something to restructure the banking sector. JAC TITOV PROPOSES ALLIANCE WITH NDR. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov proposed on 18 March that his movement, Golos Rossii, join Our Home Is Russia (NDR), "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 19 March. According to Titov, such an alliance would be assured of overcoming the 5 percent barrier for the Duma. Since Titov has openly criticized NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin on a number of occasions, his proposal took some analysts by surprise. However, "Segodnya" on 20 March quoted "a source close to the executive committee of NDR" as saying that Titov is favorably impressed by NDR's new economic program, drafted by faction leader Ryzhkov. Titov, according to "Novye Izvestiya," believes that "Now everything depends on Chernomyrdin, who should understand that NDR without the regions, without a strong regional policy, without a clear- cut policy on federalism will be preparing for the elections by going down a blind alley." JAC OMSK DEPUTY GOVERNOR TARGETTED FOR ASSASINATION. First Deputy Governor of Omsk Oblast Andrei Galushko survived an assassination attempt on 22 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Galushko is in charge of finance, foreign trade, and property issues within the oblast administration and is also a member of the commission for tax and budget discipline. That commission recently approved a series of measures designed to bring order into the region's crime-ridden grain, vodka, and beer businesses, according to the agency. Galushko received two bullet wounds and his driver was killed. Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev's press secretary said that the attack on Galushko was a result of his attempts to fight drug trafficking, corruption, and the "vodka mafia." JAC RUSSIA TO TRIM OIL EXPORTS. Russia is cutting its oil exports by 100,000 barrels a day beginning 1 April, the Ministry of Fuel and Energy told ITAR-TASS on 22 March. The move is being to taken to support OPEC and other oil producers in their attempt to raise flagging oil prices. JAC PERSONNEL CHANGES ANNOUNCED. President Yeltsin has signed a decree appointing Valerii Loshchinin as Russia's permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. His predecessor, Oleg Sokolov, retired. Yeltsin also dismissed Petr Kamshilov from the post of presidential representative to Saratov Oblast. JAC RUSSIA, BULGARIA PEN GAS DEAL. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev and Gazprom President Rem Vyakhirev signed an agreement on 18 March increasing deliveries of Russian natural gas through Bulgaria from 19 billion cubic meters to 30 billion cubic meters annually within two years, BTA and ITAR-TASS reported. The next day, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that Russia has also agreed to pay off its $100 million debt to Bulgaria. Zadornov noted that to revive flagging trade between the two countries, Bulgaria has been granted most-favored-nation status with regard to customs duties. According to ITAR-TASS, trade turnover between the two countries fell more than 90 percent over the last 10 years, dropping from $17 billion in 1988 to a mere $1.2 billion in 1998. JAC RURAL FOLK USING EMPTIES FOR CASH. The Alexinbytservice company in Tula Oblast's Alexin Raion has introduced the use of empty glass bottles as a surrogate currency because of the lack of available cash in outlying rural regions, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. The firm, which provides a variety of services such as repairing domestic appliances, tailoring, and hair-cutting, found many potential clients but few with ready cash. According to the agency, a hair cut costs five empty bottles. The firm delivers its empties to wholesale buyers who pay 1.3 rubles (5 cents) per bottle. JAC YELTSIN ISSUES FORMAL INVITATIONS TO CIS SUMMIT. President Yeltsin wrote to his fellow CIS heads of state on 19 March inviting them to the summit to be held in Moscow on 2 April, Interfax reported. Yeltsin also thanked his fellow presidents for their comments on the proposals for amending the structure of the CIS apparatus. Those proposals are one of the main items on the summit agenda, together with the dismissal of Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii and implementation of plans to create a CIS free trade zone. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJAN REJECTS RUSSIAN STATE DUMA STATEMENT ON U.S. BASES. State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade dismissed as "groundless" the 18 March statement by the Russian State Duma condemning Baku's stated willingness to host U.S. military bases, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999). Guluzade said that Azerbaijan is a sovereign state and thus entitled to decide on its own security policy. He also dismissed as "ridiculous" the Duma's denial that Russia is supplying arms to Armenia. LF KARABAKH PARLIAMENT WELCOMES EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION. Boris Aroushanian, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, has described the 11 March endorsement by the European Parliament of the OSCE Minsk Group's Karabakh peace proposal as "a hopeful sign," Interfax and Noyan Tapan reported on 18 March. At the same time, Aroushanian expressed incomprehension at Azerbaijan's rejection of those proposals, given that they comprise "not a formula for the final resolution of the conflict but principles for continuing talks." Also on 18 March, Azerbaijan's opposition Vahdat Party and National Unity Party issued a joint statement condemning the European Parliament resolution as "against the will" of the Azerbaijani people, according to Turan. The two parties blamed the resolution on the erroneous foreign and domestic policies pursued by the present Azerbaijani leadership. LF GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS YEREVAN. On a one-day working visit to Yerevan on 19 March, Irakli Menagharishvili discussed with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, the Abkhaz and Karabakh conflicts, the recent meeting in Strasbourg of the parliamentary speakers of all three Transcaucasus states, and the prospects for strengthening economic ties, Noyan Tapan reported. Speaking later to journalists, Menagharishvili said that while Georgia does not currently aspire to NATO membership, it considers the alliance "an important component of the future European security structure" and intends to increase its participation in the Partnership for Peace program, according to Interfax. Oskanian characterized "stable" Armenian-Georgian bilateral relations as an important component of regional stability in the face of growing "polarization." LF TURKMENISTAN'S DECISION TO INTRODUCE VISA REGIME CRITICIZED... Speaking in Minsk on 19 March, the chairman of the Integration Committee of the CIS Customs Union, Nigmatzhan Isingarin, said the CIS will make an "adequate" response to Turkmenistan's announcement that as of June, it will require citizens of most CIS countries to have a visa when traveling to that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999), Interfax reported. Isringarin said the decision has "pluses and minuses," adding that "Turkmenistan will not only isolate itself from CIS countries but other countries will be closed to it." Isingarin pointed out that some highways connecting southwest Asian countries with the CIS run through Turkmenistan and that many CIS businessmen transit Turkmenistan on routes from one CIS country to another. "This means [such businessmen] will find routes around Turkmenistan,÷which will lose most of all." BP ...AS ASHGABAT EXPLAINS DECISION... Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry has sent a note to the CIS Executive Secretariat explaining the decision to introduce a visa regime, Interfax reported on 19 March. The note said the action "should in no way be understood as aspiring to break off relations with governments of the CIS." It added that the 1992 agreement on visa-free travel was concluded to "create favorable conditions for those who elected or desired to return to the country they considered their homeland." Now, it continued, "the situation has been complicated as those who do not heed laws and criminal elements have become the main users of the visa-free regime." This situation is becoming "more and more difficult to control," the note said. BP ...INTRODUCES NEW TRANSIT RULES FOR SOME GOODS. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree on 19 March establishing new rules for the transit through Turkmenistan of beer, hard liquor, wine, and tobacco products, Interfax reported. An unspecified fee will be imposed on goods transiting Turkmen territory at the point of entry into the country. Those same goods must leave Turkmen territory within 30 days and the fee will be returned at the point of departure. The Foreign Ministry is charged with informing accredited embassies in Turkmenistan "and other interested parties" about the new regulations by 3 April. The action is aimed at "protecting the domestic market," according to Niyazov. BP TURKMEN PRESIDENT DECLARES ANOTHER AMNESTY. Niyazov on 19 March signed a decree freeing 5,000 prisoners, Interfax reported. This latest amnesty coincides with the holidays of Nawruz and Kurban Bairami. The news agency reported that in 1999, more than 22,000 people have been freed under amnesties. The crime rate in January and February has reportedly dropped by 20 percent compared with the same period last year. BP TURKMENISTAN PLANS 10-YEAR SOCIO-ECONOMIC REFORM PROGRAM. At an expanded session of the Cabinet of Ministers on 19 March, President Niyazov signed a resolution on drafting a socio- economic reform program through 2010, Interfax reported. All proposals must be submitted by 1 September, and final approval is expected to be given at a joint session of the Peoples' Council, the Council of Elders, and the parliament in December. BP KAZAKHSTAN'S GOVERNMENT WANTS CUTS IN BUDGET EXPENDITURES, REVENUES. Kazakhstan's Finance Minister Uraz Jandosov told the parliament on 19 March that 1999 budget expenditures and revenues need to be cut by 29 billion tenge ($333 million) and 32.9 billion tenge, respectively, Interfax reported. Jandosov said the government predicts that this year's GDP will be down by 1.5 percent on 1998 and will be 8 percent smaller than forecast in the current version of the 1999 budget. The government also predicted that inflation for this year will be 3.7 percent, not the 8.3 percent foreseen by the budget, and that exports will shrink by 10.3 percent and imports by 12.3 percent (compared with the planned 1.3 percent increase). BP ORLEU MOVEMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN PREPARES FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. The head of Kazakhstan's Orleu Movement, Seydakhmet Kuttykadam, said at a meeting on 19 March in the city of Shymkent that he expects his movement to win three or four seats in the parliamentary elections later this year, Interfax reported. Kuttykadam said he believes the elections will be moved forward from December to June. He also said he expects incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev to remain in office no longer than three more years. Kuttykadam said Nazarbayev will have to step down because of "Kazakhstan's growing international isolation, on the one hand, and the catastrophic scale of the country's economic decline and corruption in all strata of government, on the other hand." BP END NOTE A DISASTER THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN By Paul Goble A march by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion held in Riga last week had been widely expected to trigger confrontations between ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians in Latvia and lead to a deterioration of relations between Riga and Moscow. But those disastrous outcomes did not materialize. Not only did the march by 300 aging veterans of a German- organized unit that had fought advancing Soviet troops during World War II not lead to disturbances in Latvia itself; it also revealed some quite remarkable restraint at the official level in both the Latvian and Russian capitals. As a result, the prospects for inter-ethnic relations in Latvia have dramatically improved, while the possibility of better relations between Latvia and Russia has increased--a development few observers would have predicted only a month ago. There were some very good reasons for the earlier pessimism. One year ago, a march by Waffen SS veterans exacerbated tensions all round. There were clashes between the marchers and ethnic Russians in the Latvian capital. Several senior Latvian government officials took part in the demonstration. And the Russian government roundly condemned Riga for permitting what it called a manifestation of fascism. Even though the Latvian authorities dismissed the officials who took part, Riga appeared to have compounded its problems when the parliament voted to make 16 March an official day of remembrance for all those who fell in the service of Latvia, regardless of what uniform they wore. While supporters of this measure argued that such a memorial day was appropriate, opponents were deeply troubled. The latter argued that by choosing 16 March--the anniversary of the Legion's first battle against Soviet troops, near Velikyy Luky in 1943--Riga appeared to be giving special preference to those Latvians who served in German uniforms rather than all Latvians. Consequently, many Latvians, ethnic Russians, and Moscow officials predicted that this year's commemoration would provoke an explosion. All were wrong. First, Latvian officials carefully distanced themselves from the demonstration. The Latvian government announced that no official would take part. President Guntis Ulmanis suggested that the date of such a memorial was wrong and should be changed. And both he and other senior officials chose to be out of town on the date of the march. Second, all press accounts suggest that the Latvian police acted with professionalism, discipline, and restraint. In contrast to their handling of some earlier demonstrations, the police behaved in a manner that suggested they were there to protect public order rather than to back any particular group. That, in turn, had the effect of reassuring many in the Latvian capital that they could now count on the police, regardless of their own ethnicity. And third, the predominantly ethnic Russian counterdemonstration called attention to a pattern many of the earlier doomsayers had missed. Local ethnic Russians who participated in it behaved with dignity. Only those with close ties to Moscow political groups appeared interested in provoking any real problems. The counterdemonstration which attracted ethnic Latvians as well as ethnic Russians was both peaceful and respectful. Speakers denounced the fact that the march was taking place but did not denounce Latvia as such--also a sharp contrast with some similar events in the past. The only disturbance came from a group of extreme Russian nationalists, both the Latvian and Russian media reported. They condemned Latvia in terms that questioned its right to national existence and even raised a portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin attached to balloons. So hostile and violent were the remarks of this group that others at the counterdemonstration denounced them in even sharper terms than they had criticized those who had taken part in the Waffen SS demonstration itself. Some in Moscow who had indicated they planned to be outraged by the Latvian demonstration continued to complain-- but in remarkably mild terms. Roman Popkovich, the chairman of the Russian parliament's defense committee, said the Russian Duma "regrets and does not understand" Riga's sanctioning of the demonstration and believes Europe should understand that "Latvia is a country where human rights are not respected." But a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry is perhaps more telling. While its spokesman, Vladimir Rakhmanin, said Moscow "will always denounce any attempts" to make national heroes of those who supported the German side in World War II or to revive fascism, he concluded with some surprisingly mild and conciliatory words. "Moscow has paid attention to the fact," he commented, "that the Latvian authorities have disassociated themselves from the commemorations." And he expressed the hope that "the next step will be made" by changing the date of the soldiers' memorial day in Latvia. If that happens, Rakhmanin said, "that will be the best proof of Latvia's genuine adherence to the course of integration of society and the country's merging with democratic Europe." Because Latvian leaders are now saying the same thing, the disaster that didn't happen may point to an even better outcome in the future. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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