|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 57, Part I, 23 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 57, Part I, 23 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 * RUBLE CONTINUES LONG SLIDE * MOSCOW THREATENS TO CANCEL PRIMAKOV TRIP IN EVENT OF NATO AIR STRIKES * ARMENIA ANTICIPATES OSCE PRESSURE ON AZERBAIJAN End Note: AFTER THE BOMBS FALL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUBLE CONTINUES LONG SLIDE. The ruble fell for the ninth consecutive day on 23 March, closing at 24.29 rubles to $1, ITAR-TASS reported. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said the previous day that the ruble's decline is "in large part psychological." Earlier, he had argued that an agreement with the IMF would reassure the market. On 20 March, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told Interfax that although the ruble had slumped to 24 to $1, the 1999 budget, which was based on an assumed rate of 21 rubles to $1, would not have to be revised. Maslyukov blamed the ruble's slide on the "alarming situation in society," with "ex-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin slinging mud at me, then former junior reformers abusing the government." JAC PRIMAKOV LEAVES FOR U.S... Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov left for Washington on the morning of 23 March for a four-day official trip to the U.S. Upon arrival, Primakov is expected to hold talks with World Bank President James Wolfensohn and attend a dinner with U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Interfax reported. The next day, Gore and Primakov will chair a meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bi-national Commission, also known as the Gore-Primakov Commission, and Primakov will meet with President Bill Clinton and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus. Among the items on the agenda of the commission are Russian steel exports to the U.S., joint space research, and bilateral trade issues. About 100 Russian steel workers appealed to officials in the Russian government and at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on 22 March to reconsider a recent agreement that sharply reduces Russian steel shipments. JAC ...PREPARED TO MAKE CONCESSIONS TO IMF? Russian newspapers concluded that Primakov will have to agree to a series of concessions during his trip in order to win IMF money. "Segodnya" on 20 March linked the work of the Gore-Primakov Commission with the IMF negotiations, noting that Russia, "whose budget is equivalent to that of New York City, intends to ask the U.S. to put in a word with the IMF." It continued, "It is not inconceivable that Primakov will have to swallow several bitter pills during the commission's work" before he asks the U.S. for its political support. Meanwhile, the IMF itself has moderated some of its demands, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters on 19 March. According to Zadornov, the IMF will not demand that the Russia's primary budget surplus be as high as 3.5 percent of GDP. He also pledged that export duties on oil will not be increased unless oil prices rise to $12 a barrel. JAC MOSCOW THREATENS TO CANCEL PRIMAKOV TRIP IN EVENT OF NATO AIR STRIKES. Prime Minister Primakov will cut short his scheduled trip to the U.S. should NATO attack Serbia, Interfax reported on 23 March, citing "government sources." Primakov stated the previous day that Russia is "categorically opposed to the use of force in Yugoslavia," adding that such a development would have "a great destabilizing effect, not just on the situation in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, but also in Europe as a whole." Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov joined the prime minister in condemning possible military action, telling reporters that "if we are interested in a long-term peaceful settlement of the [Kosova] problem, we would have to admit that it is impossible to achieve this by using such methods." He added that the "history of the Balkans and the entire world experience show that attempts to find a quick solution to a problem by using force will lead to opposite results." JAC SKURATOV STRIKES BACK. Investigators from the office of the Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov on 23 March sealed off several Kremlin offices as part of its investigation into whether the Swiss company Mabetex bribed officials in order to win a lucrative contract to renovate the Kremlin. Pavel Borodin, head of the facilities directorate, told NTV that a number of officials have been questioned and have denied any wrongdoing. "Novye Izvestiya" reported earlier that Borodin tried to force Skuratov out of office because he had uncovered Borodin's shady dealings with Mabetex (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). Skuratov is scheduled to meet with Switzerland's Prosecutor-General Carla del Ponte on 23 March. JAC DUMA AGAIN REFUSES TO CENSURE MAKASHOV. Before leaving for the U.S., Prime Minister Primakov told an audience at the Anti-Defamation League that "his government takes a very strong position against any manifestation of nationalism, including anti-Semitism." He also said that Duma deputy and member of the Communist faction Albert Makashov must "be condemned unambiguously" for his anti-Semitic pronouncements, Reuters reported. On 19 March, by a vote of 133 to 104, the State Duma rejected a motion to condemn Makashov for his recent statements in Krasnodar Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17March 1999). Writing in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 23 March, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said the people's patriotic forces are ready for a Russian-Jewish dialogue. He also argued that the "Russian question" is the most acute ethnic question in Russia. And he called for a national policy program to "save the unique Russian civilization" and "revive the Russian people as the backbone of the Russian state." JAC ISRAEL, RUSSIA TO COOPERATE ON NON-PROLIFERATION. Addressing reporters after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 22 March, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Russia is open to close cooperation with all relevant countries on non-proliferation issues. According to Israel state television, the nations agreed to set up a joint control body to monitor exports of sensitive technology to Iran and to be chaired by the countries' two foreign ministers. Netanyahu had said earlier that Russia's alleged technology transfers to Iran would be the top item on the agenda of his two-day trip to Moscow, which began on 21 March. Netanyahu also met the same day with Prime Minister Primakov, who said relations between the two countries are "normal and expanding." According to Ivanov, specific projects for cooperation will be discussed at a Russian- Israeli inter-governmental commission meeting slated for July or August. JAC RUSSIAN NATIONAL UNITY TO BE JOINED BY BOLSHEVIKS, COSSACKS? Eduard Limonov, novelist and leader of the nationalist extremist National Bolshevik Party (NBP), announced on 22 March that he is ready to form an alliance between his party and the neo-nazi Russian National Unity (RNU) party, ITAR- TASS reported. Limonov told members of his party at a meeting in St. Petersburg that the NBP is ready for joint actions with the RNU. The same day, Russian Television reported that at a rally organized by the RNU in Krasnodar, some local Cossacks were in attendance. According to the television station, the Cossacks have previously kept their distance from all parties and movements. JAC REGIONAL NEWSPAPERS FACING PAPER SHORTAGE. Subscribers to "Samarskaya Gazeta" did not get their paper for a week and more than 60 magazines and 300 newspapers also published in Samara Oblast face closure this month because of a "shortage" of newsprint, Periodicals Publisher Guild head Aleksandr Oskin told ITAR-TASS on 22 March. Publishers in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, and other regions face a similar problem. According to Oskin, the problem is that although paper production increased last year, pulp and paper factories prefer to export two-thirds of their products, selling the remainder through middlemen who mark up the price by 30 percent or more. JAC KALININGRAD GOVERNOR OPPOSED TO 'FOURTH BALTIC REPUBLIC.' Leonid Gorbenko, following a meeting with former Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko, has spoken out against the latter's proposal to turn Kaliningrad Oblast into a "Baltic Republic within the Russian Federation" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 March 1999), BNS reported on 22 March. The Kaliningrad regional press service reported that Gorbenko's position "with regard to separatism and political extremism remains unchanged: the Kaliningrad region is an inalienable part of Russia and the all-embracing crisis can be overcome only through [accord]." Shumeiko intends to compete in Kaliningrad for a seat in the State Duma, according to BNS. JC NEW TAX POLICE CHIEF NAMED. President Yeltsin has appointed Vyacheslav Soltaganov the new head of the Tax Police, replacing Sergei Almazo, who was dismissed last month. Soltaganov previously headed the directorate for information protection and internal security of the State Tax Service. In other personnel-related moves, President Yeltsin signed a decree dismissing his envoy to North Ossetia and Ingushetia Vladimir Kalamanov. "Kremlin sources" told Interfax that Kalamanov's work is regarded positively and he is a candidate for the post of head of the Federal Migration Service. JAC VODKA MUSEUM OPENS IN YAROSLAVL. A vodka museum has opened in the town of Uglich in Yaroslavl Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. Uglich was the home of one of the early members of the Smirnov vodka dynasty, Grigorii Smirnov, who launched his own tavern there in 1835. The museum features a display of more than 400 brands of vodka from 62 distilleries throughout Russia and an exhibit chronicling the early history of vodka from the 13th century, when peasants would distill rye wort in earthenware pots, to the 15th century and the development of small distilleries. JAC RUSSIA, TATARSTAN REACH AGREEMENT ON EXTENDING POWER-SHARING TREATY. After weeks of negotiations, Moscow and Kazan have reached agreement on prolonging for five years the 1994 powersharing treaty, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 19 March. President Mintimer Shaimiev told journalists on his return to Kazan from Moscow the previous day that various details, including tax rates in Tatarstan, may be amended by the mutual consent of Tatarstan and the federal authorities. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT SEEKS RENEWED TALKS WITH MOSCOW. As Chechen investigators continued their search on 22 March for the perpetrators of the previous day's bomb attack on President Aslan Maskhadov, the latter told journalists in Grozny that there are forces both in Chechnya and in Moscow who have a vested interest in removing him. Maskhadov said he still hopes for a meeting with President Yeltsin, whom he described as the sole individual empowered to resolve problems in bilateral relations but noted that no date has been set for such a meeting. He added that he is prepared to meet also with Prime Minister Primakov, who will visit the Caucasus next month, and that he hopes talks will be renewed on a comprehensive treaty defining relations between Russia and Chechnya. Maskhadov endorsed Chechen Foreign Minister Isa Idigov's proposal, made earlier that day, that representatives of international organizations or a third country should participate in Russian-Chechen negotiations. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA ANTICIPATES OSCE PRESSURE ON AZERBAIJAN. Speaking at separate press conferences in Yerevan on 22 March, the foreign ministers of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, Vartan Oskanian and Naira Melkumian, predicted that during his visit to the Transcaucasus in April, OSCE chairman-in-office Knut Vollebaek will try to persuade Azerbaijan to accept the most recent OSCE plan to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Azerbaijan has rejected that plan, which calls for Azerbaijan and Karabakh to form a "common state." Melkumian said the plan "has not been and will not be changed" to accommodate Azerbaijan. Melkumian added that a "very serious shift" has occurred over the past year in the international community's attitude toward the conflict in favor of a settlement of the conflict avoiding what she described as "two extremes" of outright independence or conventional autonomy for Karabakh. LF ARMENIA WARNS AGAINST TURKISH BASE IN AZERBAIJAN... Noting that Azerbaijan and Turkey have already begun discussions on whether Azerbaijan should host a Turkish military base on its territory, Oskanian warned that the opening of such a base would disrupt the military balance of forces in the region and force Armenia to take unspecified appropriate moves in response, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Oskanian dismissed repeated Azerbaijani claims that Armenia's military cooperation with Russia and the deployment at Russia's military base in Armenia of Russian arms pose a threat to Azerbaijan. He said the base in question is intended solely to protect the external borders of Armenia and the CIS and that Armenia will have no access to the weaponry in question if the war with Azerbaijan resumes. LF ...WHILE AZERBAIJAN AGAIN CONDEMNS RUSSIAN ARMS SHIPMENTS TO ARMENIA. In a 20 March letter addressed to Russian President Yeltsin, Heidar Aliev expressed concern at the recent deployment at Russia's military base in Armenia of MiG-29 fighter aircraft and S-300 air defense systems, Interfax and Turan reported. Aliev wrote that those arms shipments and the deepening military cooperation between Moscow and Yerevan "contradict the letter and spirit of the agreement on friendship and cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan" and upset the military balance in the region. He further deplored the failure to clarify responsibility for previous shipments of Russian arms worth $1 billion to Armenia. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 March, Aliev's military adviser General Tofik Agaguseinov similarly argued that the buildup of arms at Russia's military base in Armenia violates Russia's allocation under the Conventional Forces in Europe flank agreement. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ISSUES DECREE ON FIGHTING TERRORISM. In his weekly radio broadcast on 22 March, Eduard Shevardnadze announced that he has signed a decree on intensifying anti- terrorism measures in Georgia. Referring to the previous day's failed attempt to assassinate Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Shevardnadze also proposed a coordinated campaign against terrorism throughout the Caucasus, Reuters reported. It is unclear whether the first target in Georgia of the new measures will be the ethnic Georgian White Legion guerrillas who over the past year have killed several dozen ethnic Abkhaz police and civilians in Abkhazia's Gali Raion. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 March suggested that Tbilisi is seriously concerned at the possible export of Wahhabism from Chechnya to contiguous regions of Georgia populated by Kists, who are ethnically close to the Vainakhs. LF ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA. On a one-day stopover in Tbilisi on 22 March following a two-day visit to Russia, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss bilateral relations, including expanding trade and economic ties as well as the situation in the Caucasus and the Middle East. They also signed an agreement on expanding cooperation, including in the military sphere, according to Caucasus Press. Netanyahu told reporters that Georgia offers excellent potential for Israeli investors, particularly in the energy and transport sectors, AP reported. LF GEORGIAN SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF UN EMPLOYEE. A Georgian court sentenced 21-year-old Zurab Bregladze to life imprisonment for the murder last July of Maria Magdalena Wieworska, a Polish woman employed at the UN mission in Tbilisi, Western agencies reported on 22 March. LF TURKMEN-IRANIAN RELATIONS ASSESSED. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Iran's visiting Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani in Ashgabat on 22 March, Russian agencies reported. The talks focused on ways of expanding regional cooperation. On behalf of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Mohajerani invited Niyazov to attend the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Tehran in June. LF UZBEKISTAN SETS DEADLINE FOR RECEIPT OF NEW PASSPORTS. Uzbek Interior Ministry official Badriddin Shoriskhiev on 19 March warned that anyone who fails to exchange his old Soviet passport for a new Uzbek one by 1 January 2000 will be deprived of Uzbek citizenship, AP-Blitz reported from Dushanbe on 23 March. Shoriskhiev said some 12 million people have handed in their old passports since the new ones were introduced in 1995, but 1.8 million have not yet done so. LF END NOTE AFTER THE BOMBS FALL by Patrick Moore Top Western officials continue to make public statements to warn Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that NATO's "patience is at an end" and that "time is running out" for him to sign the Rambouillet accords. At the time of going to press, it remains unclear whether there will be air strikes or whether the current huffing-and-puffing will come to nothing, as has often been the case in recent months. It is equally unclear whether any NATO member states are prepared to send in ground troops if Serbian forces continue what appears to be a massive ethnic-cleansing operation in Kosova itself. The Serbian forces seem, in fact, to be taunting the West, as a Serbian soldier near Skenderaj suggested when he recently commented to reporters: "See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?" Questions also remain as to what might happen were Serbian authority in Kosova actually to collapse and the Kosovars to take charge of their own fate. The Kosovar leadership has generally shown a remarkable degree of unity in public, but there is no guarantee that such discipline will continue once the immediate threat of a common enemy is removed. There are well-known rivalries both within the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and within the civilian leadership, as well as between the guerrillas and the politicians. One can well imagine, moreover, peacetime scenarios in which at least some of these rivalries might come to the surface in perhaps violent form. Such developments, which are rooted in traditional Balkan political cultures, could prevent a modern European political life from emerging. The polarization and even violence present in Albanian and Montenegrin politics suggest that the transition from post- communist to European norms is not proving easy in that part of the Balkans. But the Kosovars have friends who will try to help them maintain unity of purpose. By signing the Rambouillet accords recently in Paris, the Kosovars ensured that they will have the political support of the U.S. and other key Western powers as long as they adhere to the agreement. There is always a danger of a colonial-type "dependency syndrome" developing in Kosova--as has happened to some extent in Bosnia--if a postwar foreign civilian and military presence becomes preeminent in the affairs of the province. At the moment, however, that is the least of the Kosovars' worries. The Kosovar leaders are now bracing themselves for the new Serbian offensive and congratulating themselves on having cemented their new political bond to the Western powers. Members of the Kosovar delegation at Rambouillet recently told "RFE/RL Newsline," moreover, that the Albanian government provided constant and vital psychological support for the Kosovar negotiators during the peace talks. There is every reason to expect that Tirana will continue to be a reliable friend to the Kosovars. This is primarily because Albania is anxious for peace, stability, and democracy to come to Kosova, so that those same phenomena might better develop within Albania itself. Tirana's overall concerns, in fact, reflect those that can be found throughout much of the Balkans. One frequently hears from Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, and Macedonians that Western countries have become so concerned with Bosnia and Kosova that they often neglect the rest of the post-communist Balkans and appear to lack a sound strategy to help the region shake the complex legacy of communism. People in the countries bordering the crisis regions of the former Yugoslavia often express bitterness that the international community has not sufficiently compensated them for the economic sacrifices they made while wartime sanctions were in force on Serbia and Montenegro. Romania's and Bulgaria's prospects for joining NATO and the EU, moreover, appear dim at best, while there is little serious talk anywhere that Macedonia or Albania might join either organization at any time in the foreseeable future. More than one observer has openly asked whether the countries of the post-communist Balkans might not in fact be condemned to a state of indefinite limbo between their communist past and a future firmly rooted in Europe, to which they aspire. It is of course true that many of the problems facing the countries of the region are largely of their own making. The Balkan countries themselves often raise artificial barriers--such as stringent visa requirements--that prevent a free exchange of people and ideas within the region. The educated elites in each of the countries of the region have almost always looked toward major international capitals for their foreign cultural, political, and economic links rather than to their neighbors. And crime remains endemic across much of the peninsula. With regard to the various countries bordering the former Yugoslavia, the Romanian political elite seems to be ever given to in-fighting, and the threat of extremism remains permanently on the horizon. Bulgarian politicians generally enjoy criticizing those in power but do not always become model public servants when they themselves take office. Perhaps the new coalition government in Macedonia will succeed in breaking the hold of corruption and cronyism on political life and the economy. If it does not, Macedonia may find itself locked into the traditional Balkan political pattern in which the "ins" and the "outs" take turn in office and help themselves to the rights and privileges of power. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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