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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 58, Part I, 24 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 58, Part I, 24 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 * RUSSIA CONDEMNS EXPECTED NATO STRIKES * START-II'S FATE TIED WITH YUGOSLAVIA * AZERBAIJAN DETAINS RUSSIAN PLANE TRANSPORTING MIGS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA CONDEMNS EXPECTED NATO STRIKES... In a rare show of unanimity, Moscow officials insisted that expected NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia would widen the conflict and dangerously undermine the role of the UN. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev repeated an earlier prediction that air strikes will result in "another Vietnam," and both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said Russia will reconsider its cooperation agreement with NATO. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that NATO troops in Yugoslavia would trigger a "very difficult and bloody war" for which "Americans will have to prepare zinc coffins." He added that if troops are introduced without the agreement of the UN Security Council, people "will start to question the need for the UN in the first place." As of late morning 24 March, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was reported still waiting for a response from the U.S. to a message he sent earlier to his U.S. counterpart. JAC ...PROMISES MILITARY ASSISTANCE. Seleznev pledged that if NATO launches air strikes against Yugoslavia, Moscow will immediately provide powerful weapons to Belgrade. Fellow Communist faction member and Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin called for an emergency meeting of the Duma and the Security Council to discuss "whether to provide Yugoslavia with a reliable air defense systems to reduce their casualties." Meanwhile, General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of staff of the armed forces, held a meeting of top military officials on 24 March to prepare a possible Russian response if NATO bombs are dropped, ITAR- TASS reported. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told Ekho Moskvy that he is ordering charter flights to dispatch volunteers to Yugoslavia. JAC START-II'S FATE TIED WITH YUGOSLAVIA. Duma speaker Seleznev suggested that the ratification of START-II will be in doubt if airstrikes occur. He explained that although the Duma is unlikely to be able to debate the treaty on 2 April, as originally scheduled, it will take up the issue "soon" if the Kosova situation "develops favorably." Defense Committee Chairman and member of Our Home Is Russia faction Roman Popkovich said earlier that the Duma will not be able to consider the treaty before mid-April, even though it was recently put on the Duma's schedule for 2 April. JAC PRIMAKOV'S U.S. TRIP CANCELLED. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov cancelled his trip to the U.S. in mid-air on 23 March to protest the expected NATO airstrikes. Primakov's plane was heading to the U.S. when after a 15-minute telephone call with Vice President Al Gore, Primakov ordered the plane back to Moscow. Primakov told reporters after landing that he had said to Gore: "Think it over once more, Mr. Vice President. I have the impression that you are not considering all the consequences," NTV reported. He added that NATO strikes will not only destabilize the situation in Kosova but "affect relations between Russian and the U.S. and damage stability in Europe." As a result of the cancellation, a ceremony unveiling two new large U.S. company-sponsored projects in the Russian oil sector was postponed, Reuters reported. JAC RUSSIA, IMF TO MEET IN THIRD COUNTRY? After returning to Moscow on 24 March, Prime Minister Primakov explained that although the upcoming meetings with the IMF are important, Russia "does not trade in principles: the [Kosova] problem is one thing, and negotiations with the IMF are another." Primakov told reporters that IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus said he would like to meet within the next few days and did not rule out that their meeting might take place in a third country. Communist Party leader Zyuganov was blase about the meeting's postponement, saying that "the IMF give these credits to itself not to us. They will simply transfer the money from one account to another to cover debts." JAC LEBED EMERGES TRIUMPHANT IN COAL BATTLE? At a meeting of the board of directors of the Krasnoyarsk Coal Company (Krasugol) on 20 March, Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov supported Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed's new plan to save the company from bankruptcy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 March. Board members also elected Vladimir Bondarchenko, a former Krai level official, as director of the company. The company's former director was arrested last week on suspicion of embezzlement. At the meeting, Lebed announced that he has found the money to cover the company's 72 million ruble ($2.7 million) debt (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 March 1999). According to the newspaper, a firm controlled by Lebed's younger brother, Aleksei, who is the president of the Republic of Khakassia, will supply the funds. According to the older Lebed, the krai and federal government officials will sign an agreement clearing up all issues related to the company. JAC MORE DISMISSALS FOLLOW. Prime Minister Primakov on 23 March dismissed First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman, Russian deputy manager at the EBRD Aleksei Kudrin, and Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Igor Kozhukhovskii. Kudrin has been replaced by First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. In addition, the Argumenty i Fakty-Novosti news agency reported that first deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev has tendered his resignation; however, Moscow's Center TV was unable to verify that report. Sysuev has been under fire recently, having been accused of arranging the showing on national television of a man who looks like Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov dallying with two young women. Sysuev denied the allegation. JAC NEO-NAZIS HOSTING GATHERINGS AROUND RUSSIA. After an unsuccessful attempt to hold a national convention in Moscow, the neo-nazi group Russian National Unity (RNE) has staged smaller meetings in 10 Russian cities, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 March. Attendance varied from 30 persons in St. Petersburg to 300 in Stavropol, according to the daily. Meetings were also held in Krasnodar, Perm, Ekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Kaliningrad, Novosibirsk, Dmitrov (Moscow Oblast), and Berezniki (Perm Oblast). The organization is strongest in Stavropol, according to the newspaper. The head of the krai's governor's press service, Sergei Belokon, explained that "Stavropol is prepared to work with all law- abiding organizations. Of course, no one likes Nazi salutes or swastikas÷but the governor will not support either the Right or the Left." JAC INDIA, RUSSIA PLEDGE TO DEEPEN MILITARY COOPERATION. Defense Minister Sergeev wrapped up an official trip to India on 23 March by announcing that Russia and India will sign this year a declaration of strategic partnership. According to Sergeev, the two countries have a similar approach to "most of the important problems of international security," such as NATO enlargement, the Kosova and Afghan situations, and "U.S. plans to withdraw from the [anti-ballistic missile] treaty." Sergeev signed a military cooperation agreement with his counterpart, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandez, the previous day. Under the agreement, Russia will train Indian defense personnel at its military academies. Fernandez is to visit Moscow later this year, and in June, Russia will deliver its first model T-90S tanks to India for testing. JAC CHECHEN AUTHORITIES DETAIN SHPIGUN ABDUCTION SUSPECTS. Chechen Shariah Security Ministry officials told Interfax and ITAR-TASS on 23 March that an unspecified number of people have been arrested on suspicion of participating in the 5 March abduction from Grozny airport of Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun. A Russian Interior Ministry official told ITAR-TASS two days earlier that the gang responsible for Shpigun's abduction also kidnapped Russian Presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov last year. For this reason, the official added, the group is known as "Vlasovka." It is believed to be loyal to former Vice President Vakha Arsanov, an ally of field commander Shamil Basaev. The Chechen police have issued identikit pictures of two persons suspected of exploding the car bomb that failed to kill President Aslan Maskhadov on 21 March. Krasnoyarsk Governor Lebed told Interfax on 23 March that he believes Basaev and fellow field commander Khottab organized that attack. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJAN DETAINS RUSSIAN PLANE TRANSPORTING MIGS. A Russian cargo plane carrying six disassembled MiG-21 fighters remains on the ground at Baku's Bina airport, where it landed late on 18 March for a routine refueling stop. Azerbaijani customs officials impounded the aircraft, suspecting that the MiGs were destined for Yugoslavia. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor- General's Office and the Russian Foreign Ministry both said that the cargo plane was en route from Taldy-Kurgan in Kazakhstan to Bratislava, but crew members said initially they were headed for Yugoslavia and then gave their destination as Pyongyang, Turan reported on 23 March. Kazakh officials confirmed that the cargo plane landed in Taldy- Kurgan on 18 March and took off for Baku the same day, but they disclaimed any knowledge of its cargo. Slovak Defense Ministry officials told AP they are not aware of any planned delivery of MiGs to that country. ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March that transportation of the MiGs was arranged by the Czech firm Agroplast. LF GERMANY HANDS OVER OTTOMAN DOCUMENTS TO ARMENIA. In a ceremony in Yerevan on 23 March, Germany's ambassador to Armenia, Carolla Mueller-Holtkemper, presented to President Robert Kocharian 56 volumes of copies of archival material collected by the German diplomatic missions in Istanbul from1889 to 1920, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The documents may shed light on the mass killings and deportations of more than 1 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. The German move was in response to what Mueller-Holtkemper termed Yerevan's "noble gesture" in handing back to the German government last May 575 old German manuscripts that constituted Armenia's share of so-called trophy art, which Soviet troops confiscated from Germany in 1945. LF ARMENIAN HEALTH MINISTER OFFERS TO MAKE AIDS DRUG AVAILABLE. Addressing a medical conference in Yerevan on 23 March, Hayk Nikoghosian invited people who are suffering from AIDS or are HIV-positive to participate in clinical tests of the Armenicum drug, which has cured 14 persons who had contracted the disease, Reuters and AP reported. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said that foreigners wishing to travel to Armenia for treatment should apply to the Armenian embassy in their country of residence. She added that a number of Russians and Ukrainians have already contacted her ministry to request treatment. LF NEW ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER PLANNED? A spokesman for Akezhan Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan told RFE/RL's Almaty bureau on 24 March that the party has been informed by an agent for the country's National Security Ministry of a new plan to kill Kazhegeldin. The party has held a special congress to discuss that information. Kazhegeldin, who was barred from participating in the January 1999 presidential elections, was shot at while exercising his horse near Almaty last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1998). LF KAZAKHSTAN ASSESSES PROSPECTS OF WTO MEMBERSHIP. In negotiating the terms for its admission to the World Trade Organization, Kazakhstan must try to obtain most-favored- nation status for its exports and schedule a transition period during which its legislation will be brought into line with international standards, Fakhra Usmanova, who is a senior official in Kazakhstan's Energy, Industry, and Trade Ministry, told colleagues at a workshop in Astana on 23 March, Interfax reported. Usmanova said Kazakhstan "is not in a hurry" to join the WTO and that domestic industries have to prepare for "stiff competition" on an open market. She added that Kazakhstan has been engaged in negotiations with the EU for three years over an increase in its rolled iron and steel quotas. LF CENSUS BEGINS IN KYRGYZSTAN. From 24 March to 1 April, Kyrgyzstan will conduct a population census to provide comprehensive information on which future economic and social programs will be based, Interfax reported, quoting the chairman of the country's National Statistical Committee, Zarylbek Kudabaev. The census form contains questions on the respondent's family status, nationality, native language, and education. It also asks details of employment and sources of income as well as whether a respondent without employment is actively seeking a job. Women are required to state how many children they have given birth to and how many survived. LF SEVEN SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN TAJIK INSURGENCY. The Military Collegium of Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 23 March handed down sentences of 10-14 years in prison to seven people who took part in the abortive attack in October 1997 on presidential guard detachments in Tursunzade, western Tajikistan. The attack was launched by supporters of rebel Colonel Makhmud Khudoiberdiev, AP-Blitz reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 1997). LF POLL SUGGESTS URBAN TAJIK SOCIETY POLARIZED. A USAID poll of 533 residents of Dushanbe indicates that 43 percent of respondents would like to live in a "Western-style society" while 36 percent prefer communism, Interfax reported on 23 March. While 42 percent preferred a one-party system, 38 percent were in favor of a multi-party one. The most popular political party was the Communist Party (28 percent); only 5 percent of those questioned expressed support for the Islamic Rebirth Party. But irrespective of other political preferences, 71 percent of those polled expressed confidence in the ability of President Imomali Rakhmonov to steer the country out of its present crisis. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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