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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 60, Part I, 26 March 1999


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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 60, Part I, 26 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

* ANTI-U.S. SENTIMENT GROWING AMONG OFFICIALS

* 'KOMMERSANT' FIRES EDITOR FOR CRITICIZING PRIMAKOV

* ARMENIAN PRESIDENT INVITES POPE TO VISIT

END NOTE: GERMAN ACADEMIC SEES PRO-ARMENIAN TURN IN KARABAKH
CONFLICT
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RUSSIA

ANTI-U.S. SENTIMENT GROWING AMONG OFFICIALS... Foreign
Minister Igor Ivanov accused the U.S. on 25 March of seeking
"to impose a unipolar order on the world, in which peoples'
fates should be decided in Washington," and providing direct
assistance to the Kosova Liberation Army. He asked, "Does the
U.S. not understand that by backing Muslim extremists at the
expense of American taxpayers it's breeding new bin Ladens?"
in allusion to the accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. Former
Ambassador to the U.S. and State Duma Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said that the "U.S. has
clearly shown that it does not care one whit about relations
with Russia or about the START-II treaty." The same day,
Ivanov also noted that "we are not in favor of a breach of
diplomatic relations with the U.S" and "clearly realize how
important for the world as a whole are relations between
Russia and the U.S." JAC

...AND IN THE STREETS. Demonstrations were held outside the
U.S. embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg,
Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok on 25 March, Russian news
agencies reported. According to "Izvestiya" on 26 March,
protesters gathered outside an oblast administration building
in Volgograd and burnt the U.S. flag. In other cities, they
burnt the U.S. flag and threw ink, eggs, and beer bottles.
Demonstrators displayed signs and banners reading "Yankees,
Go Home," "Pentagon Die," and "Retribution Is Coming." Police
told Interfax that more than 1,000 people attended a rally
outside the Moscow embassy, although AFP estimated that there
were some 600 people in attendance. While most public
attention seemed focused on the U.S., the consulate in
Novosibirsk of another member of the NATO alliance, Germany,
was set on fire and a note attached "For Serbia," ITAR-TASS
reported. JAC

MORE FALL-OUT FROM NATO AIR STRIKES. The Duma announced on 25
March the suspension of all contacts between it and NATO
parliamentary organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Duma members
also called on the government to close all NATO's information
centers in Moscow. The legislative assembly of Primorskii
Krai adopted a statement protesting NATO's "aggression
against Yugoslavia," while Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor
Ishaev announced the formation of an anti-NATO political
bloc, Interfax-Eurasia reported. RFE/RL's correspondent in
the Marii El Republic reported that residents there supported
the Kremlin's position against NATO, while opinion in
Krasnoyarsk Krai was more mixed. Former Krasnoyarsk Governor
Valerii Zubov told RFE/RL that Russia "should pause and solve
its own problems." JAC

RUSSIA TO OFFER INTELLIGENCE DATA TO YUGOSLAVIA? Although
Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that he was
"sure that [Russia] would offer military assistance to
Yugoslavia," Russian media did not take this claim seriously.
General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the general staff of the
armed forces, told Interfax that Russia is prepared to
exchange intelligence data with Yugoslavia if it requests it.
However, Russian "military experts" told the agency that arms
deliveries to Yugoslavia would be difficult since they could
be transported only by sea and thus through the Bosphorus.
JAC

RUSSIANS VOLUNTEERING FOR DUTY IN YUGOSLAVIA. The office of
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who
had announced earlier that he is ordering charter flights to
dispatch volunteers to Yugoslavia, has been converted into a
mini-recruitment center for Russian citizens wanting to
volunteer for Yugoslavia, the "Moscow Times" reported on 26
March. According to one staff member, more than 2,700 people
telephoned on 25 March expressing their willingness to sign
up. In Primorskii Krai, 91 people signed up and 100 in Pskov.
In Khabarovsk, Colonel-General Viktor Chechevatov, commander
of the Far Eastern Military District, announced his
willingness to head any military unit dispatched to
Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. And in Irkutsk, Cossack
ataman Nikolai Merinov expressed his readiness to organize
and head a Cossack brigade for the defense of Serbia,
Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

'KOMMERSANT' FIRES EDITOR FOR CRITICIZING PRIMAKOV.
"Kommersant-Daily" editor Raf Shakirov has lost his job over
an article on 24 March that was highly critical of Prime
Minister Yevgenii Primakov's decision to return to Moscow in
mid-air (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1999), Russian
Public Television reported on 25 March. According to
Interfax, the newspaper apologized for the article. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY STAFF FACING LARGE REDUCTION. The Interior
Ministry will cut 129,000 personnel from its staff in 1999,
including 66,000 policemen and 63,000 servicemen, ITAR-TASS
reported on 25 March. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told
a conference of personnel chiefs from police departments
across the country that 59 of Russia's 89 regions will face a
10 percent personnel reduction on average in their police
forces. Current staff in the ministry totals just under 2
million, according to the agency. JAC

LUZHKOV, YELTSIN TO COOPERATE? President Boris Yeltsin and
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met on 25 March. Luzhkov, who had
not talked with Yeltsin in more than a year, according to
"Vremya MN" on 26 March, said the conversation focused on the
formation of his Otechestvo party. According to the
newspaper's sources, the two officials also agreed that the
mayor and the presidential administration would collaborate
in the future, but what form this collaboration would take
was not discussed. "Izvestiya" concluded that since Yeltsin
met with Luzhkov right before the mayor's upcoming meeting
with French President Jacques Chirac, Luzhkov will present
the presidential administration's view as well as his own.
Luzhkov told reporters on 24 March that Otechestvo is working
on a political accord with the Communist Party and Yabloko,
"the three forces in the country that determine its political
atmosphere," in order to maintain political stability in
Russia. JAC

KOSOVA, IMF UNCERTAINTY PUTS RUBLE UNDER PRESSURE. The street
value of the ruble continues to fall, despite the firming of
its official rate. Muscovites, according to the "Moscow
Times" on 26 March, were exchanging rubles for dollars at
rates of 28 rubles per dollar--16 percent above the official
rate. In other parts of Russia, the daily reported, workers
are turning their ruble salaries into dollars as a matter of
course. Part of the ruble's weakness, according to traders,
stems from rubles being printed to pay a backlog of wages to
state workers. The Central Bank has been intervening in the
currency market to try to prop up the flagging ruble. Its
hard currency reserves fell $200 million from 19 March to 25
March and by $1 billion from 1 January, Interfax reported.
Meanwhile, the stock market's benchmark index, RTS, rose
almost 5 percent on 25 March, with oil stocks benefiting from
the ruble's weakness. JAC

FIRST BATCH OF EU FOOD AID ROLLS IN. Twenty-four trucks
loaded with 18 tons of German beef from the EU arrived in the
city of Smolensk on 25 March, Interfax reported. The next
shipment of EU food aid, which will contain Irish beef, is
due to arrive in St. Petersburg at the end of March.
Deliveries were supposed to start in February but were
delayed because of high Russian customs duties and Russian
officials' criticism of the quality of the meat and grain,
dpa reported. JAC

COMMUNIST ADMINISTRATION PAYS FOR CHURCH CONSTRUCTION IN
VORONEZH. Construction of the Cathedral of the Annunciation
in down-town Voronezh is proceeding quickly, thanks to state
revenues channeled directly to the Church, according to the
"IEWS Russian Regional Report" on 25 March, citing the local
newspaper "Novaya gazeta." Under a decree signed by Governor
Ivan Shabanov some 15 months ago, major companies in the
Communist-controlled oblast have transferred some 7 million
rubles ($289,000) in tax arrears to the Voronezh diocese for
the purpose of completing the cathedral. JC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DEPARTS ON HAJJ. Aslan Maskhadov has left
Grozny for Saudi Arabia, where he will visit Mecca and
Medina, presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Russian
agencies on 25 March. Vachagaev said Maskhadov will not visit
any other countries en route. Maskhadov previously made the
pilgrimage to Mecca in 1997. LF

YELTSIN, PUTIN DISCUSS VLADIKAVKAZ BOMBING. Federal Security
Service Director Vladimir Putin informed President Yeltsin on
25 March of progress made in identifying and apprehending the
persons responsible for the 19 March bomb in the North
Ossetian capital, which killed some 60 people, Interfax
reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 March 1999).
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 March reported that investigators
are focusing on several alternative hypotheses, one of which
is that the perpetrators were Chechens affiliated with
Islamist field commander Khottab. LF

SIX CIS DEFENSE MINISTERS CONDEMN NATO STRIKES. Meeting in
Moscow on 25 March, the defense ministers of Azerbaijan,
Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan adopted
a joint statement condemning the NATO airstrikes against
Yugoslavia as "inhuman" and "a threat to peace and security,"
ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the decision to resort
to force "contradicts the norms of international law" and
calls into question the existence of the UN. The Georgian
observer at the meeting, Colonel Guram Nikolaishvili, did not
sign the statement, as he was not empowered to do so,
according to Caucasus Press. It is unclear whether the
representatives from Kazakhstan and Ukraine added their
signatures to the statement. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and
Moldova did not send representatives to the meeting. Major-
General Alecks Agafonov, who is chief of staff of the
headquarters for coordinating CIS defense, told Interfax that
the ministers ruled out any CIS military intervention in
Yugoslavia. LF

TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT INVITES POPE TO VISIT. Meeting with Pope
John Paul II in the Vatican on 25 March, Robert Kocharian
reaffirmed the official invitation to the pontiff to visit
Armenia, extended earlier this week by Armen Sarkisian,
Armenia's ambassador to the Vatican, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau
reported. No date for the papal visit has been set. Kocharian
and Armenian Catholicos Karekin I are to attend the formal
opening of an exhibition at the Vatican Library devoted to
the 1700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity
as the state religion. Kocharian also met on 25 March with
his Italian counterpart, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, to discuss
bilateral relations, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTER OF EDUCATION CHARGED WITH
EMBEZZLEMENT. Yerevan city prosecutor Ashot Tamazian on 25
March said that a criminal case has been opened against
former Education Minister Ashot Bleyan on charges of abuse of
power and embezzlement of public funds totaling $120,000
intended for the publication of school textbooks, RFE/RL's
Yerevan bureau reported. Bleyan, who currently heads the
small Nor Ughi [New Path] opposition party and placed last of
the 12 candidates in the March 1998 presidential election
with 0.11 percent of the vote, dismissed the charges as
"fabricated and unfounded." LF

AZERBAIJAN CONTINUES INVESTIGATION OF IMPOUNDED MIGS. Turan
on 25 March quoted an unnamed official source in Baku as
saying that the investigation into the impounded Russian
freight plane and its cargo of six MiG fighters at Baku's Bin
airport has not yet yielded any evidence that would be
sufficient to bring a criminal case (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"
24 and 25 March 1999). But ITAR-TASS the same day reported
that Azerbaijani intelligence will need at least another two
days to complete its examination of the freight plane and its
cargo. LF

FORMER RUSSIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR POLICY SHIFT ON GEORGIA. On
a private visit to Tbilisi on 25 March, Sergei Kirienko told
Georgian parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania that Moscow
should revise its current policy toward Georgia since
relations between the two countries are pivotal for the
situation throughout the Caucasus, according to Caucasus
Press. The two men agreed on the need to improve bilateral
relations. LF

TAJIKISTAN CONTINUES INVESTIGATION INTO LENINABAD INSURGENCY.
The Prosecutor-General's Office has completed investigation
into the role of 64 participants in the November 1998
insurgency in Leninabad Oblast by supporters of rebel Colonel
Makhmud Khudoberdiev, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 March. The 64
are charged with treason, creating illegal armed formations,
terrorism, and offenses against the state. Hundreds more
people remain in pre-trial detention for their involvement in
that uprising. LF

UZBEK AUTHORITIES HARASS UNREGISTERED PROTESTANTS. Over the
last two months, twelve members of separate Christian
communities in the Uzbek cities of Tashkent, Termez, Bukhara,
and Nukus have been arrested and either fined or sentenced to
short prison sentences , according to a Human Rights Without
Frontiers press release dated 25 March. In three of those
cases, the communities in question were preparing formal
applications to register their Churches legally. The 1998
amended Uzbek law on religion bans all unregistered religious
activities. LF

TRANSCAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIAN RESPONSES TO NATO STRIKES. In a
25 March statement, Armenian Foreign Ministry acting
spokesman Ara Papyan expressed concern at NATO's recourse to
force, adding that Yerevan hopes the conflict parties will
still find a peaceful resolution to the Kosova problem, ITAR-
TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. "Armenia has always stood up
for the right of peoples to self-determination," he added. In
Tbilisi, President Eduard Shevardnadze the previous day
expressed regret that the international community had failed
to coordinate measures to impose peace. He said future steps
should not lead to a new round of tension in international
relations, according to Interfax. The Foreign Ministry of
Kazakhstan issued a statement that neither condemned nor
endorsed the strikes but called for the withdrawal of Serbian
forces from Kosova, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. The
Tajik Foreign Ministry unequivocally condemned the strikes as
destabilizing the global situation and called for immediate
peace talks. No official comment from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan,
Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan is currently available. LF

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