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