|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 66, Part I, 6 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 66, Part I, 6 April 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 SINKS TO NEW LOW AS INFLATION SLOWS * NTV BREAKS THE NEWS ON ETHNIC CLEANSING * KAZAKHSTAN SETS FLOATING EXCHANGE RATE FOR TENGE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUBLE SINKS TO NEW LOW AS INFLATION SLOWS. The ruble slipped below 25 rubles per dollar for the first time on 5 April, closing at 25.11 rubles to the dollar. Analysts point to the dwindling reserves of the Central Bank, which have contracted to $10.9 billion (a three-year low), as a primary cause for the currency's slide, AFP reported. The ruble has already lost 22 percent of its value since the beginning of 1999, according to the "Moscow Times" on 6 April. Barring either a jump in world oil prices or an agreement forgiving some of Russia's foreign debt, downward pressure on the ruble is likely to continue, analysts say. Meanwhile, inflation slowed to 2.8 percent in March from 4.1 percent the previous month and 8.5 percent in January, Interfax reported. JAC NTV BREAKS THE NEWS ON ETHNIC CLEANSING. Russian television news began coverage of ethnic cleansing in Kosova on 4 April, when NTV's "Itogi" showed pictures of Kosovar Albanians being forced from their homes by Yugoslav soldiers. In addition, "Itogi's" anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev disclosed that the reports of Russian journalists in Serbia were subjected to military censorship. NTV chief editor Vladimir Kulistikov explained the shift by pointing to simple economics, telling the "Moscow Times" on 6 April that the network has finally found the money to send its ace reporter, Pavel Lobkov, to Macedonia to get a first-hand report from ethnic-Albanian refugees. Analysts expect the rest of Russia's TV networks to follow NTV's lead, and Yevgenii Volk of the Heritage Foundation told the daily that the change in media coverage was an indication that the Russian government would eventually soften its stance against NATO. JAC RUSSIA PROMISES NOT TO FORWARD U.S., EU FOOD AID TO YUGOSLAVIA... Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told reporters on 3 April that food aid delivered to Russia by the EU and the U.S. will not be sent on to Yugoslavia. The first shipment of Russian food aid for Yugoslavia will be sent on 7 April, according to Minister for Emergencies Sergei Shoigu. About 900 tons of aid worth about $1 million will be transported by truck, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia will supply medicines and foodstuffs, including baby food, sugar, and salt, as well as warm clothes and tents. JAC ...THREATENS TO WITHDRAW PEACE-KEEPERS. Russian President Boris Yeltsin called NATO air raids "barbaric" and accused the alliance on 6 April of bombing "historical cultural monuments which are registered by UNESCO." Moscow mayor and likely presidential contender Yurii Luzhkov lodged his own charges against NATO, accusing it of using radioactive and environmentally dangerous obsolete missiles and bombs in its strikes against Yugoslavia. The same day, citing information from the Armed Forces' General Staff, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that spies hired by the U.S.'s OSCE contingent were arrested trying to set up an automatic laser beacon near the town of Avala. Meanwhile, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's department for international cooperation, said that the withdrawal of Russian peace- keepers from Bosnia is among the possible new measures Russia is considering as a response to continued NATO air strikes. JAC SKURATOV TENDERS RESIGNATION AGAIN. Russia's embattled prosecutor-general, Yurii Skuratov, again submitted his resignation on 6 March, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev told reporters. Skuratov had only just recently vowed to fight President Yeltsin's decision on 2 April to suspend him pending the outcome of a criminal investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 2 April 1999). According to Stroev, the Council's committees on legal and constitutional control will analyze the situation and render a final decision. "Izvestiya" speculated the same day that Skuratov does not actually have compromising evidence on people in the Kremlin as he has been hinting at for the past weeks. It noted that "compromising materials are kept in safes" and once bargaining has ended then "all cards and materials are laid on the table...If Skuratov had anything to reveal, he would have done so already." JAC RUSSIA TELLS ARAFAT TO HOLD OFF ON DECLARING STATEHOOD. Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat arrived in Moscow on 5 April for two days of official meetings. Central to his visit are discussions of his plans to declare a Palestinian state on 4 May, when an interim peace accord with Israel expires. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Arafat on 5 April that the declaration should be postponed in order to continue talks within the framework of the Middle East peace process, ITAR- TASS reported. After Arafat met with President Yeltsin the next day, presidential foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters that Yeltsin hopes that the Palestinian leadership will opt for prolonging the transitional period between Palestine and Israel. Arafat was also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 6 April. JAC RUSSIA CONDEMNS NEW U.S. SANCTIONS. Russia's Foreign Ministry on 4 April called the U.S.'s imposition of sanctions against three Russian defense enterprises for cooperating with Syria "an openly hostile move," Interfax reported. According to the ministry, Russian supplies to Syria "do not violate the nonproliferation or export-control regimes," nor do they "upset the alignment of forces in the region" or "compare in terms of characteristics and volumes of U.S. arms supplies to other regions." The ministry concluded that the sanctions are representative of "one more anti-Russian step taken by the U.S. administration." "Izvestiya" argued on 6 April that the U.S. is driving Russia "into a corner" by restricting its room to maneuver in the Mediterranean region. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev earlier called the U.S.'s charges against the Tula machine-building design bureau, the Volsk mechanical plant, and the Central Research Institute of Precise Machine Building "groundless." JAC MIXED RESULTS, RESPONSES TO CIS SUMMIT. The CIS presidents failed at their meeting in Moscow on 2 April to adopt a statement condemning NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia; instead they called for a halt to the bloodshed and a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosova. Six of the nine CIS states that signed the CIS Collective Security Treaty in 1992-1993 affirmed their intention to prolong that treaty when it expires later this month, but Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan declined to do so. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told Interfax on 2 April that the summit was held "with dignity," the implicit contrast being with the shouting matches that marred the October 1997 summit in Chisinau. Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov similarly noted that "everything went well and without problems." But Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliev struck a pessimistic note, saying that despite attempts to reform the CIS, "crisis phenomena" within it have not been overcome, ITAR-TASS reported. LF BOMB EXPLODES NEAR FSB HEADQUARTERS. A bomb equivalent to 1.5 kilograms of TNT was detonated near the entrance to the building that houses the reception office for the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 3 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. An FSB spokesman linked the bombing with an incident on 13 August 1998 when another bomb exploded in the vicinity, "Trud" reported on 6 April. According to the newspaper, in the most recent explosion must have been planned by professionals since they managed to place the device near a spot where FSS guards are always stationed and "according to what information is available, video cameras near the entrance did not get any shots of the criminals." JAC COMMUNISTS FARE POORLY IN UDMURT ELECTIONS. In elections held on 4 April, voters in the Republic of Udmurtia filled 12 slots in the republic's legislative assembly with members of the Communist Party, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 April. In the previous assembly, 20 deputies were communists (a minority of the total seats available). According to Interfax-Eurasia, voter turnout was relatively high with more than 51 percent of eligible voters participating--in several okrugs this figure reached 70.4 percent. Fourteen candidates from the "Honor and Motherland" party were selected, 11 from the Liberal Democratic Party and five from Yabloko, according to the agency. JAC YELTSIN APPOINTS HAWK TO HEAD INTERIOR TROOPS... President Yeltsin signed a decree on 5 April appointing Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov commander of the Interior Ministry troops and promoting him to the rank of a three-star general. Colonel- General Ovchinnikov earned the nickname "Hawk" during his service in the war in Chechnya for his rough treatment of Chechen terrorists, ITAR-TASS reported. Ovchinnikov replaces Pavel Maslov, who resigned on 2 April. The same day, Yeltsin dismissed his envoy to the Leningrad Oblast, Fedor Shkrudnev. JAC ...RESHUFFLES PERSONNEL AT FSB. Yeltsin also shifted and trimmed personnel at the FSB, dismissing Colonel General Valentin Sobolev as first deputy director of the FSB and appointing him deputy secretary of the Security Council on 2 April, Interfax reported. Lieutenant General Yevgenii Solovyov was appointed deputy director and head of the personnel department. In addition, an unidentified source in the FSB told the agency that dozens of personnel have been dismissed including Mikhail Dedyukhin, the head of counterintelligence protection of strategic installations, Aleksandr Izmadenov, his first deputy, and Aleksei Pushkarenko, the head of counterintelligence operations. JAC PROTESTERS IN DAGESTAN RELEASE MURDER SUSPECT. An angry crowd occupied the local administration building in the town of Kayakend on 5 April after storming the local militia headquarters and releasing a man held in detention on suspicion of the 31 March murder of Deputy Prosecutor-General Kurban Bulatov, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). Nasir Gaidarov, deputy chairman of the People's Assembly, finally persuaded the protesters to disperse. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA PIPELINE SHUTDOWN MAY SLOW AZERBAIJANI OIL PRODUCTION. A spokesman for the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium currently exporting Caspian oil from Azerbaijan, told Reuters on 5 April that the consortium will be forced to cut production unless the Baku- Novorossiisk export pipeline is reopened. The Chechen authorities closed the Chechen sector of the pipeline on 29 March because of the Russian government's $4 million unpaid debt for security arrangements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 1999). Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov subsequently called for talks with Russian officials with the aim of reaching a "reasonable compromise" on that debt, Interfax reported on 3 April. But Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Aleksandr Blokhin told journalists in Baku on 5 April that the reasons for the closure of the Baku-Novorossiik pipeline were purely political, Turan reported. Blokhin said that unnamed "forces" wish to export the maximum amount of Caspian oil via Georgia and the minimum via Russia. LF NEW ATTACK ON GEORGIAN PRESIDENT PLANNED? Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 April that a new attempt on his life may be imminent, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze instructed Georgian security agencies to take the necessary measures to prevent new acts of terrorism in Georgia. Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian Parliamentary Commission on Defense and Security, had told journalists in Tbilisi on 2 April that he believes it is "quite possible" that a further attempt will be made this month to kill Shevardnadze. Adamia explained that possibility in terms of Georgia's unambiguously pro-western orientation. Shevardnadze survived earlier attempts to kill him in August 1995 and February 1998. Adamia also condemned as an "anti-state movement" repeated charges of corruption made by the Georgian media against Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze, according to Interfax. LF GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DOWNPLAY THREAT OF NEW REGIONAL INSURGENCY. Also on 5 April, Shevardnadze dismissed as unfounded the threat made the previous day by Colonel Akaki Eliava to abolish the central Georgian government's control over the west Georgian region of Mingrelia, Caucasus Press reported. Bondo Djikia, who is the governor of Mingrelia, similarly dismissed Eliava's threat, saying that no more than 15-20 people support him. Eliava has been in hiding since launching an abortive rebellion in western Georgia in October 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19-20 October 1998). LF KAZAKHSTAN SEEKS TALKS WITH CHINA ON WATER ISSUES. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has proposed to Beijing that the two countries begin talks later this month on how to share water from the Irtysh and Ili rivers, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 1 April. Nazarbaev hopes that they will be able to sign an agreement specifying how much of the flow each side can take from these two river systems. If talks are held, they are likely to be complicated by the relative underdevelopment of international law on riparian issues and by the impact of any decisions on various ethnic groups in Xinjiang, many of which have co- ethnic communities in Kazakhstan. PG KAZAKHSTAN SETS FLOATING EXCHANGE RATE FOR TENGE. The government and National Bank of Kazakhstan decided late on 4 April to free the exchange rate for the national currency, the official exchange rate for which fell from 88 to 100 to the dollar in trading the following day. The street rate fell to 200 tenge to the dollar in panic buying, according to AP. Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev told journalists that the move was necessitated by the fall in value of the currencies of neighboring countries, including Russia, which made Kazakh exports less competitive. He said the government will introduce unspecified social security measures to minimize the impact of the tenge's loss in value on the population. Revenues Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov told Interfax on 5 April that he believes 110 to 120 tenge to the dollar would be a realistic exchange rate. LF KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER DIES. Djumabek Ibraimov died in Bishkek on 4 April at the age of 55 after a long battle with stomach cancer, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He had occupied the post of premier for only three months, since 25 December 1998. A former CPSU activist, Ibraimov was appointed mayor of Bishkek in January 1993. He subsequently served as a state secretary and advisor to President Askar Akaev, who named him chairman of the State Property Fund in December 1997. Interfax on 4 April named Osh Oblast Governor Amangeldy Muraliev as the most likely candidate to succeed Ibraimov as premier. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTIES APPEAL TO CIS HEADS OF STATE. Four Tajik opposition parties have addressed a statement to the CIS presidents expressing concern at what they term the widespread repression of political parties and movements that are not aligned with the United Tajik Opposition. They also accuse President Imomali Rakhmonov of pursuing "regional and ethnic genocide," predicting that the Tajik leadership's policies risk precipitating a new civil war. The four parties--"Popular Unity of Tajikistan," Free Tajikistan, the People's Republican Party of Tajikistan and "For Universal Peace in Tajikistan"--ask the presidents of CIS states and of those countries that are co-guarantors of the Tajik peace process to try to convince Tajikistan's leaders that their current policy of reconciliation and power-sharing only with the UTO is futile and counterproductive. The appeal was published in "Novaya gazeta" of 29 March-4 April. LF 18 RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILLED IN HELICOPTER CRASH IN TAJIKISTAN. Eighteen Russian border guards, including three senior officers, died on 2 April when their helicopter crashed into the Pyandj River near the Tajik-Afghan frontier. The cause of the accident has not yet been determined. LF UZBEKISTAN CALLS ON RELIGIOUS 'EXTREMISTS' TO SURRENDER. Speaking on state television on 4 April, Uzbekistan's Interior Minister Zakirdjon Almatov said that young Uzbek men who have embraced radical Islam in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, or Chechnya will not be punished if they voluntarily turn themselves in to the Uzbek authorities. But he added that any who fail to do so will be punished "severely," and their fathers will also be held legally responsible, Reuters reported. Almatov said his ministry estimates that some 6,000 young men are members of extremist religious organizations. President Islam Karimov had made a similar televised appeal on 1 April, as a result of which "dozens" of young men have already surrendered, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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