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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 70, Part I, 12 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 70, Part I, 12 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 * RUSSIAN OFFICIALS WARN, CRITICIZE NATO * ONLY CANDIDATES WITH CASH NEED RUN? * UN ENVOY ASSESSES POLITICAL SITUATION IN TAJIKISTAN END NOTE: MOSCOW AND MINSK VIRTUALLY ALONE IN SUPPORT OF MILOSEVIC xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIAN OFFICIALS WARN, CRITICIZE NATO... Russian President Boris Yeltsin warned NATO on 9 April not to "push [Russia] towards military action. Otherwise, there will be a minimum of a European war or maybe even a world war, which must not be permitted." The same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov criticized the West for mishandling the refugee problem "created by NATO air strikes" and suggested that the conflict e was on the threshold of a "serious ecological catastrophe." He said that the West was settling refugees throughout the world "instead of ensuring in a well-considered way the return of refugees to their homes." He also said that Russia had evidence that NATO was using weapons that had "radioactive components" and that a higher radiation level has been recorded in Yugoslavia. He added that air strikes on oil facilities threaten to contaminate rivers. JAC ...AS TV COMPLAINS OF POOR TREATMENT BY YUGOSLAVIA. Russian Television reported on 10 April that its correspondent, Gleb Ovsyannikov, and a video engineer were expelled from Yugoslavia by government authorities for no apparent reason. According to the network, after its "Vesti" program showed the destruction of a Interior Ministry building by a NATO bomb, the journalists were deprived of their visas. On 4 April, NTV reported that their reports from the region were subjected to military censorship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). JAC RUSSIA SCRAPING FOR MORE REVENUE. Aleksandr Pochinok, head of the government's department for monetary and credit policy, told Ekho Moskvy on 9 April that the government has found ways of increasing budget revenues by more than 60 billion rubles ($2.4 billion). A saving of more than 30 billion rubles will result from postponing the reduction in VAT from 1 July to 1 January, according to Pochinok. In addition, the Tax and Finance Ministries and State Customs Committee have pledged to collect more revenues. In March, these and other federal entities missed their target for revenue collections by as much as 11.6 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 1999). The previous day, Russia's executive director at the IMF, Aleksei Mozhin, told Interfax that the fund's board will not consider approval of the Russia's economic program before the end of May or early June. JAC ONLY CANDIDATES WITH CASH NEED RUN? The official start of election campaigns for the State Duma will be declared no later than 19 August, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 8 April. The elections themselves are scheduled for 19 December. Veshnyakov also explained that his commission has proposed that candidates and parties place a 100,000 ruble ($4,000) deposit for an individual candidate and 2 million rubles for a party at Sberbank. If the candidate or bloc wins more than 5 percent of the vote, then the deposit will be returned, ITAR-TASS reported. However, if they fail to clear the 5 percent hurdle, then the money will go into government coffers. Under the current system, candidates must collect a certain amount of signatures and present them to the election committee, a practice which has led to signature-buying. JAC PROGRESS FOR PASKO IN ESPIONAGE TRIAL... Lawyers representing Grigorii Pasko scored one of their first legal victories on 9 April, the "Moscow Times" reported, when judges in the military court refused to allow 23 of the prosecution's 28 remaining witnesses to testify. Pasko, a military journalist, was arrested in November 1997 and charged with high treason for providing classified information about the hazardous environmental practices of the Pacific Fleet to Japanese television. Before the decision, Pasko himself was grim about his chances for acquittal, telling Interfax-Eurasia that "everything indicates that it will be a sham, not a proper trial." On 5 April, one of the prosecution's key witnesses, Yurii Ralin, recanted his earlier testimony, "Segodnya" reported on 10 April; however, the Federal Security Service directorate in Primorskii Krai told the daily that Ralin may have changed his testimony, but it has "proof of his insincerity." JAC ...AS NIKITIN SLAMMED BY ST. PETERSBURG TELEVISION. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Nikitin, an environmentalist facing similar charges for disclosing similar information about the Northern Fleet, has been accused by Petersburg Television of ruining Russia's reputation as a nuclear superpower in the West and paving the way for NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. According to the "Moscow Times," the new head of newscasts at the station is Yevgenii Lukin, a former Federal Security Services official and author of an anti-Semitic novel. Lukin was appointed by St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, whose government has a 38 percent stake in the station. JAC ANOTHER POLITICIAN MURDERED IN ST. PETERSBURG. Gennadii Tuganov, chief coordinator of the St. Petersburg branch of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), was slain in an apparent contract killing on 9 April. LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told reporters that day that the killing was "purely political" and that Tuganov was assassinated because he was knowledgeable about the attempts of local criminal gangs "to infiltrate government structures" and get their names on the LDPR party ticket during elections. According to "Kommersant Daily" on 10 April, Tuganov had been preparing the party for gubernatorial elections in the Leningrad Oblast scheduled for September, in which Zhirinovskii had said earlier that he would participate. More recently, LDPR officials have said that Zhirinovskii would run for governor in Belgorod Oblast (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 7 April 1999). JAC SOME REGIONS SAYING NO TO AID. Three to four Russian regions are refusing Western humanitarian assistance, Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov said on 9 April, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. He could not say what reasons the regions were giving for their refusal, but he suggested that they might change their position after the Ministry holds direct negotiations with them. JAC SYRIAN PRESIDENT CANCELS... The Russian presidential press service announced on 11 April that an official visit to Moscow by Syrian President Hafez Assad scheduled for 12-13 April was postponed, ITAR-TASS reported. A Kremlin spokesman later said that the visit has been delayed at the request of Syria. Arab diplomats told AP that Assad had called off the trip after the Russian government had hesitated in finalizing an arms deal. JAC ...AS ISRAEL'S FOREIGN MINISTER ARRIVES. Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Moscow on 11 April for an official three-day visit, his second visit to Russia in a month. Sharon is expected to discuss Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran and military cooperation with Syria as well as bilateral economic relations, ITAR-TASS reported. Sharon was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Ivanov on 12 April. JAC BARCHUK DISMISSED, KVASHNIN NEXT? President Boris Yeltsin dismissed Pension Fund head Vasilii Barchuk on 10 April. Barchuk told Ekho Moskvy that his dismissal was a "good Easter gift," saying that he tendered his resignation in January 1999. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 April that, according to well-informed Kremlin sources, General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of the Armed Forces' general staff, is likely to be dismissed because his recent bellicose statements on NATO actions in Yugoslavia openly conflict with the president's stance. JAC FSB IDENTIFIES ALLEGED TURKISH SPY. A Turkish intelligence operative posing as a businessman was deported from Russia several days ago, Reuters and Russian agencies reported on 10 April quoting Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich. Zdanovich said 62-year-old Besik Mehmet Bahri had confessed after his detention by the FSB to conducting a secret mission in Russia in 1997-98 with the aim of discrediting Russia's foreign policy in the Near and Middle East. Bahri also admitted to trying to foster pro-Turkish and separatist sentiments among the leaders of several unspecified North Caucasus republics. In Georgia, police arrested one Georgian and two Turkish citizens on 9 April on the territory of the Supsa oil terminal, Caucasus Press reported the following day quoting "Dilis gazeti." LF ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO KILL CHECHEN PRESIDENT THWARTED. Chechen security officials located and defused bombs on the highway from Grozny to the town of Starie Atagi, and near the central square in that town, hours before the arrival of President Aslan Maskhadov, Russian agencies reported. It was the second apparent attempt to assassinate Maskhadov in the past month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Speaking later at a ceremony to mark the taking of an oath of loyalty by some 4,000 members of local self-defense units, Maskhadov, who recently returned from the hajj, abjured secular democracy and pledged to build an independent Islamic state in Chechnya. Former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, whose headquarters are in Starie Atagi, demonstratively pledged his support for "national unity" among Chechens. Yandarbiev has hitherto been perceived as allied with Maskhadov's domestic political rivals. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ITALIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA... After attending the ceremonial opening of the new Italian embassy in Baku on 9 April, Valentino Martinelli held talks with President Heidar Aliev and Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov, who stressed the importance of Italian participation in exploiting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil reserves, Turan reported. Martinelli told Zulfugarov that the holding of the municipal elections, which should have taken place two years ago, could expedite Azerbaijan's being given full membership in the Council of Europe. In Tbilisi the following day, Martinelli met with President Eduard Shevardnadze and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, whom he assured of Italy's support for the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Georgia. Martinelli also said Italy is interested in cooperating with Georgia to expand sea and air communications between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, ITAR-TASS reported. LF ... AND ARMENIA. Martinelli met in Yerevan the same day with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The talks focused on bilateral relations, Armenia's relations with Russia and Turkey, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Pope John Paul II's planned visit to Armenia. Martinelli subsequently told journalists that he does not think the unresolved Karabakh conflict should prove an obstacle to Armenia's acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe or its integration into European structures. LF ABKHAZIA CONDEMNS ALLEGED RUSSIAN BIAS. The Abkhaz parliament adopted a statement on 9 April saying that the region's leadership may abjure further Russian mediation of a settlement of the conflict with Georgia if Moscow continues its "one-sided support" of the Georgian position, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The statement further termed "invalid" the decision of the 2 April CIS summit, which it claimed tacitly supported the Georgian leadership's imputed intention to resolve the conflict by force. Also on 9 April, two Abkhaz officials were shot dead in their car in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali raion, ITAR-TASS reported quoting an Abkhaz government source. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER INTIMIDATED. A man identified as an employee of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry twice rammed the car of opposition National Independent Party of Azerbaijan chairman Etibar Mamedov with his own vehicle on 9 April, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. On the second occasion, the attacker threatened Mamedov with a gun, but was disarmed by Mamedov's bodyguard and subsequently detained by police. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS PLANS TO REDUCE PENSIONS. The Democratic Congress, which unites a dozen opposition parties, issued a statement on 9 April criticizing a draft bill on retirement benefits that proposes cutting pensions for the rural population by 50 percent, Turan reported the following day. The Democratic Congress further termed the proposed reduction illegal, as the pension expenditures were approved in the 1999 budget. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S TENGE REBOUNDS. Kazakhstan's currency gained in value again in trading on 9 April, closing at 115.7 tenge/$1 after fluctuating only 3-4 tenge during the day, Interfax reported. But National Bank head Kadyrzhan Damitov told journalists on 9 April that as of 1 May the maximum amount of hard currency that can be exported in cash on any one occasion will be cut from $10,000 to $3,000. In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, acting National Bank chairman Ulan Sarbanov told the lower chamber of parliament on 9 April that the bank will not introduce a fixed exchange rate despite sharp fluctuations over the past few days in the value of the som (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7-8 April, 1999). LF CENTRAL ASIA SUMMIT CONCLUDES. Meeting in Ashgabat on 8-9 April, the presidents of the five Central Asian Soviet successor states reviewed the progress made since their January 1998 summit in improving the ecological situation in the Aral Sea region. They also discussed the prospects for future cooperation in the implementation of international projects for developing Transcaucasus and Trans-Asian transport corridors and in constructing a multiple pipeline network for the export of the region's hydrocarbon resources, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 April. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 9 April responded to Uzbek President Islam Karimov's protests that Tajikistan should first have consulted neighboring states before agreeing to allow Russia to maintain a military base on its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 9 April, 1999). Rakhmonov said his country has a "sovereign right" to conclude such agreements, pointing also to the security risks posed by Tajikistan's 1,600 km frontier with Afghanistan. LF UN ENVOY ASSESSES POLITICAL SITUATION IN TAJIKISTAN. Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe on 9 April, Jan Kubis expressed concern at delay in implementing both the military and political protocols of the 1997 General Peace Accord, ITAR-TASS reported. Kubis attributed the reluctance of both the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition to act on agreements they had initiated to narrow political interests. Kubis also announced that the UN will resume operations in the Garm region of eastern Tajikistan. Operations there were suspended last summer following the murder of three UN observers and their interpreter. Also on 9 April, Tajik Defense Ministry spokesman Zerobiddin Sirodzhev told Interfax that a total of 900 former Tajik opposition fighters have been enlisted into three interim army units. LF END NOTE MOSCOW AND MINSK VIRTUALLY ALONE IN SUPPORT OF MILOSEVIC By Pete Baumgartner The vehement opposition by the governments of Russia and Belarus to NATO's air campaign in Yugoslavia has placed them in a small group of countries within Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that tend to support Belgrade over NATO in the Kosova crisis. Though the three newest members of NATO--the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland--obviously back the alliance's actions in Yugoslavia, absolute support has not been forthcoming in every case. The weakest link for NATO has been in Prague. Though Czech President Vaclav Havel has spoken strongly in support of the air strikes, the governing Social Democrats (CSSD) have made only lukewarm statements in favor of NATO's actions. Additionally, on 10 April 341 delegates at a CSSD conference in Prague signed a letter condemning the NATO air campaign. Among conservatives, parliament speaker and former Premier Vaclav Klaus said on 8 April that the air strikes "were not the right policy," and that since the bombing began "the suffering in Kosova has increased manifold." The rival Freedom Union party called for Klaus to be dismissed as speaker for "severely damaging the Czech Republic's credibility and prestige within NATO." Hungary, the only NATO country that shares a border with Yugoslavia, has solidly endorsed NATO action. So much so, in fact, that one ethnic Hungarian leader in Serbia's Vojvodina region said Budapest's "extreme" support for the air strikes could have negative consequences for ethnic Hungarians there. Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban even spoke favorably of NATO's bombing of the bridges spanning the Danube River in Novi Sad, despite the fact that Hungarian companies will suffer substantial economic losses as a result of the stoppage in shipping traffic the bridge debris has caused. (Orban reasons that destruction of the bridge will help prevent Yugoslav troops stationed in Vojvodina, which includes many ethnic Hungarians, from being transferred to Kosova.) In Warsaw, official backing for the air campaign has been solid, and only a small group of pacifist Catholic deputies and the Peasant Party have spoken against the NATO operation. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek gave an impassioned speech to parliament in support of air strikes on 9 April, and former President Lech Walesa even called for the alliance to send in ground troops. Perhaps even more vocal than the fledgling NATO members in their support for military action against Yugoslavia are the seven countries striving to be part of the next wave of NATO expansion: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuanian, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. These countries sent a joint letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton on 9 April expressing their full support for action necessary to end "...the suffering and violence in Kosova." In Bratislava, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda called the decision to bomb Yugoslavia the lesser "of two evils." But the party of former Premier Vladimir Meciar called the air strikes "modern barbarism" in parliament on 25 March and declared its "solidarity" with Yugoslavia. In Bulgaria and Romania, government backing for NATO's actions faces harsh criticism from the major opposition parties--criticism that resonates somewhat within the public, who are uncomfortable with the close proximity of the military operations and who feel for the ethnic Romanian and ethnic Bulgarian minorities living in Serbia. Though the government of Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov supported the strikes, it was criticized in some Western circles for closing its borders to all Yugoslav refugees except ethnic Bulgarians. Romania and Bulgaria also stand to lose millions of dollars from the shutdown in shipping on the Danube, something the threadbare economies of those countries can ill afford. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said on 25 March that it notes that the Atlantic alliance's decision to use force was "to a large extent imposed by the irreconcilable position" of one side in the conflict, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Croatian officials, whose country has not yet been accepted into NATO's Partnership for Peace program, have publicly supported NATO. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, pledges of official support for either Yugoslavia or NATO fall largely, predictably, along ethnic lines. Leaders in both countries no doubt feel a touch of schadenfreude that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is enduring the kind of destruction that other former Yugoslav republics experienced during the 1991- 1995 wars of Yugoslav succession. In Kyiv, government officials have mixed condemnations of NATO air strikes, with calls for resumed negotiations. The Defense Ministry also maintained that "strong relations with NATO are within Ukraine's interests." And despite virulent statements by deputies against NATO, resolutions reducing ties with NATO as well as one calling for Ukraine to renege on its nuclear-free status have failed to pass a largely leftist parliament. President Leonid Kuchma has also turned down all calls for military aid to be sent to Belgrade and called Yugoslavia's proposal to join the Belarusian-Russian Union "unrealistic." In the Caucasus, both Armenia and Georgia expressed disappointment at the failure of negotiations to solve the conflict and concern at the decision by the alliance to use force against Yugoslavia. Most political groups in Yerevan spoke against the air strikes, though the Foreign Ministry said on 25 March that "Armenia has always stood up for the right of peoples to self-determination." Though on the same day, its defense minister signed a CIS joint statement in Moscow calling the NATO air strikes "inhuman." Meanwhile, the People's Front of Azerbaijan Party praised NATO actions against Yugoslavia "...which has committed genocide against Albanians." It said that "the same policy of ethnic cleansing has been carried out against Azerbaijanis living in...Nagorno-Karabakh" and was hopeful that "such [NATO] action will be carried out against Armenia..." The Central Asian states have been relatively quiet and ever cautious in their official statements regarding the Kosova conflict. Kazakhstan neither endorsed nor condemned the air strikes but did call for Yugoslav forces to withdraw from Kosova. The Tajik Foreign Ministry condemned the air campaign as "destabilizing the global situation." So while Belgrade knows it has little support in the West, unequivocal support in the East is also rare. Though in a global sense, Yugoslavia appears to be doing alright: Yugoslav Deputy Foreign Minister Zoran Novakovic pointed out on 9 April that Russia, China, and India oppose the NATO military campaign, and those countries "account for a majority of the world's population," he said. 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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