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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 71, Part I, 13 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 71, Part I, 13 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 * PRIMAKOV DEFENDS GOVERNMENT AGAINST YELTSIN CRITICISM * IMPEACHMENT VOTE DELAYED * NEW PRIME MINISTER NAMED IN KYRGYZSTAN END NOTE: KAZAKH PRESIDENT PLEDGES DEMOCRATIZATION--AT HIS OWN PACE AND ON HIS OWN TERMS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PRIMAKOV DEFENDS GOVERNMENT AGAINST YELTSIN CRITICISM... In a 12-minute televised national address on 10 April, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov defended his government's record, responding directly to Yeltsin's comment the previous day that "today, Primakov is useful, tomorrow we'll see." He claimed that in the last seven months, his government has paid off all debts to state workers, reduced inflation from 11 percent in December to 2.8 percent in March, and limited the growth of the value of the dollar to only five rubles in the past seven months. He also repeated that he has "no ambitions or desire to participate in presidential elections," adding that he is "not clinging to the office of prime minister, especially when a time frame for my work is being set. Today, I am useful, tomorrow we'll see." JAC ...AS BATTLE BEGINS OVER ECONOMIC POLICY? President Yeltsin responded to Primakov's address, according to "Kommersant Daily" on 13 April, by making decisive pronouncements about economic policy and openly criticizing the government's budget policy in his budget message issued the previous day. Specifically, Yeltsin suggested that the number of regions receiving federal money should be drastically reduced, and Moscow should instead concentrate on funding those regions that really require financial assistance. The president added that it was necessary to fine-tune the mechanism for restructuring debts owed to the federal budget with the aim of eventually liquidating them. JAC IMPEACHMENT VOTE DELAYED. After President Boris Yeltsin publicly asked the State Duma to either hold impeachment hearings as scheduled or drop them altogether, leaders of the various Duma factions voted on 12 April to postpone them. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told reporters that the Duma will decide when to hold the vote after deputies resolve procedural questions related to the impeachment process, such as whether or not to hold an open vote. The Communists and other leftist factions favor an open vote. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the vote will most likely take place after the 1 May and 9 May holidays. JAC IMF OBJECTING TO RUBLE'S LACK OF CONVERTIBILITY. An IMF spokesperson told RFE/RL's Washington bureau on 12 April that it has advised the Russian government to remove constraints to trading on its foreign exchange market. Interfax reported that the fund objected in particular to a Central Bank (CB) order banning foreign banks from using money in their correspondent accounts in Russian banks to buy hard currency. The order was part of a recent series of measures by the CB to help stabilize the ruble's exchange rate. The CB also revoked the rights of Russian banks to buy U.S. dollars during the special morning currency trading session. In the fall, the fund objected to the creation of the special trading sessions, but Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko at the time said that the measure was only temporary and would be discontinued as soon as possible. JAC SLAVIC UNION EXPANSION ON HOLD UNTIL AIR STRIKES END. Russia is "continuing to consider" the possibility of admitting Yugoslavia to the Union of Belarus and Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladmir Rakhmanin said on 12 April. The previous day, Yugoslavia's ambassador to Russia, Borislav Milosevic, submitted a letter from his brother, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, reportedly requesting Yugoslavia's admission to the union. However, "diplomatic sources" told Interfax that the letter did not contain a formal request and expressed only Milosevic's "profound satisfaction" with Yeltsin's position on Yugoslavia's possible admission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1999). Yeltsin instructed the Foreign Ministry to hold consultations with Belarus about the possibility of admitting Yugoslavia into the union, according to ITAR-TASS, but the issue was not on the agenda of the union's Executive Committee meeting scheduled for 13 April in Minsk. Both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov have suggested that an expanded confederation should be considered only after air strikes have ended. (See related Belarusian and Yugoslav stories in Part II.) JAC NEW U.S. PRIVATE INVESTMENT TO FLOW INTO RUSSIAN FARM SECTOR? Two U.S. farm equipment manufacturers, John Deere and the Case Corporation, are planning to invest about $400 million in Russia and establishing farm equipment leasing enterprises, Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told Interfax on 12 April. According to Kulik, John Deere will invest $200 million in Rostelmash in the Rostov Oblast and Case will invest $200 million in Kirov Works in St. Petersburg. They will raise an additional $2 billion from U.S. investment banks, Kulik said. Local Rostov-on-the-Don newspaper "Gorod N" reported on 24 March that the companies' projects were to be a top item on the agenda of Prime Minister Primakov's meeting with U.S. Vice President Al Gore that was cancelled after NATO air strikes appeared imminent. It also said that John Deere wanted to reach an agreement with the Russian government before its plans with Rostelmash could go forward. JAC GDP FALLING, FOREIGN DEBT RISING. Inflation soared in 1998, rising to 84.4 percent compared with just 11.8 percent in 1997, according to a Finance Ministry report. GDP slipped 4.6 percent last year, while industrial production slumped 5.2 percent. Exports dropped to 87 percent of the previous year's level, while imports contracted 15.1 percent. Meanwhile, Russia's foreign debt exceeded GDP in 1998 by 18.7 percent and its domestic debt by 19.4 percent, "Segodnya" reported on 9 April. JAC RUSSIAN INSURERS WON'T BE FLYING ON NEW YEAR'S EVE? Several Russian insurance companies have hiked insurance rates for Russian airlines because they fear that domestic carriers have inadequately prepared their computers systems for the transition to the year 2000, Viktor Gorlov, deputy director of the Federal Aviation Service told Interfax on 11 April. According to "Segodnya," Gorlov said that all airlines which do not fulfill the demands of the aviation service with regard to preparing for 2000 will lose their license. However, he admitted that the aviation service itself did not have enough resources to test all the airlines' systems before 31 December. JAC FORMER COSMONAUTS APPEAL FOR DONATIONS FOR "MIR"... Two former cosmonauts who are now Duma deputies, Vitalii Sevastyanov and German Titov, made a public appeal for donations to keep the space station "Mir" in orbit, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 April. Sevastyanov, a member of the Communist party, blasted the U.S. for its efforts to push Russia into abandoning "Mir" and concentrating on the "International Space Station," the daily reported. Earlier, a Canadian citizen of Russian origin donated $100,000 for the station, according to a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency. The previous day, agency Director Yurii Koptev told reporters that extra-budgetary sources for financing "Mir" must be found before mid-May, Interfax reported. JAC ...AS SARATOV GOVERNOR PREPARES FOR BLAST-OFF. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov intends to enter orbit as a member of a Russian space crew in 2001, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 April. According to Ayatskov, he has already reached an agreement with the Russian Space Agency about his participation on a launch planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first space flight. Ayatskov, who is known for his abrupt shifts in opinion, keeps a crocodile in his office, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 March. JAC DEFENSE MINISTERS' MOSCOW MEETING CANCELLED. The meeting of the defense ministers of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, scheduled to take place in Moscow on 14-15 April, has been cancelled, Interfax reported on 12 April quoting an unidentified Russian Defense Ministry official. ITAR-TASS on 13 April reported that Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian had decided not to travel to Moscow for the meeting because his counterpart from Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Altynbaev, would not be attending. The Moscow meeting was to have focused on border security. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PREMIER SLAMS OPPOSITION IN ENERGY TARIFF DEBATE. In an uncharacteristically politicized and harshly worded address to parliament on 12 April, Armen Darpinian criticized opposition deputies for their ongoing campaign to reverse the increase in electricity charges that took effect in January of this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian accused "forces supporting the former authorities" of trying to sabotage his government's policy of economic liberalization to gain political capital. The parliament voted on 15 March to reduce energy tariffs, with deputies from the pro-government Yerkrapah majority group declining to oppose the motion for fear of alienating voters in the runup to the 30 May parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). At that time, presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian said that President Robert Kocharian will veto the bill if parliament passes it in the second and final reading. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES KOSOVA'S RELEVANCE. In his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 12 April, Eduard Shevardnadze argued that the conflict in Kosova is the direct consequence of indifference to genocide and ethnic cleansing, and demonstrates the dangers inherent in "freezing" conflicts rather than actively seeking to resolve them, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. For that reason, Shevardnadze continued, all those countries engaged in seeking to mediate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict should step up their efforts to do so. Russia in particular, Shevardnadze said, has "a unique chance" to end the deadlock. Shevardnadze added that at the Washington NATO summit later this month he intends to stress the need for new international security guarantees that would preclude a repetition of the war in Yugoslavia, which he attributed to the UN Security Council's failure to resort to peace enforcement mechanisms at an earlier stage. LF KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER CONCLUDES VISIT TO IRAN. Nurlan Balghymbaev visited Tehran on 10-11 April in preparation for the meeting between the two countries' presidents scheduled for this fall, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April. Balghymbaev met with Vice President Hasan Habibi and President Mohammad Khatami, whom he presented with the Kazakh text of the treaty on trade and economic cooperation that is to be signed at the summit. Balghymbaev signed five intergovernmental trade agreements, including one on renewing the suspended export, via Iran, of oil from Kazakhstan. The two sides also discussed their diverging views on the status of the Caspian Sea and the prospects for routing export pipelines for oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan via Iran. LF NEW PRIME MINISTER NAMED IN KYRGYZSTAN. President Askar Akaev named the governor of Osh oblast, 52-year-old Amangeldi Muraliev, as premier on 12 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Muraliev graduated from the Frunze Polytechnical Institute in 1967 and in the 1980s served as director of several industrial plants in that city, of which he was appointed mayor in 1986. Since 1991, Muraliev has served as state secretary for economics, minister of finance, chairman of the state property fund, and vice prime minister for industry. He was appointed Osh oblast governor three years ago and was named acting premier last week following the death of Djumabek Ibraimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). The upper chamber of parliament must approve Muraliev's appointment at its next session, which begins on 20 April. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION REPRESENTATIVE DISMISSED FROM GOVERNMENT. Following a government meeting on 10 April to review implementation of the budget during the first quarter, President Imomali Rakhmonov fired five senior officials including State Customs Committee head Rahim Karimov, Interfax and AP-Blitz reported on 12 April. Karimov is a member of the United Tajik Opposition, which under the 1997 peace agreement was granted the right to nominate 30 percent of senior government personnel. The five were accused of financial laxness, including failure to ensure tax collection. On the same day, Rakhmonov also dismissed the chairmen of the Jabbor-Rasulov and Beshkent regions. END NOTE KAZAKH PRESIDENT PLEDGES DEMOCRATIZATION--AT HIS OWN PACE AND ON HIS OWN TERMS By Liz Fuller Addressing both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 31 March, President Nursultan Nazarbaev sought to reassure those Western critics who had interpreted the January 1999 pre-term presidential election as a step backwards on the road to democratization. In that poll, which was not due until December 2000, Nazarbaev was re-elected with 79.8 percent of the vote. The one politician who might have posed a serious challenge to Nazarbaev, former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was barred from participating on a legal technicality. The OSCE registered its displeasure at the less than democratic conduct of the election campaign by declining to send a fully-fledged monitoring mission. It subsequently issued a statement describing the election as falling far short of international standards. In his 31 March address, Nazarbaev acknowledged that "our friends in the West ... are impatient, they want us to speed up the pace of democratization." But he made it clear that he considered a gradual transition to greater political freedom more appropriate. Nazarbaev told deputies that elections to the lower house of parliament will take place as scheduled in October 1999. Some observers had predicted that the date would be brought forward in order to deprive opposition parties of the opportunity to prepare their respective campaigns. Nazarbaev added that the parliament will soon adopt a new election law, together with new legislation on the role and duties of the president, the government, and the parliament, and the conduct of referenda. At present, Kazakhstan has no election law. Previous polls, including the 1999 presidential election, were conducted in accordance with procedures set out in presidential decrees, which have the force of law. Opposition politicians, including Kazhegeldin, Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin and Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, the chairman of the Orleu political movement, had addressed an open letter to the parliament in March criticizing those presidential decrees on the conduct of elections as imposing "totalitarian control over the electoral system." They demanded the enacting of a new law that would ensure that both the parliamentary poll and municipal elections due this fall will be "truly democratic." Nazarbaev indicated that under the new election legislation, the number of seats in the lower house will be increased from 67 to 77, of which ten will be allocated under the proportional system. (He did not stipulate whether political parties would have to poll a minimum percentage of the vote in order to qualify for representation under that system.) Nazarbaev also said that the new election law simplifies the registration process for parties and individual candidates, and cuts by half the registration fee for parliamentary candidates. But the new election law apparently does not meet one key opposition demand, namely that in the future the governors of Kazakhstan's 14 oblasts should be elected rather than appointed by the president. Nazarbaev objected that such elections could undermine "social and economic stability." That argument is valid insofar as a poll of some 2,000 citizens of Kazakhstan conducted in the summer of 1997 indicated that people are more inclined to blame local administrators for social and economic problems than either the national government or the president. In a free election, voters might therefore reject the present governors, who were selected for their personal loyalty to the president. But at the same time, Nazarbaev made it clear that he intends to increase the responsibility of the oblast governors for the social and economic well-being of a population that appears to many outsiders to be increasingly embittered and alienated at the continuing deterioration of its standard of living. Nazarbaev warned, for example, that if governors fail to ensure that wages and pensions are paid on time, their own staff will receive their salaries only after a similar delay. Nazarbaev's cautious approach to democratization is just one aspect of his talent for strategic thinking. In his "Kazakhstan -- 2030. Upswing, Security, and Permanent Prosperity for All Citizens of Kazakhstan" program unveiled in October 1997, Nazarbaev made it clear that he considers preserving domestic political stability and the country's territorial integrity, creating a professional government apparatus and moving to stamp out corruption as necessary preconditions for broad-based economic development that will improve the living standard of the population at large. Democratization did not figure among the seven key priorities outlined in that program. But Nazarbaev is equally skilled as a tactician. One year later, in October 1998, when the international community was already focusing on the presidential election campaign, he presented an amended list of "Five Keys" to Kazakhstan's prosperity in the 21st century, which included democratization and media freedom. How far, and how fast, Kazakhstan moves towards democratization will depend to a large extent on the new legislation on the various branches of power, and, assuming that its powers are increased under that legislation, the composition of the new parliament. It is unlikely, however, that Nazarbaev will forfeit his prerogative of suspending the country's cautious progress towards democratization in the interests of preempting social upheaval. 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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