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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 73, Part I, 15 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 73, Part I, 15 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 * MORE RUSSIA SHIPS TO HEAD FOR ADRIATIC * IMPEACHMENT DEBATE ON SLATE FOR MID-MAY * UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS ISLAMIC THREAT WILL NOT HALT DEMOCRATIZATION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA MORE RUSSIA SHIPS TO HEAD FOR ADRIATIC. In an interview with the military newspaper "Krasnaya Zvezda" on 15 April, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that evidence suggests that NATO is preparing a ground operation in Yugoslavia. He pointed to the increased intensity of the air strikes, the introduction of an additional number of planes and ground-based aircraft as well as the deployment of Apache helicopters and multiple- rocket launchers. He also said that Russia is planning to replace its repair ship off the coast of Syria, which will require the accompaniment of military ships. The Turkish General Staff announced the previous day that an eight-ship squadron of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, heading for the Adriatic, will pass through the Turkish straits in three groups beginning 15 to 22 April, ITAR-TASS reported. A naval analyst told Reuters that "booking passage through the Turkish straits indicates an intention to sail and is no longer just talk." JAC CHERNOMYRDIN BACKS GERMAN PEACE PROPOSAL. Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's new presidential envoy to Yugoslavia, said on 15 April that he supports Germany's call for a 24- hour suspension of hostilities. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 April, Chernomyrdin also spoke out against sending military weapons or personnel to the conflict zone. In remarks to reporters, Chernomyrdin condemned recent NATO air strikes which resulted in casualties of civilian Kosovar Albanians as "a tragedy and a crime," which demonstrate the "need for a rapid, peaceful resolution of existing problems." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov slammed Chernomyrdin's appointment, saying "this person made a mess of everything in the country, but today he is assigned to the worst hot spot." JAC YUGOSLAV CONFLICT TO HAVE SPILLOVER EFFECT ON RUSSIA? The Federal Security Service (FSB) is concerned about the domestic effects of the increasing number of volunteers being recruited in Russia to serve in the Kosova conflict (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 April 1999), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 April. According to a FSB source, "radical organizations are setting up illegal paramilitary formations on the pretext of recruiting volunteers for Yugoslavia--either for the propaganda effect on the eve of the State Duma election campaign or for use in street clashes should the domestic political situation deteriorate." The daily also cited the fear voiced by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev that participation by Russians on both sides of the front line could destabilize the situation in Tatarstan and elsewhere. In addition to some Tatarstan residents, a volunteer battalion from the Congress of Peoples of Dagestan and Ichkeria are also planning to go to aid the Kosovar Albanians, the newspaper reported. JAC IMPEACHMENT DEBATE ON SLATE FOR MID-MAY... The State Duma voted on 14 April to delay the debate on impeachment of President Boris Yeltsin from 15 April to 13 May. There were 241 votes in favor of the postponement. Earlier that day, two previous votes to delay the debate failed to gather enough votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April), and "Izvestiya" argued on 15 April that "from a legal point of view" the Duma reached "a dual decision" and the debate can be held either 15 April or 13 May. According to the daily, Duma deputy Oleg Morozov (leader of the Russian Regions faction) and deputy Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko), among others, believe that since the Duma twice failed to adopt a decision postponing the question then the impeachment issue must be examined on 15 April. The Kremlin responded negatively to the latest development: presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said that by postponing the debate the Duma paralyzes its legislative activities. JAC ...AS YELTSIN WINS MORE SUPPORT FROM REGIONAL LEADERS. Konstantin Titov, Samara Oblast governor and the informal leader of the Golos Rossii movement of Russian regional leaders, sent a letter to President Yeltsin expressing his willingness to transform his movement into a pro-presidential one, Interfax reported on 13 April citing a source in the Federation Council. A source in Golos Rossii said the letter was received on 9 April. According to the agency, Yeltsin has been invited to participate in a forum Golos Rossii is holding on 20 April in Moscow. On 13 April, 17 heads of Russia's republics issued a declaration calling on the Duma to stop impeachment proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). JAC WORLD BANK PRESIDENT ARRIVES FOR TALKS. World Bank President James Wolfensohn arrived in Moscow on 14 April for a two-day visit to assess the government's economic program and discuss additional disbursement of its third structural adjustment loan. Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants told reporters that he hopes that Wolfensohn's visit will settle the issue of the "timing of the loan and size of the tranches to be disbursed in 1999 and 2000." Key issues between the bank and Russia still to be resolved, according to Shapovalyants, are "the size of cash payments to natural monopolies such as gas and electricity, the regulation of access to export pipelines, and the operating mode of the Russian development bank," Interfax reported. JAC SAKHALIN-3 PSA SAILS THROUGH DUMA. Members of the Duma approved on 14 April a bill allowing production sharing at the Sakhalin-3 oil field. The vote was 310-8 with two abstentions. The bill allows the sale of the right to exploit the hydrocarbon resources of the Kirinski exploration bloc to different buyers, ITAR-TASS reported, in addition to the usual tax breaks provided under a production sharing agreement (PSA). The law still must be approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Yeltsin before it goes into effect. JAC NIZHNII NOVGOROD HEADED FOR EUROBOND DEFAULT. Nizhnii Novgorod is likely to become the first region in Russia to default on its Eurobond, "Vremya MN" reported on 13 April. On 2 April, the oblast did not pay a $4.4 million coupon maturing on its $100 million bond. According to Governor Ivan Sklarov, the oblast at the present time can only pay about half of the amount due, $2.2 million, but, according to the newspaper, no negotiations with its creditors about a restructuring of its debt are now taking place. However, by 14 April, Sklarov made it to Moscow to discuss the issue with top Finance Ministry officials, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 April. An official with the oblast's administration finance department told the daily that the oblast is hoping that its creditors will not enforce "cross-default provisions" requiring the oblast to make good on the $100 million bond immediately and instead allow them to restructure or defer payment. JAC WITH RESTRICTIONS IN PLACE, RUBLE BOUNCES BACK. The ruble continued strengthening on 15 April for the sixth day in a row, rising to 24.80 rubles per dollar. According to AFP, analysts explain the rise by the new regulations imposed on trading by the Central Bank. The IMF has expressed its opposition to the Central Bank's limitations on ruble convertibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). JAC MOSCOW PUSHING FOR BUMPER GRAIN CROP THIS YEAR. Federal-level agricultural officials are offering farm credits and fertilizer discounts to encourage a strong grain harvest this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 April. Last year's harvest was one of the worst in 40 years, and this year Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov is predicting that Russia will produce 70 million metric tons of grain, a 46 percent increase over last year's yield. Government spokesman Igor Shchegolev pledged the same day that the federal government will provide farmers with 65 percent of their total funds for the year by May, which will be the first time in the last 10 years that such a large sum is provided in such a short period of time, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA'S SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN INJURED IN GRENADE ATTACK. Islam Burlakov was hospitalized with serious injuries on 13 April after unknown persons threw a grenade at his home, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 April. The paper quoted General Vladimir Semenov, the former commander of Russian army land forces and a candidate in the 25 April republican presidential elections, as saying that the attack is intended to discredit him (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 1, 5 January 1999). The KChR Supreme Court rejected a complaint last week by the head of Semenov's campaign staff that the republic's Central Electoral Commission had violated the Russian Constitution in agreeing to register Boris Ebzeev, who is a member of the Russian Constitutional Court, as a presidential candidate. Semenov escaped an apparent assassination attempt unscathed on 2 April. LF RUSSIA, IRAN SIGN OIL, GAS AGREEMENT. Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov and his Iranian counterpart, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, signed a memorandum of understanding in Tehran on 14 April on oil and gas exploration and development, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The agreement covers the purchase of equipment and chemicals, cooperation in petrochemical joint ventures, and the construction of underground gas storage facilities. According to Generalov, the agreement is the first of its kind. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA, RUSSIA INAUGURATE COMBINED AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM. Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov, commander in chief of the Russian air force, and his Armenian counterpart, Lieutenant- General Mikael Harutiunian, attended a ceremony at a Russian base 30 km southwest of Yerevan on 15 April to mark the integration of the two countries' air defense systems, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kornukov told journalists in Yerevan the previous day that Russia will send a further eight MiG-29s to Armenia in addition to the five recently deployed there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998 and 18 February 1999). Kornukov said on 15 April that other CIS member states, including Azerbaijan, are invited to join the CIS air defense system, of which Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are also members. He noted that the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia demonstrate that in conditions of modern hi-tech warfare, small countries need to enlist the help of larger states in order to repel a massive air assault. LF RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO ARMENIANS. Two drunken Russian border guards who had deserted their unit near the north Armenian town of Gyumri seized sub-machineguns from a Russian border post and then indiscriminately opened fire in the town streets, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Two people were killed and nine more wounded before the two soldiers were overpowered and disarmed. Russia's ambassador to Armenia, Anatolii Dryuker, expressed formal apologies for the incident on 15 April. LF GEORGIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS RAIL TRANSPORT. Visiting Tbilisi on 14 April, Russian Transport Minister Nikolai Aksenenko discussed with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze the possibility of writing off Georgian railway's debts to Russia and the resumption of rail traffic, including freight from Russia via Abkhazia to the Black Sea port of Poti, Caucasus Press reported. A preliminary agreement was reached on the repair of Russian locomotives and carriages at a Tbilisi plant. LF KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY PROTESTS OFFICIAL RESTRICTIONS. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 14 April, Seydahmet Quttyqadam, leader of the recently registered ORLEU party, complained that the city authorities have created obstacles for his party, specifically by withdrawing permission for it to hold a congress at the trade union confederation building earlier this week, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. At a session of the pro-presidential Otanshyldar Party in Almaty on 14 April, members announced that Kazakhstan's current priority is not to create an open society but to strengthen national statehood (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). LF KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH CHINESE AMBASSADOR. Qasymzhomart Toqaev and Li Huei discussed the joint use of water from the Irtysh River, which flows through eastern Kazakhstan and Xinjiang, in Astana on 14 April, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. Li said that the Chinese government is assessing unspecified proposals made earlier by the Kazakh side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). LF KAZAKHSTAN REGISTERS POPULATION DECLINE. According to the preliminary results of the census conducted earlier this year, the current population of Kazakhstan is 14.95 million, Reuters reported on 14 April quoting the State Statistics Agency. That figure represents a decline of over one million since 1989, when the population numbered 16.2 million, and is only marginally higher than the 1979 total of 14.684 million. It is not clear what percentage of the decrease is attributable to out-migration as opposed to negative population growth. Nor is any information yet available on shifts in the ethnic composition of the population. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION OFFERS TO PROVIDE SECURITY FOR UN OBSERVERS. United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri, who also chairs the Commission for National Reconciliation, met in Dushanbe on 14 April with Joachim Hutter, a senior UN official with responsibility for peacekeeping operations in Asia and the Middle East, AP-Blitz reported. Hutter informed Nuri of the UN's recent decision to resume operations in the Karategin valley, whereupon Nuri offered to ensure the security of the UN observers in that region. The UN suspended operations outside Dushanbe last year following the murder of three members of its observer force and their interpreter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). LF UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS ISLAMIC THREAT WILL NOT HALT DEMOCRATIZATION. In a two-hour speech to Uzbekistan's parliament on 14 April, Islam Karimov said his country's security is currently threatened by external Islamic forces. But he pledged that those forces will not succeed in reversing the embryonic reform process, pledging further liberalization in both the political and economic spheres. Specifically, Karimov advocated a mixed economy with a strong private sector, and said the Uzbek currency will become convertible before the end of this year, according to Interfax. He added that Uzbekistan must step up its efforts to gain admittance to the World Trade Organization, and called for the deregulation of foreign trade. Karimov also announced that those accused of the 16 February bomb attacks in Tashkent, including opposition Erk party founder Muhammad Solih, whom he identified as the organizer of those attacks, will go on open trial in Tashkent in May. 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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