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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 76, Part I, 20 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 76, Part I, 20 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 * CLINTON, YELTSIN AGREE ON NEED FOR POLITICAL SETTLEMENT IN KOSOVA * YELTSIN TELLS REGIONS TO TAKE MORE POWER * ARMENIA DENIES TALKS WITH AZERBAIJAN ON LIBERATING OCCUPIED TERRITORIES End Note: NEW MOVES ON THE CAUCASUS CHESSBOARD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CLINTON, YELTSIN AGREE ON NEED FOR POLITICAL SETTLEMENT IN KOSOVA... In a 50-minute telephone conversation on 19 April, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton agreed that Yugoslav forces must stop attacks on ethnic Albanians and withdraw from Kosova, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Both leaders also demanded the safe repatriation of refugees and access to Kosova for humanitarian organizations, according to Kremlin officials and White House Secretary Joseph Lockhart. It was the first time the two leaders had spoken since the NATO bombing of strategic targets in Yugoslavia began on 24 March. Yeltsin criticized Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for opposing a peace-keeping force in Kosova, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. He also ruled out Russian military intervention on behalf of Yugoslavia and added that Russia will not send any additional ships to the Adriatic, where it currently deploys a monitoring vessel. Both presidents agreed "to keep up as always close contacts." FS ...BUT NOT ON AIR RAIDS. Lockhart said that the talks were "very constructive" but noted that the two politicians disagree over the need for the NATO missile and bombing raids on Yugoslavia as well as over the command structure of a future peace-keeping force. Lockhart stressed that this force must be NATO-led in order to be effective. The Kremlin's press service reported that Yeltsin demanded an immediate end to the NATO air raids and favored a UN-led peace-keeping force. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said that NATO plans to send ground troops into Kosova. He accused the alliance of using "scorched earth tactics-- destroying everything in sight and then marching in as if through a desert," ITAR-TASS reported. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Russia plays "a very active and constructive role" in settling the Kosova crisis. He did not elaborate. FS RUSSIAN PATRIARCH LAUNCHES KOSOVO 'MEDIATION EFFORT.' Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II arrived in Belgrade on 20 April to a red-carpet welcome by religious leaders and politicians, AP reported. Aides of the patriarch said that he will propose to Milosevic the demilitarization of Kosova, as a first step toward re-starting the peace talks, Interfax reported. Observers noted that Kosovars are likely to consider Alexii pro-Serbian. FS FIRST SHIPMENT OF U.S. GRAIN ARRIVES... The first shipment of grain under a $1 billion U.S. Department of Agriculture aid program arrived in Vladivostok, RFE/RL's correspondent there reported on 20 April. The grain is the first batch of more than 3 million metric tons of food, including wheat, corn, rice, powdered milk, poultry and seeds, that will be delivered. The foodstuffs will be distributed by ship and rail to eight cities throughout the Russian Pacific region. Distribution of humanitarian assistance packages in Magadan from its sister city, Anchorage, Alaska, began on 19 April, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 March 1999). JAC ...AS GRAIN IN STORAGE HITS LOW LEVELS. As of 1 April, Russia's grain in storage was 51.4 percent down on the level at the same time last year, Interfax reported on 19 April. By early July, according to the agency, grain levels will be at their lowest in recent years. Already, storage levels are especially low in Kamchatka and Magadan Oblasts and the Republics of Komi and Karelia, all of which have less than 5 percent of what they had accumulated by this time last year. Meanwhile, as spring sowing of various crops begins in Altai Krai, the deputy head of the region's agriculture department told ITAR-TASS that machinery and seeds exist in sufficient supply, but concerns remain about fuel, the price of which has risen since the beginning of the year. Krai authorities have pledged that the region will receive some 60,000 tons of fuel by 1 May. JAC YELTSIN TELLS REGIONS TO TAKE MORE POWER. Russian President Boris Yeltsin told a group of governors on 19 April that they may be given more independence than is currently granted them in power-sharing agreements, Interfax reported the next day. He suggested that the leaders review their agreements and send him their proposals. He added that they should not do so in "haste." He also repeated an earlier suggestion that the regions take a more active role in foreign policy, saying "everything must originate in the regions, including proposals on foreign policy." On 21 April, the Federation Council will discuss Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov's resignation. A source in the presidential administration told ITAR-TASS on 19 April that most senators are beginning to agree with the administration that Skuratov must leave. Yeltsin has recently been actively wooing regional leaders. Earlier, 17 leaders of Russia's republics signed a declaration asking the State Duma to postpone impeachment proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). JAC MOSCOW COURT BANS RNE, AS GROUP PREPARES TO RUN IN DUMA ELECTIONS. The Butyrskii district court in Moscow on 19 April banned the Moscow chapter of the neo-fascist Russian National Unity (RNE). The court said that the activities of that chapter violate the Russian Constitution as well as other federal laws and regulations. RNE representatives denounced the decision, calling the trial "political" and saying that they will appeal. Earlier, RNE members said that they will ignore any decision to ban them. On 16 April, a new electoral bloc made up of the RNE, Savior, and Renaissance socio-political movements announced it will run in upcoming Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 April. According to the daily, these little known organizations have registered with the Ministry of Justice and by joining forces with them, RNE will be able to run. JAC KEMEROVO GOVERNOR'S BLOC TROUNCES OTECHESTVO, YABLOKO IN ELECTIONS... The electoral bloc led by Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev swept regional elections on 18 April, winning 34 out of 35 seats in the oblast legislature, ITAR- TASS reported. The bloc's nominees also scored well in mayoral and rural administration head races. According to the agency, 44 percent of eligible voters participated. The largest number of votes were cast in rural areas, where Tuleev is extremely popular, the "Moscow Times" reported on 20 April. Losing candidates charged that the ballot was rife with irregularities, such as Governor Tuleev making a host of appearances on behalf of his bloc's candidates, according to the daily. The election law stipulates that the governor cannot participate in local campaigns. The head of the election commission defended Tuleev by noting that the governor had officially been on vacation when he made those appearances. JAC ...AS REGION ANNOUNCES ITS WILLINGNESS TO TAKE IN REFUGEES. Tuleev announced on 19 April that his region is willing to take in 10,000 Yugoslav refugees, Interfax reported. Tuleev's announcement follows a grander declaration by Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov that his oblast is willing to accommodate 50,000 refugees. Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 19 April that "there are enough refugees in Russia who need help. We have to help those who are already on our territory, whether these are refugees from CIS countries, the Baltics, or other countries." JAC RUSSIA AMASSES HUGE TRADE SURPLUS. Russian exports fell by 18.2 percent in January and February 1999 and its imports by 49.9 percent, compared with the previous year, according to the State Committee for Statistics, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April. The trade surplus totaled $3.8 billion. JAC SIDANKO BANKRUPTCY PROBED. The office of the federal prosecutor-general has launched a criminal investigation into whether the oil company SIDANKO illegally initiated its own bankruptcy proceedings, SIDANKO external manager Sergei Kitin told reporters on 19 April. Kitin also denied allegations by the Federal Bankruptcy Service that he personally committed "grave violations." SIDANKO's debt currently totals around $400 million, and according to AP, the company's bankruptcy proceedings are being closely watched by investors, since there is a general perception that investors' rights have regularly been overlooked by companies and authorities. JAC YELTSIN AGREES TO MEET WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENT. President Yeltsin said on 19 April he will meet at the Kremlin with Aslan Maskhadov to discuss future relations between Grozny and the federal center, Russian agencies reported. Yeltsin noted that Moscow has given the Chechen leadership time to realize that "a republic cannot live inside Russia without Russia." Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Interfax the same day that Maskhadov "welcomes" the proposed meeting, the precise date and agenda for which will be determined after further Russian-Chechen consultations. Vachagaev said Maskhadov considers the implementation of the 12 May 1997 Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Mutual Relations to be a top priority. Vachagaev added that "Chechnya is prepared [to accept] reasonable compromises which do not curb its independence," Interfax reported. LF CHECHEN OPPOSITION OFFERS PEACEKEEPERS FOR KOSOVA The second Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan convened in Grozny on 17 April, Interfax and Turan reported. Delegates affirmed their readiness to dispatch military units to Kosova to prevent further ethnic cleansing of Muslim Albanians. Congress leader and former Chechen Premier Shamil Basaev addressed a statement to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana informing him of that decision. Delegates also adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Dagestan as the first step toward the "decolonization" of that republic, and they reaffirmed their commitment to the congress's original goal of creating a united Islamic state comprising Chechnya and Dagestan. On 15 April, Dagestan's Minister for Nationalities, Information and Foreign Affairs, Magomedsalikh Gusaev, criticized the planned congress as illegal and as interference in Dagestan's internal affairs, according to ITAR-TASS. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA DENIES TALKS WITH AZERBAIJAN ON LIBERATING OCCUPIED TERRITORIES. Armenian presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 19 April that a Russian media report that Armenian and Azerbaijani officials are conducting secret talks on conditions under which Armenian forces will withdraw from five occupied districts of Azerbaijan "does not correspond to reality." Interfax on 17 April quoted unnamed Azerbaijani government officials as saying that the issue had been discussed at a meeting in Georgia on 12 April between the defense ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). Interfax said that in return for withdrawing from five districts that border on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the south, Armenia is demanding the restoration of road and rail links from Azerbaijan to Armenia. LF CZECH PREMIER IN KAZAKHSTAN. Milos Zeman held talks in Astana on 19 April with his Kazakh counterpart, Nurlan Balghymbaev, on expanding trade and economic relations and on repaying Kazakhstan's debts to the Czech Republic, Interfax and ITAR- TASS reported. Balghymbaev characterized the Czech Republic as one of his country's key partners in central Europe, noting that trade turnover doubled from $50 million in 1997 to $100 million last year. Zeman told Balghymbaev that Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has agreed to his proposal to remove existing barriers to exports of gas from Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic via Russia. A joint commission is to determine the volume of such exports, which will constitute part payment of Kazakhstan's outstanding debt for construction projects undertaken by Czechoslovakia in Kazakhstan in the 1980s. Zeman also met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev. LF KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER PROPOSES INCLUDING RUSSIA, KYRGYZSTAN IN RIVER NEGOTIATIONS. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 19 April, Murat Auezov, who is a former Kazakh ambassador to Beijing and co-chairman of the opposition movement Azamat, called for the inclusion of Russian and Kyrgyz government representatives in the upcoming Kazakh-Chinese talks on the use of waters from the Irtysh and Ili Rivers, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 15 April 1999). Auezov noted that Beijing is building new dams and power stations on the Irtysh, which is a tributary of Russia's Ob River. Those facilities could radically reduce the volume of water flowing from China into Kazakhstan. LF KYRGYZ-RUSSIAN ECONOMIC COMMISSION MEETS. At its first session in Bishkek on 19 April, the Kyrgyz-Russian inter-- governmental commission reviewed a draft 10-year economic cooperation program that includes cooperation in the oil and gas sectors, the involvement of Russian companies in the construction of hydro-electric plants in Kyrgyzstan, and Russian orders from Kyrgyz defense plants, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Russian Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who is co-chairman of the commission, also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CRITICIZES PACT ON RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE. In an interview with AP-Blitz on 19 April, Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda, who is leader of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan and chairman of the Committee for National Reconciliation sub-committee on legal affairs, said the creation on the territory of Tajikistan of a foreign military base is "unacceptable." Himmatzoda reasoned that the 16 April agreement signed in Moscow by the defense ministers of Russia and Tajikistan, which allows Russia to establish such a base in Tajikistan, will compel neighboring countries to conclude analogous agreements. This, he said, will exacerbate tensions in the region. He said the presence in Tajikistan of the 201st Russian division and of Russian border troops is adequate to ensure the country's security. LF UZBEKISTAN TO JOIN GUAM. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 19 April, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said the presidents of the four GUAM states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) will formally announce the accession of Uzbekistan to that alignment in Washington later this week. Shevardnadze added that the five members have drafted documents redefining the nature and objectives of that organization. He declined to give details, however, other than to say that the draft does not include military cooperation, according to ITAR-TASS and Interfax. LF END NOTE NEW MOVES ON THE CAUCASUS CHESSBOARD by Paul Goble Several recent developments in the southern Caucasus may fundamentally change power relationships not only in that region but also across a much larger portion of the world as well. Precisely because of that possibility, some of the players both within the region and beyond appear to be positioning themselves to respond with new moves. On 17 April, leaders from the Caucasus and Central Asia marked the opening of a 515-mile pipeline that will carry oil from the Caspian basin to the West. The same day, Ukraine, Georgia, and Bulgaria signed a treaty creating a new Black Sea rail ferry route. Both of these moves, which have been widely welcomed in the West, will allow the countries of this region to reach Europe without passing through either Russia or Iran. Together, these moves on the chessboard of the Caucasus may come to transform the geopolitical environment of both this region and Eurasia as a whole. As one senior Azerbaijani official put it, these steps mean "the world to us," giving Baku "direct access to the West" and thus allowing it to free itself from Russia "after 200 years." Indeed, if both this pipeline and ferry arrangement work out, Russian leverage over these countries will decline still further. And as if to underline the decline in Russian power there, approximately 100 soldiers from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine last week held four-day military maneuvers at Krtsanisi, just east of Tbilisi. While the number of troops involved was small, such a joint exercise highlights the continuing decay of the Russian-backed CIS as the chief security organization of the post-Soviet region. And it gives new content to GUAM, an organization that includes Moldova as well as the three countries that took part in the maneuvers. Indeed, many Russian officials are likely to view the exercise as a direct challenge to Moscow, particularly because it came on the heels of a decision by several CIS states not to continue to participate in the Commonwealth's defense agreement. Even more, officials in other countries in this region are certain to be following this exercise as a test of what may now be possible for them as well. But precisely because so much is at stake, not only for these countries but for others as well, several states have moved some pieces on this chessboard as well. On 14 April, Russia and Iran signed an agreement to cooperate in the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the region, a direct response to the new Azerbaijan-Georgian pipeline. Russian Oil Minister Sergei Generalov and his Iranian opposite number, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, initialed an accord that will expand the already large degree of cooperation between the two states from which many in the Caspian basin seek to become more independent. Whether this accord will give the two states more opportunities to counter the new east-west corridor in the southern Caucasus remains to be seen. But on 14 April, Moscow took another step designed to defend or even expand its influence there. In Yerevan to mark Armenia's expanded participation in CIS air defense, General Anatolii Kornukov, the commander of the Russian Federation air force, announced that Moscow will send more fighter jets to its military base in the Caucasus country. Kornukov went out of his way to say that this new buildup was in no way a threat to Azerbaijan, with which Armenia has been locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh for more than a decade. But few in Baku or elsewhere are likely to see this latest Russian move as anything but precisely that. Indeed, when Moscow recently deployed advanced S-300 missiles and MiG-29 fighters to Armenia, Azerbaijanis from President Heidar Aliev down protested that move as inherently destabilizing. They are almost certain to raise their voices again now that Moscow has introduced still more weaponry into Armenia, with which the Russian Federation maintains extremely close ties. Such moves and countermoves serve as a reminder not only of how complicated this region remains and how much is at stake for how many people but also of how difficult it is for any of the participants in this geopolitical game to make a move that the other side cannot quickly move to counter. Thus neither side is likely to be able to move into an endgame anytime soon. 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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