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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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
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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.
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                     All rights reserved.
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