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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 79, Part I, 23 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 79, Part I, 23 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 * YELTSIN REPORTED CONSIDERING HIS OPTIONS VIS-A-VIS SKURATOV * DUMA ACCUSES RUSSIAN TV OF BEING PRO-NATO * GEORGIAN AIR FORCE OFFICERS PROTEST NON-PAYMENT OF SALARIES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN REPORTED CONSIDERING HIS OPTIONS VIS-A-VIS SKURATOV... The Russian press has begun a new round of speculation about President Boris Yeltsin's next move in the wake of the Federation Council's unexpected rejection of Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov's resignation. "Kommersant- Daily" suggested on 22 April that Yeltsin can become "a Kremlin pensioner or begin a counterattack." "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported the next day that high-ranking presidential administration officials said their actions regarding Skuratov "would be quite strict" and that "the criminal case [against him] is irreversible now." However, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov warned that if Yeltsin decides to "augment tension" following the Federation Council's decision, then lawmakers may be tempted to vote for his impeachment. The State Duma on 21 April passed amendments to the chamber's rules on impeachment making it easier for factions to enforce voting discipline. The amendments passed by 329 to 42 votes with two abstentions. JAC ...AND PRIMAKOV? According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 April, presidential administration officials were unimpressed by Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's speech to the Federation Council to retain Skuratov. The daily reported that they thought his speech was "absolutely formal" and "in reality he did his best to keep Skuratov in his post." RFE/RL's Moscow bureau quoted eyewitnesses as saying that Primakov sounded unconvincing and unconvinced. However, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin told NTV the previous day that Yeltsin "does not bear any grievances against Yevgenii Maksimovich Primakov over [the previous day's] speech to the Federation Council." He added that Yeltsin believes Primakov continues to play a politically stabilizing role in the country. JAC NEW ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMMISSION TO MONITOR PROSECUTOR'S PROBES... The Federation Council on 22 April voted by 105 to one to set up a temporary commission to study combating corruption, Interfax reported. Sergei Sobyanin, chairman of the council's Committee for Constitutional Legislation and Judicial Issues, said the commission will closely follow the investigations of high-profile criminal cases, including the ones named by Skuratov at his recent appearances before the upper legislative chamber. During his address on 21 April, according to "Segodnya," Skuratov discussed investigations into the activities of the Swiss firm Mabetex, the Channel Islands investment firm FIMACO, and NOGA. Skuratov said that "in just one Swiss bank in the city of Lugano alone, there are accounts belonging to dozens of current and former Russian officials connected in one way or another with Mabetex." JAC ...AS BORODIN DENIES KEEPING MONEY IN SWITZERLAND OR IN OLD BOTTLES. Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin facilities directorate, told "Argumenty i Fakty" that he will sue all those who are accusing him through the press of "keeping fabulous bank accounts in Switzerland." He also denied reports that investigators from the Prosecutor-General's office have found an old wine bottle in his daughter's apartment filled with $100 million. He pointed out that a wine bottle is too small for such a sum. JAC DUMA ACCUSES RUSSIAN TV OF BEING PRO-NATO. Several Duma deputies, including Sergei Baburin (People's Power) and Stanislav Govorukhin (People's Power), put forward a proposal on 22 April to discuss a petition "on the inadmissibility of using the Russian media to support the actions of NATO," "Izvestiya" reported on 23 April. According to the document, "a pro-NATO trend can be seen in television interpretations of events in Yugoslavia" and "obviously reflects attempts by NATO to use the Russian media to spread propaganda." The previous day, the Duma failed to override a presidential veto of the bill that would have established a "supreme council" to monitor morality in television and broadcasting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999). JAC KULIK OVERLY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT POTENTIAL U.S. INVESTMENT? Officials at both U.S. and Russian companies are denying Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik's 12 April statement that U.S. companies John Deere and Case Corporation agreed to invest up to $400 million in Rostelmash in Rostov Oblast and Kirovskii Works in St. Petersburg, "The Moscow Times" reported on 23 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). According to the newspaper, after his visit to the U.S. Kulik had been under fire for snubbing domestic farm equipment manufacturers. However, Kirovskii's chief financial officer Vyacheslav Kondrashiev denied that his company is negotiating with either U.S. company. He added that he thought "Kulik's announcement was an attempt to smooth over our opposition and that of the public." Meanwhile, a spokesman for John Deere denied that a contract for tractors was even close to being signed. JAC YELTSIN TO VISIT JAPAN NEXT FALL? Despite the fact he is no longer Japan's prime minister, the Russian Foreign Ministry considers Ryutaro Hashimoto's visit to Moscow "very helpful, given his influence in Japan and his contribution to the development of bilateral relations," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 April. Hashimoto met with President Yeltsin the previous day. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Yeltsin avoided discussion of the dispute over the Southern Kuril Islands and was "disappointed" to learn that the position of the Japanese government on Kosova is that "the bombings are evil, but they are a necessary evil." Yeltsin said he would like to visit Japan next fall, an official at the Japanese embassy in Moscow told reporters. JAC IVANOV CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF MID-EAST PEACE PROCESS. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Jerusalem on 22 April that Israel and Syria should resume peace negotiations and that Russia wants to play a more visible mediation role, AP reported. Ivanov spoke after his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, took him on a helicopter tour of the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Sharon said he wanted to show the visitor "the areas necessary for Israel's security and existence." The daily "Haaretz" reported on 22 April that Sharon asked Russia to mediate between Israel and Syria. Ivanov is on a three-day tour of the Middle East. FS DEFENSE MINISTER ON MILITARY DOCTRINE CHANGES. Igor Sergeev said at the Belarusian Military Academy in Minsk on 22 April that Russia will make changes in its national military doctrine in connection with NATO's military action in Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. He said the focus will be on keeping nuclear deterrence forces at maximum combat readiness and developing air defense troops. Sergeev argued that Russia's defense budget should amount to at least 3.5 percent of GDP (this year it stands at 2.6 percent). Sergeev and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka are to meet on 23 April, reportedly to discuss supplies of Russian modern weapons to Belarus's air and air defense forces. JM PASKO BEGINS TESTIFYING. Military reporter Grigorii Pasko has begun testifying in his treason and espionage trial, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Pasko is accused of disclosing classified information about the Pacific Fleet's environmentally hazardous practices to Japanese television. Pasko told the court that he has reported all his contacts with Japanese journalists to the Pacific Fleet's leadership and to the chief editor of the military newspaper at which he worked. Pasko will likely continue testifying for at least three days. Earlier the Pacific Fleet's military tribunal sent a request to Japan's Foreign Ministry asking them to require a correspondent from the newspaper "Asahi Shimbun" and two reporters from NHK television to give evidence. JAC LENIN'S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATED WITH FIREWORKS. An unidentified group blew up a 3.3 meter monument of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in the Sverdlovsk Oblast on 22 April, the 129th anniversary of his birth, ITAR-TASS reported. In Moscow, members of the Communist Party, National Bolshevik Party, led by novelist Eduard Limonov, and Working Russia, led by Viktor Anpilov, placed wreaths on Lenin's mausoleum. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN TRADERS TO SUE GOVERNMENT OVER CASH REGISTER REGULATION. Makich Demirian, the chairman of the Armenian Union of Traders, told journalists in Yerevan on 22 April that the union is bringing legal action against the Armenian government for what it believes are serious violations during the process of introducing cash registers, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In an attempt to prevent tax evasion, the government ruled in late 1998 that all companies with a working area of more than 30 square meters must input their retail sales and services into cash registers beginning February 1999. Demirian said this puts large businesses, whose number is estimated at 1,700, at a disadvantage compared with smaller traders. The traders' union will therefore demand that the law be extended to all businesses regardless of their size. Demirian said that some 600 businesses have been fined by the tax authorities for not complying with the government. Many of those fines were imposed before the introduction of such a penalty on 1 April. LF GEORGIAN AIR FORCE OFFICERS PROTEST NON-PAYMENT OF SALARIES. Some 50 officers of Georgia's air force staged a protest on 21 April at the Makhata base, Caucasus Press and "Rezonansi" reported. "Rezonansi" said the officers were demanding payment of their salaries for the past seven months, improved living conditions, and free Tbilisi metro passes for themselves and their families. Caucasus Press quoted Defense Ministry official Giorgi Gogashvili as attributing the protest not only to wage arrears but to apprehension over possible redundancies during the forthcoming reorganization of the airforce. Gogashvili said that in 1998 his ministry paid only 70 percent of salaries and owes two months' wages for 1999. He blamed the Finance Ministry for not allocating the necessary funds. Gogashvili added that although the 1999 budget froze the ministry's debts until 2000, courts continue to rule in favor of companies that sue the ministry for not paying its bills. LF ABKHAZIA THREATENS TO PUT DETAINED GEORGIAN FISHING CREW ON TRIAL. Caucasus Press on 23 April quoted Abkhaz Prosecutor- General Anri Djergenia as saying that the nine crew members of a Georgian fishing trawler detained in Abkhaz territorial waters on 3 April will be put on trial next week unless agreement is reached on exchanging them for five Abkhaz held hostage in Georgia. The Abkhaz authorities released the one woman crew member last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). LF KAZAKHSTAN'S EX-PREMIER CALLS FOR NEW ELECTION LAW... Speaking at a press briefing convened by RFE/RL in Washington on 22 April, Akezhan Kazhegeldin said that unless Kazakhstan enacts new election legislation, the parliamentary elections to be held later this year will not be free and fair, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. At present, the conduct of elections is stipulated by presidential decrees that have the force of law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). Kazhegeldin said new election legislation is a key factor in promoting democratization in Kazakhstan. He predicted that his National Republican Party will be barred on a technicality from contesting the parliamentary elections, just as he was prevented from participating in the January 1999 presidential poll. Kazhegeldin added that Kazakhstan today is a country without a national identity, primarily because it lacks democratic institutions. LF ...AS ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN CLAIMS NEW VICTIMS. Premier Nurlan Balghymbaev convened a cabinet session on 22 April to assess implementation of presidential decrees and government measures aimed at combating corruption, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. One city deputy mayor and two regional Interior Ministry chiefs were arrested this week for financial irregularities. Last week, Deputy Finance Minister Zhomart Muqashev was detained on charges of abuse of his official position. LF KAZAKHSTAN HALTS RAIL CARGO TRAFFIC FROM UZBEKISTAN. Kazakhstan has barred Uzbek freight trains from transiting its territory until Tashkent pays an $8 million transit debt, AFP reported on 21 April, quoting an unnamed Kazakh transport official. But Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan reached an agreement the same day whereby Kyrgyzstan will pay its $3.8 million transit debt to Kazakhstan by 1 May. Kazakhstan had stopped the transit across its territory of Kyrgyz rail traffic one week earlier. LF CZECH PREMIER VISITS KYRGYZSTAN. Milos Zeman and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Amangeldi Muraliev, met in Bishkek on 22 April and signed a declaration on the development of the interstate relations and a protocol on intergovernmental cooperation, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Zeman later noted the potential for expanded cooperation in food processing and transportation. He proposed that Kyrgyzstan adopt legislation on giving government guarantees for foreign investments in order to attract investments from the Czech Republic. According to Muraliev, an agreement between the two states on avoiding double taxation will be concluded soon. A number of cooperation agreements between Kyrgyz and Czech enterprises were also signed. Zeman also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev to discuss bilateral relations. LF UN ENVOY CALLS FOR LEGALIZATION OF TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTIES. UN Special Representative in Tajikistan Jan Kubis and the leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), Said Abdullo Nuri, met in Dushanbe on 21 April to assess implementation of the political and military protocols to the 1997 peace agreement, AP-Blitz reported the following day. While noting that 22 representatives of the UTO have been appointed to government posts, they expressed concern that no progress has been made to date in nominating opposition representatives to serve on regional and district councils. They agreed that the Committee for National Reconciliation, on which both government and UTO are represented, must complete new draft proposals on amending the constitution. President Imomali Rakhmonov had rejected most of the amendments proposed earlier. Kubis advocated that those opposition parties belonging to the UTO be legalized, together with their official publications. LF TURKMEN PRESIDENT SAYS WESTERN-STYLE DEMOCRACY INAPPROPRIATE. Addressing Turkmenistan's National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights on 21 April, Saparmurat Niyazov said that Western-style democracy is incompatible with the Turkmen national mentality and with the Asian model of democracy, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the following day. He added that press censorship in Turkmenistan is necessary to preclude the publication of articles inciting interethnic hatred. Niyazov also said that he will not invite international observers to monitor elections in Turkmenistan, but nor will he prevent them from being monitoring the ballot. Also on 21 April, Niyazov ruled out the privatization of the country's major enterprises and said he will reject pressure from the EBRD to raise domestic prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, according to Reuters. 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