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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 90, Part I, 10 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 90, Part I, 10 May 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 CALLS EMBASSY BOMBING 'VANDALISM' * CHERNOMYRDIN VISITS BEIJING * DETAINED ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER RELEASED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN CALLS EMBASSY BOMBING 'VANDALISM.' Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 8 May called the accidental NATO bombing of China's Belgrade embassy in the night from 7 to 8 May "an act of vandalism [and] further flagrant violation of international law," ITAR-TASS reported. The following day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov cancelled a scheduled visit to London. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told AP that the cancellation of the trip "does not reflect any difficulty in our bilateral relationship, but the additional pressure on him which requires him to remain in Moscow following last night's tragic accident." Cook added that "Ivanov has assured me that Russia stands by those Principles it agreed to" at a G-8 meeting in Bonn last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, issued a statement saying the bombing was of a "criminal character." FS CHERNOMYRDIN VISITS BEIJING... Yeltsin's envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin left Moscow for Beijing on 10 May. An unnamed government official told AP that he will discuss the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade and ways to end the Kosova crisis. Yeltsin earlier talked by phone to his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin (see related items in Part 2). Observers suggested that Chernomyrdin will urge the Chinese leadership not to obstruct a draft Security Council resolution on Kosova based on the G-8 principles. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's foreign policy advisor Michael Steiner said in Bonn on 9 May that Foreign Ministry officials from the eight countries will start drafting the resolution there the following day. Newly-appointed UN special envoy Carl Bildt, however, cautioned that "one must unfortunately expect that [the embassy bombing] will make the work in the Security Council more difficult." FS ...'ENCOURAGED' BY MILOSEVIC. Chernomyrdin returned to Moscow from Bonn on 9 May and told Reuters that "there are some encouraging results from [a telephone conversation between him and Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic, but I will not say anything yet." He added that he told Milosevic about "new circumstances" in the negotiations, and that Milosevic was "very satisfied." He did not elaborate. An unnamed German government official told AP that Schroeder and Bildt urged Chernomyrdin to postpone a trip to Belgrade originally scheduled for that day, because the proposed peace plan was still "relatively abstract." FS RUSSIA MARKS VICTORY DAY. After commemorating on 7 May the anniversary of the founding of the Russian Armed Forces, Russians this weekend marked the 54th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany. On 7 May, President Yeltsin stumbled while laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Reuters reported. Speaking at a parade on 9 May in which 5,000 soldiers took place, Yeltsin said that victory in World War II "unifies Russians, regardless of their beliefs and political inclinations." He added that "all countries should not forget the main lesson of war. The rule of power may spark a big fire." And he said that the war showed that "Russia was not only a good fighter but also a skillful peacemaker." According to ITAR-TASS, more than two million Russians took part in 2,747 Victory Day festivities across the country. RUSSIANS COMPARE CLINTON TO HITLER. One Russian told Reuters correspondents on 9 May that "Clinton and NATO are worse bastards than Hitler." Another said that "between Hitler and Milosevic there is a world of difference and it's absurd to compare them. There is a complete parallel between Hitler and NATO." PG NATO MAY USE FORCE AGAINST RUSSIA, GENERAL WARNS. The former intelligence chief of the Russian armed forces told "Krasnaya zvezda" on 7 May that NATO might use the strategy of force it is employing in Kosovo against Russia. But Col. Gen. Fyodor Ladygin acknowledged that such an outcome was in fact "unlikely." In other comments, he suggested that Moscow's ability to affect outcomes in the Balkans is extremely limited and urged that Russia not get into a situation in which others will simply ignore it. PG ITAR-TASS SAYS "ALL THAT CAN BE STOLEN IS STOLEN." In a story about the theft of copper pipes from the house of Tobolsk Archbishop Dimitry, the Russian news agency on 7 May said that "all that can be stolen is being stolen." In other crime stories over the weekend, Russian news agencies noted that thieves in Omsk had robbed the Victory Day memorial and that someone had stolen a World War II-era bread ration from a St. Petersburg museum. PG MIXED ECONOMIC NEWS. Russia's industries produced 0.2 percent less in the first quarter of 1999 than they did in the same period a year ago, Interfax reported on 9 May. Meanwhile, consumer prices rose 3.0 percent in April compared with only 0.4 percent in April 1998. Tax collections rose to 41.9 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) in April, but the Russian government failed to cover its expenses and spent 1.9 billion rubles more than it collected. Because of this mixed picture, some 48 percent of Russian company managers told pollsters that they expected the country's economic situation to worsen in May, according to a poll reported by Interfax on 8 May. Nonetheless, Russian Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants told Interfax on 7 May that G8 countries were supportive of Moscow's desire to join the OECD. He noted that "figures do not always reflect the specifics of Russia's economy." PG RUSSIANS DRINKING MORE ... Sales of vodka climbed 10 percent and beer sales rose 19 percent in the first quarter of 1999 compared to a year earlier, Interfax reported on 9 May. But the sale of champagne fell 13 percent. Because these figures cover only official sales and not illegally produced liquor which is estimated to make up 50 percent of all alcohol consumed in the Russian Federation, the actual shifts may be much greater. PG ... PRAYING MORE ... Meanwhile, ever more Russians are turning to religion, according to a Public Opinion poll reported by Interfax on 7 May. A mid-April sampling of 1,500 Russians showed that 55 percent now consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians, up from 34 percent in June 1991. Nine percent more, down from 10 percent in 1991, say they are followers of another religion. The number professing atheism has fallen from 40 to 31 percent. PG ... AND MORE CRITICAL OF THE WEST. More than seven out of ten Russians believe that Moscow is excessively dependent on the West, according to the results of a Public Opinon Poll reported by Interfax on 7 May. Over half (51 percent) now think that relations with the United States have deteriorated over the past year, up from only 33 percent who felt that way in January 1999. PG LUKASHENKA SAYS CIS HAS NO FUTURE. Speaking in Volgograd on 7 May, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that "the CIS has absolutely no prospects for development." He added that "in practice, there is no CIS; it doesn't even fulfil the role of a political club." PG RUSSIAN-IRANIAN NUCLEAR TIES TO INCREASE? Iran has formally proposed expanding its cooperation with Russia in the development of nuclear power, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told Interfax on 8 May. PG JAPANESE DIPLOMAT TO VISIT SAKHALIN. Minoru Tamba, Japan's deputy foreign minister, will visit Sakhalin on 10-13 May, ITAR-Tass reported on 10 May. He is scheduled to meet regional governor Igor Farkhutdinov as well as other officials. On 12 May, the Japanese diplomat, 61, will visit his birthplace in Penzenskoye on Sakhalin. PG MOSCOW, SEOUL AGREE TO INCREASE EMBASSY SPIES ... The Russian Federation and South Korea have agreed to increase the number of intelligence officers assigned to their respective embassies from two to eight, Korean officials told AP on 10 May. This action follows a spy scandal in July 1998 when Moscow expelled a Korean diplomat, and precedes a visit to Moscow later this month by South Korean President Kim Dae- jung. PG ... BUT MOSCOW HAS NO COMMENT ON POLISH ARREST OF SOVIET-ERA SPIES. The Russian intelligence service declined comment on 7 May concerning the 4 May arrest of two retired Polish officers whom Warsaw has charged with spying for the Soviet Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 May 1999). But ITAR- TASS suggested that the Polish media are using the case to try to whip up anti-Russian passions. PG MOSCOW SOURCES SAY OSCE SPYING FOR NATO IN KOSOVA. Interfax reported on 9 May that unnamed military and diplomatic sources have said that NATO country representatives on the OSCE mission in Kosova are engaged in espionage for the Western alliance. These sources singled out the nationals of the United States, Canada and Germany for special criticism. PG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA DETAINED ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER RELEASED. Former interior minister Vano Siradeghian was released from custody on 7 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He had been detained four days earlier in connection with several murder cases on returning to Armenia after a four-month absence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999). Siradeghian is chairman of the board of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement and a candidate in the 30 May parliamentary elections. Election candidates may not be held in custody for longer than 96 hours without the consent of the Central Electoral Commission, but the Procurator-General did not request permission from that body to extend the detention period. Also on 7 May, two people arrested on trumped-up charges on Siradeghian's orders, and relatives of two of the men in whose murder Siradeghian is implicated, held a protest rally in Yerevan to demand a full investigation of his actions during his tenure as minister in 1992-1996, Noyan Tapan reported. LF IRANIAN CUSTOMS DENIES DETAINING AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST. The head of the Iranian customs post at the border crossing of Astara has denied that his subordinates detained Ganimat Zahidov, editor of the Azerbaijani newspaper "Ekspress," on 3 May, Turan reported on 8 May. He explained that an earlier report by one of his subordinates that Zahidov had been detained was based on a case of mistaken identity. Zahidov was due to return to Azerbaijan on 3 May after a trip to Iran during which he conducted a lengthy interview with Mahmudali Chehragani, who is a professor at Tabriz university and a representative of Iran's ethnic Azeri community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). Zahidov's present whereabouts are unknown. LF AZERBAIJANI POLICE PREVENT PEACEFUL MARCH TO KARABAKH. Police in Baku twice used violence on 8 May to disperse and detain an unknown number of people who intended to participate in a peaceful march from Baku to Nagorno-Karabakh and Horadiz, south-east of the disputed enclave, Turan reported. The march was organized by the Geyrat party, which is headed by defeated presidential candidate Ashraf Mehtiev. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, PATRIARCH, DISCUSS STUDENT PROTEST. Eduard Shevardnadze met with Catholicos Ilia II on 7 May to discuss the planned exhibit in four U.S. cities this autumn of historic Georgian icons and other religious artefacts, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian church opposes allowing the relics to leave the country, as do several dozen students who have declared a hungerstrike in protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 May, 1999). Shevardnadze informed the patriarch that he intends to create a commission to draft legislation regulating the temporary export of the valuables. Ilia II subsequently tried, but failed, to persuade the students to abandon their hungerstrike. Shevardnadze and the patriarch also agreed to invite Pope John Paul II to visit Georgia at an unspecified date. The Georgian church had not done so earlier in the belief that the country was spiritually and materially unprepared for such a visit. LF KAZAKHSTAN TO INSIST IMPORTS BEAR LABELS IN KAZAKH, RUSSIAN. Under a decree issued by the office of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, as of 1 October 1999 all imported goods must bear labels in both Kazakh and Russian detailing their country of origin, date of manufacture and expiry date, Reuters and Interfax reported on 7 May. The move is seen as a further attempt to protect domestic manufacturers from an influx of cheap foreign goods following the April devaluation of the tenge. LF ANOTHER MILITARY HELICOPTER CRASHES IN TAJIKISTAN. Ten people were killed on 6 May when a Tajik military helicopter crashed in mountains north of Dushanbe, AP reported. Eighteen Russian border guards died in a similar crash in early April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). LF AFGHAN OFFICIAL DISCUSSES RESUMPTION OF PEACE TALKS IN TURKMENISTAN ... An Afghan delegation headed by Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Abdur Rahman Zahid met with Turkmen government officials in Ashgabat on 6-7 May to discuss the possibility of holding a third round of peace talks in that city between representatives of the Taliban and the Northern Alliance of Ahmed Shah Massoud, Reuters and Interfax reported. An unnamed Turkmen government source told Interfax that both sides want to resume the talks. Hostilities had broken out again following the last meeting between the two rival factions in Ashgabat in mid-March. But during talks in Tashkent last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Uzbek leaders advocated that the Contact Group comprising Russia, the U.S., China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan should mediate a solution to the Afghan conflict under the aegis of the UN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). LF ... AND PIPELINE PROJECT. The Turkmen and Taliban officials also discussed economic cooperation, including the planned construction of a gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Iran, Reuters reported. The U.S. company Unocal, which held the largest stake in the consortium created to build that pipeline, pulled out of the project late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). LF BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UZBEKISTAN. Petar Stoyanov and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov discussed expanding bilateral cooperation during talks in Tashkent on 7-8 May, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Karimov expressed particular interest in the transport of Uzbek exports to Europe via Bulgaria and the Danube. Inter-governmental agreements on cooperation between the two countries' national airlines and in fighting organized crime were signed during the visit. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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