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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 93, Part I, 13 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 93, Part I, 13 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 * DUMA TO CONSIDER STEPASHIN'S NOMINATION IN SIX DAYS * DUMA BEGINS IMPEACHMENT DEBATE * KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS STAGE PROTEST xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA TO CONSIDER STEPASHIN'S NOMINATION IN SIX DAYS. The State Duma Council will debate the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin on 19 May, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Our Home Is Russia faction leader told reporters on 12 May. Ryzhkov characterized Stepashin's chances of being confirmed as "fairly slim." Under the constitution, the president has the right to dissolve the Duma if it rejects his candidate for prime minister three times. Presidential envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin told NTV that the Duma should dissolve itself and new elections should be held immediately. Presidential Chief of Staff Dmitrii Voloshin told Interfax that "no one intends to dissolve the Duma in connection with the cabinet dismissal." He continued "how can we consider disbanding the Duma if we understand that the deputies are to adopt a package of very important draft laws, including the ones on which receipt of loans from the IMF depends?" JAC 'IMF LEGISLATION' ON HOLD. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov said on 12 May that the Duma will not go ahead with debate of the economic bills prepared by Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet until a new government has approved them. Meanwhile, an IMF spokesman said that the fund will support "any economic program that envisages faster reforms," AFP reported. Former Our Home Is Russia faction leader and now independent deputy Aleksandr Shokhin predicted that prospects for negotiations with the IMF could become complicated unless a government is formed quickly, Interfax reported. He also predicted that Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov will retain his position and that either former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko or former State Tax Service chief Boris Fedorov might return to government as deputy prime minister in charge of economic issues. JAC DUMA BEGINS IMPEACHMENT DEBATE... As Duma deputies began debating the impeachment of President Boris Yeltsin on 13 May, hundreds of demonstrators in support of the action gathered outside the parliamentary building. Impeachment Commission chairman Vadim Filimonov began the proceedings by outlining the five charges leveled against Yeltsin. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii predicted that the maximum number of votes gathered for any charge will be 260, falling short by 40 of the 300 votes necessary for passage, ITAR-TASS reported. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told Interfax that his faction will vote for impeachment on the charge of initiating the war against Chechnya under any circumstances--even if Yabloko members were invited into the government. JAC ...AS FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBERS LAMENT PROCESS, PRIMAKOV DEPARTURE... Meanwhile, a letter from 17 oblast governors and presidents of republics appealing to Duma members to discontinue the impeachment process was distributed in the Duma on 13 May, AFP reported. The letter was signed by Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and the presidents of North Ossetia, Ingushetia, and Tatarstan among others. Although they oppose impeachment, Lebed and most other regional leaders expressed dismay over the removal of Prime Minister Primakov. Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov called Primakov's resignation the "most tragic mistake of a president in Russia in recent history," Interfax-Eurasia reported. Bashkortostan President Murtaz Rakhimov predicted that social tension in the country will only increase and the economic situation worsen, adding that the effort to impeach President Yeltsin will not succeed. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called on the upper chamber to hold an emergency session in connection with the dismissal of the government. JAC ...AND COMMUNISTS CALL FOR STREET ACTIONS. As he had earlier promised, Zyuganov called on the Russian public to take to the streets to protest Primakov's removal. He told reporters on 12 May that his party is "organizing mass demonstrations in all the large cities to demand the impeachment of Yeltsin and protest Primakov's dismissal." Yabloko leader Yavlinskii appeared more inclined to take the news of Primakov's departure in his stride, telling NTV that Primakov's government had exhausted its potential. He also cited the former premier's "refusal to combat corruption in the government" and "to admit to the absence of a governmental economic program." But he noted that Primakov "did many useful things and maintained a certain stability." LDPR leader Zhirinovskii and financial magnate Boris Berezovskii were among the few influential Russian opinion-makers to welcome the news of Primakov's departure. Zhirinovskii said that his faction will support acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin's candidacy and vote against impeachment. JAC STOCKS PLUMMET, RUBLE WEAKENS. Shares on the Russian stock market crashed 18 percent at one point on 12 May, while the benchmark index RTS closed 16.2 percent lower than the previous day, AFP and Reuters reported. The market had only recently recovered, its index rising to more than 100 for the first time since the mid-August devaluation of the ruble on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 1999). "Izvestiya" reported that the value of the ruble by mid-day on 12 May slipped 2 percent against the dollar on forward contracts, while in exchange offices throughout Moscow the rate slipped to 23.80- 24.20 rubles per dollar. Some traders predicted on 13 May that the ruble will fall to 30 rubles per dollar by the end of the month, Interfax reported. By 11:00 a.m. local time, the ruble had already fallen to 26-26.3 rubles per dollar. JAC YELTSIN MAKES MORE PERSONNEL CHANGES... President Yeltsin on 12 May appointed Sergei Zverev as deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration. According to ITAR-TASS, Zverev is expected to oversee Kremlin relations with the Duma, political parties, and public and religious organizations. Zverev, a former executive with Gazprom and Most, is considered a highly effective lobbyist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 1999). The same day, Yeltsin also appointed Vyacheslav Khizhnyakov, a former deputy governor from Rostov Oblast and ataman of the Don Cossacks military society, as his representative to the Federation Council, according to Russian Television. Yeltsin also dismissed several high- ranking officials in the Federal Tax Police Service, including its first deputy director and deputy director. JAC ...WHILE MOST OF CABINET TO REMAIN INTACT? Citing anonymous high-ranking Kremlin sources, Interfax reported that most ministers, with the exception of First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov and Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik, will be asked to stay on in the new government. Kulik, however, did not exclude the possibility that he would stay if offered the chance, telling ITAR-TASS that "one must wait and see who will join the government." JAC YELTSIN THREATENS TO END KOSOVA MEDIATION... President Yeltsin on 12 May threatened to end Russia's mediation efforts in the Kosova crisis, telling the Russian Security Council that "we are not taking part in this war, it is not our country that started it." Referring to unspecified Western leaders, he said that "some people obviously aren't understanding our repeated proposals," AP reported. Yeltsin warned that if NATO does not take these proposals into consideration, Russia will halt its mediation. Yeltsin has demanded an end to NATO air strikes as a precondition for peace talks, but NATO officials have reaffirmed their resolve to continue with the air campaign until Belgrade withdraws its troops from Kosova (see Part II). Alexander Pikaev, defense analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center said that by threatening to end mediation efforts, "Yeltsin is clearly trying to earn points with the military." FS ...BUT RECEIVES CHIRAC. Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac, meeting in Moscow on 13 May, held two rounds of talks on Kosova. At the start of the talks, Yeltsin said that "in Kosova we are facing the most serious challenge to Europe in recent times." He called Chirac's visit "very timely and important." But he did not repeat his threat to end Russia's mediation efforts. FS CHERNOMYRDIN-TALBOTT TALKS CONTINUE. After meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Moscow on 12 May, Yeltsin's special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin said "we have moved closer to a solution." He added that "I am ready to fly anywhere this issue can be resolved," AP reported. Talbott praised Chernomyrdin's diplomatic efforts but stressed that NATO's strategy has not changed. Later, Talbott met with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari in Helsinki but gave no details of the meeting. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Talbott's mission has three main objectives: to discuss a detailed timetable for the withdrawal of Serbian troops, the composition of an international peace-keeping force, and setting concrete steps toward a political solution to the crisis, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Rubin added that Ahtisaari has "indicated a willingness to play an advisory role as a friend of this process." FS FSB CHIEF UNSATISFIED WITH RUSSIA'S KOSOVA MEDIATION ROLE. Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Vladimir Putin said in Moscow on 12 May that Russia "is not satisfied with its role as a technical courier...who merely transports proposals from one country to another," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Duma decided to set up a commission to investigate alleged NATO war crimes against Yugoslavia. In a resolution, it called the NATO air campaign "a military crime." The commission is expected to submit before 1 December a report to the Duma, which will then forward it to the International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia. The resolution also called on the commission to discuss with the parliaments of OSCE member states the setting up of an international commission to investigate "NATO aggression." FS SARATOV PLACING CURBS ON PRESS FREEDOM...The chief of staff of the Saratov Oblast's legislative assembly is threatening to strip local journalists of their accreditation to chamber sessions if they are found to be "distributing incorrect information, insulting the honor and dignity of the Duma members or employees," "EWI's Russian Regional Report" reported on 13 May. According to the publication, journalists already face a possible loss of accreditation for "repeatedly distorting information" in a special order signed by Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov in September 1998. But local authorities are attempting to tighten controls over already limited press access in anticipation of upcoming elections, local media allege. JAC ...AS NATIONAL POLITICIANS COZY UP TO LARGER MEDIA OUTLETS. "Argumenty i Fakty" reported in its April edition that Moscow-based political leaders are seeking alliances with TV and radio broadcasting channels. According to the journal, Right Cause member and Unified Energy Systems president Anatolii Chubais is increasing his contacts with Russian Public Television, while Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is courting NTV. The publication claims that Luzhkov helped arrange the transfer of state money to Most Bank, which owns NTV. In addition, Luzhkov suddenly appeared on NTV's "Itogi" program. On 12 May, State Duma deputies adopted a resolution condemning Russian television channels for their "pro-NATO" coverage of events in Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma advised the president and government to "substantially limit" the use of "television and agency material from the aggressor states." JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA, GREECE VOW TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Speaking at a joint news conference in Yerevan on 12 May, Presidents Robert Kocharian and Constantine Stefanopoulos characterized political relations between their two countries as "just excellent," with their approaches to most issues "almost identical," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Interfax reported. But they stressed that their expanding bilateral ties, which include military cooperation, "should not be viewed as an alliance against any other country," meaning Turkey. The two presidents said future cooperation will focus on the economic sphere. At a separate meeting with Armenian parliamentary deputies, Stefanopoulos pledged his country's support for Armenia's aspiration to be granted full membership in the Council of Europe. Three inter-governmental economic agreements were signed during Stefanopoulos's three-day visit, which ends on 13 May. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION COMMENT ON KARABAKH CEASE- FIRE ANNIVERSARY. In a 12 May statement pegged to the fifth anniversary of the signing of a Karabakh cease-fire agreement, Heidar Aliev pledged that his country will continue to honor that truce, ITAR-TASS reported. The signatories to that accord were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Aliev noted that the cessation of hostilities enabled Azerbaijan to consolidate its statehood and build an army. He said Baku will continue to strive for a peaceful settlement of the conflict that will entail the liberation of occupied territories and enable displaced persons to return to their homes. But Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey criticized the cease-fire as Aliev's most egregious mistake, while Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar deplored the fact that the last five years were not used to implement democratic reforms and prepare for a new war to liberate the occupied territories, according to Turan. LF AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA CRACK DOWN ON CROSS-BORDER CRIME. In a coordinated campaign over the past two months, the Russian and Azerbaijani Interior Ministries have eradicated two criminal gangs operating on the border of the two countries and have seized arms, ammunition, seven stolen cars, 2,500 liters of contraband alcohol, and more than four tons of sturgeon and 30 kilos of caviar, ITAR-TASS reported. A total of 55 wanted criminals have been arrested. LF UN URGES GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TO BACK PEACE PROCESS, REPATRIATION. In a 7 May letter, the UN Security Council called on the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships to display the "necessary will" to achieve a breakthrough in ongoing talks on a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, dpa and Caucasus Press reported. The letter underscored the "imprescriptible right" of displaced persons to return to their homes in a secure environment. But on 13 May, Caucasus Press quoted Anri Djergenia, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's envoy, as describing the talks as deadlocked. Djergenia blamed that deadlock on the Georgians who, he said, have proposed no further meeting since the 29 April talks in Sukhumi under UN auspices (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 18, 6 May 1999). Djergenia also said a preliminary investigation has refuted Georgian allegations that Russian peacekeepers were responsible for the deaths of four Georgians killed in the Abkhaz village of Bargebi on 12 May. LF CONSTRUCTION OF KAZAKH OIL EXPORT PIPELINE BEGINS. Energy executives and officials from Kazakhstan, Russia, the U.S., and Oman gathered in Novorossiisk on 12 May to witness the start of construction of a marine terminal for the planned 1,580 kilometer oil export pipeline from Kazakhstan's Tengiz field, Reuters reported. The $2.2 billion project, in which Chevron is the major shareholder, is scheduled for completion in mid-2001. LF KAZAKHSTAN MAY FACE GRAIN SHORTAGE. Industry, Trade, and Energy Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov told Interfax on 12 May that unless the state grain policy is changed, Kazakhstan may have to begin importing grain. He said that last year's harvest of 7.6 million metric tons was down 44 percent on the 1997 figure. In late April, an Agriculture Ministry official told Reuters that although the area sown this year will probably be smaller than in 1998, the country could theoretically harvest 10 million tons of grain and export some 3 million tons. LF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS STAGE PROTEST. Some 400 members of the disbanded Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights picketed the government building in Bishkek on 12 May to demand the resignation of Justice Minister Nelly Beishenalieva and the re-registration of the committee by the Ministry of Justice, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The ministry had revoked the 1996 registration of the committee in October 1998, claiming that the original documentation contained errors, and had rejected subsequent applications to re-register the committee. But in April 1999, the ministry registered a committee of the same name headed by the deputy chairman of the dissolved committee. Three senior members of the government and presidential administration met with the protesters and undertook to form a commission to investigate the case. LF TURKMENISTAN, AFGHANISTAN CONCLUDE AIR TRANSPORT, GAS AGREEMENTS. During Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Abdur Rahman Zahid's visit to Ashgabat last week, the Turkmen government and the Taliban signed agreements on the start of commercial flights by Ariana Afghan Airlines to Turkmenistan and on the sale of low-priced Turkmen gas to that country, Reuters reported from Kabul on 12 May. Other agreements provide for the restoration by Turkmenistan of two Afghan power plants and the sale to Afghanistan of tar to resurface highways. LF CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Newsline" on 10 May incorrectly reported that in late 1998, Unocal withdrew from a project to build a gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Iran. That pipeline will run from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan. UZBEKISTAN IMPOSES TOUGHER SENTENCES FOR RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM. The Uzbek parliament has voted to amend the Criminal Code to provide for prison sentences of between five and 15 years and confiscation of property of those belonging to religious, extremist, or prohibited organizations, Interfax and Reuters reported on 12 May. Membership in such organizations that commit serious crimes is punishable by 15-20 years' imprisonment. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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