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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 95, Part I, 17 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 95, Part I, 17 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 * IMPEACHMENT EFFORT FALLS SHORT BY 17 VOTES * STEPASHIN PROMISES GOVERNMENT OF 'TECHNOCRATS' * UN SECURITY COUNCIL CALLS FOR REFERENDUM, ELECTIONS IN TAJIKISTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA IMPEACHMENT EFFORT FALLS SHORT BY 17 VOTES... State Duma deputies on 15 May failed to impeach Russian President Boris Yeltsin on any of the five charges against him. According to Interfax, the charge that the president initiated the war against Chechnya fetched the most votes, 283 of the 300 needed. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said the failed impeachment effort is in no way a defeat for his party. He told Ekho Moskvy on 16 May that the vote signifies the "political funeral of [Liberal Democrat Party leader Vladimir] Zhirinovskii's party and Our Home Is Russia [NDR]," who "were Yeltsin's accomplices in bringing down the country." Those factions voted against impeachment. He also accused Yabloko members, who had "promised 42 votes," of "losing their nerve." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii expressed regret that the impeachment effort foundered but noted that "90 percent" of his faction "solidly voted for the Chechnya charge." JAC ...AS REGIONAL LEADERS, TRADERS HAIL RESULT. Regional and other political leaders in Russia appeared to greet with relief the results of the vote. Presidential envoy to Yugoslavia and NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin called the outcome "a triumph of common sense." Ryazan Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov concluded that "a big political campaign is over and now it is time to get down to work," ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. Aleksandr Popov, chairman of Rostov Oblast's legislative assembly, said he is glad the effort failed in the Duma and "saved state money, since it would have died at one of the next stages." Konstantin Titov, Samara Oblast governor and informal leader of Golos Rossii, called the vote's outcome a "serious defeat" for the Communist Party. Both Lyubimov and Titov predicted that the Duma will confirm acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin's candidacy. On 17 May, the value of shares on Russia's stock market rose sharply by 10 percent to 14 percent at the opening of trading, Interfax reported. JAC YELTSIN'S HEALTH MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN EVER? On 15 May--the same day that the impeachment vote took place--President Yeltsin underwent what the Kremlin characterized as routine and planned medical checks. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin later said that the president felt "fine" after the examination. The "Los Angeles Times" reported on 17 May that the Russian Constitution does not indicate who would succeed the president if he should die or become incapacitated, since the Duma has not yet confirmed a new prime minister. Head of the Constitutional Law department at Moscow's State and Law Institute Igor Stepanov told the newspaper that gaps in the constitution "not only create a legal impasse, they could also trigger a fierce struggle for power." JAC VICTORY PREDICTED FOR STEPASHIN. "Segodnya" had predicted on 15 May that the impeachment vote would fail and that acting Prime Minister Stepashin might be confirmed on the very first vote. According to the daily, Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberezkin called Stepashin "the only representative of the president's circle whom the Duma can accept." Also on 15 May, "Kommersant-Daily" also had predicted confirmation for Stepashin because, the newspaper argued, if he is rejected, Yeltsin will nominate First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who is reportedly business magnate Boris Berezovskii's "protege." Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told Ekho Moskvy on 15 May that he does "not rule out the Duma giving [Stepashin] the go-ahead to form a cabinet." He added that "I like the fact that there is nothing arrogant about him.... He is a good expert in his field, a good person." NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said that Stepashin has "a chance" of being confirmed in the first round, Interfax reported on 17 May. JAC STEPASHIN PROMISES GOVERNMENT OF 'TECHNOCRATS'... In a meeting with regional leaders on 16 May, Stepashin said that a new deputy prime minister will be appointed to oversee macroeconomic issues and that the post may be offered to a member of the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency reported that the offer was made to and accepted by Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions). On the issue of other cabinet appointments, Stepashin said on 14 May that the "backbone of the government will be retained" and that "what is needed is a technocratic transitional-period government." The same day, Stepashin appointed Vladimir Engelsberg as head of the prime minister's directorate, replacing Robert Markarian, who had been appointed by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. JAC ...VOWS TO CONTINUE ECONOMIC REFORM. On 14 May, Stepashin said that the main tasks of his government will be the adoption of legislation drafted by the Primakov government for the IMF, the drafting of the 2000 budget and its submission to the Duma before the summer recess, implementation of the current budget, and timely payment of pensions and wages as well as transfers to the regions, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 May. He also said that his cabinet will continue the course of large-scale economic reform approved by President Yeltsin, which seeks to support Russian producers, encourage investment in manufacturing and agriculture, overhaul the tax and social welfare system and fight crime and corruption, Interfax reported. On 16 May, Stepashin said that licenses will be revoked for six major Russian banks in connection with their participation in the illegal export of capital abroad. JAC RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS NATO BOMBINGS. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 14 May condemning the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia as "madness," ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said that NATO's attack on the village of Korisa was "a new crime of the alliance" and warned of "the most grave consequences of the military actions against Yugoslavia." The statement also charged NATO with killing more than 1,200 civilians since April. Duma speaker Seleznev said in Moscow that NATO is a "terrorist organization," and he suggested that Russia appeal to "lawyers across the world to stage a public Nuremberg trial of the fascist organization named NATO," AP reported FS CHERNOMYRDIN SEES RUSSIA'S POSITION STRENGTHENED. Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Chernomyrdin, speaking in Moscow on 14 May, dismissed media suggestions that Russia is too "conciliatory" in its Kosova negotiations. He said that "on the contrary, we are strengthening our position.... We are [holding talks] to persuade Western leaders...that first of all bombings must be stopped." Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that President Yeltsin has ordered him to review Russia's military doctrine in the wake of NATO's actions. He added, however, that "Russia is making persistent, daily steps" toward finding a political solution to the Kosova crisis. FS YELTSIN TESTS COMMON GROUND WITH INDIA OVER KOSOVA. The head of the Russian presidential foreign policy department, Sergei Prikhodko, arrived in New Delhi on 15 May for talks with Indian leaders. He told ITAR-TASS that "there is agreement among the positions of Russia, China, and India on the Kosova conflict, which is a good basis for uniting forces on the international arena." He handed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a message from Yeltsin, saying that "we encounter an open challenge [by] NATO...to the entire system of international relations." Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution expressing "profound regrets over the [Chinese embassy] bombing [in Belgrade] and deep sorrow for the loss of lives, injuries and property damage." The council also adopted a resolution to support humanitarian efforts, but China and Russia abstained from the vote, demanding an end to NATO bombings. FS IVANOV CRITICIZES DEFENSE POLICY OF NORDIC NEIGHBORS... Russian acting Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at an annual summit of foreign ministers from Nordic and Baltic countries in St. Petersburg on 14-15 May that "an increase in the foreign military presence and activity on Russia's northern border is taking place," Interfax reported. He said that unspecified neighboring states have failed to "transform the region into a zone of security and cooperation" and abandoned "certain positions that in the past prevented a destabilization...in the region." He did not elaborate, however. Observers have suggested that his remarks are part of Moscow's continued opposition to the eastward expansion of NATO rather than a new, broader foreign policy campaign on Moscow's part. Ivanov proposed an information exchange on defense matters between the countries participating in the meeting. The foreign Ministers of Russia, Iceland, and Norway signed a treaty regulating fishing rights in the Barents Sea, whereby they will fish a combined total of no more than 4,500 tons a year and will set exact quotas in Oslo later this month, AP reported. FS ...MEETS WITH BALTIC FOREIGN MINISTERS. At separate meetings with his Estonian and Latvian counterparts, Ivanov discussed, among other things, signing bilateral agreements with the two Baltic States, Baltic agencies reported. While showing interest in concluding with Estonia accords on investment protection and avoiding double taxation, Ivanov told Toomas Hendrik Ilves that he will not rush to sign the Russian- Estonian border treaty as long as the State Duma is unwilling to ratify such a document. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told journalists that the two sides plan to prepare by this fall a package of mostly trade and economic agreements to be signed at a "top-level meeting." And Lithuanian acting Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said that he and Ivanov reassured each other that recent changes within the Russian and Lithuanian governments will not affect the countries' "good" bilateral relations. JC NEW COMMERCIAL BANK EMERGES. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May that Andrei Kozlov, former first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, Aleksandr Zurabov, the chairman of Menatep's board of directors, and owner of Russkii Standart vodka Rustam Tariko have launched a new commercial bank called Russkii Standart. According to the daily, the bank's founders announced that they intend to support small and medium-sized businesses. Banking experts estimate that the start-up cost of the new bank will be at least $10 million. JAC NEW METHOD PROPOSED FOR BOOSTING ARMY REVENUES. Former First Deputy Prime Minister and head of Molodaya Rossiya Boris Nemtsov suggested on 16 May at the movement's congress in St. Petersburg that the Defense Ministry could boost sagging revenues by allowing draftees to buy their way out of serving in the military, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Nemtsov, parents of many young men already pay bribes of $5,000- $10,000 for medical diagnoses that lead to the classification of their children as unable to serve for health reasons. On 14 May, acting Defense Minister Sergeev told reporters that work with the armed forces' personnel is the cornerstone of combat readiness, since "much depends on our selection, training and education of military personnel." JAC TULEEV'S BLOC SCORES ANOTHER VICTORY IN KEMEROVO. Voters in Prokopievsk elected Valerii Garanin, a member of the Bloc of [Kemerovo Governor] Aman Tuleev, their new mayor on 16 May, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day. According to the agency, more than 38 percent of registered voters participated. The chairman of the city's election commission said a complaint will be lodged with the local prosecutor's office against the two other candidates in the race. He claims that both committed acts of hooliganism, while the candidates themselves have "declared war" with the election commission over the results of the ballot. Governor Tuleev's bloc scored an impressive victory during regional elections in April, before which more than 60 candidates charged that Tuleev's bloc had committed serious violations of election law (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 April 1999). JAC VLADIVOSTOK ELECTIONS FAIL--AGAIN. After weeks of controversial decisions by Vladivostok's election commission and administration head, voters failed to turn up in sufficient numbers for the 16 May election to the city's legislative assembly to be valid. According to ITAR-TASS, this was the 16th failed election attempt. The last vote attracted enough voters, but the results were annulled because of alleged voter fraud. City election commission head Ilya Grinchenko told the agency that "every new flop cuts the number of voters wanting to participate." Earlier in the month, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov appealed to the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, to ensure that elections to Vladivostok's legislative assembly actually take place, Interfax reported on 5 May. In a letter to Voloshin, Veshnyakov expressed his concern about that city administration's refusal to provide financing for the elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 May 1999). JAC CHECHEN PRESIDENT SAYS DUMA SHARES BLAME FOR CHECHEN WAR. Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 15 May that the responsibility for the war in Chechnya is shared by the entire Russian leadership, including the Duma, most of whose deputies voted to support it, ITAR-TASS reported. He argued that political instability in Russia is a direct consequence of the strained relations between Moscow and Grozny and will continue until "the two countries sign an inter-governmental agreement establishing equal relations between them," according to Interfax. The previous day, acting Premier Stepashin told a visiting delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that preparations are continuing for the planned meeting between Maskhadov and President Yeltsin. He vowed to "make every effort to see that the meeting is constructive," Interfax reported. LF RUNOFF ELECTION IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA. Citing unofficial results, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May that retired General Vladimir Semenov polled some 75 percent of the vote in the previous day's presidential runoff. Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev garnered some 20 percent. In the first round of voting on 25 April, Derev had polled 40 percent and Semenov 18 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 63 percent. Electoral commission members suggested that the poll results could be invalid as less than 75 percent of polling stations were open. The German news agency dpa quoted acting Russian Premier Stepashin as having warned both candidates that federal troops would be deployed to quell any post- election violence. District campaign headquarters of both runoff candidates were subjected to arson attacks in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). LF FOUR KILLED BY BOMBS IN NORTH OSSETIA. Four people were killed and 15 injured in a series of bomb explosions in a military settlement on the outskirts of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, on 16 May, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. More than 60 people died when a bomb exploded in the town's central market some two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). LF FOREIGN AID WORKER ABDUCTED IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA. A New Zealand citizen employed by the International Red Cross was kidnapped in Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, on 15 May, AP reported. A Russian woman also seized was subsequently released. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA INSPECTORS SAY ARMENIA IN COMPLIANCE WITH CFE. A team of French, Belgian, and Turkish military officers who inspected an Armenian army detachment near Yerevan from 11-14 May detected no violations of the limits on military equipment stipulated by the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 May, quoting a senior Foreign Ministry official. An earlier inspection of the Russian military base in Armenia similarly found no violations of those limits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999). The Armenian parliament voted in May 1997 to cede part of Armenia's CFE equipment allocation to Russia. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT LEAVES U.S. FOR HOME. Heidar Aliev, who was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic a week ago after heart bypass surgery, flew to London on 16 May, Interfax reported. Aliev will travel to Turkey on 18 May and return to Baku three days later. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CRITICIZES LAW ON MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS. The Democratic Bloc, which is composed of 17 opposition parliamentary deputies, issued a statement on 14 May condemning as "reactionary" and "anti-democratic" legislation on the status of municipalities and on municipal elections passed by the parliament in the first reading on 4 May, Turan reported. The statement says that the drafts of those bills differed from the ones that had received a positive assessment from Council of Europe experts before the vote. LF INVESTIGATION OF BID TO KILL GEORGIAN PRESIDENT COMPLETED. The Georgian Prosecutor-General's office has completed and forwarded to the Supreme Court the investigation into the 9 February 1998 failed attempt to assassinate Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported. Thirteen people, including Guram Absandze, who served as finance minister in 1990-1991 under President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, face charges of state treason, attempted murder, and forming an anti-government military organization. Senior investigator Gigla Agulashvili told journalists that the accused had prepared the attack in Chechnya. LF BOMB EXPLODES NEAR ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT BUILDING. The Abkhaz parliamentary building was damaged by a bomb explosion early on 16 May, but no one was injured, Interfax reported. Two days earlier, a political officer with the Russian peace- keeping troops deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia expressed concern at a series of violent incidents over the past week, which, he said, had augmented tensions in southern Abkhazia. He suggested that the violence is intended to sabotage the ongoing return of displaced persons to Abkhazia, according to ITAR-TASS. LF WORLD BANK APPROVES NEW LOAN FOR KAZAKHSTAN. The board of directors of the World Bank has approved a $16.5 million loan for Kazakhstan to finance the reform of the country's legal and judicial system, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 14 May. The bank also approved a $130,000 grant to help Kazakhstan cope with the millennium bug, according to Interfax. LF KYRGYZ SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES NEW FOREIGN POLICY CONCEPT. Meeting in Bishkek on 14 May, the Security Council approved a new foreign-policy concept drafted by the Foreign Ministry on the basis of President Askar Akaev's "Silk Road Diplomacy" doctrine, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That doctrine, published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 March, envisages making use of Kyrgyzstan's geographic position to forge harmonious relations with neighboring Central Asian countries, with the states of Eastern and Southeastern Asia, and with Europe. Addressing the council, Akaev called for a concerted and coordinated effort to crack down on drug- related crime, according to Interfax. LF KYRGYZ CUSTOMS INTERCEPT PLUTONIUM SMUGGLER. Officials at Bishkek airport arrested an Uzbek citizen who had agreed to transport a canister of radioactive plutonium to the United Arab Emirates, AP and dpa reported, quoting ITAR-TASS. The man claimed to have been given the material by a stranger who promised him $16,000 to smuggle it out of Kyrgyzstan. LF UN SECURITY COUNCIL CALLS FOR REFERENDUM, ELECTIONS IN TAJIKISTAN. In a resolution unanimously adopted on 15 May, the UN Security Council called on the Tajik authorities to speed up implementation of the 1997 peace plan by demobilizing fighters, establishing a "broad political dialogue," and creating conditions for holding a referendum and for parliamentary elections that are due before the end of the year, Reuters and AP reported. The previous day, the Tajik parliament voted unanimously to approve a proposal by President Imomali Rakhmonov to amnesty some 5,500 opposition fighters, Reuters reported. The amnesty was one of a series of demands that United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri had addressed to Rakhmonov earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 1999). LF TURKMEN PRESIDENT UNENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT CIS FREE TRADE ZONE. In talks with CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov in Ashgabat on 14 May, Saparmurat Niyazov said he considers it inexpedient for his country to join the proposed CIS free trade zone, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov said Turkmenistan would incur financial losses of approximately $500 million annually by acceding to that agreement. He also noting that equal opportunities do not exist for all CIS member states, citing Russia's rejection of Turkmen proposals for the export of its gas to international markets via Russian pipelines. Niyazov added that a CIS free trade zone would become redundant if CIS states fulfilled their shared ambition of joining the World Trade Organization. LF UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN. On a two-day visit to Dushanbe on 14-15 May, Abdulaziz Komilov held talks with President Rakhmonov on the peace process in Tajikistan and regional security issues, ITAR-TASS reported. Komilov told journalists that Tashkent is monitoring the situation in Tajikistan and "supports the policy conducted by the Tajik president to consolidate the peace process." The Uzbek delegation also met with Tajik officials to assess the implementation of previous bilateral agreements. 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