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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 96, Part I, 18 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 96, Part I, 18 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 * GOVERNMENT SEARCHING FOR CASH TO PAY CREDITORS * DUMA TO HAVE ONLY ONE CRACK AT STEPASHIN? * UZBEK OFFICIAL IMPLICATES TAJIK LEADERSHIP IN DRUG- SMUGGLING xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA GOVERNMENT SEARCHING FOR CASH TO PAY CREDITORS. The State Duma's Budget Committee on 17 May approved amendments to the 1999 budget that would allow the government to borrow up to $4.5 billion from the Central Bank in the first half of the year, "The Moscow Times" reported on 18 May. The money would cover the country's total debt payments for the first six months of 1999, according to First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Disbursements from international financial institutions such as the IMF are expected to be delayed owing to the change in government, forcing the Finance Ministry to scramble for cash to cover its debt payments. On 15 May, Standard & Poor's lowered the rating on Russian Eurobonds from CCC- minus to CC because of the possible postponement of IMF loans to Russia following the dismissal of former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's cabinet. JAC YELTSIN NO-SHOW RAISING NEW HEALTH FEARS. A meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar scheduled for 18 May was cancelled for unknown reasons. According to dpa, a Spanish radio station quoted Russian diplomats as saying that ill health prevented Yeltsin from attending the meeting. The same day, when asked about the president's health, acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said "Everything is normal. We settled all questions with the Spanish premier yesterday," Interfax reported. The same day, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin emphatically denied reports by some agencies that Yeltsin is ill with bronchitis. JAC DUMA TO HAVE ONLY ONE CRACK AT STEPASHIN? Citing anonymous sources in the Kremlin and White House, "Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 18 May that if the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Stepashin fails to win Duma approval during the first round of voting, scheduled for 19 May, then a new candidate will be put forward. According to the daily, one of its sources said "there may be no second chance for Stepashin--first of all because he himself does not want it." JAC STEPASHIN OUTLINES ECONOMIC POLICIES... In his speech to Federation Council on 17 May, acting Prime Minister Stepashin said that he is counting on the Duma to pass legislation prepared by the previous government in accordance with its agreement with the IMF. Stepashin also vowed to follow up on an earlier pledge by former Prime Minister Primakov to reduce the number of federal employees in the regions. He said that he was shocked to learn that in Kursk Oblast, there are 19,000 civil servants for a total population of 1.3 million He also promised to crack down on tax deadbeats and the "criminalization of Russian business both at the state and private levels." He noted that Interior Ministry and tax police staff in Krasnoyarsk Krai managed to uncover more than 500 million rubles ($20.1 million) that properly belonged in the krai's coffers. Stepashin added that the federal government would make better use of the region's "colossal economic experience" and "regional economic programs." JAC ...AS DOES AKSENENKO. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 18 May, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko said that he will most probably be put in charge of the economy's "real sector," the power sector, and transportation infrastructure. Regarding his appointment to supervise the operative affairs commission, Aksenenko said that the commission will examine this year's investment program and the situation in the country's gasoline market and try to resolve the problem of enterprise indebtedness. Aksenenko added that a key component of the country's industrial policy should be the development of enterprises engaged in the manufacture of goods that can be substituted for imports. He also noted that the country's military industrial complex is "waiting for real proposals and real money." On the issue of IMF negotiations, he noted that the first deputy prime minister cannot stand on the sidelines during talks, but he added that a "highly specialized expert should take up the issue." JAC FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS FOREIGN INVESTMENT LAW... The Federation Council on 18 May rejected the Law on Foreign Investment, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, some senators feared that the law gave foreign investors an unfair advantage over domestic producers. A conciliatory commission will re-examine the law and suggest changes and amendments before resubmitting it to the Federation Council. Foreign lawyers and investors found the version of the law that passed the State Duma "welcome enough in that it cleans up some minor confusions about the status of foreign investors" in Russia, but none of them thought it would attract new investment, "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 May. JAC ...APPROVES JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT. On 17 May, the upper chamber confirmed the appointment of Magomed Magomedov as a new Supreme Court judge, ITAR-TASS reported. Previously, Magomedov was a judge on the Supreme Court of Dagestan. JAC CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AGAINST SKURATOV DISMISSED--FOR NOW. A Moscow court ruled on 17 May that an order to launch a criminal case against Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov was illegal and canceled the order, Interfax reported. In early April, a deputy Moscow city prosecutor opened a criminal investigation into whether Skuratov was guilty of abuse of office. The Moscow court ruled that the deputy prosecutor exceeded his authority by instituting the criminal proceedings. An official at the Central Military Prosecutor's Office said that the ruling will be challenged by the military board of the Russian Supreme Court, ITAR-TASS reported. In remarks to reporters, the chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for Constitutional Legislation, Sergei Sobyanin, did not rule out the possibility that new criminal proceedings will be launched against Skuratov and that President Yeltsin will send another letter to the upper chamber asking that he be dismissed. JAC RUSSIA LIFTS LIBYA SANCTIONS. President Yeltsin signed a decree on 17 May lifting sanctions against Libya, Interfax reported. The UN suspended its international sanctions last month, after Libya agreed to hand over two suspects in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. JAC RUSSIA, EU PLEDGE DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION FOR KOSOVA... After meeting with EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 17 May, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow will continue to work toward a diplomatic solution of the Kosova crisis. He warned, however, that "this is not going to be an easy thing to do...if bombs are still being dropped." The EU foreign ministers issued a statement saying that "half or partial measures [by Belgrade] which do not meet the conditions [set by the international community] will fail to provide the guarantees necessary for the safe return of the refugees," AP reported. The foreign ministers also agreed to conclude a "stability pact" for southeastern Europe designed to develop the region's economy after the end of the war. Details of that pact have not yet been finalized (see also Part II). FS ...WHILE EU SUPPORTS CHERNOMYRDIN-AHTISAARI MISSION. The EU foreign ministers also expressed support for the joint mediation mission of Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Brussels. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Ahtisaari in Helsinki on 17 May that the Finnish president has "the full support of the EU in this work which he is carrying out together with Chernomyrdin," AP reported. Finland takes over the chair of the EU presidency from Germany in July. Schroeder then visited Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in Bari to discuss an Italian-Greek proposal for a 48-hour suspension of the bombing campaign. According to that proposal, this would provide an opportunity for a new round of negotiations with Belgrade and would allow the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution referring to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force to uphold international peace and security. FS CHERNOMYRDIN URGES NATO TO END AIR STRIKES. Chernomyrdin told Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in Moscow on 17 May that NATO must stop its air campaign if it wants to reach a political solution. After the meeting, Aznar said he expects "a serious breakthrough toward a political settlement" in "the next few days," AP reported. A spokesman for Russian President Yeltsin announced that Chernomyrdin will travel to Belgrade later this week. Duma speaker Gennadii Zyuganov, after meeting with Aznar, said that "we consider this to be NATO aggression. [Aznar] does not think so, and we will not convince [him] otherwise." Acting Prime Minister Stepashin said that "any negotiations are possible under one condition: First the hostilities must stop." Stepashin also commented that he "considers Spain [both] a serious trading partner [and] a model of how a deep social and economic crisis can and should be resolved," ITAR-TASS reported. FS RUSSIA'S NEWEST COSMONAUT REPORTS FOR TRAINING. The controversial British businessman Peter Llewellyn arrived in Moscow on 14 May to begin his training for his flight on space station "Mir," Interfax reported. According to the agency, the Energiya company, which operates "Mir," hopes that Llewellyn will help it obtain a $100 million loan to prolong the station's life. "Kommersant-Vlast" reported in its 11 May edition that Energiya President Yurii Semenov does not give much credence to allegations that have appeared in both Western and Russian media that Llewellyn is an international swindler. According to the weekly, Semenov co- signed documents creating a new Energiya investment company in which he is president and Llewellyn is vice president. JAC DEFEATED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA CLAIMS RUN-OFF WAS RIGGED. Some 15,000 supporters of Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev gathered on the town's central square on 17 May to protest the alleged falsification of the second round of voting for the president of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 May. According to preliminary estimates, Derev received only 19 percent of the vote while his rival, former Russian armed forces ground troops commander Vladimir Semenov polled 75-80 percent. In the first round of voting on 25 April, Derev had received 40 percent of the vote and Semenov 19 percent. Derev called for raions populated by ethnic Russian and Cherkess to be separated from the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the transfer of those districts to neighboring Stavropol Krai if the poll is not declared invalid. LF NORTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS MOTIVES FOR BOMB ATTACK. Speaking on 17 May in Moscow, where he was attending the Federation Council session, Aleksandr Dzasokhov suggested that the 16 May bomb explosions in a settlement for retired Russian army officers in the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, may have been intended to deflect attention from the continuing investigation into the explosion two months earlier in the town's central market, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March and 17 May 1999). In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published on 18 May, Dzasokhov rejected the possibility that the 16 May bombing was a purely criminal act. He termed it part of a broader, concerted campaign to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus. Meeting with Dzasokhov, Interior Minister and acting Russian Prime Minister Stepashin vowed to continue to monitor the investigation of the March Vladikavkaz bombing, Interfax reported. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONCERNED AT IRREGULARITIES IN VOTER REGISTRATION. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 17 May, two prominent representatives of the National Democratic Union (AZhM) cited instances in which district electoral commissions in Yerevan have included the names of deceased and temporary residents in lists of persons eligible to vote in the 30 May parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Vahe Varsanian, who is the AZhM's representative on the Central Electoral Commission, also claimed that the Self- Determination Union (IM) and the Hayrenik bloc have sold to pro-government figures the seats on local electoral commissions to which they are legally entitled. He offered no evidence to substantiate that allegation, which an IM spokesman rejected. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DELAYS RETURN HOME. Heidar Aliev's departure from the U.S. for Turkey, which Russian media reported had taken place on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999), was postponed until 18 May because of "technical reasons" connected with the choice of airplane in which Aliev will travel, Reuters reported on 17 May, quoting presidential administration member Ali Hasanov. LF ARE RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS LEAVING ABKHAZIA? Georgian border guards commander Valeri Ckheidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 May that Russian border guards have already withdrawn from three posts in Abkhazia in accordance with an agreement signed last year by Moscow and Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. He rejected as "unserious" a demand by the Abkhaz leadership that departing Russian guards should not be allowed to take their equipment with them. But Abkhaz officials denied on 17 May that the Russian contingent has begun to leave Abkhazia. The chief of staff of the Russian Border Guards' Service, General Nikolai Reznichenko, had reached an agreement on 5 May with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba whereby the Russians would leave only after the end of the academic year, as their children are attending local schools. LF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER CONDEMNS PLANNED ABKHAZ MILITARY EXERCISES. Nikolai Rusak, who is a political officer with the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, told Caucasus Press on 18 May that the Abkhaz "have no right" to conduct large- scale military maneuvers in the region's central Ochamchire Raion and should have informed the Russian contingent of their intention to do so. Abkhaz Defense Minister Vladimir Mikanba had announced the previous day that the military exercises, which will include the use of heavy equipment, will be held in late May. Rusak added that the conduct of such exercises would constitute a violation of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement, under which Ochamchira is designated part of the arms-limit zone, in which only limited quantities of military equipment may be deployed. LF ABKHAZ SECURITY MINISTER SAYS PARLIAMENT BOMB WAS 'HOOLIGANISM.' Astamur Tarba told Caucasus Press on 17 May that the bomb that damaged the Abkhaz parliament building in Sukhumi on the night of 15-16 May was not the work of professionals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). He dismissed as improbable earlier suggestions by Abkhaz Interior Ministry officials that Georgian intelligence may have been responsible, saying that professional saboteurs would have used more powerful explosive and planted the bomb on a weekday. Also on 17 May, the Georgian paper "Dilis gazeti" reported that an organization known as Amtsabza has distributed leaflets in Sukhumi criticizing the present Abkhaz leadership's policies and calling on the Abkhaz population to oppose the regime. LF KAZAKH SECURITY MINISTRY SAYS IT IS BUGGED. Kazakhstan's National Security Ministry officials say they have discovered a secret radio receiver on the roof of the building that houses the British, German, and French embassies, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 18 May quoting the "31st Channel" TV station. The unnamed security officials told the TV station that the receiver could be used to monitor conversations within the ministry building and incoming electronic messages. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S OPPOSITION PARTIES MEET. Representatives of the People's Republican Party, the Communist Party, Azamat, the Azat movement, and cultural centers representing ethnic minorities held a conference in Almaty on 17 May, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. The discussion focused on the current political situation and the parliamentary elections due this fall. LF TURKMENISTAN TO SELL ELECTRICITY TO TURKEY. Under an agreement signed on 12 May by the Turkish and Turkmen Energy Ministers, Ziya Aktash and Safarmurad Nuriev, Turkey will purchase 750 million kW hours of electricity annually from Turkmenistan between 2000 and 2006, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 17 May. The electricity will be transported via Iran. It is unclear how much Ankara will pay for it. LF UZBEK OFFICIAL IMPLICATES TAJIK LEADERSHIP IN DRUG-SMUGGLING. The director of Uzbekistan's National Center to Fight Narcotics , Kurban Baimuradov, told AFF on 17 May that drug cartels regularly bribe senior Tajik government officials, including members of the presidential apparatus. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Tajikistan's military court has sentenced a police colonel to death for dealing in raw opium. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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