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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 98, Part I, 20 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 98, Part I, 20 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 * FOREIGN, JUSTICE MINISTERS TO RETAIN POSTS * BILL ON HELPING RUSSIANS ABROAD BECOMES LAW * CHINESE EMBASSY DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF ROCKET SALES TO ARMENIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA FOREIGN, JUSTICE MINISTERS TO RETAIN POSTS... RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 May that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov will be reappointed. According to Interfax, President Boris Yeltsin asked Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to suggest several names for candidates to replace him at the Interior Ministry. Current senior Interior Ministry officials such as Vladimir Strashko, Vladimir Kolesnikov, Vladimir Vasilev, and Vladimir Rushailo are reportedly top contenders for the post. Former Minister for International Economic Relations and current President of Alfa Bank Petr Aven will likely be appointed Russia's envoy to international financial institutions such as the IMF, Interfax reported, citing "financial sources." JAC ...AS STEPASHIN GETS FIRST REJECTION. State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions) announced on 20 May that he will not accept Prime Minster Stepashin's offer of the post of deputy premier with responsibility for economic policy, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhukov told reporters that he will accept the position only under certain conditions--one of them being that the cabinet's economic team be composed of like-minded individuals. Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev said later that day that "Zhukov is absolutely right in refusing to work with [First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai] Aksenenko." NTV reported the previous day that Aksenenko "has demonstrated an extraordinary independence in his actions and statements these past few days." "Moskovskii komsomolets" of 20 May was more frank, suggesting that Aksenenko is "behaving as if Stepashin did not exist at all" and commenting that "he seems to believe in the market even less than [acting First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii] Maslyukov." JAC BEREZOVSKII, OTHERS TRYING TO INFLUENCE CABINET MAKE-UP... Russian media are devoting renewed attention to the behind- the-scenes machinations of the country's so-called oligarchs. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 20 May that SBS-Agro Bank President Aleksandr Smolenskii has asked Prime Minister Stepashin to reappoint Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik or another candidate sympathetic to his bank. On 18 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that business magnate Boris Berezovskii is trying to strengthen the position of First Deputy Prime Minister Aksenenko, "his protege in the government." According to the newspaper, Stepashin is resisting that effort and plans to promote acting Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants to deputy prime minister overseeing the economy, the Trade and the Anti-Monopoly Ministries as a counterbalance to Aksenenko. Shapovalyants was a member of former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Tuba's team. An additional counterweight to Aksenenko was supposed to been provided by Duma Budget Committee Chairman Zhukov. JAC ...AS ZHIRINOVSKII MAKES HIS OWN SUGGESTIONS. On 20 May, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" published what it alleged is a letter from Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii presenting a list of candidates from his party for cabinet posts. He suggests 17 candidates to head Slavneft, Sberbank, and the ministries of education, trade, anti-monopoly policy, state property, and regional policy, among other posts. For himself, he suggests the post of first deputy prime minister. However, at a press conference the previous day, he said he wants to be responsible only for the committee to bury former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. JAC BILL ON HELPING RUSSIANS ABROAD BECOMES LAW. The Federation Council on 17 May overrode a presidential veto on the law on state policy regarding relations with Russians abroad, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 May. Under the law, Russia can provide "compatriots" living in foreign countries the means to establish local governing bodies. The law also addresses the status of the Russian language in other countries where ethnic Russians are a minority, the daily reported. According to the newspaper, President Yeltsin rejected the legislation earlier because the term "compatriots" has no legal basis and the bill violates the principle in international law of non- interference in the affairs of other countries. Now that his veto has been overridden his only recourse is to challenge it in the Constitution Court, according to the daily. JAC CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MILOSEVIC TOOK 'STEP FORWARD.' Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin proceeded to Belgrade on 19 May, after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Returning to Moscow on 20 May, Chernomyrdin said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic took "a step forward" during their talks, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, he noted that Milosevic rejected the complete withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosova. Chernomyrdin will brief both Talbott and Ahtisaari in Moscow later on 20 May. Milosevic's office in Belgrade issued a statement the previous day saying that "the solution could be found only politically and within the UN, and with the active and direct participation of Yugoslavia, [based on] the principles" laid down by the G-8 countries in early May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). The BBC on 20 May quoted an unnamed Yugoslav diplomat as saying, with regard to the G-8 document, that "Belgrade likes vaguely worded documents because that opens the door for negotiations." FS MAYORSKII SAYS G-8 TALKS 'DIFFICULT AND UNPLEASANT.' Russian senior diplomat Boris Mayorskii said in Bonn on 19 May that the negotiations there among G-8 diplomats over a UN Security Council resolution are "difficult and sometimes very unpleasant." He stressed Russia's position that "as long as the [NATO] bombing continues, the result of our work cannot be agreed upon," AP reported. German diplomat Guenter Pleuger said that the officials drafted a working text of a resolution but noted that many parts of it were left open for further negotiation and "important points remain to be settled." Pleuger also commented that the key points of disagreement are NATO's role in a peace-keeping force and a precise timetable for an end to air strikes and a Serbian troop withdrawal. Talbott, who arrived in Bonn from Helsinki, said the key question is whether Milosevic is ready to accept the G-8 principles. FS RUSSIA, SYRIA SIGN NUCLEAR POWER AGREEMENT. Yevgenii Adamov, who is minister of atomic energy in the outgoing Russian cabinet, and Ibraghim Osman, director-general of the Syrian Commission for Atomic Energy, signed a 10-year cooperation agreement in Moscow on 19 May, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement provides for scientific, technical, and economic cooperation in the peaceful application of nuclear energy. Adamov noted that the agreement took years to draft and sign and that no time must be lost in its implementation. LF BARAK VICTORY CUTS SHORT RUSSIAN-ISRAELI HONEYMOON? Yeltsin on 19 May hailed the victory of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak in Israel's general elections, saying that the "results of the Israeli people's choice convincingly demonstrate their desire for a speedy political settlement with their Arab neighbors," according to the presidential press service. Noting that several members of the cabinet of vanquished former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had visited Moscow, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated that the Kremlin is more likely cursing its bad judgement for backing the "wrong horse." According to the newspaper, "Moscow was carried away by its practically unilateral support for Netanyahu" and "has not only worsened its already poor relations with Israeli socialists...but has also caused discontent in many Arab states." JAC MOSCOW TO MOVE UP CITY ELECTIONS? A bill submitted to the city's legislative assembly on 19 May provides for moving up elections for Moscow's mayor and deputy mayor from June 2000 to December 1999 so that they would take place simultaneously with the State Duma elections, Interfax reported. According to assembly chairman Vladimir Platonov, the move would save the city money. However, political analysts told "The Moscow Times" that the reasoning is more along the lines that a victory in December elections would allow Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to focus on his presidential campaign and ensure his political future should his presidential bid falter. JAC VLADIVOSTOK TO TRY AGAIN. Vladivostok's city election commission on 20 May announced that by-elections for seats in the city's legislative assembly in four districts would be held on 20 June, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission announced earlier that the results of elections held on 16 May had to be declared invalid in eight of the city's districts because of low turnout. Under federal and local legislation, new elections in these districts must be held no later than the end of September. One candidate in the election, former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, may be in Moscow come July, according to Radio Mayak on 20 May. The station claims that he has been offered the position of minister for labor and social development at the recommendation of Right Cause movement leaders Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. JAC KEY WITNESSES REFUSE TO TESTIFY IN PASKO TRIAL. Three Japanese journalists refused to testify in the espionage and treason trail of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 19 May. One of Pasko's lawyers told AP that the reporters are afraid to come to Russia because they believe they might be arrested as Pasko's accomplices. Pasko is accused of supplying classified military information to Japanese television about the environmentally hazardous practices of Russia's Pacific Fleet. JAC FIRES SWEEP THROUGH FAR EASTERN FORESTS. The number of forest fires in the Far East has more than tripled over the last two days, an official with the forest service for the Far East told ITAR-TASS on 19 May. According to the agency, up to 7,500 acres in Khabarovsk Oblast were on fire. The next day, the agency reported that almost 5,000 acres of forests in Irkutsk Oblast are engulfed in flames. Forest service officials are concerned that their agency's chronic lack of fuel and equipment will lead to the destruction of more of the region's taiga as fire season sets in. Last year, more than 400,000 acres were destroyed. JAC TATAR NATIONALISTS CALL FOR ELECTION BOYCOTT. The All-Tatar Public Center issued a statement on 19 May calling on voters to boycott the upcoming State Duma elections and next year's Russian presidential poll, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The statement also called for a ban on all "pro-Russian parties, movements, and media" in Tatarstan. The newspaper interpreted the appeal as a direct response to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev's unequivocal support for the recently created Vsya Rossiya political bloc. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SOME ARMENIAN CLERGY OPPOSE POPE'S PLANNED VISIT. The Vatican officially confirmed on 19 May that Pope John Paul II will visit Armenia from 2-4 July as part of the celebration of the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity as the state religion, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March and 21 April 1999). But Azg/Mirror-On-Line reported the same day that some members of the Armenian clergy oppose the planned visit, which they fear reflects an attempt by the Catholic Church to bring the Armenian Apostolic Church under its influence. Some priests reportedly also resent the fact that Catholicos Karekin I did not consult with his clergy before inviting the pontiff to visit Armenia. LF CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY VISITS ARMENIA. Continuing his tour of CIS capitals, Yurii Yarov met with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Armen Darpinian in Yerevan on 19 May, Noyan Tapan reported. Those talks focused on the planned CIS free trade zone, the restructuring of the CIS Executive Committee, and the distribution of posts on that committee among individual CIS states. Yarov subsequently told journalists that the level of economic cooperation between CIS member states is inadequate, which he attributed to the impact of the region-wide financial crisis. Darpinian said that CIS heads of state will sign an agreement on the free- trade zone at their next summit in Minsk in early June, adding that the zone will become operational on 1 January 2000. Yarov also rejected suggestions that his predecessor, Boris Berezovskii, was responsible for the decision by Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia not to renew their participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty. LF CHINESE EMBASSY DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF ROCKET SALES TO ARMENIA. A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Yerevan told Noyan Tapan on 19 May that the embassy has no information concerning allegations made the previous day by Azerbaijan State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade that Armenia has acquired eight Chinese Typhoon multiple rocket systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1999). LF ABKHAZ PRESIDENT TO SEEK RE-ELECTION. Vladislav Ardzinba intends to seek a second term in the presidential elections to be held in September 1999, Caucasus Press reported on 20 May, quoting presidential adviser Astamur Tania. Tania said that "other political forces" in Abkhazia, whom he did not name, will also nominate candidates. Tania dismissed the Amtzabz (Fire) opposition movement as "a myth created by Georgian intelligence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1999). He said leaflets distributed in Abkhazia in the name of that movement were printed in Georgia and are of a higher quality than can be produced using the typographic facilities available in Abkhazia. LF ABKHAZIA REJECTS RUSSIAN CRITICISM OF PLANNED MILITARY EXERCISES. Caucasus Press on 20 May quoted Abkhaz Security Minister Astamur Tarba as saying that as planned, the unrecognized republic will hold large-scale military maneuvers late this month, despite the protest by a senior officer of the Russian peacekeeping contingent that such exercises would violate the May 1994 cease-fire agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1999). Tarba said the maneuvers will be held in a district of Ochamchira Raion that is not part of the military zone, in which only limited amounts of military equipment may be deployed. LF KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN MEMORANDUM. Several opposition parties and movements including Azat, Azamat, Orleu, and the Communist Party have signed a memorandum on preparations for the October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 20 May. Orleu leader Seydakhmet Quttyqadam explained that the opposition's primary aim is to campaign against the existing political system rather than against either President Nursultan Nazarbaev or Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev. LF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS STAGE NEW PICKET. Some 50 people picketed the parliamentary building in Bishkek on 19 May to demand the resignation of Justice Minister Nelly Beishenalieva and the re-registration of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Members of the committee, whose registration was revoked by the Ministry of Justice in September 1998, had staged a similar picket last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 1999). Members of the presidential administration met with the picketers that day and created a joint commission to investigate the issue. Commission member Beishenalieva continues to oppose the committee's re-registration. LF TAJIK AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE LATEST ARMED CLASH. Members of the Committee for National Reconciliation and the United Tajik Opposition are trying to determine the circumstances that led to fighting between refugees from Uzbekistan and fighters from an Uzbek opposition group during the night of 16-17 May in a village in Garm Oblast, AP-Blitz reported on 20 May. Some 18 people were killed in the fighting. The head of the Uzbek opposition group, Juma Namangoni, is reportedly wanted in Uzbekistan on suspicion of involvement in the series of bombings in Tashkent in February. Since those attacks, the number of refugees fleeing from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan has increased. LF TURKMENISTAN'S CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION MEETS. The Central Electoral Commission has held its first session devoted to preparations for the 12 December parliamentary elections, Interfax reported on 19 May. Under the schedule adopted at that meeting, the commission has 10 days after the elections in which to count votes and announce the names of new parliamentary deputies. For the first time, international observers will be on hand to monitor the poll. LF UZBEKISTAN WANTS FOREIGN INVOLVEMENT IN PRIVATIZATION. President Islam Karimov has described foreign participation in the ongoing privatization process as "vital" at the current stage of the reform process, Interfax reported on 19 May. Revenues from privatization in the first quarter of 1999 were some 20 percent down on the same period last year. Karimov said that the world financial crisis should not negatively affect either privatization or the process of attracting foreign investment. It is unclear whether he addressed the deterrent effect on potential investors of restrictions on the convertibility of the national currency. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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