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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 104, Part I, 28 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 104, Part I, 28 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 * CHERNOMYRDIN ADMITS FRUSTRATION WITH LACK OF RESULTS * CENTRAL BANK TO REMOVE IMPEDIMENTS TO FOREIGN EXCHANGE TRADING * KAZAKH PRESIDENT LAMBASTS GOVERNMENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN ADMITS FRUSTRATION WITH LACK OF RESULTS... Presidential envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin, who had delayed his trip to Belgrade until 28 May, told journalists the same day that he is "unsatisfied that "all of our negotiations [with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott] have failed to yield results," Interfax reported on 28 May. "If they continue in this vein, then their continuation would be senseless," he added. However, he noted that there is currently no alternative to such negotiations and that they therefore must proceed. "Izvestiya" the same day called Chernomyrdin's planned meeting in Belgrade with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic pointless since news of the latter's indictment for war crimes. The daily cited Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov as saying that the West is making the same mistake as it made against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, "demanding the implementation of resolutions from a person who is not considered a negotiating partner." JAC ...CLAIMS NEGOTIATIONS 'COMPLICATED' BY INDICTMENT. Chernomyrdin said that Russia will continue to negotiate with Milosevic since the Yugoslav president is the elected leader of his country. He acknowledged that the indictment "has complicated talks on a settlement in the Balkans for everyone," ITAR-TASS reported. Citing unidentified military and diplomatic sources, Interfax reported on 28 May that one of the main purposes of Chernomyrdin's trip was to probe the Belgrade leadership's attitude toward a peace-keeping operation in Kosova. The previous day, similarly described sources told the agency that Russia could provide up to 10,000 troops as part of a future international peace-keeping force in Kosova. ITAR-TASS reported a similar figure citing its own military source. That source claimed that Russia might agree to a NATO-dominated force but would insist it be headed by a general from a neutral country, such as Finland. JAC MOSCOW, SEOUL STRESS NEED TO REVIVE NORTH-SOUTH KOREAN DIALOGUE. Noting that the Korean peninsula continues to be a potential source of instability in northeastern Asia, Russia and South Korea agree that the Korean problem must be solved by the "interested parties"--namely, North and South Korea-- and that a dialogue between the two countries must be revived as soon as possible, Interfax reported on 28 May. That stance was outlined in a statement issued after a meeting the same day between the Russian and South Korean presidents, Boris Yeltsin and Kim Dae-jung, in the Kremlin. The two leaders signed agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal cases, on the creation of a Russian-South Korean industrial complex in the Nakhodka free economic zone (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 May 1999), and on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, ITAR-TASS reported. Kim is on a three-day visit to the Russian capital. JC FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS U.S. CONGRESS FOR APPROVING NEW MISSILE SYSTEM. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 27 May accusing the U.S. Congress of undermining the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by approving a bill to deploy a national anti-missile defense system. The statement reads that "by its ABM actions, [the U.S.] stimulates the emergence and global spread of more advanced missiles [and contributes] to the unleashing of a new arms race." It continues that such actions "threaten the whole disarmament process, including the preservation and consolidation of the key regimes of the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of trade." JAC CENTRAL BANK TO REMOVE IMPEDIMENTS TO FOREIGN EXCHANGE TRADING. Mikhail Zadornov, whose status in the government as first deputy prime minister and possibly finance minister as well still had not yet been confirmed by the late morning of 28 May, announced the previous day that Russia may have to hold new talks with the IMF if the fund does not approve a compromise reached on supplementary budget revenue, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). Zadornov explained that only some of the bills sent to the State Duma in accordance with the government's agreement with the IMF have been approved, while others face a likely tough reception requiring compromise legislation to be hammered out. Zadornov also announced that the Central Bank will return to a single trading session on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange and lift its ban preventing foreign banks from buying hard currency from their ruble correspondent accounts. JAC AKSENENKO SKETCHES OUT NEW PRIORITIES IN ENERGY POLICY... First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko suggested at a meeting at the Ministry for Fuel and Energy on 27 May that Russia should increase its coal production to increase employment and allow for bigger exports of oil and gas, AP reported. He added that it is also important for Russia to increase its production oil and refined products. The same day, former Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov told reporters that the government is increasing Sibneft's quota for oil imports from Iraq under the UN's Oil for Food Program, Interfax reported. Under the program, a narrow list of companies are allowed to take delivery of Iraqi crude and collect a commission. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that Sibneft head Roman Abramovich is Aksenenko's patron. JAC ...AS STEPASHIN ASSERTS HE'S IN CHARGE. The previous day, Aksenenko told Ekho Moskvy said that he will be in charge of every field of the cabinet's activities. He also commented that he is not sure whether Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko will retain his post, explaining that he needs time to see how well the bank performs. The next day, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin appeared to react to Aksenenko's claim of responsibility for all fields of cabinet activity, saying "in order to avoid various sorts of talk about who is the boss in the government, I state that the prime minister leads the government and he is responsible for all that happens." JAC NEW GOVERNMENT COMMISSION FOR DEFENSE INDUSTRY CREATED. As President Yeltsin and others cast about for the appropriate candidate to fill the spot designated for a deputy prime minister to oversee defense issues, a special government commission for the military industrial complex has already been created, "Segodnya" reported on 27 May. The heads of regions with a large defense industrial base, such as St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, reportedly urged Stepashin to establish the committee even before he had been confirmed as premier by the Duma. According to the daily, the state commission will oversee six entities: the Russian Space, Shipbuilding, Systems of Administrations, Conventional Weapons, and Ammunition Agencies as well as the Atomic Ministry. The commission will encourage these agencies to develop technologies that can be exported to foreign markets, develop new areas of work for military-industrial enterprises, and boost their profitability. JAC NEW PENSION FUND HEAD NAMED... President Yeltsin signed a decree on 27 May appointing Mikhail Zurabov chairman of the Pension Fund, Interfax reported. Zurabov is a former first deputy health care minister and presidential adviser on social issues. The same day, Yeltsin signed another decree specifying that the government will have five deputy prime ministers, including two first deputy prime ministers. JAC ...AS BULGAK LANDS AT SVZAYINVEST. Former Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak was named a state representative to the board of directors of Svyazinvest, Interfax reported on 28 May. The same day, Prime Minister Stepashin introduced to his staff the new head of the government apparatus, Andrei Chernenko. Chernenko is a former deputy interior minister. JAC BORDYUZHA SHOWN THE DOOR AGAIN. Prime Minister Stepashin on 28 May dismissed former presidential administration head Nikolai Bordyuzha from his post as chairman of the State Customs Committee and appointed Mikhail Vanin in his place, ITAR-TASS reported. Vanin has spent most of his career in the Customs Service. JAC SO-CALLED DONOR REGIONS ENUMERATED. Citing unidentified sources in the federal Finance Ministry, "EWI's Russian Regional Report" reported that Russia currently has 13 "donor" regions on its territory, that is, regions who contribute more to the federal budget than they receive in return. They are St. Petersburg, the City of Moscow, Moscow Oblast, the Republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Lipetsk, Samara, Perm, Sverdlovsk, and Irkutsk Oblasts, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs. JAC TATARSTAN'S PARLIAMENT DEBATES SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET. The State Council has passed in the first reading a law on introducing a Latin-based alphabet for the Tatar language, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 27 May. According to the draft, the transition to the Latin alphabet in educational institutions will be made gradually and will be finished by September 2011. The cost of implementing the law is estimated at 115 million rubles (about $5 million.) The Latin alphabet for written Tatar was replaced by Cyrillic in 1939. In an interview with TatarInform earlier this month, parliamentary deputy Renat Kharisov rejected the protests of some members of the Tatar intelligentsia who argue that the planned reversion to the Latin script will mean that future generations will not have access to the last six decades of literature printed in Cyrillic. Kharisov pointed out that future generations will retain their familiarity with the Cyrillic alphabet as Russian will continue to be a compulsory subject in schools. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA KARABAKH MILITARY COMMANDER TO MONITOR ARMENIAN ELECTIONS? The commander-in-chief of the defense army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is currently in Yerevan, together with the enclave's defense minister, Samvel Babayan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 28 May, citing "Oragir." The commander intends to monitor the 30 May parliamentary elections in order to preclude irregularities, the newspaper writes. Babayan is backing the Right and Accord bloc. His Armenian counterpart, Vazgen Sargsian, one of the two leaders of the Miasnutyun alliance, which is tipped to win the polls, appealed to the Armenian military in a statement in "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 27 May. Sargsian warned the armed forces not to try to interfere with the voting, arguing that another flawed election would deal "a heavy blow to the country's interests." LF PICKETERS DEMAND AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST'S RELEASE. Some 50 people picketed the Supreme Court building in Baku on 27 May to demand the release of Fuad Gakhramanly, who was sentenced last November to 18 months in prison for an unpublished article considered subversive, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998). Acting Supreme Court judge Gulzar Rzaeva promised to review the case. Also on 27 May, Ali Mustafaev, chairman of Azerbaijan's Helsinki Human Rights Committee, told journalists that the granting of an amnesty to mark Azerbaijan's 1918 Independence anniversary is not solely the prerogative of the president and that the parliament should proclaim such an amnesty in the president's absence. Mustafaev also criticized the continued detention of 62 people for taking part in opposition demonstrations in October-November 1998, saying it violates the constitutionally guaranteed right of Azerbaijani citizens to participate in rallies. LF OIL TRANSIT THROUGH BAKU-SUPSA PIPELINE HALTED. The western oil export pipeline from Baku to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa has been shut down for scheduled maintenance for several days, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Extraction by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company of crude from 12 off-shore Caspian wells has been halted as a result. The Baku-Supsa pipeline went into operation early this year, and some 500,000 tons of crude have been transported through it since then (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). The alternative pipeline from Baku via the Russian Federation to Novorossiisk has been out of commission for most of the past month. LF KAZAKH PRESIDENT LAMBASTS GOVERNMENT. Speaking at a financial conference on 28 May, Nursultan Nazarbaev criticized the country's government for its lack of both concrete ideas for developing the economy and qualified economists, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev also accused officials from ministries responsible for specific branches of the economy of interfering in the work of other agencies. "Izvestiya" on 20 May had predicted the government's imminent resignation, noting specifically intrigues and back-biting among its members and the inability of Premier Nurlan Balghymbaev to implement decisive measures to revive the economy. LF KAZAKH CURRENCY NOSEDIVES. The tenge fell by 7.8 percent against the U.S. dollar on 27 May, closing trading on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange at 131.41 to the dollar compared with 121.85 the previous day, Interfax reported. Commercial banks suspended trading in dollars on the morning of 27 May. Interfax quoted an unnamed Finance Ministry spokesman as saying that on 28 May, Kazakhstan will begin selling some $24 million in hard currency raised from privatization and grain exports. The Kazakh government set a floating exchange rate for the tenge in early April after it fell from 88 to 100 to the dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). LF KYRGYZSTAN RESUMES WATER SUPPLIES TO KAZAKHSTAN. An official from Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 27 May that the water supply to Kazakhstan's Jambyl and Chimkent Oblasts from Kyrgyzstan's Kara-Bura water reservoir has been resumed. Those supplies were cut 10 days ago in retaliation for Kazakhstan's failure to deliver coal, as agreed, in payment for those supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). LF KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE ADVOCATES REREGISTERING HUMAN RIGHTS BODY. The parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues recommended on 27 May that the Ministry of Justice should reregister the Kyrgyzstan Committee for Human Rights, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That committee was originally registered in 1996, but the Ministry of Justice revoked the registration last year, and the committee has been unable to reregister since then. After two demonstrations by committee members in Bishkek earlier this month, government and parliament representatives formed a committee to look into the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 May 1999). LF KYRGYZ PENSIONERS PROTEST PRICE RISES. Some 70 pensioners picketed the government building in Bishkek on 27 May to protest recent hikes in the price of bread and flour and to demand that pensions be raised and paid on time, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The Kyrgyz government owes several million dollars in back pensions. On 26 May, the chairwoman of Kyrgyzstan's teachers trade union told RFE/RL that the government owes teachers 42 million soms (about $1 million) in back wages for 1999, including 30 million soms for the month of April. An additional 90 million som in salaries for 1998 remains unpaid. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER REAFFIRMS DEMANDS. Following a meeting on 27 May with Jan Kubis, who is the UN Secretary- General's special envoy for Tajikistan, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri told journalists that the opposition will not withdraw the conditions it has set for continued participation in the work of the Commission for National Reconciliation, Reuters and Interfax reported. Nuri said that those demands, including the allocation to the opposition of 30 percent of posts in national and local governments and the release of 93 imprisoned opposition figures, do not exceed concessions contained in the 1997 peace agreement. At a meeting with President Imomali Rakhmonov earlier on 27 May, Kubis suggested a meeting between Nuri and the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). LF U.S. ENVOY IN TURKMENISTAN. Stephen Sestanovich, who is special adviser for the Newly Independent States to the U.S. Secretary of State, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 27 May, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Sestanovich expressed continued U.S. support for plans to build an underwater Trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmenistan's natural gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia. At the same time, he steadfastly opposed the idea of a gas export pipeline via Iran. Sestanovich also expressed approval of Turkmenistan's ongoing efforts to mediate talks between the two rival factions in Afghanistan, but he suggested that a new meeting under UN auspices of the countries bordering on Afghanistan plus Russia and the U.S. could also promote a settlement. Also discussed were the prospects for broadening bilateral defense cooperation, human rights issues, and the Turkmen parliamentary elections due in December, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. LF GAZPROM BOSS VISITS UZBEKISTAN. Rem Vyakhirev held talks on "matters of mutual interest" with President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on 27 May, according to Interfax. No other details were revealed. Uzbekistan is one of the world's 10 largest gas producers but has no export route to world markets other than via Russia. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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