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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 127, Part I, 30 June 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 127, Part I, 30 June 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 RETURNS TO GAZPROM * FOUR MORE BANKS FALL * ARMENIAN CATHOLICOS DIES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN RETURNS TO GAZPROM. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 30 June was named chairman of the board of Gazprom, the company that he earlier headed, AFP reported, citing the company's press service. Press coverage leading up to his expected election to the post predicted that Chernomyrdin's return would have consequences not only for the company but for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. According to "Novye Izvestiya" on 24 June, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev is reportedly inclined to back the governor-led movements Vsya Rossiya (All Russia) and Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), which the Kremlin also wants to back, but is wavering. Chernomyrdin, the newspaper argued, has been installed to force Vyakhirev's cooperation on that and a number of other issues. JAC ...JUST IN TIME FOR ELECTIONS. In an interview with "Delovoi Vtornik" on 29 June, Perm Deputy Governor Igor Shubin said the government's recent attempt to get the company to remit its taxes only in real money is obviously part of a pre- election struggle. "Several [parties] would like to enlist Gazprom's powerful support during their campaigns," he added. Commenting on the same issue, Konstantin Titov, the informal leader of Golos Rossii and governor of Samara Oblast, told the publication that "We all live on credit from Gazprom. We pay our accounts poorly, trying to settle everything with them by barter." He added that "any attempts at reconstructing [the company] must be undertaken with extreme caution, because breaking up the company quickly and easily will only create new problems." JAC FOUR MORE BANKS FALL... The Central Bank on 29 June announced it is withdrawing the licenses of four large banks, Oneksimbank, Mosbiznesbank, Promstroibank and Mezhkombank. A senior banking expert told Interfax that the licenses were pulled "under unprecedented pressure from the IMF and World Bank, which were unwilling to hear any arguments." According to the source, the Central Bank tried to persuade the institutions' officials that the banks were nearing the completion of restructuring. However, other Cabinet officials failed to support the Central Bank's position. The decision to pull Promstroibank's license comes only two weeks after the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations announced that it will devote its scarce resources to restructuring the bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1999). JAC ...AS SECTOR SEES SOME IMPROVEMENT. In a banking sector survey published on 27 June, Interfax-Vremya reported that of Russia's top 100 banks, 29 operated at a loss in the first quarter. That is an improvement over last year, when 36 out of the 100 were in the red. Individual depositors' trust in banks is showing some signs of reviving, as ruble deposits of individuals increased by 9 percent in the first quarter, compared with the post-crisis period from August-December 1999. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced that the government will establish a special working group composed of experts from the Tax, Finance, and Interior Ministries and Central Bank to prevent any abuse of power by commercial banks with regard to customers' deposits and mandatory budget payments to all levels of the government, "Segodnya" reported on 23 June. JAC GOVERNMENT CURBING DEFICIT SPENDING... Russia's federal budget deficit during the first four months of 1999 at 26.2 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) was 7 percent lower than during the same period the previous year, according to the Russian Statistics Agency, formerly called the State Statistics Committee, Interfax reported on 29 June. Revenues during the same period were 12 percent higher, at 133.9 billion rubles, while expenditures totaling 160.1 billion rubles were 44 percent lower. Foreign trade turnover dropped 28.5 percent as exports slipped 10.3 percent and imports 46.9 percent. Meanwhile, GDP in the first quarter was 3 percent lower measured in constant prices, according to the statistics agency. JAC ...AS OFFICIAL EXPLAINS HOW RUSSIA WILL PAY FOR KOSOVA. First Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko told TV-Center on 27 June that of the some $69 million required to support Russian peacekeepers in Kosova, $36 million will come from the 1999 budget and $32 million from the 2000 budget. More specifically, he noted that the funds will be taken from the government's reserves, which "do not amount to that much," from a redistribution of budget items related to international activities, and from non-budget sources in the Ministries of Defense and Finance. When asked by the interviewer whether the Kosova contingent will be funded from sums set aside for state sector employees, Khristenko answered "it certainly will." JAC RUSSIA TO SEND MILITARY HARDWARE TO KOSOVA BY SHIP. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said in Moscow on 29 June that Russia will send most of its military hardware, including armored vehicles, to Kosova by ship, Interfax reported. An unnamed Russian navy official said that the first vessels will leave Sevastopol on 10 July bound for Thessaloniki. Meanwhile, State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin and the chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, Aleksei Arbatov, arrived in Belgrade on 29 June to assess conditions for the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. The legislators are scheduled to travel to Kosova on 30 June. Colonel-General Georgii Shpak told "Vremya MN" of 29 June that 70 percent of the Russian force in Kosova will come from elite airborne troops and the remainder will be former soldiers. FS ZHIRINOVSKII SAYS RUSSIA NEEDS TO BECOME A NATO MEMBER. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told senior researchers at the Moscow State University on 29 June that NATO should "be forced to extend its membership to Russia" and include Russians in its military command, Interfax reported. NATO "must hear the breath of Russian soldiers," he commented. Zhirinovskii also proposed sending 10,000 Russian peacekeepers to Kosova rather than the planned 3,600, arguing that "Serbia will pay for the Russian army to stay on its territory and guarantee a peaceful life to its population." Referring to next year's Russian presidential elections he said voters "will have to choose between democracy and dictatorship, that [means] between dirt and blood." FS KURDS IN MOSCOW COMMENT ON OCALAN DEATH SENTENCE. Some 300 Kurds gathered in Moscow on 29 June to burn the Turkish state flag in protest at the death sentence handed down on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, Interfax reported. Speaking at the demonstration, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Chairman Zhirinovskii accused former Premier Yevgenii Primakov of betraying Ocalan to the Turkish authorities, which he predicted will commute the death sentence for fear of reprisals by the PKK. A spokesman for the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan in the CIS told Interfax that any protests by Kurds living in CIS member states would be held in conformity with the laws of those countries. But he also warned that the front cannot guarantee that such protests will not turn violent. In Tbilisi, the opposition National Ideology Party of Georgia issued a statement protesting the death sentence as "inhuman" and a violation of international law and calling for Ocalan's release, Caucasus Press reported on 30 June. LF NEW TEACHERS' PROTESTS LAUNCHED. Around 1,500 teachers in Borzinskii Raion in the Chita Oblast announced on 29 June a protest action to demand payment of an 11-month salary backlog, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The head of the oblast's education workers union said that the teachers in Sherlovogorsk are ready to block the railway to draw attention to their plight. Meanwhile, in Sverdlovsk Oblast, 32 teachers spent the night in sleeping bags in front of the local administration building to protest 12 months of unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 June. The teachers said they will camp in front of the building until they are paid in full. On 17 June, the government ordered the transfer of 1.96 billion rubles ($81 million) to the regions to pay teachers' wages over the summer holidays (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 June 1999). JAC YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA MAKING RETIREMENT PLANS? In the latest of a series of articles picking up on speculation that the Kremlin is working to keep Russian President Boris Yeltsin in an executive position as head of a Belarus-Russia confederation, "Segodnya" on 29 June argues that the union of the two countries' armies presents the ideal vehicle for strengthening such efforts. According to the daily, attempts to unite Belarus and Russia have failed because of the "complete incompatibility of the economies and administrative systems of the two countries," but "joining the two slivers of the former Soviet Army seems more promising." Defense Minister Marshall Sergeev last week called for the command systems of the two armies to be united (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). The daily asserted that Minsk's reaction to this initiative is likely to be positive if only because the presidency of Alyaksandr Lukashenka expires on 20 July 1999 under the old Belarusian Constitution and with it much of his legitimacy. JAC CHINA QUIETLY EXPANDING INTO RUSSIA? Scholars attending a roundtable in Vladivostok on 28 June about the problems of the Chinese emigrants to Russia concluded that the emigrant Chinese population will constitute the second-largest national Diaspora in Russia in the 21st century, Interfax- Eurasia reported. Currently, around 2.5 million Chinese reside within Russia's borders. In the opinion of the scholars, none of whom was identified by name, China is "quietly expanding into our country" because of the absence of a well-thought-out migration policy. The next day, the Russian Statistics Agency reported that the population of Russia shrank by 265,800 or 0.18 percent during the first four months of the year and totaled 146.1 million as of 1 May. That decline was considerably steeper than the 159,700 dip recorded during the same period last year. JAC BEREZOVSKII ASKED TO RUN FOR DUMA FROM TULA. The Union of Unemployed Engineers of the Tula Cartridge Factory has sent a letter to business magnate Boris Berezovskii asking him compete in the State Duma elections from the Tula Electoral District No. 176, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 June. The engineers believe that as a successful businessman and effective manager, Berezovskii would be able to revive the Tula economy and improve the lives of the oblast's residents. So far, there has been no reply to the invitation. "Izvestiya" points out that in the past, two prominent political figures took advantage of similar invitations to win election to the Duma from Tula Oblast: Aleksandr Lebed, currently governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Aleksandr Korzhakov, former longtime bodyguard of President Yeltsin. JC U.S. HOSTAGE RELEAESED IN CHECHNYA. Missionary Herbert Gregg returned to Moscow on 29 June after Russian and Ingush Interior Ministry troops secured his release, Russian agencies reported. Gregg had been abducted in Makhachkala in November 1998. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said the process of negotiating Gregg's liberation was similar to the one used in earlier cases such as that of UN relief coordinator Vincent Cochetel and Russian envoy Valentin Vlasov. Aushev also said that operations are continuing to secure the release of Russian Interior Ministry officials Gennadii Shpigun, who was abducted in Grozny in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). LF RUSSIAN, IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTERS DISCUSS NORTH CAUCASUS. Meeting in Moscow on 29 June, Vladimir Rushailo and Abdol Vahed Musavi-Lari agreed to an exchange of data on developments in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported. Rushailo told journalists after the meeting that Tehran has "a full understanding" of the problems in the region, which he characterized in terms of criminal gangs operating under religious slogans. Observers believe Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are financing extremist Islamic groups operating in Chechnya and Dagestan. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN CATHOLICOS DIES. Garegin I died in Echmiadzin on 29 June after a long struggle against cancer, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Garegin, who was born in Syria in 1932 and studied theology there and in Oxford, was ordained bishop in 1964. He had served in Iran, the U.S., and Lebanon before his election as Catholicos in April 1995. President Robert Kocharian has canceled his participation in the World Economic Forum in Salzburg, Noyan Tapan reported on 30 June. Kocharian has decreed a three-day period of national mourning from 6-8 July, the date set for Garegin's state funeral. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN CONDEMNS NAGORNO-KARABAKH BUGGING. Speaking at a press briefing in Yerevan on 29 June, Vahe Gabrielian said the installation of a surveillance device in the office of the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is "disgraceful" and that those responsible should be punished. He affirmed the support of the Armenian president and leadership for Nagorno-Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian, Noyan Tapan reported. LF AZERBAIJANI INTELLIGENCE ACCUSES FORMER PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER. Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 28 June claiming that Rasul Guliev plans to visit Iran next month with the aim of organizing acts of terrorism directed against Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev and other leaders, Turan reported. The statement added that Guliev's business partner Sheri Shahnavaz, who is of Iranian origin, traveled to Tehran in May to arrange Guliev's visit with Iranian security services officials. Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since resigning as parliamentary speaker in 1996, and Shahnavaz have both denied the allegations. A secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baku told Reuters that the statement was "absolute lies." The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry and Prosecutor- General's Office accused Guliev last year of large-scale embezzlement and planning a coup in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). LF WORLD BANK APPROVES NEW CREDITS FOR GEORGIA. The World Bank on 9 June approved a $114.9 million credit to finance four projects in Georgia, dpa and Caucasus Press reported. The first $60 million tranche, to be released on 1 July, is to support structural reforms, including privatization. The remaining credits of $16.5 million, $25 million, and $13.4 million are earmarked for support for private sector development, public sector reform, restructuring of Georgia's hospitals, encouraging investment in the energy sector, and judicial reform. LF UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TBILISI. Boris Tarasyuk held meetings in Tbilisi on 28-29 June with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, senior energy sector officials and his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking at a joint press conference on 29 June, Menagharishvili said they had discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and reached "complete understanding" on all issues. Tarasyuk repeated Kyiv's willingness to participate in resolving the Abkhaz conflict, offering to supply peacekeepers to serve under the aegis of the UN or OSCE. He added that Ukraine may participate in the economic reconstruction of Abkhazia once a formal settlement of the conflict is reached. Tarasyuk also unveiled proposals for creating special coordinating bodies in each of the GUUAM member states to enhance the effectiveness of that alignment, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 June. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW. On an official visit to Moscow on 28-29 June, Kasymzhomart Toqaev met with top Russian government officials, including Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Talks focused on all aspects of bilateral cooperation, and both Toqaev and Ivanov said progress was made toward resolving outstanding problems. Specifically, Toqaev noted that talks are continuing on the delimitation of the Russian and Kazakh sectors of the Caspian Sea on the basis of an agreement signed 11 months ago by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev. Under that agreement, the seabed is divided into national sectors while the waters remain the common property of all littoral states. Toqaev said talks on the Baikonur space complex were likewise "positive" and focused on an inventory of its property and social guarantees for its employees. Under a 1998 agreement, Moscow agreed to pay $115 million annually for the use of the Baikonur complex. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S BORDER GUARDS SUBORDINATED TO NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTRY. President Nazarbaev has signed a decree transferring the country's border troops from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of National Security, RFE/RL correspondents reported from Astana on 30 June. LF KAZAKH NEWSPAPER RESUMES PUBLICATION. The independent Russian-language weekly "Nachnem s ponedelnika" has resumed publication in Almaty after being forced to close temporarily, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported on 30 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). Following a letter from Minister of Information and Social Accord Altynbek Sarsembaev to the Almaty City Prosecutor's Office, the Almaty City Court's decision to freeze the newspaper's bank account has been rescinded. LF RUSSIA SAYS TAJIK OPPOSITION JEOPARDIZING PEACE PROCESS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin expressed concern on 29 June at what he termed increasingly frequent attempts by the leadership of the United Tajik Opposition to present ultimatums to the government, including on issues not covered in the 1997 peace agreement, ITAR-TASS reported. He said only "full compliance" with that agreement can guarantee a "comprehensive" settlement and provide for stability in Tajikistan. UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri warned on 26 June that he may resign as chairman of the Commission for National Reconciliation because of the Tajik leadership's ongoing refusal to appoint opposition field commander Mirzo Zieyev to the post of defense minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999). LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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