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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 132, Part I, 9 July 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 132, Part I, 9 July 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 * RIGHT-CENTRISTS WAVERING OVER ELECTORAL BLOC? * SWISS POLICE INVESTIGATING COMPANIES AT REQUEST OF RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES * AZERBAIJANI CURRENCY LOSES 7 PERCENT OF VALUE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RIGHT-CENTRISTS WAVERING OVER ELECTORAL BLOC? Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) faction in the State Duma, said on 8 July that it is too early to talk about the possible union of his party with Pravoe Delo (Right Cause), Novaya Sila (New Force), and Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia), Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 2 July 1999). He said that last week in Salzburg the leaders of the four groups discussed the need to ensure right-centrist forces are represented in the new parliament, but he stressed that no decision on uniting was made. Also on 8 July, "Vremya MN" reported that "certain governors" belonging to Golos Rossii are "rather skeptical" about uniting with Pravoe Delo. The newspaper argued that currently only Unified Energy Systems chief Anatolii Chubais (Pravoe Delo) and former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko (Novaya Sila) are interested in forming a wide coalition. Leaders of the four groups are scheduled to resume talks on 12 July. JC NDR, COMMUNIST LEADERS CRITICIZE DECISION ON 'MINISTRY OF TRUTH.' NDR Duma faction leader Ryzhkov also said on 8 July that he is "perplexed" by President Boris Yeltsin's decree to set up a Ministry of the Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting, and Mass Media Communications (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1999), Interfax reported. He noted that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, during his term in office, had suggested that "something of this kind be done [but] had acted reasonably in giving up this idea." Valentin Kuptsov, deputy head of the Duma Communist faction, accused the executive of seeking to "launch counter-propaganda against the leftist opposition." The previous day, "Vremya MN" wrote that the new body can only be compared to George Orwell's Ministry of Truth in the scope of its potential tasks. The newspaper argued that the ministry will become "one of the most significant election tools of the powers that be." JC SWISS POLICE INVESTIGATING COMPANIES AT REQUEST OF RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES. Swiss police raided several firms in Lausanne last week at the request of Russian authorities to seek information on suspected fraud and money laundering by unnamed Russian citizens, Reuters reported on 8 July. A spokesman for the Swiss Prosecutor-General's Office said that many documents were confiscated during the operation, but he did not name the companies involved. "The Moscow Times" on 9 July quoted an employee of the Swiss firm Mabetex as saying that company was not among those raided. Mabetex is alleged to have bribed Kremlin officials to win lucrative contracts to renovate President Yeltsin's Kremlin residence and other official buildings. Suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov was investigating that allegation and claims that attempts to remove him from office were part of an effort to halt the inquiry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 March 1999). JC SKURATOV THREATENS TO BEGIN TELLING ALL. Meanwhile, in an interview published in the 8 July issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Skuratov warned that if he is dealt with "in an unlawful way," he will have no choice but to disclose "many things." He said he could not discount the possibility that the investigation by the Russian authorities into the case of Mabetex may result in a scandal like Watergate. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the criminal case against Skuratov has legal grounds and may continue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1999). On 3 July, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, Marat Baglai, told ITAR-TASS that the court will not review until the fall the Federation Council's inquiry about the legitimacy of Yeltsin's suspending Skuratov from office. JC REPAIRS TO GRAND KREMLIN PALACE COST $335 MILLION. Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin facilities directorate, told journalists on 7 July that the renovation of the Grand Kremlin Palace over the past two years has cost $335 million, Interfax reported. The repairs were carried out mostly by Russian companies, although firms from Italy, Austria, and other foreign countries were involved, he added. AP quoted Borodin as saying that the Swiss company Mabetex did not work on the renovation of the palace. JC CENTRAL BANK PLANNING 2.5 BILLION RUBLE CREDIT TO SBS-AGRO BANK. Addressing a conference devoted to problems facing the agro-industrial complex, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin announced that the Central Bank plans to extend a loan worth 2.5 billion rubles ($103.3 million) to SBS-Agro Bank on condition that 1 billion rubles are used as favorable loans for agriculture. In exchange, the bank must hand over 75 percent of its stock to the government. Stepashin said that Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko had suggested this arrangement to him, but the premier added that "the question is where to find this money," ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 8 July. JC YELTSIN SAYS RECENT MANEUVERS PROVED ARMED FORCES' ABILITY. Addressing top military commanders at the Kremlin on 6 July, President Yeltsin said that the Russian armed forces' recent "West-99" exercises proved that those forces "have nothing to fear." "In spite of present difficulties, the armed forces are able to ensure the security of Russia and let this be known to all the world," he commented, adding that reports in the West that the army has collapsed are "utter nonsense." During the "West-99" maneuvers, Russian bombers flew close to NATO airspace near Norway and Iceland. The exercises were seen as attempting to prove that Russia is still a force to be dealt with, particularly after it had failed to prevent NATO air strikes against Kosova. Russian officials denied that the maneuvers had anything to do with the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 July 1999). JC RUSSIAN UN AMBASSADOR COMPLAINS ABOUT SLOW UCK DISARMAMENT. Sergei Lavrov told an open session of the UN Security Council in New York on 8 July that the demilitarization of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) is "insufficiently dynamic," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the Kosova peacekeeping force (KFOR) "is clearly not doing everything in that direction." Lavrov stressed that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 "clearly and unambiguously envisages the demilitarization of the [UCK] and other armed groups of [Kosova] Albanians..., a true disarmament of the [UCK] militants with a complete liquidation of all military structures of the organization which cannot reappear in any form." FS RUSSIAN KFOR COMMANDER SATISFIED WITH 'ATMOSPHERE OF OPENNESS.' Major-General Valerii Yevtukhovich, who is the commander of the Russian KFOR contingent, told ITAR-TASS on 9 July that cooperation with NATO KFOR units is proceeding "effectively." He added that "it is this atmosphere of openness that should be typical of peacekeeping operations of this level." On 8 July, three Russian navy vessels, carrying 180 soldiers, 43 vehicles, and 100 tons of other supplies, left the Black Sea port of Tuapse. They are expected to arrive in Thessaloniki on 14 July, Interfax reported. FS MOSCOW REJECTS U.S. THREATS OVER POSSIBLE ARMS SALES TO SYRIA. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists on 8 July that the U.S.'s recent threat to stop assistance to Russia if Moscow sells weapons to Syria is "groundless and unjustified," Russian media reported. U.S. State Department deputy spokesman James Foley's warning about a possible halt in aid came on the same day Yeltsin met with his Syrian counterpart, Hafez Assad, in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1999). Rakhmanin said that the main focus of the Russian-Syrian talks was "international policy issues" and the situation in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Iraq. He added that military-technical cooperation was discussed in general terms, although it remains an "important component of mutually advantageous bilateral cooperation." JC AGARIAN PARTY TO GO IT ALONE. The Agrarian Party has decided to run by itself in the upcoming elections to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 July. According to Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin, the party's central committee voted unanimously in favor of going it alone at the polls. Meanwhile, at the conference devoted to discussing problems facing the agro-industrial sector, Prime Minister Stepashin said he would like to see a "powerful agrarian faction" in the next State Duma. JC BID TO OUST TULA GOVERNOR UNDER WAY. RFE/RL's Russia Service reported on 8 July that representatives of political parties and social organizations in Tula have sent a letter to President Yeltsin requesting that Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev be removed from office. Starodubtsev has been charged with tax evasion estimated to have caused losses to the state totaling 130 million rubles but has not yet appeared in court (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 March 1999). JC ENVIRONMENT OFFICIAL SAYS RESERVOIR 'ILLEGAL.' State Environment Committee head Viktor Danilov-Danilyan told journalists on 7 July that the construction of the Yumaguzinskii reservoir in the Republic of Bashkortostan violates federal law on protected territories and has not received approval from his committee, AP reported. He urged that the project be abandoned, saying it would cause "devastating damage to the area." The environmental group Greenpeace, for its part, said the reservoir would submerge half a national park and threaten endangered animals and plants. Plans for constructing the complex were rejected by the Soviet environmental authorities in 1989, but the project was revived by the Bashkortostan administration last September to meet the region's growing water needs. JC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN CATHOLICOS BURIED. The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin I, was buried in the courtyard of the main Armenian cathedral in Echmiadzin on 8 July, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenia's political leadership, foreign dignitaries and religious leaders, and thousands of Armenian believers attended the ceremony, which was preceded by a three-hour liturgy, and during which religious and political leaders paid tribute to the deceased catholicos. President Robert Kocharian said Garegin's tenure was short but "fruitful." He said Garegin was "one of the few fortunate [chief clerics]" who led their flock in an independent Armenia." Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian, who was named interim vicar-general of the Armenian Apostolic Church on 4 July, said Garegin "was able to explain God's word to the nation," according to Reuters. LF ARMENIA, GEORGIA PLAN JOINT BUSINESS FORUM. Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, who attended the obsequies for Garegin, met later in Yerevan on 8 July with President Kocharian to discuss bilateral relations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two men repeated earlier calls for an intensification of bilateral economic ties, and discussed convening a joint economic forum to that end. Zhvania characterized the March meeting in Strasbourg under Council of Europe auspices of the parliamentary speakers of all three South Caucasus states as an important step towards strengthening regional cooperation, according to Noyan Tapan. LF AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES TRANSCAUCASUS CONFLICTS. Visiting Yerevan on 7 July and Tbilisi the following day, Wolfgang Schuessel helds talks with Armenian and Georgian leaders on the Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts. Schuessel told President Kocharian that he hopes that during Austria's chairmanship of the OSCE next year progress will be made in drafting a settlement of the Karabakh conflict that will be acceptable to all sides, according to Noyan Tapan. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 8 July after talks with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Schuessel called for greater international involvement in the Abkhaz peace process, according to Caucasus Press. The OSCE is engaged in mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict, while a UN- sponsored group including the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K. and Russia mediates between the central Georgian government and the Abkhaz leadership. Schuessel also told journalists in Tbilisi that Austria intends to invite the speakers of the Transcaucasus parliaments to Vienna in 200 to discuss possible solutions to regional conflicts. LF AZERBAIJANI CURRENCY LOSES 7 PERCENT OF VALUE. Azerbaijan's manat lost 6.9 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in trading on 8 July, Turan and AP reported. The manat exchange rate had been stable for the past four years. National Bank chairman Elman Rustamov told journalists that the devaluation had been planned in order to stimulate domestic production and improve the country's trade balance. He said the manat was over-valued by 10 -15 percent. But former Deputy Premier and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Deputy Chairman Ali Masimov told Turan that the devaluation will not affect prices because of the population's minimal purchasing power, and predicted a further depreciation. National Independence Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Etibar Mamedov similarly predicted that the manat exchange rate will fall to 5,000 to the U.S. dollar within the next month from the previous rate of 3,950:$1. Mamedov suggested that the government's withdrawal of support for the manat was connected with plans to pay off overdue wages and pensions. LF AZERBAIJAN SEEKS ALTERNATIVE OIL EXPORT OUTLET. Plans to transport some 3,500 metric tons of Azerbaijani Caspian oil by rail from Makhachkala in Dagestan to Novorossiisk are in jeopardy because of limited storage capacity in Makhachkala, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 July. Azerbaijan is seeking an alternative to the Baku-Novorossiissk pipeline, which runs through Chechnya, and has been out of commission for most of this year. Pumping of oil through that pipeline resumed on 3 July after a shutdown of almost one month but was halted the following day. Representatives of the Russian pipeline operating company Transneft are due in Baku on 12 July to discuss a permanent solution to the problem. LF GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE UNENTHUSIASTIC OVER PLANNED BUDGET SEQUESTRATION. The Georgian parliament's Budget and Financial Committee on 8 July discussed, but took no decision on, the proposal put forward the previous day at a government session chaired by President Shevardnadze to cut the 1999 budget by 16 million lari (approximately $8 million). Finance Minister David Onoprishvili had termed that proposal "hard but indispensible," adding that it was one of the preconditions set by the IMF for the release of a $115 loan tranche due on 26 July. Onoprishvili said the planned budget cuts will not affect pensions, salaries and allowances for displaced persons. Mikhail Djibuti, who is deputy chairman of the parliament budget committee, told Caucasus Press that the government's proposal envisages different levels of cuts for different items of expenditure. That, he said, entails amendments to the budget law, which only the parliament is entitled to pass. LF RUSSIA PRESSURES KAZAKHSTAN TO LIFT BAIKONUR LAUNCH BAN... Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko sent a telegram to Kazakhstan's Premier Nurlan Balghymbaev on 8 July expressing regret for the 5 July explosion of a Russian Proton rocket launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome, ITAR- TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 1999). Khristenko acknowledged Astana's claim for compensation for the damage to Kazakh territory, but added that "the Russian side believes that the accident should not entail a ban on all flights from the Baikonur cosmodrome." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists on 8 July that Moscow is counting on Astana not banning the launch of space vehicles that do not use Proton carrier rockets, according to Interfax. And Russian presidential aide Yevgenii Shaposhnikov said that President Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev may have to address the issue personally if lower-level Russian efforts to persuade Kazakhstan to lift the ban on future launches fail. LF ...AS KAZAKH OFFICIALS ASSESS ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE. Kazakhstan's Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental protection, Serikbek Daukeev, who is one of the members of the State Commission created to investigate the impact of the disaster, said on 8 July that at least 5,000 square meters of land in Kazakhstan's central Karaganda Oblast are contaminated with highly toxic heptil rocket fuel, RFE/RL's Kazakh service reported. Meirbek Moldabekov, the head of Kazakhstan's space agency, also told Reuters that poisonous gas was released into the atmosphere when the rocket exploded. No decision has yet been made on whether to evacuate residents from the regions worst affected. In Almaty, several political movements picketed the Russian Embassy on 8 July to demand a permanent ban on launches from Baikonur, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. LF KYRGYZSTAN'S PRESIDENT TERMS RUSSIA 'STRATEGIC PARTNER.' In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 July, Askar Akaev said that in the light of Kyrgyzstan's geographical situation, Russia is and will remain its "main strategic partner," particularly in the economic sphere. Akaev said that the objectives of the CIS and the Central Asian Union are similar, and focus on economic cooperation and complementarity. He downplayed the potential threat posed to Kyrgyzstan by Islamic radicalism, saying that a bomb attack last year against a traditional mosque in southern Kyrgyzstan was the work of terrorists. Akaev further rejected as "lies" claims by some Kyrgyz opposition politicians that Uzbekistan has moved its border posts several kilometers into Kyrgyz territory, adding that relations with Tashkent are "good-neighborly." LF DOZENS KILLED, MISSING IN LANDSLIDES IN TAJIKISTAN. At least 35 people have died and up to 30 are missing following a series of mudslides that have devastated villages in northern Tajikistan over the past three days. The presidential press service reported that the country will appeal for international aid for reconstruction of the villages affected. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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