|A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner. - Samuel Johnson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 133, Part I, 12 July 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 133, Part I, 12 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 * LOCUSTS JOIN LIST OF PROBLEMS PLAGUING RUSSIAN HARVEST * STEPASHIN REJECTS BID FOR EXPANDED FUEL MINISTRY * ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE ABDUCTED End Note: KARABAKH STRONGMAN LOSING INFLUENCE IN POWER STRUGGLE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA LOCUSTS JOIN LIST OF PROBLEMS PLAGUING RUSSIAN HARVEST. Locusts have infested more than 1 million hectares of Russian cropland, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 July in an article entitled "Locusts Without Borders." The insects, which arrived from Kazakhstan, are eating their way through crops in a host of southern regions along the Russian-Kazakh border. Russian farmers have already been trying to cope with unusually hot weather this summer, combined with a lack of rain. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported late last month that drought has practically destroyed all crops in Kalmykia and the lower Volga region, so there will be little to harvest (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 June 1999). Yelena Tyurina, director-general of the Institute of Agrarian Market Research, told "The Moscow Times" on 10 July that the grain harvest will be 53 million tons at most this year, about 10 percent lower than predictions the previous week because of the continuing dry weather and insect problem. JAC STEPASHIN REJECTS BID FOR EXPANDED FUEL MINISTRY. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin declared on 12 July that no one is planning to incorporate Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems (EES) into the Ministry of Fuel and Energy, although he noted the ministry is examining the issue of "coordinating" the activities of the two companies, Interfax reported. According to Reuters, Fuel Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii said on 9 July "the ministry of fuel and energy must become the body which actually runs the fuel and energy complex, regulating the strategically important systems of oil, gas, coal and electricity supply both directly and indirectly." "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that Kalyuzhnii had in essence called for the two companies to be merged under the auspices of an expanded Fuel and Energy Ministry and that such a proposal was evidence that the "clan" of Sibneft head Roman Abramovich is "once again trying to gain control over natural monopolies." JAC U.S. CONGRESS SUSPICIOUS ABOUT CENTRAL BANK. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko predicted on 12 July that the joint economic memorandum of the Russian government and Central Bank will be signed that day or the next, noting that only one "technical question" remained, Interfax reported. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 July that the delay in signing the statement is becoming "dangerously explosive" for Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko and Prime Minister Stepashin and that IMF officials want to insert a "substantial correction" into the document. The daily also reported that some U.S. Congressmen have demanded that the results of an audit of the Central Bank be published. It said that these congressional officials may try to delay the fund's disbursement of money to Russia. First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin told Interfax on 12 July that the fund's board of directors will discuss the $4.7 billion credit for Russia at a meeting on 28 July. JAC HITCH REPORTED IN YELTSIN'S POST-RETIREMENT PLANS? Minister for CIS Affairs Leonid Drachevskii said that Russian President Boris Yeltsin could not head a unified Russian- Belarusian state because the draft treaty on forming such a state does not allow for that possibility, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 July. The treaty stipulates that a Supreme Council composed of the two country's presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary speakers would rule the unified state (see also Part II). The previous day, Chairman of the State Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs, Georgii Tikhonov (People's Power), said that signing of the treaty by the end of the year is "completely realistic," according to ITAR- TASS. Meanwhile, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called plans to form a unified state of Russia and Belarus "a thoughtless political venture," "Izvestiya" reported on 10 July. Yavlinskii told reporters on 9 July that an economic union should precede any political unification and that restoration of democratic rights and the creation of market economic institutions would be preconditions for the formation of the union. JAC PENSION BACK-LOG TO BE WIPED OUT BY EARLY NOVEMBER. Pension Fund head Mikhail Zurabov pledged that pensioners will receive all overdue pensions by 7 November, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 July. According to the daily, the government paid off more than 18 billion rubles ($737 million) in overdue pensions during the first six months of the year and the remaining debt totals 11.7 billion rubles. In addition, pensioners are experiencing delays of only 14 to 15 days, compared with the previous "norm" of two months, in the majority of oblasts that have not yet eliminated their pension backlog, according to the daily. ITAR-TASS reported earlier that Stepashin said that pensions would be made current as soon as September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1999). Meanwhile, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 8 July that earlier this month the Federation Council adopted a bill allocating 8 billion rubles to increase military pensions by 1.62 times. According to the military daily, retired servicemen were supposed to start receiving higher pensions as of 1 January, but the Finance Ministry only recently found the money to finance the increase. JAC US-RUSSIAN STEEL NEGOTIATORS AIM FOR LAST-MINUTE COMPROMISE. During talks held on 8-9 July, Russian and U.S. trade negotiators failed to forge an agreement on terms for exporting Russian steel to the U.S., Interfax reported on 9 July citing Russian Trade Minister Georgii Gabuniya. ITAR- TASS reported on 11 July that the two sides have taken a break in negotiations and that Russian negotiators are bringing a package of proposals from the U.S. to Moscow for discussion. The agency added that if the two sides do not reach agreement by 12 July, the U.S. will impose "punitive measures" on Russian steel producers. According to the government daily, "Rossiiskaya gazeta," on 9 July, administration heads of the steel-producing regions of Chelyabinsk, Vologda, and Lipetsk proposed in April that Russia respond to U.S. "protectionism" by increasing the import duty on U.S.-manufactured aircraft equipment. Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev reported that Moscow said it must first reach an agreement on deferring payments on Soviet-era debt. JAC SECURITY COUNCIL CRITICIZES FOREIGN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS. At a Security Council meeting on 10 July, Prime Minister Stepashin said that various groups with radical and extremist tendencies have noticeably intensified their activities ahead of Russian elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Security Council members decided that to ensure fair and honest elections, new legislation including a law on combating political extremism must be enacted. According to the Security Council's press service, foreign religious organizations have also become more active in Russia, while some have been waging an active campaign to discredit Russia's traditional religions and provoke inter-religious conflicts, the agency reported without naming any such organization or identifying Russia's traditional religions. JAC RUSSIAN LEGISLATORS ABSTAIN FROM OSCE VOTE ON WAR CRIME SUSPECTS. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in St. Petersburg on 10 July the Russian delegation abstained from voting on a resolution that called on member states to extradite indicted war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax that NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is "the chief hand behind the NATO aggression" against Yugoslavia and must also be considered a war crimes suspect. The resolution, which was adopted by the assembly, also paves the way for the deployment of 700 OSCE personnel in Kosova to help build democratic institutions, prepare and supervise elections, and train a new police force as well as judicial and administrative officials. FS DUMA OFFICIAL ACKNOWLEDGES RUSSIAN SECTOR WOULD PARTITION KOSOVA. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" of 8 July that "in the current situation...the allotment of separate zones in sectors where forces of other countries are located seems to be the most suitable option for Russian peacekeepers." He argued that "a separate [Russian] sector would be indeed a division [of Kosova]. If we came, the Albanians would immediately leave the territory. Not because Russian paratroopers would oppress or...not protect them, but in order to make a political point. And then our guys would attract the wrath of all the bandits of the so-called Kosova Liberation Army." Popkovich added that "I am certain that mutual understanding [with NATO troops] will be reached among servicemen. Peacekeepers will allow no one to insult them." FS PATRIARCH ALEKSII PLEDGES RECONSTRUCTION AID FOR SERBIAN CHURCHES. Patriarch Aleksii II said in Moscow on 9 July that the Russian Orthodox Church will open a special fund for donations to help reconstruct 18 cathedrals and churches reportedly damaged during the NATO bombing campaign against targets in Yugoslavia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Aleksii also announced that the Church will send four priests to Kosova to give "spiritual support" to the Russian KFOR soldiers. Vitalii Tarasov, an official of the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral in Belgrade, said that his church was also damaged during the air campaign, ITAR-TASS reported. He accused NATO of turning a blind eye to crimes committed by Albanians against Serbs in Kosova, saying that "murder, arson, and rape are now a daily occurrence [in Kosova]. The criminals do not distinguish between women, young girls, and nuns. This is nothing but terror against the Christian population." FS RUSSIAN YOUTH SHOW LITTLE INTEREST IN POLITICS. Russia's youth, particularly its university students, express little interest in politics or political organizations and are likely to participate in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in even smaller numbers than during the last elections, "Segodnya" concluded on 9 July. According to Sergei Tumanov, head of the Center for Sociological Studies at Moscow State University, 63.6 percent of respondents in a poll of students at the university said that they do not participate in any form of public or political activities. A similar portion said that youth need social organizations of their own, but only 10 percent said it is necessary to found such organizations. According to the daily's own investigation, there are about 250 members of the Communist Party of Russia at Moscow State University, while the ranks of active supporters of Yabloko and Democratic Choice "are not much wider." JAC CENTRAL BANK OFFICIAL NABBED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES. The head of the Central Bank's Department for Construction and Material and Technical Supplies, Sergei Kapranov, has been arrested on charges of accepting bribes and embezzlement, Interfax reported on 11 July. Kapranov, who was in the Central Bank's medical facilities in Moscow at the time of the arrest, is suspected of accepting a bribe of 120 million old rubles from a Moscow criminal group. JAC CHECHNYA SAYS IT WILL NOT CONDUCT ELECTIONS TO DUMA. Chechen presidential press spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told Interfax on 10 July that the breakaway republic will not hold elections to the Russian State Duma. ITAR-TASS the previous day had quoted former Russian presidential envoy in Chechnya Valentin Vlasov as saying that Chechnya wants to elect a representative to the Duma, and that Russia's Central Electoral Commission is currently holding negotiations with the Chechen authorities to this end. Also on 10 June, Duma speaker Seleznev rejected Yabloko faction leader Yavlinskii's proposal the previous day to introduce a state of emergency in all Russian regions bordering on Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev said he believes the deployment of additional Interior Ministry forces in those areas is sufficient to counter the activities of criminal and terrorist groups. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT VISITS STEPANAKERT. Robert Kocharian traveled to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 10 July, together with Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian, for talks with the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian and its defense minister, Samvel Babayan, RFE/RL correspondents in Yerevan and Stepanakert reported. Government sources told RFE/RL that Kocharian expressed optimism that the discussions had laid the foundations for defusing the tensions between Ghukasian and Babayan. Those tensions emerged after the sacking last month of Karabakh Premier Zhirayr Poghosian, who was arrested on 9 July (see also "End Note" below). LF VIOLENCE MARS LOCAL ELECTIONS IN ARMENIAN CAPITAL. Voting for local council heads passed without incident on 11 July in three Yerevan districts where only one candidate stood for election, AP and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But at least eight people were seriously injured in the fourth district, Ajapniak, where armed supporters of one candidate opened fire on proxies representing a rival. The outcome of the Ajapniak vote has been declared invalid. LF AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT. Wolfgang Schuessel met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Tofik Zulfugarov and with President Heidar Aliev in Baku, the last stop on his tour of Transcaucasus capitals, on 9 July, ITAR- TASS and Turan reported. Discussing the prospects for increased Austrian involvement in the Karabakh peace process, Aliev again warned that Azerbaijan "will never agree" to the creation of a "common state" comprising Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. LF AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS RESTRICTIONS ON OIL EXPORTS VIA RUSSIA. Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR issued a statement on 9 July calling on the Russian government to act "resolutely" to prevent further stoppages in the export of Azerbaijan's oil via the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk export pipeline, Interfax and Turan reported. Since the beginning of 1999, that pipeline has been out of commission for a total of 95 days The SOCAR statement said that those stoppages have limited the amount of oil Azerbaijan could export and thus negatively affected the country's economy. It noted that under an intergovernmental agreement signed by Russia and Azerbaijan in January 1996, the Russian pipeline operating company Transneft is obliged to export some 2.5 million tons of Azerbaijani oil via Novorossiisk annually. Some 2,500 tons of Azerbaijani crude were pumped through the pipeline last week to Izberbash in Dagestan, from where the oil will be transported by rail to Novorossiisk bypassing Chechnya. LF AZERBAIJANI POLICE THWART JOURNALISTS' PROTEST. Police in Baku prevented a group of independent journalists from congregating near the Azerbaijan Publishing House on 9 July in order to undertake an unsanctioned march to the parliamentary building, Turan and Interfax reported. The journalists, whose number was estimated at between 80 and 300, intended to protest "attacks on the free press," including the recent beating of Kamil Tagisoy, a journalist with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1999). The journalists issued a statement demanding the formation of an independent group to investigate reprisals against their colleagues, the removal of articles limiting press activities from the draft media bill currently under discussion, and the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles to the granting of licenses for independent television stations. LF ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE ABDUCTED. All 17 members of the Abkhaz government-in-exile were kidnapped by eight masked men on 9 July, when their helicopter landed in the Kodori Valley, the only region of Abkhazia still controlled by the central Georgian government. The kidnappers released their prisoners the following day after talks with local governor Iveri Chelidze, claiming that the kidnapping was "a mistake." Four of the ministers had been badly beaten by their captors. The reasons for the incident remain unclear. Initial reports said the kidnappers wanted to exchange their hostages for associates held in prison in Tbilisi, but one of the captured ministers subsequently quoted the kidnappers as demanding that the Kodori gorge be declared "Free Svaneti." Inhabitants of the mountain region of Svaneti, which straddles the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, have for centuries had a reputation of lawlessness. LF GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ELECTION ALLIANCE FORMALIZED. Meeting in Batumi on 11 July, representatives of five Georgian left-wing opposition parties formally pledged to create an alliance to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press reported. The five parties are the Union for Democratic Revival, headed by Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, the Socialist Party, chaired by Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, the Union of Traditionalists, the Constantine Gamsakhurdia Society (one of several parties created by supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia), and the People's Party, which split three years ago from the National Democratic Party of Georgia. As of 30 June, 56 political parties had registered with the Central Electoral Commission to contest the poll. On 12 July, President Eduard Shevardnadze pledged to set the date of the election by the end of this week. LF RUSSIAN-KAZAKH ROW OVER BAIKONUR CONTINUES. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and officials at Russia's Khrunichev Space Center said on 9 July that the 5 July explosion of a proton rocket launched from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome was probably caused by engine problems. Kazakhstan's government has suspended further launches from Baikonur, including the planned launch on 14 July of a supply craft bound for the "Mir" space station, until the causes of the explosion are fully clarified. After flying over the region affected by the explosion on 10 June, Khrunichev director Yurii Koptev told Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev that preliminary tests show no signs that the region has been contaminated by spills of toxic heptyl fuel. But Balghymbaev said Moscow had not shown adequate concern over the consequences of the disaster. He hinted that Kazakhstan may require Moscow to request permission for future launches from Baikonur, rather than simply notify the Kazakh authorities in advance, as has been the practice until now, Reuters reported. LF FIRE DESTROYS AIRPORT IN FORMER KAZAKH CAPITAL. Almaty's main airport was almost entirely destroyed by a fire that broke out during the night of 9-10 July, RFE/RL correspondents reported. No one was injured in the blaze, which is believed to have been caused by an electrical fault. LF NEW KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS. The Ar- Namys (Dignity) party headed by former Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov held its founding congress in Bishkek on 9 July, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov told the 742 delegates present that to date some 2,400 people have applied for membership in the party, of which he was elected chairman. Interfax quoted Kulov as telling congress participants that Ar-Namys aims to stabilize all aspects of the situation in Kyrgyzstan and to create a law-abiding and democratic society. (In a 7 July interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," President Askar Akaev claimed that Kyrgyzstan is already a democratic state.) LF KYRGYZ PREMIER ENDS VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN. Amangeldy Muraliev ended a two-day official visit to Uzbekistan on 10 July, Russian agencies reported. Muraliev held talks with his Uzbek counterpart, Utkir Sultanov, parliamentary speaker Erkin Khalilov, and President Islam Karimov, who noted that the "speedy resolution" of unspecified outstanding problems in bilateral relations would benefit both countries. Reports of the meetings suggest, however, that little progress was made in this direction. Muraliev was to have discussed the transfer to Kyrgyz control of oil and gas fields in southern Kyrgyzstan's Osh and Djalalabad Oblasts previously worked by Uzbekistan, but no document regulating this issue was reported to have been signed. LF END NOTE KARABAKH STRONGMAN LOSING INFLUENCE IN POWER STRUGGLE? by Emil Danielyan A 10 July visit by top Armenian leaders to Stepanakert, the capital of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, appears to have defused--at least for now--tensions between Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian and the enclave's powerful defense minister, Samvel Babayan. Discord between Babayan and Ghukasian first emerged in the spring of 1998, when the latter forced the then head of the Karabakh cabinet to resign. Ghukasian proposed assuming the duties of prime minister himself but was rebuffed by the pro-Babayan parliament. Babayan's preferred candidate, Zhirayr Poghosian, was named premier. At the end of last month, Ghukasian fired Poghosian and his cabinet without warning. The official explanation was Poghosian's failure to improve the republic's economic situation. But reliable sources in Stepanakert told RFE/RL that the move was triggered by the disclosure of a surveillance device in Ghukasian's office, which Poghosian was suspected of having ordered planted. On 11 July, the Karabakh chief prosecutor revealed that Poghosian has been arrested and will be formally charged with illegal arms possession. It is unclear how that accusation is related to his alleged surveillance activities. Ghukasian's hail of criticism directed against Poghosian was clearly also aimed at Babayan, to whom the ex-premier was known to be loyal. It also reveals the extent of the president's frustration with his hitherto limited role in Karabakh politics. The new prime minister, Anushavan Danielian, a former deputy parliamentary speaker in Ukraine's Autonomous Republic of Crimea, was Ghukasian's choice, as was the enclave's new interior minister, Artur Aghabekian. Both of the new appointees, for their part, have come under strong criticism from Babayan's loyalists. Some deputies in the Karabakh parliament are reportedly seeking Danielian's dismissal, while other reports spoke of acts of defiance among police staff directed against their new boss. On 6 July, Babayan's brother Karen, who is mayor of Stepanakert, went on local television to criticize President Ghukasian. Senior commanders of the Karabakh army similarly expressed their discontent at a meeting with Ghukasian on 6 July. Three days later, 11 senior army officers announced that they have returned all their military decorations to protest what they termed inaccurate media accounts of the 6 July meeting. Those reports claimed they had pledged their backing for Ghukasian in his struggle with Babayan. The presidential press office responded the same day with a statement suggesting that the 11 officers had acted on Babayan's orders. The Armenian leadership in Yerevan has made clear its unequivocal backing for Ghukasian. On 7 July, President Robert Kocharian's press secretary warned that "Armenia will not act as an indifferent observer with regard to Nagorno- Karabakh if any illegal attempts are made against its legitimate authorities." That warning suggested Kocharian may be worried that Babayan's political ambitions are no longer confined to Karabakh. A nationalist bloc backed by Babayan won eight seats in the 131-member Armenian parliament in the 30 May elections, while several independent lawmakers are also believed to be under his tutelage. And there is speculation that Babayan's hard line on the conflict with Azerbaijan could thwart Yerevan's future efforts in the peace process. Unlike his rival politicians, the 33-year-old Babayan does not have a university degree, having risen to prominence on the battlefield. He is largely credited with leading the Karabakh army to victory over Azerbaijan. In the political arena, he has been rather shrewd, largely acting from behind the scenes. But Babayan may have reached the point where any further advance will not be tolerated by others. Together with Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian and Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian, President Kocharian, who is Ghukasian's predecessor as Karabakh president, visited Stepanakert on 10 July in a bid to find a way out of the standoff between Ghukasian and Babayan. Government sources there told RFE/RL that Kocharian expressed optimism about the success of his mission after talks with the two rival camps. He told a group of local prominent figures that the problem will be settled "more easily" than had seemed possible, the sources said. More important, the Armenian president was quoted as saying that "issues related to the [Karabakh] army will definitely be solved" and as reaffirming Armenia's unconditional support for Ghukasian. No official statements to that effect have been made to date, but all the signs are that Babayan will lose at least some leverage as a result. There seems to be little the defense minister can do now in the face of mounting pressure from Yerevan. The blatant use of the military against Karabakh's civilian authorities would never be forgiven. Such an extreme measure is unlikely, however, not least because Babayan's rivals are offering him a face-saving exit from the crisis whereby he would keep his current post. It cannot be ruled out that Babayan would also be allowed to retain a certain say in key government appointments. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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