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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 134, Part I, 13 July 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 134, Part I, 13 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 * BEREZOVSKII TO CORRECT 'BIASES' IN 'KOMMERSANT' REPORTING * LUZHKOV WOOS PRIMAKOV * AZERBAIJAN'S OFFSHORE GAS RESERVES EXCEED EXPECTATIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BEREZOVSKII TO CORRECT 'BIASES' IN 'KOMMERSANT' REPORTING. In an interview with "Vremya MN" on 13 July, influential businessman Boris Berezovskii revealed that he will seek a seat in the State Duma in an unspecified single-mandate district. Berezovskii suggested that capitalists such as himself know exactly what kind of laws the country needs for its economic development. When asked whether he would be able to work alongside Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov in the lower chamber, Berezovskii said that he figured that "the left should be represented Russia's parliament." On the issue of his recent acquisition of a 15 percent stake in the publishing house that produces "Kommersant-Daily," Berezovskii said he will not "tolerate the biased approaches demonstrated" lately by the newspaper. Berezovskii added that the purchase of the 15 percent stake will "give our group the opportunity to be first in line to buy the remaining shares." JAC LUZHKOV WOOS PRIMAKOV. Moscow Mayor and possible presidential contender Yurii Luzhkov revealed on 12 July that he met over the weekend with former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. According to Interfax, Luzhkov did not ask Primakov whether he wants the top spot on Luzhkov's Otechestvo party list in the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, Luzhkov told the agency that "it would be a dream for every political organization to have such an authoritative and influential statesman as Primakov to join or lead it." "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported the next day that according to anonymous sources in Otechestvo, Luzhkov is prepared to withdraw from the presidential race in favor of Primakov and content himself with the chairmanship of the Federation Council. The newspaper reported that most political analysts consider a Primakov-Luzhkov tandem unbeatable and that Luzhkov could easily launch himself into the presidency in 2004. JAC WESTERN ANALYSTS OVERLOOKING RUSSIAN ECONOMIC REVIVAL? In an interview in the July issue of "Vek," Anton Danilov-Danilyan, director of the presidential administration's economic directorate, said that New York Stock Exchange analysts' prediction that Russia will exhaust its hard currency reserves by August is off base. "Western analysts have been frequently making such mistakes these days," he added, noting that a lot of predictions were made that the Central Bank's gold and hard currency reserves would fall to $8 billion by the end of the first half of 1999, when in fact they exceeded $12 billion. According to Danilov-Danilyan, Russia overcame the depression caused by the mid-August 1998 economic crisis "rather quickly" and "demand has shifted to domestic goods, from which local manufacturers are profiting more than they had hoped for." He also said that a revival in real incomes began as early as February. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko estimated on 10 July that industrial output grew by 2 percent in the first half of 1999. JAC RUSSIA TO SPEND LESS ON Y2K PREPARATION. Tackling the so- called millennium computer bug problem will cost Russia $187 million, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced on 12 July. That sum is only two-thirds of what the U.S. state of Texas will spend on its own Y2K preparations, according to an earlier Reuters report. Of the $187 million, $50 million will be borrowed from abroad against state securities, "Segodnya" reported on 24 June. Kasyanov added that priority funding will be given to defense and security agencies. The Defense Ministry will receive $13 million earmarked for resolution of the problem and will have to find an additional $10.7 million from its own resources. Earlier estimates of the funding required to prepare the country's computers ranged from $1-3 billion. Also on 12 July, State Telecommunications Chairman Aleksandr Ivanov said that modernization of those computers vitally important for the state is only 30 percent complete. He pledged, however, that by November, the country's computers will be ready for the next century. JAC GOVERNMENT SENDING MIXED MESSAGE ON ARMS EXPORT POLICY? After pledging less than two weeks earlier that the government plans to ease arms trade rules, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters on 12 July that a draft decree has been prepared to tighten state control over such trade. Klebanov said that the state will start monitoring the prices of arms sold abroad and require that each state company "prove to the state why it sells arms at such a price," according to ITAR-TASS. In addition, the decree stipulates that a federal agency be established based on existing structures to oversee the operations of Rosvooruzhenie, Promexport, and Rossiiskie Tekhnologii. Klebanov said on 1 July that a decree is being drafted that will "simplify the process of receiving permission to export military hardware." JAC FUEL MINISTER DENIES EXPANSION PLANS. Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii on 12 July denied that he has plans to expand his ministry by taking over control of Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems, as reported by some newspapers, including "Kommersant-Daily," according to Russian Television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 1999). Kalyuzhnii said the same day that his ministry will insist on its own representative on the board of directors of Gazprom, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Reuters, Kalyuzhnii had said on 9 July that "the ministry of fuel and energy must become the body that actually runs the fuel and energy complex, regulating the strategically important systems of oil, gas, coal, and electricity supply both directly and indirectly." JAC SOBCHAK'S BACK. Returning to St. Petersburg on 12 July, some 20 months after his departure for Paris to undergo medical treatment, Anatolii Sobchak said he has "nothing to fear" about corruption allegations brought against him. The former St. Petersburg mayor confirmed his intention to take part in the upcoming State Duma elections but, according to Interfax, has not yet decided from which district he will run. The news agency also quoted him as saying he has not yet thought about participating in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial ballot since "there is still time" for that decision. Sobchak was reportedly taken ill during questioning as a witness in a corruption case. Last September, the Prosecutor-General's Office opened a criminal case against him on charges of bribe-taking and abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). Sobchak has denied the accusations, claiming his political opponents are behind them. JC STEPASHIN THREATENS FEDERAL TAKEOVER IN KAMCHATKA. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said on 12 July that if the governor of Kamchatka Oblast continues to prove unable to cope with securing energy supplies, federal rule might be introduced, Interfax reported. Stepashin added that the Interior Ministry and leaders of law enforcement agencies must investigate what happened with oblast resources set aside for fuel purchases. Last June, after weeks of electricity-rationing, Kamchatka residents held demonstrations and signed a petition asking the UN to take over the region (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 23 June 1999). JAC FOREST FIRES CONTINUE TO SPREAD AS HOT DRY WEATHER CONTINUES. More than 530,000 hectares of Russian forest have been destroyed so far in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 July. Authorities in Krasnoyarsk Krai declared a state of emergency the same day because of the dramatic spread of fires in the region. Some 640 fires have been registered on 53,800 hectares of forest area in the krai since the beginning of the summer. That figure is 10 times higher than that recorded last year. JAC INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS ACTIONS AGAINST CHECHEN 'GANGSTERS' WILL CONTINUE. Visiting Stavropol Krai on 12 July together with Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov and other senior government officials, Vladimir Rushailo warned that his forces will continue to strike against Chechen criminal gangs insofar as it is possible to do so without risk to the civilian population. He said that his ministry is drafting measures to strengthen security along the border between Chechnya and Stavropol Krai. Rushailo stressed that "we are not at war with Chechnya or the Chechen people." On 13 July, Rushailo met in Vladikavkaz with North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov to discuss the situation in the North Caucasus and measures to combat crime in the region, ITAR- TASS reported. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA, LIKE GEORGIA, ASPIRES TO EU MEMBERSHIP. Speaking in Yerevan on 10 July at a ceremony marking the entry into force of the Partnership and Cooperation agreement between Armenia and the EU, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Armenia's goal is ultimately to join the EU, however unreal that aspiration may currently appear, Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian's Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, had said earlier this month that Georgia's desire for full integration into European structures includes EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1999). LF AZERBAIJAN'S OFFSHORE GAS RESERVES EXCEED EXPECTATIONS... A spokesman for BP Amoco PLC announced in Baku on 12 July that test drilling at the Shah Deniz offshore field 60 kilometers south of Baku suggests the field contains gas reserves of more than 400 billion cubic meters, according to the "Wall Street Journal" of 13 July. BP Amoco is the operator of a consortium that was created in 1996 to exploit Shah Deniz's oil reserves and also comprises Norway's Statoil, Azerbaijan's SOCAR, and Russian, French, Italian, Iranian, and Turkish companies. Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev expressed delight at the size of the Shah Deniz gas reserves and suggested that the Azerbaijani government consider construction of an export pipeline to transport the gas via Georgia to Turkey. Aliev said Turkish President Suleyman Demirel has expressed Turkey's willingness to buy gas from Shah Deniz, according to Turan. LF ...CASTING DOUBT ON VIABILITY OF RUSSIAN, TURKMEN PIPELINE PROJECTS. "Zerkalo" noted on 26 June that reconstruction of the existing gas pipeline from Azerbaijan via Georgia will cost between $100-150 million. The Shah Deniz reserves are sufficiently large to supply Turkey with enough gas to meet its rapidly growing energy needs, thus calling into question the need for two planned alternative projects-- Russia's "Blue Stream" pipeline under the Black Sea, which poses serious technical problems, and the trans-Caspian pipeline to transport Turkmen gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Failure to proceed with the latter project could, "Zerkalo" suggested, further strain relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The two countries dispute ownership of several offshore Caspian oil fields. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT FIRES FINANCE MINISTER... Aliev issued a decree on 11 July dismissing 43-year-old Fikret Yusifov from the post of finance minister, Reuters and Turan reported the following day. Avaz Alekperov, a trained economist who worked in the Azerbaijan SSR Council of Ministers apparatus from 1981-1991 until his appointment as chairman of the Fund for the Social Protection of the Population, was appointed to succeed Yusifov. Aliev also created a special commission charged with investigating mutual accusations by the Ministries of Finance and Defense. The Defense Ministry has accused the Finance Ministry of non-payment of funds to the budget, while the latter claims the former has misused government funds. LF ...ANNOUNCES AMNESTY. Also on 11 July, Aliev signed a decree pardoning 91 prisoners and reducing by half the prison terms of another 25, Turan reported. Observers have suggested the amnesty is to mark the 30th anniversary of Aliev's election as first secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist Party Central Committee. Beneficiaries include journalist Fuad Gakhramanly, who was sentenced in November 1998 to 18 months' imprisonment for an unpublished article deemed subversive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998), former Agriculture Minister Mizammil Abdullaev, who was charged with complicity in financing alleged coup attempts by former Premier Suret Huseinov; Rasim Agaev, press spokesman to former President Ayaz Mutalibov; and Balash Abbaszade, an assistant to former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev. LF RUSSIAN FRONTIER TROOPS LEAVE ABKHAZIA. The last contingent of Russian border troops left Abkhazia on 10 July in accordance with an agreement signed last year by Moscow and Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. Over the previous month, the Russians had handed over control of eight frontier posts to Abkhaz frontier guards, who now control the full length of the breakaway republic's border, according to Abkhaz Deputy Security Minister Sergei Tsargush. It is unclear whether the departing Russians took with them all their movable property, as stipulated in the 1998 agreement, or ceded some equipment to the Abkhaz. LF RUSSIA STILL HOPING FOR KAZAKH COMPROMISE ON BAIKONOUR. Russian and Kazakh officials failed to reach agreement during their 12 July talks on the 14 July launch from Baikonur of a Russian cargo rocket intended to carry supplies to the orbiting "Mir" space station. Conditions after 26 July for launching that rocket to dock with "Mir" are said to be "unfavorable," and Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev told journalists in Moscow on 12 July that "Mir" may go out of control and crash to earth at some point next year unless the new navigation system to be transported by the cargo rocket is installed. Reuters on 13 July quoted unidentified Russian space officials as expressing the hope that the Kazakh authorities will permit the launch of the cargo rocket on 18 July. Both that rocket and a Ukrainian-Russian satellite due to have been launched from Baikonur on 12 July will remain on the launch pad "as long as technical resources permit," Interfax reported. LF KAZAKH PREMIER ORDERS SALARIES TO BE PAID TO HUNGER-STRIKERS. Nurlan Balghymbaev chaired a cabinet session on 12 July devoted to the social and economic situation in the town of Ekibastuz in northern Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Several dozen employees at the Ekibastuz power station began a hunger-strike two weeks ago to demand payment of back wages for the past two years, totaling 125 million tenge (approximately $900,000). Balghymbaev ordered Energy, Trade, and Industry Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov to pay off the wage arrears within one week. LF TAJIK LEADERSHIP ASSESSES AFTERMATH OF LANDSLIDES. President Imomali Rakhmonov chaired a government session on 12 July to evaluate the damage inflicted by last week's mudslides and coordinate emergency aid to the population of the regions affected, AP-Blitz reported. Also on 12 July, Rakhmonov telephoned with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, who expressed his condolences and offered material aid in coping with the aftermath of the disaster. LF TURKMENISTAN REGISTERS ECONOMIC UPSWING. Interfax on 12 July quoted Turkmenistan's National Institute for Statistics and Prognosis as reporting that during the first six months of 1999 GDP increased by 15 percent, compared with 1998. Total GDP growth for 1998 was 5 percent. Oil and gas extraction for the first five months of 1999 rose by 10.7 percent, compared with 1998. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan recently completed its best-ever grain harvest of 1.5 million tons. That amount, as "Nezavisimaya gazeta" observed on 26 June, will make Turkmenistan self-sufficient in grain for the second consecutive year. LF HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST DETAINED IN UZBEKISTAN. Amnesty International issued a press release on 12 July expressing concern over the detention two days earlier of Ismail Adylov, a member of the unregistered Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan. Interior Ministry officers subsequently searched Adylov's home in Tashkent and confiscated documents related to his human rights activities. The following day, police refused to inform Adylov's wife where he is being held. Also on 12 July, Amnesty International called on the international community to protest the forcible deportation from the Russian Federation to Uzbekistan of Bakhadir Ruzmetov, whom Uzbek officials suspect of involvement in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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