|Absence makes the heart grow fonder. -|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 138, Part I, 19 July 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 138, Part I, 19 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 * OLIGARCHS LOCKED IN ANOTHER BATTLE OVER MEDIA OUTLET * THINNER REVENUES COULD PINCH BUDGET IN THIRD QUARTER * ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET End Note: A NEVER-ENDING UNIFICATION STORY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA OLIGARCHS LOCKED IN ANOTHER BATTLE OVER MEDIA OUTLET... Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin on 19 July declared that Russian television channels "do nothing but attack one another" and therefore neglect covering important events, as if there were no other problems in the country. Three days earlier, Oleg Dobrodeev, the director-general of NTV, told "Kommersant-Daily that "it is clear that an information war has been launched against Media-Most [which owns NTV] by television channels and printed publications of [business magnate] Boris Berezovskii." The attacks and counterattacks are part of new war over NTV launched by so-called oligarchs Berezovskii and Media-Most Group head Vladimir Gusinskii, "Vremya MN" concluded on 16 July. Berezovskii has reportedly managed to enlist the Kremlin's support in this effort, since its officials are irritated at the station's continuing positive coverage of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and increasingly negative coverage of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. NTV authorities claim that they are just reporting objective reality. JAC ...AS GAZPROM BELIEVED TO BE FINAL ARBITRER. Meanwhile, according to "Vremya MN," Gazprom, which is a leading creditor of Media-Most, is reportedly ready to purchase 25 percent of the company, but a group of Gazprom's shareholders have asked for clarification about the company's expenditures, particularly with regard to Media-Most. The newspaper implies that recent government pressure on Gazprom may be related to its support for Media-Most (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999) and concludes that if Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev "resigns himself to the necessity of increasing the number of state representatives on Gazprom's board of directors, Gazprom will have to stop being Gusinskii's ally and Media-Most will have to surrender to Berezovskii." JAC RUSSIA AFLAME. On 16 July, Russia broke the record for the number of forest fires occurring on a single day, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 July. On that day, 763 new fires were registered --typically about 100-130 occur within 24 hours. According to the daily, from the beginning of the so-called fire season to the middle of July 20,000 fires were recorded, causing an estimated 2 billion rubles ($82 million) worth of damage. During the same period last year, which was considered a particularly bad year for forest fires, 14,500 fires had occurred. The regions hardest hit are in the Far East and Northwest. So far, the fires have barely affected residential dwellings, but some neighborhoods in cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow have been wrapped in a thick smog caused by smoke from nearby fires. On 13 July, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed declared a state of emergency because of the rapid spread of fires in his region. JAC THINNER REVENUES COULD PINCH BUDGET IN THIRD QUARTER. Economic policymakers will face difficulties managing the budget in the third quarter, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 July. Three factors will be the continued absence of a final agreement with the IMF, the seasonal decline in business activity, and a traditional slump in tax collections. Also troubling for budget revenues is the drop in customs collections, which usually provide as much as a third of state revenues but more recently have accounted for only 20 percent. According to the daily, collections of the State Customs Service depend on the volume of imports, which has shrunk since the devaluation of the ruble last August. Foreign trade turnover slid 25.4 percent in the first quarter of 1999, compared with the same period the previous year, Interfax reported on 16 July. "Vremya MN" concluded that the main problem for the government during the period from August and September will be paying the vacation wages of state sector workers, particularly in the poorer, "troubled" regions. JAC LUZHKOV CLAIMS KREMLIN'S PLOTS NOW ENSNARE HIS WIFE... Moscow Mayor and Otechestvo [Fatherland] leader Luzhkov has denounced the criminal investigation launched by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Vladimir against his wife's firm, Inteko, as a "political provocation," Interfax reported on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 1999). Luzhkov also accused the Kremlin of initiating the investigation, saying that "I am sure of it even if they deny it at the presidential administration. Moscow is one big village where all secrets come out." In an interview with NTV two days later, Luzhkov also mentioned Berezovskii as an author of the plot to smear him and his wife. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told NTV on 17 July that the investigation into the unlawful transfer of $146 million from Moscow and Vladimir to foreign banks was not politically motivated. According to Zdanovich, the money was transferred using fake contracts with non-existent companies around the CIS. JAC ...WELCOMES PRIMAKOV TO HEAD MOVEMENT. In his interview with NTV, Luzhkov also said he is considering granting former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov the top spot on Otechestvo's list. On 16 July, "Novye Izvestiya," which receives financial backing from Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, reported that frictions are developing within Otechestvo between the mayor's old and newer supporters, such as former presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and former Tax Minister Georgii Boos. The account, which cites anonymous sources within the movement, claims that the recent establishment of an additional press service for Otechestvo is part of a continuing effort by the new arrivals to establish parallel structures and gain more and more control over Luzhkov. JAC BULK OF RUSSIANS AVOID PAYING TAXES. Only 1 percent of Russia's population pay their taxes in full, while the remainder either pay too little or nothing at all, Federal Tax Police head Vyacheslav Soltaganov said on 16 July, ITAR- TASS reported. According to Soltaganov, the tax police uncovered 6,000 tax crimes during the first six months of 1999 but needs to become five to six times more efficient. One problem is the ineffective recovery of tax monies after a violation has been discovered, according to "Vremya MN" on 19 July. For example, in Tatarstan tax violations worth about 17 million rubles ($70,000) were uncovered, but only 2.5 million rubles made their way back to the budget. The situation is even worse in other regions, according to the daily: in Ulyanovsk, only 63,700 rubles were recovered, 35,700 in Volgograd, and 3,800 rubles in the Chuvash Republic. JAC JACKSON SAYS RELATIONS BETWEEN RUSSIAN, NATO KFOR TROOPS 'GOOD.' KFOR Commander General Sir Mike Jackson told ITAR- TASS in Prishtina on 17 July that relations between Russian and NATO soldiers within KFOR are "good." He stressed that the Russian troops "want to achieve successes.... They know what they should do." Jackson added that the deployment of Russian soldiers in Rahovec is under discussion. Ethnic Albanians in that town have recently protested the planned deployment of Russian peacekeepers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 1999). Meanwhile, an unnamed Defense Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 16 July in Moscow that Russian and NATO peacekeepers will soon conduct joint patrols. He added that all "peacekeepers...are on the same side of the barricade." A total of 1,670 Russian peacekeepers are currently in Kosova. Their number is scheduled to reach 3,616 by early August. FS STEPASHIN ORDERS NAVAL MANEUVERS IN REACTION TO 'YUGOSLAV EVENTS.' During his visit to Sevastopol on 17 July, Russian Prime Minister Stepashin ordered Admiral Vladimir Komoedov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, to hold naval exercises in the near future, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin said the "navy should practice all measures to counteract...aggressive actions [similar to those] undertaken by NATO forces" against Yugoslavia. Stepashin said that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had the "idea" of holding the exercises. ITAR-TASS quoted Komoedov as saying that "especially [on the southwestern flank], Russia and its allies can be drawn into conflicts." FS 'MIR' SUPPLY SHIP MAKES ONE OF ITS LAST VOYAGES? An unmanned cargo vessel filled with supplies docked with the "Mir" space station on 18 July. The supply run had been delayed for two days owing to the Kazakh authorities' ban on Russian launches from the Baikonur space complex (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 1999). The vessel delivered food, oxygen, scientific equipment, and other supplies to the station, whose current mission will end on 28 August, Interfax reported on 17 July. According to the agency, the crew will start operations to mothball the station's systems in August and prepare it for unmanned functioning. JAC CHECHEN SECURITY MINISTER DETAINED, RELEASED... Turpal-Ali Atgeriev was released from a Moscow prison on 18 July, after being arrested at Moscow's Vnukovo airport two days earlier, together with Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Adam Torkhashev and two officials from the Moscow office of the Chechen Interior Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. Atgeriev, whom "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 July termed that last remaining member of the Chechen leadership who is unequivocally loyal to President Aslan Maskhadov," is accused of participating in an attack and hostage-taking in the Dagestan town of Kizlyar in January 1996. An unidentified source at Russia's Interior Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 18 July that Atgeriev has been released not only because of "the good will of Prime Minister Stepashin, who is now preparing for the meeting between [President Boris] Yeltsin and Aslan Maskhadov," but also because of "the information that [Algeriev] gave, which can be used in future police investigations." LF/JAC ...FOLLOWING ARREST IN MOSCOW UNDER UNCLEAR CIRCUMSTANCES. AP quoted a Chechen representative in Moscow as saying that Atgeriev had been in the Russian capital for a week holding talks with Russian officials on preparations for Maskhadov's planned meeting with Russian President Yeltsin. But Russian envoy to Chechnya Georgii Kurin told ITAR-TASS that neither he nor any other Russian government officials responsible for relations with Chechnya had been informed of Atgeriev's presence there. Former Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told ITAR-TASS on 17 July he considers Atgeriev's arrest "an irresponsible step." LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET. Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliev held talks on 16 July in Geneva on the Karabakh conflict. AP quoted Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian as telling Armenian National Television after the meeting that the two presidents had "attempted to remove the obstacles" impeding work on a document that would lay the basis for talks. Azerbaijan rejected the most recent draft peace plan by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen because it objected to the proposed concept of a "common state" composed of both Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Oskanian said it is too early to speak of a breakthrough, and he expressed the hope that talks will continue "at the highest level." LF GEORGIAN FACTION LEADERS DISCUSS AMENDMENTS TO ELECTION LAW. Georgian parliamentary speaker held talks in Tbilisi on 16 July with representatives of parliamentary factions on the proposed amendment to the existing election law raising the threshold for parliamentary representation under the proportional system from 5 percent to 7 percent, Caucasus Press reported. The parliament is to debate that amendment at an extraordinary session on 20 July. Under another proposed amendment, five of the 19 members of the Central Electoral Commission are to be appointed by the president, five by the parliament, seven by the parties that polled the largest number of votes in last November's local elections, and one each by Abkhazia and Adjaria. LF TURKEY TO GIVE GEORGIA THIRD GRANT FOR DEFENSE PURPOSES. Senior Turkish and Georgian military officials are to sign an agreement on Ankara's allocation of a further $3,700,000 for the Georgian Defense Ministry and border guards, Caucasus Press reported on 16 July. Turkey allocated $5.5 million to Georgia in 1998 and another $1.7 million last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999). LF LEBED IN ADJARIA. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed arrived in Batumi on 17 July for a two-day visit, Caucasus Press reported. "Dilis gazeti" on 11 May had quoted Adjar State Council chairman Aslan Abashidze as saying that "Lebed adores Adjaria." Lebed's deputy, Shalva Breus, visited Adjaria in May to discuss prospects for joint ventures, including a joint airline, for which Krasnoyarsk intended to invest 25 percent of the necessary funding. LF GAZPROM CHAIRMAN IN KAZAKHSTAN. Rem Vyakhirev met in Astana on 16 July with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev to discuss a natural gas swap, Interfax reported. Under the proposed deal, Russia would receive natural gas from the Karachaganak field in western Kazakhstan in exchange for Russian gas delivered to Kustanai and Aktyubinsk Oblasts in the north of the country. LF RUSSIAN, TAJIK, UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET. Meeting in Tashkent on 16 July, Igor Ivanov, Talbak Nazarov, and Abdulaziz Kamilov assessed implementation of the Cooperation Declaration signed by the three countries' presidents in Tashkent on 12 October 1998, Interfax reported. The declaration pledged cooperation in combating religious extremism in Central Asia. In a joint communique, the three foreign ministers called for further efforts to stabilize the political situation in Tajikistan and stressed the need for concerted actions to end the conflict in Afghanistan through constructive dialogue under the aegis of the UN. They pledged to continue regular trilateral meetings. LF RUSSIA PRAISES TAJIK RECONCILIATION PROGRESS... Ivanov told journalists in Tashkent after the meeting that Tajikistan's experience of national reconciliation and repatriating refugees since the signing of the General Peace Agreement two years ago deserves greater publicity and wider application, Interfax reported. LF ...ACKNOWLEDES PROBLEMS IN RELATIONS WITH UZBEKISTAN. Ivanov also told journalists that he and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov had a "very frank" discussion on 15 July about all outstanding problems in bilateral relations, including the failure to implement previously signed agreements, Interfax reported. Karimov, for his part, told Interfax that the two countries should define their priorities more clearly in order to achieve an improvement in bilateral relations. Uzbekistan in April joined the GUAM alignment, which Moscow perceives as pro-Western and intended to undermine the CIS from within. LF TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 'NO PROBLEMS' IN RELATIONS WITH UZBEKISTAN. In an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS following the trilateral talks in Tashkent on 16 July, Talbak Nazarov said he sees "no problems for now" in relations with Uzbekistan, adding that the two countries have in recent years built "very good relations both politically and economically." Relations between the two countries cooled late last year after Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov accused Uzbekistan of abetting an insurgency by rebel Tajik Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. LF RUSSIA, TURKMENISTAN PLEDGE TO INCREASE COOPERATION. Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Interfax on 16 July in Ashgabat that he agreed with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to create an intergovernmental commission aimed at increasing bilateral political, trade, economic, and military cooperation. He added that the current level of cooperation "can hardly satisfy either side..., our potential is much greater." Niyazov stressed that "our doors are open, and we are willing to cooperate with great Russia. It is Russia that has so far not been coming here." He argued that Russia has isolated itself from other CIS countries and is "acting as if it were hurt" by the break-up of the Soviet Union. Niyazov also urged Russia to help Turkmenistan mediate in the Afghanistan conflict. He noted that representatives of both warring sides were in Ashgabat on 16 July for consultations with Turkmen officials. Ivanov said Russia will send a delegation to a conference on Afghanistan that is to take place next week in Tashkent. FS END NOTE A NEVER-ENDING UNIFICATION STORY by Jan Maksymiuk Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin announced on 5 July that Russia will sign a treaty with Belarus this fall, allowing the two countries "to enter the 21st century as a union-state." For those who may have lost count of Russian- Belarusian integration initiatives, this will be the third major agreement on a single Russian-Belarusian state. The first was signed in April 1996, the second one year later, in April 1997. There are many signs that this year's proposed document--heralded by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a joint declaration on 25 December 1998--will not be the ultimate unification pact either. Stepashin's pledge of quicker unification was preceded by attempted blackmail on the part of the Belarusian president. Addressing the 2 July session of the Belarusian- Russian Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk, Lukashenka threatened to seek rapprochement with the West if Russia continued to drag its feet on a closer union with his country. Following consultations with Yeltsin, Stepashin hastened to assure Lukashenka that the treaty will be ready within a month and will not be of simply a "declarative character." As for Lukashenka's threat to repair relations with the West, Stepashin commented: "We would welcome that [move], and a union between Russia and Belarus should not in any case stand as an obstacle to creating a unified Europe." Both Yeltsin and Stepashin are perfectly aware that, as one Russian newspaper put it, "there is no way to the West" for Lukashenka. Lukashenka's attempt at blackmailing Russia is rather a sign of his weakness and frustration as his presidency nears the completion of its fifth year on 20 July 1999. European democracies have not recognized Belarus's 1996 controversial referendum, by means of which Lukashenka extended his presidential term until 2001. So far, he has not appeared to pay much attention to what the West thinks about his legitimacy after 20 July. Rather, he seems to have scented another danger: What if Moscow strongmen--embroiled in their intricate wars for power--begin openly questioning his legitimacy and, consequently, his right to sign any interstate documents? Such a turn of events cannot be ruled out as Russia nears parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next year. There has been much speculation in the Russian media that Yeltsin is willing to repeat the "Milosevic scenario" in order to stay in power beyond 2000. The creation of the Russian-Belarusian union could serve Yeltsin's political longevity in the Kremlin in the same way as the 1994 creation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia helped Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic remain at the helm in Belgrade as the head of the unified state of Serbia and Montenegro. Lukashenka is ready to accept Yeltsin as the union president provided that he himself is given the post of vice president. However, Kremlin planners have not envisaged any union presidency or common government. And what is more important, even such staunch proponents of Russian-Belarusian integration as Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov have not insisted on the introduction of a union presidency. This should be taken by Lukashenka as a disappointing, if not alarming, state of affairs: Russian political elites have so far not devised any major role for him in the struggle for power in Russia. Moreover, it is unclear whether they ever intended to. Yeltsin recently announced that he is ready to step down when his terms expires next year. Whether or not that is true, he may at least be willing to wait to take a final decision until after Russia's parliamentary elections in December. If the elections suggest that his preferred candidate will win the presidential race next year, he will most likely leave the political scene, placing the future of further integration with Belarus into the hands of his successor. If not, a "union option" that would prolong his rule might be used by him in earnest. In any case, no one should expect a treaty this fall that would allow Lukashenka to obtain the real levers of power in Russia. Lukashenka recently declared that he will not accept a non-presidential power structure in the union-state. But it seems he will have no choice. If he refuses to sign another watered-down union treaty proposed by Moscow, he will find himself on the sidelines of the integration process, which he has so ardently championed. What is more, he may well find himself on the sidelines of all politics. Neglecting and even rejecting normal relations with Western democracies, he has become hostage to his one-sided policy of rapprochement with Russia. On the other hand, if he signs such a treaty, he will hardly get what he wants--namely, more power and more Russian resources to bail out the sinking Belarusian economy. "From the very beginning [of his term], Lukashenka was nothing more than a puppet.... The real power was in the hands of the puppeteer behind the screen. The only person who could allow himself [to move the puppet] was Boris Yeltsin with his family," the Belarusian independent weekly "Nasha Niva" commented on 28 June. That comment appears all the more bitter in light of the fact that most Belarusians still show no tendency or desire to stop being entertained in such a way. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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