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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 147, Part I, 30 July 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 147, Part I, 30 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 * NEW DISMISSAL RUMORS FOLLOW YELTSIN'S RETURN * GOVERNMENT ASKS FUEL PRODUCERS TO QUIT SMUGGLING * KAZAKHSTAN DISCUSSES PURCHASE OF TURKMEN NATURAL GAS End Note: RESPONDING TO ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NEW DISMISSAL RUMORS FOLLOW YELTSIN'S RETURN. Recently returned from vacation, Russian President Boris Yeltsin is reported to have signed a decree dismissing Sergei Zverev, deputy to presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, according to Interfax and Reuters on 29 July. "Kommersant-Daily" wrote the next day that Zverev, a former Most Bank executive, is being sacked primarily because he is too closely associated with Media-Most Group head Vladimir Gusinskii. Zverev joined the Kremlin only some three months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 1999). Yeltsin has reportedly also signed a decree dismissing Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok, according to Ekho Moskvy on 29 July. "Segodnya" claimed the next day that Pochinok is under pressure from the Kremlin for not being "active enough in auditing companies close to [Moscow Mayor Yurii] Luzhkov and other figures disliked by the presidential administration." Both "Segodnya" and Ekho Moskvy are owned by Media-Most. On 30 July, presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin denied that any documents have been prepared dismissing either official. JAC GOVERNMENT ASKS FUEL PRODUCERS TO QUIT SMUGGLING. As fuel shortages threaten to paralyze harvesting, fire-fighting, and other activities across the country (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 28 July 1999), federal government officials have decided against increasing the export tax on oil and have instead asked oil companies and refineries to ensure sufficient supplies of gasoline to retailers. One reason for this decision may be that the sharp increase in the production and export of "unregistered" gasoline. According to "Vremya MN" on 29 July, economist Mikhail Delyagin concluded that since gasoline output sank by 17 percent in April and 12 percent in March, according to official figures, for no apparent reason, it is likely being secretly transported across Russian borders to avoid customs and tax duties. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters the same day that gasoline is being smuggled to Ukraine and other places, where it fetches $2 a liter compared with $0.20 in Russia. JAC HIGHER INFLATION FEARED... State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told Ekho Moskvy on 29 July that inflation could reach 60 percent this year, rather than the 30 percent projected in the 1999 budget. Earlier this week, the Economics Ministry released a report concluding that the conditions for a steeper rise in consumer prices and an "inflationary potential" have recently emerged, according to Interfax. An unidentified source at the ministry told the agency that inflation will likely reach 45 percent by year's end but a sharp jump in prices could occur toward the close of 1999. Zhukov also predicted that the ruble will gradually devalue, allowing exporters to increase their revenues and consequently their tax payments. JAC ...AND WEAKER RUBLE. Traders and analysts also believe that the ruble will fall, as the Central Bank is expected to stop defending the currency, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 July. According to the daily, the Central Bank spent $100 million a week this month to bolster the ruble's exchange rate against the dollar. According to Zhukov, such expenditures were necessary because of the foreign debt payments the country had to make in July, but now there are no economic grounds to continue propping up the ruble. However, an analyst at MFK Renaissance told the daily that it is always possible that the Central Bank will act in defiance of economic good sense: "Since there is no capital inflow, the government must be looking to commodity exporters to finance the elections and might try to keep the ruble stable to buy dollars from them at lower rates," Parvoleta Shtereva said. JAC VODKA PRODUCTION SOARS, BUT TAX COLLECTION TARGET MISSED. Russia increased production of vodka by 65 percent during the first half of the year, compared with the same period the previous year, ITAR-TASS reported 28 July. Total alcohol production went up by 29.1 percent. However, revenues from the excise tax on alcohol products amounted to only 10.6 billion rubles ($438 million), compared with the target of 13 billion rubles. Among the regions with the worst performance collecting the tax are the Republics of Altai and Kalmykia, Kaliningrad Oblast, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 July. In the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, only 8.9 percent of expected revenues were collected. JAC STEPASHIN ADVOCATES INCREASED EU ROLE... Speaking to journalists after meetings with Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen and EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek in Moscow on 29 July, Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin argued that given recent "changes" in the international arena, "the role of the EU must be sharply increased in deciding international problems," particularly in the "military-political" sphere, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. He also urged that Russia be regarded as an "equal partner" in Europe. Lipponen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he believes the planned EU-Russia summit in Helsinki in October will put cooperation between the union and Moscow on a "new level." And Van den Broek commented that of the various scientific and technological cooperation projects Russia and the EU are preparing, the satellite navigation project could become "one of the most important cooperation programs that the EU will have with Russia," according to AP. JC ...AND EQUAL ROLE FOR RUSSIA IN YUGOSLAV RECONSTRUCTION. At the same 29 July press conference, Stepashin argued that Russia must be an "equal participant" in the reconstruction of Yugoslavia, although he admitted that this raises "problems." He later told a cabinet meeting that this topic is to be discussed at the Sarajevo summit on Balkan reconstruction, which he and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov are due to attend on 30 July. Another topic to be dealt with during the summit, according to the premier after his meeting with President Yeltsin on 29 July, will be extending aid not just to Kosova but all Yugoslavia. He added that this subject will have to be discussed "particularly thoroughly" with France and Germany. JC RUSSIA PROPOSES BARTER ARRANGEMENT FOR INDIA TO REPAY DEBT. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, speaking to the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi on 29 July, proposed that India pay off its Soviet-era $14 billion debt by setting up joint ventures with Russia to manufacture and modernize civilian aircraft. He added that discussions have already been held on how such ventures might be created, AFP reported. Ukraine has proposed repaying part of its gas debt to Russia with 10 strategic bombers, while Moscow recently suggested barter trade with the Association of South East Asian States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 July 1999). Also on 29 July, Khristenko met with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who approved the proposal that trade between the two countries be increased fourfold by 2005. The current volume of bilateral trade stands at $1.5 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. JC LEFTIST BLOC LOSES MOVEMENT TO OTECHESTVO? Moscow Mayor and Otechestvo head Luzhkov has formally invited Spiritual Heritage to join his movement, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 July. Spiritual Heritage had been considered a potential member of a leftist bloc, according to the daily. Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberezkin said his group will make a decision at its congress in September, but he added that the programs of both organizations "practically coincide exactly." JAC LEBED LAUNCHES PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN? At a recent press conference, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed appealed to regions to pool their collective strengths and talents to resist misguided policies emanating from Moscow, Interfax reported on 28 July. Lebed declared that he is worried by the Kremlin's efforts to harm Moscow Mayor Luzhkov. He continued that by engineering a default for Moscow, the center may bring about a default for the whole country, since 84 percent of the country's financial resources are concentrated in its capital. According to "Vremya MN" on 28 July, Lebed will develop his ideas on this subject at a 13 August meeting of the interregional association, Siberian Accord. "Izvestiya" concluded on 28 July that with this appeal, Lebed has unofficially started his presidential campaign. Lebed himself recently hinted that he might not run in that ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 1999). JAC THE HOUSE THAT BEER BUILT. Krasnoyarsk Krai resident Arkadii Lytkin constructed a two-story dacha out of 6,000 beer bottles, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 July, citing "Krasnoyarsk komsomolets." When Lytkin first built the dacha 20 years ago, his family spent only the summers there, but now they reside there all year round because it is warmer than their apartment in the city. The structure, which took three years, to build has a balcony on the second floor with a impressive view of Krasnoyarsk, according to the daily. Also dramatic are sunsets, as the rays of light filter through the multi-colored glass. JAC CHECHEN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ABDUCTED. Chechen police have launched a search for Adburakhman Suleimanov, who was kidnapped on 30 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Security officials do not believe the abduction was politically motivated and anticipate that the kidnappers will demand a ransom to release Suleimanov. LF PROTESTS IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA GATHER MOMENTUM. In several towns in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, some 10,000 supporters of Vladimir Semenov continue to protest President Yeltsin's appointment of Valentin Vlasov as temporary republican head, arguing that the move violates the Russian Constitution, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 July. Semenov's apparent victory in the 16 May republican presidential runoff was called into question by a 23 July Russian Supreme Court ruling. The protesters are demanding that a referendum be held in the republic on whether the Russian president should have the right to appoint the Karachaevo-Cherkessia president. In addition, some 8,000 women are picketing the Interior Ministry headquarters in the republican capital, Cherkessk, to protest Aleksandr Volkodav's appointment as interior minister. Volkodav previously served in that capacity until his dismissal in 1995 for incompetence and compromising behavior. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NAKHICHEVAN OFFICIAL SAYS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SPREADING DISINFORMATION. Nakhichevan senior Foreign Ministry official Azer Alesqerov told journalists on 29 July that activists of the Musavat, Azerbaijan National Independence, and Azerbaijan Popular Front parties are to blame for the 13 July clashes at the Sadarak customs post on the border between the Azerbaijani exclave and Turkey, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 28 July 1999). He added that 99 percent of the information on the clashes published in the Azerbaijani opposition press is untrue and aimed at exacerbating tensions. Alesqerov denied opposition allegations that the head of the Sadarak customs post was responsible for the clashes. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS ALLEGED ELECTION LAW CHANGES. The 20 opposition parliamentary deputies who constitute the Democratic Bloc issued a statement on 29 July calling for an emergency session of the parliament to discuss the changes they believe were made to the law on municipal elections after its adoption by the parliament, Turan reported. They also demanded that those responsible for making those changes be punished. Parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov on 25 July denied that any such changes were made (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1999). LF RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IN TBILISI. Vladimir Rushailo and his Georgian counterpart, Kakha Targamadze, agreed during talks in Tbilisi on 29 July to set up joint groups to seek the release of Russian and Georgian citizens held hostage in Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. They also agreed to cooperate more closely in stamping out trade in counterfeit goods. LF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SUGGESTS POSTPONING RELIGIOUS ARTIFACT EXHIBIT IN U.S. Eduard Shevardnadze has proposed postponing for several years the planned exhibit in three U.S. and one Italian city of Georgian religious artifacts and manuscripts, Caucasus Press reported on 29 July. Senior Georgian clerics oppose allowing the relics to be taken out of the country. Dozens of students took part in a hunger strike in late April to protest the planned exhibit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 May 1999), prompting Shevardnadze to create a special commission, composed of prominent academics and clerics, that is to rule on the advisability of proceeding with the exhibit. In response to an appeal by the opposition Ilia Chavchavadze Society, a Georgian district court on 29 July issued a ban on taking the artifacts out of Georgia. LF BP AMOCO TO QUIT KAZAKH PROJECT. A senior official for BP Amoco told Interfax on 29 July that the company will sell its 9.5 percent stake in the Offshore Kazakhstan International Operating Company (OKIOC), even if the first test well yields hydrocarbons. Kazakhstan's national oil company threatened in June to end relations with the consortium because of delays in drilling the first test well. Drilling is now expected to begin next month. Hydrocarbon reserves in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea are estimated at 12 billion tons. LF KAZAKHSTAN DISCUSSES PURCHASE OF TURKMEN NATURAL GAS. A Kazakh government delegation held talks in Ashgabat on 29 July on purchasing Turkmen natural gas and cooperating in exporting it to European markets, ITAR-TASS reported. Kazakhstan's Minister for Power Engineering, Industry, and Trade Mukhtar Ablyazov said that regions of southern Kazakhstan need to purchase up to 2 billion cubic meters of Turkmen natural gas annually in order to meet demand, adding that Astana might also purchase a further 1 billion cubic meters for resale to Kyrgyzstan. Also discussed was the possibility of exporting oil from Kazakhstan via the Pavlodar-Chimkent-Seidi pipeline and the Turkmen port of Turkmenbashi. LF KYRGYZ LEADERS DISCUSS CORRUPTION, ECONOMY. Addressing a national conference of police officers in Bishkek on 29 July, President Askar Akaev proposed drafting a 10-year program to combat corruption and economic crime, Interfax reported. Akaev said that the shadow economy accounts for approximately 10-12 percent of GDP, adding that some experts believe the true figure is 25-26 percent. He said that losses to the budget from economic crime over the past year amount to 600 million soms (some $15 million), and he termed corruption "one of the most dangerous threats" to the country. Also on 29 July, Prime Minister Amangeldy Muraliev chaired a cabinet meeting called to discuss the economic situation, at which it was announced that the planned 10 percent increase in agricultural output for 1999 will not be met. Unpaid wages are estimated at 808 million soms, pensions at 265 million soms, and other benefits at 167 million soms. LF KYRGYZSTAN VALUES DEFENSE COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA, CIS. Echoing Akaev's assertion in his 7 July interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Russia and Kyrgyzstan are "strategic partners" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 1999), Kyrgyzstan's Defense Minister Colonel-General Myrzakan Subanov told the same newspaper on 29 July that Russia is his country's main partner in defense cooperation. Subanov also noted the importance to Kyrgyzstan of participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty and of cooperation with the other member states of the Central Asian Union in upholding regional security. LF END NOTE RESPONDING TO ANTI-SEMITISM IN RUSSIA By Paul Goble In the wake of two attacks on Moscow synagogues, a prominent Russian Jewish organization has decried the increasing incidence of such activities as well as what it said are the reasons behind that rise. In a statement released on 27 July, the Russian Jewish Congress said that the mounting number of attacks on Jewish institutions now represents "a threat to all Russian citizens regardless of their nationality" and argued that such crimes "should not remain unpunished." The organization blamed the increase on chauvinistic appeals by some Russian politicians, the indifference of many ordinary Russian citizens to such attacks, and the inability or unwillingness of the government to identify and punish those responsible. The Russian Jewish Congress issued the appeal after a 12 July attack on the Moscow Choral synagogue left Leopold Kaimovskii, the executive director of Moscow's Jewish Arts Center, badly wounded and after reports earlier this week that a bomb had been planted near another Moscow synagogue. The Congress argued that "such incidents cease to be something extraordinary and are committed with the connivance of those who are in charge of the formation of our society's moral climate." It provided three explanations for this increase, which comes after a period in which many Russian Jews felt anti-Semitism there had been declining. First, the Congress put the blame on the increasing number of political figures who have with impunity issued anti-Semitic statements as part of their effort to win popular support. It noted that "there is nothing strange in the escalation of such violence when members of the Federation Council and State Duma deputies make chauvinistic statements," particularly when they escape censure for such statements. Second, the Congress criticized the indifference of many Russians to what is taking place. All too many Russian citizens, the group indicated, have failed to react at all to such outrages against Jewish groups, an indifference that sometimes extends to attacks on other national minorities. This Russian indifference, the Congress noted, has prompted Jews and other minorities to "raise the question of whether it is possible to live on Russian territory" and, in the absence of domestic support, to issue "appeals to the international community" as the only means of defense. And third, the Congress denounced what it said is the "impotence of the Russian authorities" in the face of such acts, an impotence that reflects either their inability or their unwillingness to bring those responsible to justice. The failure of the Russian government to do so, the Congress noted, has only emboldened those responsible for such behavior. To counter these factors, the Congress called on Russian leaders to denounce racists and anti-Semites "no matter how high their posts are." It demanded that the Russian people recognize the danger to themselves of anti-Semitic actions left unpunished. And it called on the authorities to work harder to identify and convict those guilty of such crimes. But it is a measure of the difficulties Jews in Russia now face that this organization has directed its appeal to foreign governments and human rights activists as well, virtually inviting both to put pressure on Moscow to change its current approach. Several Jewish groups and human rights organizations in the U.S. and other Western countries recently have begun campaigns to attract attention to what many people had assumed was no longer a major problem in post-Soviet Russia. The appeal of the Russian Jewish Congress from Moscow is likely to give additional impetus to these Western efforts. And its identification of the sources of the new tide of anti-Semitic violence in Russia is likely to lead ever more people to consider not only why anti-Semitism has re-emerged but also the ways in which it can be combated. To the extent that happens, this appeal may mark a turning point in Russian social development. To the extent that it does not, the appeal may come to be viewed as a barometer of how bad things now are and how much worse they could become. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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