|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 153, Part I, 9 August 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 153, Part I, 9 August 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 * EXIT STEPASHIN * 'ISLAMIC MILITANTS' OCCUPY VILLAGES IN DAGESTAN * TURKMEN GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENTS SIGNED End Note: TILTING THE CHESSBOARD IN MOSCOW xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA EXIT STEPASHIN... Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 9 August dismissing Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin after only three months on the job. As was the case with his predecessors, three of whom had preceded him in the past 17 months, rumors of his pending dismissal started to dog him almost as soon as he was confirmed. His visit to the U.S. in July intensified such speculation both because of the visit's success and his own impromptu remarks there, such as, the U.S. has come to understand that "there are not just senile invalids in wheelchairs" in Russia. On 7 August, "Kommersant- Daily" characterized Stepashin's recent whirlwind tour through the Volga region as a last-ditch effort to convince Yeltsin not to dismiss him: during that tour, the ex-premier sought to persuade regional leaders to back the Kremlin's candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections. The newspaper had reported earlier that a Kremlin-backed effort to place Stepashin at the head of the election bloc composed of governors failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1999). JAC ...ENTER PUTIN... By 9 August, Yeltsin had decided that "the person who is able to consolidate society and, drawing support from the broadest political forces, ensure the continuation of reforms in Russia" is Vladimir Putin. Putin was director of the Federal Security Service and secretary of the Security Council until a decree that day relieved him of those posts and named him first deputy prime minister. Yeltsin also submitted Putin's name as candidate for the premiership to the State Duma, which has three opportunities to approve Yeltsin's choice for prime minister or be dissolved. Putin, a St. Petersburg native, is reportedly close to Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais. He started his career with the Foreign Intelligence Service, spending many years in Germany. He also served as first deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. JAC ...AS DUMA ELECTION SEASON OFFICIALLY BEGINS. Also on 9 August, Yeltsin signed a decree stipulating that Duma elections would be held on 19 December. With the announcement of that date, the campaign season formally begins. A total of 450 deputies will be elected to the lower chamber, 225 in single-mandate districts and 225 on party lists. By law, candidates are allowed to spend only the equivalent of 10,000 minimum monthly wages (about $360,000) on their campaign; however, "Rossiya" reported in its July issue that political analysts reckon that a campaign for a Duma seat can cost as much as $500,000. A successful presidential campaign is much more expensive, costing between $30-50 million, according to the publication. JAC ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURG NATIVE TAPPED FOR FSB. Putin's replacement at the FSB is First Deputy Director Nikolai Patrushev, who is also from St. Petersburg. Patrushev, whom Yeltsin appointed as FSB director on 9 August, has served in the service since 1974. He spent some three months last year as deputy chief of the presidential staff, according to ITAR- TASS. JAC LATEST YELTSIN MOVE BLASTED. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters that his faction, which is the largest in the Duma, has not yet decided whether it will support Putin's candidacy, although he noted that there "is not much difference between Putin and Stepashin--they are members of the same team." Zyuganov predicted that the situation in Dagestan would given Yeltsin the pretext for imposing emergency rule and postponing State Duma elections. State Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) suggested that Stepashin's dismissal was orchestrated by Yeltsin's inner circle: "'The Family' probably looked for a more reliable figure who could serve as Yeltsin's successor, the main thing being to preserve the very existence of the family." "It's hard to explain the madness," former Deputy Prime Minister and Right Cause Boris Nemtsov told Ekho Moskvy, adding that "the [Russian] people have grown tired of watching an ill leader who is not capable of doing his job." Right Cause recently proposed introducing an age limit for presidential candidates. JAC STOCKS PLUMMET ON INITIAL NEWS, BUT REBOUND EXPECTED. Leading Russian share prices fell 12-14 percent after news of the government upheaval. By mid-morning local time, shares in Unified Energy Systems had slipped 13.19 percent and LUKoil shares were down 10.83 percent. Shares in Gazprom plunged 11 percent. Traders and analysts told Reuters that since the possibility of Stepashin's firing had already been priced into the market in recent weeks, the market would quickly shake off its initial reaction and begin to rebound by the end of the day. The Russian stock market had recently experienced a somewhat limited renaissance, with some Western investment firms recently recommending once again the purchasing of Russian shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1999). The ruble also tumbled on 9 August from 24.9 rubles per dollar to 25.4 rubles. JAC ALLIANCE OF FATHERLAND-ALL RUSSIA REJECTS SOME MEMBERS... Fatherland head and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 7 August that Our Home Is Russia would not be invited to join the alliance of Fatherland and the governors' bloc, All Russia, whose informal leader is Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. Luzhkov declared that "the NDR is a fading star and it hardly makes sense to galvanize it through a union with Fatherland." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the same day that the Congress of Russian Communities, led by Dmitrii Rogozin, has been expelled from Fatherland. Meanwhile, Aleksei Podberezkin, leader of Spiritual Heritage, told Ekho Moskvy that his group is continuing to negotiate with both Fatherland and the People's Patriotic Union. His group's condition for joining the latter bloc is that it be allowed to have its own faction in the State Duma so that it would not have to answer to the Communist Party's Central Committee, which he says has dictatorial tendencies. JAC ...AS VOLSKII'S GROUP OFFERS TO AUTHOR BLOC'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM. Union of Russian Industrialists and Entrepreneurs head Arkadii Volskii told Interfax on 7 August that his group will support the Fatherland-All Russia bloc in upcoming elections. According to Volskii, the union's economic experts have studied the economic programs of six election alliances, including the one composed of former Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais's Just Cause, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko's New Force, and Samara Governor Konstantin Titov's Voice of Russia. "[The programs] are so primitive that there is nothing to criticize," he said. According to Volskii, his group will outline an economic program that an election bloc expecting his union's support should pursue. JAC RIGHT-CENTRIST BLOC CHOOSES ITS LEADERS? "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 7 August that the right-centrist coalition of Just Cause, New Force, and Voice of Russia will be headed by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and former head of the State Committee for Development and Support of Small Business Irina Khakamada, with the top three spots on the federal list going to these candidates. According to the daily, Right Cause leader Anatolii Chubais decided that three fellow Right Cause members-- former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, former Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, and former State Tax Service head Boris Fedorov--will not be included on the federal election list. Instead, Gaidar will be number one for the City of Moscow regional list, Fedorov for Moscow Oblast, and Nemtsov for Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev will reportedly head the list for Murmansk Oblast. The newspaper reported that an official announcement on the issue can be expected at the coalition's 11 August congress. JAC MOSCOW CITY TAX INSPECTORS FACE AUDIT. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters on 7 August that the audit being performed on Moscow city tax authorities by the federal Tax Ministry is "a political action," Interfax reported. According to "Segodnya," one reason for the detailed audit, which will be the first in seven years, is the decreasing proportion of taxes collected in cash. The newspaper, which is owned by Luzhkov ally Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, speculates that the Kremlin initiated the audit to destabilize the work of the Moscow tax inspectorate and hinder its plans to collect money for the city budget on the eve of parliamentary elections. JAC FORMER SOVIET PREMIER HEADS DELEGATION INVESTIGATING 'NATO CRIMES.' Nikolai Ryzhkov, former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers and chairman of the Duma commission collecting information on alleged NATO war crimes against Yugoslavia, arrived in Belgrade on 8 August. Ryzhkov told ITAR-TASS that his delegation will collect "materials on the harmful effect of the NATO aggression on the [population] of Yugoslavia and draft a plan for our parliamentary commission [on] sending documents to [the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia]." He added that "we do not want to be guided by...the cooling or warming of bilateral relations with NATO.... We are an independent commission.... Our aim is to establish the truth and to submit the collected materials to the State Duma." Ryzhkov stressed that "we are not all that satisfied by the objectiveness and impartiality of [the tribunal]." FS ARE RUSSIAN TROOPS IN KOSOVA DEPLOYING SERBIAN PARAMILITARIES? According to AP on 8 August, "Scotland on Sunday" quoted Captain Michael Taylor of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division as saying in the village of Dobercan, southeastern Kosova: "We have had numerous reports, which we are investigating, of Serb paramilitaries operating in Russian uniforms." The weekly added that its reporter witnessed Russian military convoys crossing the border between Kosova and Serbia in a move that is forbidden under the KFOR rules of deployment. The reporter also saw Serbian paramilitary police waving through the Russian forces. FS MOSCOW APPROVES KYIV'S BOMBERS-FOR-GAS PROPOSAL. Colonel- General Anatolii Kornukov, commander of the Russian air force, told Interfax on 6 August that Moscow has agreed to Kyiv's proposal to repay part of its gas debt to Russia through the delivery of eight Tu-160 strategic bombers. Russia puts that debt at $1.8 billion, while Kyiv claims that it owes only $1 billion and that commercial structures are responsible for the remainder of the debt. Kornukov did not say how much each plane would be considered to be worth. Russia already has six Tu-160 planes as well as some 50 Tu- 95MS long-range bombers, according to Interfax. JC NO DECREASE IN CRIME AMONG MILITARY COMMANDERS. In an interview with "Vremya MN" published on 6 August, Main Military Prosecutor Yurii Demin said that while crime in the armed forces was down 12.4 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 1998, the number of lawsuits against the forces' top commanders has not decreased. Currently, some 20 lawsuits against generals and admirals are being considered by military prosecutor's offices around the country. Demin added that while the most frequent crimes committed in the armed forces continue to be desertion and hazing, the number of "economic crimes" is on the rise, reflecting the disastrous "material situation" of the armed forces. JC 'ISLAMIC MILITANTS' OCCUPY VILLAGES IN DAGESTAN... A group of gunmen seized at least two villages in Dagestan's Botlikh Raion on 7 August. The gunmen, whose number has been variously estimated at between 300-600 and 2,000, allegedly include Arabs, Central Asians. and members of Dagestan's various ethnic groups. They are reportedly led by former acting Chechen Premier Shamil Basaev and Jordanian-born field commander Khottab and have two armored personnel carriers, an anti-tank gun, and air defense systems. Residents who fled the villages and officials of the Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan told Interfax on 7 August that the "Islamic units" are creating local power bodies and Islamic courts in Dagestan as a first step toward declaring the republic an independent Islamic state. Basaev founded the Congress last year with the aim of creating an independent Islamic state comprising Chechnya and Dagestan. LF ...WHILE MOSCOW SENDS TROOPS TO CONTAIN THREAT... One Russian army batallion and one Interior Ministry battalion, together with 1,000 Dagestani police, were sent to Botlikh Raion on 7 August. The Russian forces launched artillery and air strikes against the mavericks on the evenings of 7 and 8 August. Then Russian Prime Minister Stepashin flew to Makhachkala on 8 August, where he discussed the situation with local officials and with Russian Interior Ministry forces commander Colonel- General Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, who flew to Dagestan the previous day. Stepashin subsequently told journalists that the standoff would be resolved without risking the lives of either civilians or Russian servicemen. Two days earlier, Stepashin had ruled out new fighting in the North Caucasus. ITAR-TASS on 8 August quoted a Russian military source as saying that the head of Botlikh Raion asked Basaev to withdraw his forces, but Basaev refused to do so until the Russian federal troops withdraw. LF ...AND CHECHNYA DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY. Chechnya's official representative in Moscow, former presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev, told ITAR-TASS on 7 August that the "bandit formations" that occupied villages in Botlikh Raion have no relation to, and are not financed by, the Chechen leadership. The previous day, the Chechen Foreign Ministry had issued a statement warning of unspecified countermeasures unless Moscow halts what it termed "armed provocations on the Chechen-Russian border," Interfax reported. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA CIS TOP OFFICIAL VISITS AZERBAIJAN. On a working visit to Baku on 6-7 August, CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov discussed the ongoing streamlining of CIS executive structures with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Yarov said that the creation of alliances such as GUUAM by CIS member states does not detract from the viability of the CIS, which, he argued, would be more effective if its members could agree on creating a CIS free trade zone. (Turkmenistan in June rejected that proposal). Turan quoted Yarov as saying that the CIS Executive Committee wants individual CIS member states to give Russia plenary powers to negotiate with international organizations, such as the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank, on behalf of the presidents of CIS states. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S TRIAL POSTPONED. The trial of Geyrat Party chairman and former presidential candidate Ashraf Mehtiev has been postponed indefinitely, Turan reported on 6 August. Mehtiev was charged with insulting the honor and dignity of President Aliev by alleging the latter is an ethnic Kurd. Mehtiev's trial opened in Baku last month but was subsequently adjourned. LF SUSPECTS WALK FREE AS KAZAKH LAWYERS CONTINUE STRIKE. Criminal suspects are being released from jail without trial because of the ongoing strike by Kazakhstan's lawyers, AP reported on 7 August. Under Kazakhstan's constitution, suspects can be detained without trial for no longer than six months. The lawyers' union estimates that in Almaty alone, more than 100 persons charged with violent crimes have been released. Lawyers in Kazakhstan launched a strike in early April to demand that the government pay their back wages for the previous six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 1999). LF KAZAKHSTAN RELEASES DETAINED KYRGYZ. The 17 Kyrgyz detained three weeks ago at a holiday home near the Kazakh town of Taraz were released on 6 August, Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan chairman Tursunbek Akunov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau the following day. The Kyrgyz were among 78 people who had gathered to hold common prayers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July and 6 August 1999). LF RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN. On a two-day working visit to Dushanbe on 6-7 August, Vladimir Rushailo held talks with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and with Tajik colleagues on cooperation in combating organized and economic crime, terrorism, as well as arms- and drug- trafficking, ITAR-TASS reported. They focused on the performance of joint working groups created for that purpose earlier this year. LF TAJIK COTTON HARVEST A WASHOUT. Minister of Agriculture Sherali Safarov told Interfax on 6 August that this year Tajikistan is likely to harvest only 380,000 tons of cotton or just over half the planned target of 600,000 tons. He blamed the shortfall on shortages of fuel and spare parts for agricultural machinery and on the torrential rains in Khatlon Oblast last month. In 1997, Tajikistan harvested 385,000 tons of cotton. LF TURKMEN GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENTS SIGNED... Representatives of Shell and PSG signed three agreements in Ashgabat on 5 August on the extraction of Turkmen natural gas and its export via the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, Interfax reported. Shell and PSG signed a letter of intent on the implementation of that project, under which Shell undertook to raise 50 percent of construction costs. Shell also signed an "agreement of strategic alliance" with the Turkmen government on exploring and developing gas deposits from which gas can be exported via the planned pipeline. And PSG signed a preliminary agreement with the Turkmen government on the commercial and legal basis for operating the pipeline. LF ...AS AZERBAIJAN EXPRESSES INTEREST. Speaking in Baku the following day, Azerbaijan state oil company president Natik Aliev said his country hopes the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline will transit Azerbaijan and Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Aliev said the pipeline will have an annual capacity of 30 billion cubic meters, and he expressed the hope that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will be able to reach an agreement allowing Azerbaijan to use part of that capacity to export its own gas. US State Department adviser for the Caspian John Wolf said in Baku the same day that PSG will conduct talks on this issue in Baku "soon." LF TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE AGAIN AT ODDS OVER GAS SUPPLIES. Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko said on 6 August that agreement had been reached during talks with Turkmen government officials the previous day on resuming supplies of Turkmen natural gas to Ukraine before the end of this month, Interfax reported. Turkmenistan halted exports to Ukraine in late May. But in Ashgabat, the chairman of Turkmenistan's state gas company, Berdymurat Redjepov, said the same day that supplies will not be resumed any time soon because Ukraine has not yet made the required payment in hard currency for 6 billion cubic meters of gas it received between January and late May 1999. Forty percent of that debt was to be paid in hard currency and the remainder in barter goods, not all of which have been supplied. LF END NOTE TILTING THE CHESSBOARD IN MOSCOW By Paul Goble Once again, Boris Yeltsin has tilted the political chessboard in Moscow, giving himself new room for maneuver by upsetting the calculations of others--at the cost of throwing the Russian government into turmoil. Earlier today, the Russian president fired his prime minister, Sergei Stepashin, along with the entire government, and replaced him with Vladimir Putin, until now head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) and a longtime KGB agent. In making this change, Yeltsin said that he wants to put Putin in a position to succeed him as president, thus highlighting Yeltsin's growing unhappiness with the political coalitions now being formed against him and hinting at his approach in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Further, this latest move--particularly in the context of the renewed fighting in the North Caucasus--raises the possibility that Yeltsin will seek to postpone those votes by declaring a state of emergency or will try to gain more influence over the electoral process by putting himself in a position to do precisely that. But any short-term gains he may have made in the overheated politics of Moscow may be swamped both by the probable reaction of his political opponents and the even more predictable reaction of international financial markets and Western governments. Precisely because most of Yeltsin's opponents are likely to view his motives as a transparent threat to themselves and because Yeltsin has used similar tactics in the past, political leaders in the State Duma and in Russia's regions are likely to redouble their efforts to gain power at his expense. The electoral coalitions that have emerged in the last few weeks are likely to consolidate rather than crack as a result of Stepashin's departure and Putin's appointment. Those involved in such coalitions will doubtless conclude that Yeltsin's move is directed not only against their current clout but also their future power in the Russian state. That may make the confirmation of Putin more rather than less difficult. It may also lead to new demands for Yeltsin's impeachment and possibly trigger other kinds of political maneuvers against an action that many political figures, not to mention the Russian public, are likely to view as the latest indication of Yeltsin's arbitrariness and unfitness for office. Thus, August is likely to once again prove the hottest month politically in the Russian capital. Moreover, this pattern of domestic unhappiness with Yeltsin's move may be compounded by the reaction of the West. Both financial markets and international financial institutions are likely to react negatively to this latest indication of instability within the upper echelons of the Russian state. The reaction of the markets is almost certain to be both quick and negative, driving down the ruble's exchange rate, reducing still further the willingness of private firms to invest there, and thus further exacerbating Russia's economic difficulties. All those developments will only highlight the conditions that are behind the growing opposition to Yeltsin among the Russian people. The initial reaction of Western governments is likely to be more cautious. On the one hand, many are likely to view Yeltsin's latest move the same way they viewed earlier ones of this kind--as a high risk but as perhaps the necessary step by someone many have come to view as the only reliable partner they have in Moscow. On the other, precisely because Yeltsin has used this stratagem so often and precisely because it is once again threatening to destabilize the political situation in Moscow, ever more voices in Western capitals are likely to begin to ask questions about Yeltsin's reliability and about relations with Moscow after Yeltsin. The latter response is particularly likely because of Yeltsin's suggestion that he would like to see Putin as his successor. Some are certain to be concerned by the prospect of a longtime Soviet spy at the head of the Russian government, while others will be worried by the possibility that Yeltsin may suddenly transfer power to Putin as a means of avoiding a loss in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Each time Yeltsin has tossed the Russian chessboard into the air in order to maintain power, there have been suggestions that he has used this strategy once too often. That is certain to be the case once again this week. And regardless of whether this is Yeltsin's final August ploy, the suggestions themselves will cast an ever larger shadow over Russian politics, the Russian people, and Russia's relations with the West. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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