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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 154, Part I, 10 August 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 154, Part I, 10 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 * YELTSIN DUBS PUTIN HIS SUCCESSOR * PUTIN PREDICTS DAGESTAN WILL BE 'NORMALIZED' WITHIN * KAZAKH PRESIDENT DISMISSES DEFENSE MINISTER xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN DUBS PUTIN HIS SUCCESSOR. Acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters on 9 August, following Russian President Boris Yeltsin's televised endorsement of him, that he will seek the presidency in the 2000 elections. When asked later by NTV why he declared his intentions so early, Putin said "I think that those who do not state directly what they want are really not yet ready to do this--or they are people who say one thing and do another--and they do not deserve to be trusted." Putin added that former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin was dismissed because Russian President Boris Yeltsin "wanted to change the political configuration inside the country in connection with forthcoming State Duma elections." "Izvestiya" noted on 10 August that Putin's chances of being elected will be "colored by Stepashin's unnecessary dismissal" and the fact that Putin is little known (even prime ministers' ratings rise slowly). Reuters described Putin's manner during his first television interview as premier as "completely sombre--even chilling." JAC PUTIN EXPECTED TO WIN DUMA APPROVAL. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 9 August that the lower chamber might hold an extraordinary session on 13 August to consider the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Seleznev, a Communist, said he personally will support Putin and that "the main thing" is that elections to the State Duma take place on 19 December. Both Aleksei Mitrofanov, Duma Geopolitics Committee chairman and member of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Aleksandr Shokhin, former Our Home Is Russia faction leader, predicted that Putin has a good chance of being confirmed. Shokhin told "Trud" on 10 August that Putin will be confirmed because "the opposition wants to emphasize, particularly on the eve of elections, that [Putin] is the personification of Yeltsin's regime." Colonel Sergei Glotov, deputy head of the People's Power faction, said that Putin's candidacy will be approved without any complications if he presents a clear-cut economic program, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC GOVERNMENT SAYS ECONOMIC POLICY TO FOLLOW SAME TRACK... Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced on 9 August that the Russian government will debate the 2000 budget on 19 August, as planned, despite the cabinet's dismissal, Interfax reported. The Economics Ministry announced the same day that the government's dismissal will not alter the value indicators projected for next year's budget, such as the ruble/dollar exchange rate, which will remain at 32 rubles per dollar. Interfax reported that economists have found that a 3 percent devaluation of the ruble following a cabinet dismissal "has become normal." The agency noted that the ruble fell by 2.8 percent when Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's government fell. However, few analysts are predicting a major slump in the ruble because they believe the new prime minister will follow economic policies very similar to those of his predecessor, "The Moscow Times" reported on 10 August. JAC ...WHILE SOME PERSONNEL SHIFTS EXPECTED. Despite acting Prime Minister Putin's assurances the previous day that he is not going to change posts in the government's "financial bloc," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 August that Stepashin pushed very hard for Khristenko's promotion and therefore his departure is possible. The daily alleges that according to "unofficial information" both Khristenko and Mikhail Zadornov, presidential envoy to international institutions, will leave the cabinet. On the other hand, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is considered very safe in his position, having just been praised effusively by President Yeltsin for his handling of negotiations with the Paris Club. JAC CADRE RESHUFFLE BEGINS. Acting Premier Putin said on 10 August that he will keep Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo in his new cabinet. The previous day, government sources told Interfax that Igor Sechin, former deputy head of the Security Council staff, is now the acting chief of Putin's secretariat. Sechin replaces Vladimir Engelsberg. While he was still prime minister, Stepashin criticized the practice of unjustified cadre reshuffles and pledged to curb all attempts to replace the heads of ministries and departments for the sole purpose of "having one's own men inside ministries and benefiting from this." JAC MOSCOW POLITICAL ELITE BLASTS LATEST SACKING... The deputy head of Yabloko's Duma faction, Sergei Ivanenko, called the "personnel reshuffle unreasonable" under the current circumstances, since Stepashin's government "did not make any serious mistakes." Fellow Yabloko member and Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin concluded "this tells me that the authorities have no accountability at all." Independent Trade Union head Mikhail Shmakov condemned the president's decision, noting that another government change will further delay talks on a general agreement with trade unions for 2000-2001. Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais reportedly considers Yeltsin's dismissal of Stepashin a "very risky move," a source close to Chubais told Interfax on 9 August. Fellow Right Cause member Boris Nemtsov told "Komsomolskaya pravda" the next day that "everybody in the White House feels they hold their positions only provisionally, which is the perfect atmosphere for corruption." JAC ...AS REGIONAL LEADERS' REACTION IS MORE CAUTIOUS. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said that Stepashin's dismissal was not entirely unexpected, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 10 August. According to Shaimiev, who is also the informal leader of All Russia, President Yeltsin has not made Putin's job any easier by declaring him his successor. Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, who is seeking re-election in a ballot scheduled for the end of the month, said he is confident that he will be able to develop a constructive dialogue with Putin. Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, who was formerly allied with a Communist Party-led coalition, commented that powers in the center "are not capable of doing anything constructive." JAC STEPASHIN HEADED FOR SPOT WITH GOVERNORS-LUZHKOV ALLIANCE? Interfax reported on 9 August that President Yeltsin offered former Prime Minister Stepashin the post of Security Council secretary, which Putin has now vacated. But according to "sources close to Stepashin," the former prime minister will not accept the position. The next day, Georgii Boos, head of the campaign staff for the alliance between Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland and All Russia, said that the new coalition is prepared to offer Stepashin a spot on its election list if he wants to run for a Duma seat. He added that leadership of the group by Stepashin "is not even being discussed." JAC NORTH CAUCASUS SEEN AS FACTOR IN STEPASHIN'S DISMISSAL. "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 10 August that the situation in Dagestan may have been a factor in Stepashin's dismissal. The daily claims that according to its sources in the Interior Ministry, President Yeltsin believed that the government had "fumbled in this respect." According to the newspaper, sources in the Defense and Interior Ministries are perplexed by the president's decision to dismiss the government "as a new war in the Caucasus is brewing." However, it notes that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is "jubilant because its boss has been promoted." The new FSB chief, Patrushev, reportedly enjoys a close friendship with Putin that was first established when the two men worked together for the KGB in Leningrad during the 1980s, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day. According to the daily, Patrushev had already practically assumed the leadership of the FSB when Putin became secretary of the Security Council. JAC WEST SEES CONTINUITY IN RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW... U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin, commenting on the dismissal of Stepashin and Putin's appointment as premier-designate, stressed on 9 August that U.S. policy focuses on "Russian reform and the policies of the government, not the personalities." He noted that Washington has "some experience" and a "constructive relationship" with Putin. Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the EU does not expect ties with Moscow to change following Stepashin's sacking. He added that it is important that Russia continue joint projects with the union. An IMF spokesman said nothing has changed in the fund's relationship with Russia, while a Japanese government spokesman said Tokyo will continue to expand relations with Moscow. Meanwhile, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said Beijing hopes for political stability in Russia, but he declined to comment further on the latest developments in the Russian capital. JC ...WHILE MOSCOW OFFICIALS SAY IT'S BUSINESS AS USUAL. Interfax on 9 August quoted the Russia Foreign Ministry as saying the dismissal of the Stepashin government "will in no way impact on Russia's main foreign policy strategy." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who was vacationing at the Black Sea resort of Sochi at the time of Stepashin's sacking, retained his post during the previous government reshuffle in May. Also on 9 August, unnamed "diplomatic sources" in Moscow told Interfax that the timetable for talks at expert level with the U.S. on the START-III Treaty and possible changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty remains unchanged. Those parleys are due to take place from 17-19 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1999). JC CHAIKA OPTS FOR EARLY RETIREMENT. Acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika on 9 August re-submitted his resignation from that post, this time requesting early retirement, ITAR-TASS reported. The Federation Council had scheduled hearings on Chaika's resignation in October, according to "Kommersant- Daily" the next day. By asking to retire, Chaika, aged 48, now avoids having to wait until October, and Vladimir Ustinov, head of the Prosecutor-General's directorate in the North Caucasus, can now assume the post immediately. Under Chaika, the office for investigating important cases continued to probe allegations of corruption involving two members of Yeltsin's inner circle, media tycoon Boris Berezovskii and Pavel Borodin, head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 July. JAC RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS MOSCOW IS 'SICK AND TIRED OF MILOSEVIC...' Senior Russian diplomat and Rambouillet negotiator Andrei Zagorskii told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" of 7 August that "Moscow has long been sick and tired of Milosevic and would be extremely happy if the Milosevic regime were to fall." He added, however, that "in the [Kosova] conflict Moscow saw the old world order, in which Russia had a say, falling apart." He argued that important for Moscow was not Milosevic but the "change in the world order." Zagorskii said that Russia's main aim is stopping NATO from acting as "the decision-making body in European affairs" at the expense of the OSCE and UN. He stressed that "Russian diplomacy...is doing all in its power to strengthen the UN Security Council's position." He acknowledged, however, that "unofficial bodies" such as the Balkans Contact Group are necessary and that the G-8 is an acceptable substitute. FS ...AND WILL SIGN START II. Zagorskii told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" that the Russian State Duma postponed the ratification of the Start II disarmament agreement over the Kosova crisis but added that "the disarmament process is by no means dead." He acknowledged that "Russia has...no choice. We have to disarm because our missiles are old and no longer safe." He added that he does not believe there will be a union of Russia and Belarus, noting that the CIS "has always been a dead entity." FS PUTIN PREDICTS DAGESTAN WILL BE 'NORMALIZED' WITHIN TWO WEEKS. Acting Russian Prime Minister Putin chaired a 9 August session of the Russian Security Council that adopted measures to stabilize the situation in Dagestan and throughout the North Caucasus. No details of those measures have been released. Earlier on 9 August, Putin had ordered the Dagestani authorities to proceed with the implementation of measures agreed on at a meeting in Makhachkala the previous day with then Prime Minister Stepashin. Those measures included the formation of volunteer brigades of 50-100 men, who are being issued with hunting rifles, and the registration of illicitly acquired weapons, including machine-guns and grenade-launchers. Following a meeting with President Yeltsin on 10 August, Putin predicted that order will be restored in Dagestan within two weeks, after which more time will be needed to "stabilize" the authorities there. He added that Moscow's actions in Dagestan are in response to a request by that republic's leadership. LF MILITARY SITUATION IN BOTLIKH REMAINS UNCLEAR. An unnamed Dagestani Interior Ministry official told Interfax on 9 August that the federal army and Interior Ministry forces sent to Botlikh Raion at the weekend are regrouping and carrying out reconnaissance missions and have not yet launched "large-scale" attacks on the Islamic militants who have occupied several villages there. ITAR-TASS quoted another anonymous source in Makhachkala on 10 August as saying that no fighting was reported overnight. On 9 August, however, ITAR-TASS reported that Russian troops had launched missile and artillery strikes against the militants. Putin, too, said on 10 August that "combat operations are going on in Dagestan," adding however that the field commanders had split their men up into small groups. Caucasus Press reported on 10 August that some of the militants have begun to retreat from Botlikh to Chechnya. LF DID KVASHNIN HAVE A NARROW ESCAPE? ITAR-TASS reported that the helicopter carrying Russian Army Chief of Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin was shelled both when it landed and then took off from an airfield in Botlikh on the morning of 9 August. Two helicopters on the ground were destroyed and two more seriously damaged. Interfax reported later that day that both the Russian Defense Ministry and the Dagestani Interior Ministry declined to confirm that Kvashnin's helicopter had come under fire, although Dagestani officials confirmed that two helicopters were damaged by mortar fire at the airfield in question. Kvashnin is coordinating the operation to neutralize the Islamic militants in Botlikh. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN KARABAKH CONFLICT. On a one-day visit to Yerevan on 9 August, Kamal Kharrazi met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian, to discuss bilateral political and economic relations and regional problems, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kharrazi told journalists after the talks that he and Oskanian agree that expanding bilateral relations may serve to promote stability in the South Caucasus. He reaffirmed Tehran's readiness to facilitate a dialogue between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships on resolving the Karabakh conflict. Acknowledging that offer to promote dialogue, Oskanian said that the OSCE (of which Iran is not a member) will remain the main mediator the conflict. According to Oskanian, the two sides also discussed ways of underwriting construction of the planned $120 million gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. CONGRESSMEN. President Kocharian and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian met separately in Yerevan on 9 August with a visiting group of five U.S. Congressmen, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The talks reportedly focused on U.S.-Armenian relations and regional issues, including the Karabakh conflict. Kocharian noted that over the past 18 months (that is, since he became acting president in February 1998) Armenia's foreign policy has become more dynamic but that activity seeks to mitigate rather than to exploit conflicts of interest in the South Caucasus. Both Kocharian and Sargsian expressed optimism that the former's meeting last month in Geneva with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev could herald a breakthrough in the deadlocked Karabakh peace process. Kocharian left Yerevan later on 9 August for a 10-day vacation at an undisclosed location, Noyan Tapan reported. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION TO DEMAND AMENDMENTS TO LOCAL ELECTION LAW. The Movement for Electoral Reforms and Democratic Elections (MERDE) has presented to the presidential apparatus a list of proposed amendments to the law on municipal elections, Turan reported on 9 August. Those proposals include increasing the number of persons to be elected to local government bodies at all levels, electing 50 percent of those officials under the proportional and 50 percent under the majoritarian system, and banning the presence of police officials within 100 meters of polling stations. MERDE has also created a three-strong committee to negotiate on those proposals with the presidential administration. The elections are scheduled for 12 December. LF RUSSIA DENIES BOMBING GEORGIAN VILLAGE. Georgian Border Guards said on 9 August that a Russian SU-25 aircraft dropped several bombs on the village of Zemo Omalo in eastern Georgia injuring three people. The village is close to Georgia's border with Chechnya and Dagestan. A spokesman for the Russian Air Force General Staff denied those reports, adding that Russian fighters are not conducting operations in Dagestan's airspace and thus could not inadvertently overfly Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze telephoned acting Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to complain about the incident. Putin expressed regret and promised to investigate the incident. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has likewise requested clarification from President Yeltsin of the bombing. In June, Moscow rejected Georgian claims that its fighters had violated Georgian airspace (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 28 June 1999). LF CENTRAL ASIAN OFFICIALS UNFAZED BY STEPASHIN DISMISSAL. Spokesmen for the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik presidential staff expressed confidence on 9 August that Sergei Stepashin's dismissal and the appointment of Vladimir Putin as acting Russian premier will not negatively affect their countries' relations with Russia, according to Interfax. A Kazakh official said it is too early for an official statement, but he expressed the personal opinion that there will be no changes in Russia's policy towards Kazakhstan. Unnamed Kyrgyz officials said they are confident Russia's next government will promote bilateral economic and political relations. Tajik presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov termed Stepashin's firing "a purely internal Russian affair," adding that Tajikistan's leadership is confident that the dismissal will in no way affect the "alliance and strategic partnership" developing between Russia and Tajikistan. LF KAZAKH PRESIDENT DISMISSES DEFENSE MINISTER. Following a meeting of Kazakhstan's Security Council on 9 August, Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree dismissing that body's chairman Nurtai Abykaev, Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev, and an unspecified number of lower-level defense and security officials for their handling of the sale of six decommissioned MiG-21 fighter aircraft, Interfax and AP reported. Azerbaijani authorities impounded the fighters when the Russian transport aircraft exporting them to the Czech Republic landed in Baku. The fighters were subsequently returned to Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March and 21 April 1999). Nazarbaev subsequently named Chief of General Staff Bakhytzhan Yertaev acting defense minister and promoted Security Council Deputy Chairman Alnur Musaev to head the council. LF SQUATTERS STAGE PROTEST IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL. Some 1,000 homeless young people gathered along the administrative border between Bishkek and Chu Oblast on 9 August to demand permission from the city authorities to build their own homes on waste ground on the city outskirts, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Bishkek Deputy Mayor Abdraim Kulbaev told RFE/RL following a similar demonstration by some 500 squatters on 6-7 August in the south of Bishkek that the protesters' demands are illegal. Meeting with homeless young people in June, President Askar Akaev promised to form a government commission to consider their demand to create a new parliamentary constituency whose deputy would represent their interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 1999). LF TAJIK MILITANTS TAKE KYRGYZ OFFICIALS HOSTAGE. On 6 August, some 21 guerrillas who had entered southern Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan in late July took hostage four Kyrgyz officials sent to negotiate with them, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bolot Dzhanuzakov, who heads the defense department within the Kyrgyz presidential administration, told journalists on 9 August that the guerillas, who are armed with submachine-guns and grenade-launchers, are demanding safe passage to Uzbekistan. Kyrgyz Security Ministry official Talant Razzakov told RFE/RL on 6 August that the guerrillas are part of the religious extremist forces of Jumabai Namangani, an ethnic Uzbek field commander based in Tajikistan who opposes Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov. LF 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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