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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 164, Part I, 24 August 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 164, Part I, 24 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 TO BISHKEK * 'KOMMERSANT-DAILY' CLOSURE SPARKS CHARGES, DENIALS * KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTER SACKED AS TROOPS BATTLE GUERRILLAS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN TO BISHKEK. President Boris Yeltsin is scheduled to depart on 24 August for a meeting of the Shanghai Five in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. He is to meet with the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, who have committed themselves to confidence-building measures along the borders between their countries. The two-day session is expected to end with a declaration of continued cooperation but no new agreements. PG YELTSIN PINS HOPES ON PUTIN. The Russian president admires Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "great firmness [of mind], independence in a broad sense, as well as decisiveness and consistence," presidential press secretary Dmitrii Yakushkin told Ekho Moskvy on 21 August, according to Interfax two days later. Yakushkin said that Yeltsin remains committed to ensuring that "the elections to the State Duma and of a new head of state be as civilized as possible." He added that Yeltsin's health remains satisfactory and that the president has not yet begun to focus on his post-presidential life. PG LUZHKOV DEFERS TO PRIMAKOV ON PRESIDENCY. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 23 August that he will not run for the presidency if former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov decides to do so, Interfax reported. Luzhkov said that he intends to run for mayor because "Moscow has problems I want to solve in exactly four years." He added that those who hope to see him "squabble" with Primakov out of ambition "won't live long enough" to do so. PG KIRIENKO TO TOP RIGHT-WING COALITION LIST. Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, leader of New Force, Boris Nemtsov, former First Deputy Prime Minister and Young Russia chairman, and Irina Khakamade, a leader of Common Cause, will head the election list of a coalition to be called the Union of Rightist Forces, Interfax reported on 24 August. Kirienko commmented that Right Cause and New Force have both joined the new coalition. According to the news agency, Kirienko also said that Russia's Voice, led by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, has agreed in principle to join the coalition. JC CHERNOMYRDIN HEADS NDR ELECTION LIST. Former Prime Minister and Our Home Is Russia (NDR) leader Viktor Chernomyrdin, NDR parliamentary faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, and one of several governors will head the NDR's electoral list, Ryzhkov told Interfax on 23 August. Among the governors on the list are Sverdlovsk's Eduard Rossel, Saratov's Dmitrii Ayatskov, and Samara's Konstantin Titov. PG OTHER ELECTORAL MOVES. Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed told Interfax on 23 August that he "strongly objects" to "any union with NDR." Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov denounced as a "provocative lie" reports that Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev had been removed from his party's electoral list, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko said he has no plans to become a State Duma deputy, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. And former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said that it is no tragedy that he failed to create a center-right electoral bloc, but he promised that he will continue to talk with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Interfax reported. Stepashin denounced the Fatherland-All-Russia alliance as "a purely tactical" group intended only to "get as many votes in the Duma as possible." PG 'KOMMERSANT-DAILY' CLOSURE SPARKS CHARGES, DENIALS. The closure of "Kommersant-Daily," ostensibly for violation of fire safety regulations, has sparked charges and denials that Moscow Mayor Luzhkov or others took this step for political reasons. The newspaper's director-general, Leonid Miloslavskii, said he does not have proof that Luzhkov was responsible, but he added he is "totally sure" that people around the mayor were behind the move, Reuters reported on 23 August. Luzhkov responded that such claims are "absolutely absurd." But the temporary closure of the newspaper may already have had an impact on how it will act in the future. Andrei Vasilev, the new editor, said his news paper should report but not become part of "intramural media infighting," according to ITAR-TASS. PG FEDERAL FORCES SAID TO LIBERATE THREE VILLAGES. Daghestani Security Council Secretary Akhmednabi Magdigadzhiev told journalists in Makhachkala on 24 August that over the past 24 hours, federal forces liberated the villages of Tando, Rakhata, and Ashino after heavy fighting, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Islamic militants retain control of Ansalta and Shodroda. The previous day, Russian military spokesman Colonel Yevgenii Ryabtsev rejected as disinformation militants' claims to have withdrawn their forces from all villages in Botlikh Raion on orders from field commander Shamil Basaev in order to regroup. Fifty wounded Russian army and Interior Ministry troops were evacuated by air from Daghestan to Volgograd on 24 August, according to ITAR-TASS. LF RUSSIAN, DAGHESTANI LEADERS MEET. Meeting in Moscow on 23 August with Magomedali Magomedov, chairman of Daghestan's State Council, President Yeltsin expressed concern that the Russian government has not yet endorsed a relief program for the thousands of Daghestani civilians who fled from villages in the western regions of the country seized earlier this month by Islamic militants, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 August. Last week, the government of Daghestan drafted such a program, whose implementation will cost an estimated 300 million rubles ($12 million). Also on 23 August, Russia's human rights envoy Lev Mironov met at a Moscow mosque with Sheikh Ravil Gainutdinov, chairman of the Council of Muftis of the Russian Federation, to discuss the situation in Daghestan, ITAR-TASS reported. LF STROEV SAYS PLANNED YELTSIN-MASKHADOV MEETING POINTLESS. Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev told Interfax on 23 August that the proposed meeting between the presidents of the Russian Federation and Chechnya is "absurd and useless" in view of what he termed "the flow of hatred" directed at Russia. Stroev was speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Putin and presidential Chief of Staff [Aleksandr] Voloshin to discuss the situation in the North Caucasus, which Stroev said the Federation Council will work actively to stabilize. LF COURT CANCELS EXTENSION OF SKURATOV INVESTIGATION. A Moscow city court on 23 August ruled that Russia's chief military prosecutor acted illegally in extending his investigation into the case of suspended Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov. The court said that the prosecutor had no right to extend the investigation. This decision can be appealed within seven days. Observers suggested that this is a blow for Yeltsin and the Kremlin, which have actively sought Skuratov's removal, AP reported. Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Stroev said that the legislature is prepared to honor acting Prosecutor-General Yurii Chaika's request to be relieved of his responsibilities. Chaika was recently appointed justice minister. PG RUSSIAN GENERAL TO RETURN TO NATO HQ. Colonel-General Viktor Zavarzin, the Russian military representative to NATO, who was withdrawn from that post by Moscow to protest the Western alliance's actions in Kosova, will return to NATO's Brussels headquarters "shortly," unidentified Russian "military- diplomatic sources in Moscow" told Interfax on 23 August. The agency said he will hold consultations with NATO only on matters concerning peacekeeping in Kosova and that his return does not indicate that Moscow is restoring military ties with the Western alliance. PG RUSSIA SEEKS VOICE ON EU EXPANSION. Speaking in Paris on 23 August, the Russian official responsible for working with the G-8 said Moscow does not oppose the eastern expansion of the EU but wants a voice in the process so that nothing will be done that will "make anything worse for Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksandr Livshits said that EU expansion could mean the inclusion of countries that "have historically served as major markets for Russia" and that the West acknowledges that "there is a problem" if expansion proceeds in ways that fail to take Moscow's concerns into account. Livshits said talks between Russia and the EU must begin immediately. PG G-8 TO CONSIDER SOVIET-ERA DEBT AT OKINAWA SUMMIT. Also on 23 August, Livshits said that the G-8 countries have agreed to consider "a comprehensive settlement" of Moscow's Soviet-era debt during the Okinawa summit in July 2000, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian minister said no formula has been agreed to but that he believes it should proceed from Russia's ability to pay its debts. PG WORLD BANK REVISES RUSSIAN LOAN PORTFOLIO. Michael Carter, the head of the World Bank's Moscow office, said on 23 August that the World Bank has reduced the amount of resources promised to Russia by $228 million, ITAR-TASS reported. Carter indicated that the reduction is by mutual agreement and reflects decisions to end funding for ineffective projects. PG POPKOVICH SAYS U.S. SEEKING TO OBSTRUCT START-2 RATIFICIATION. State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich of the NDR told Interfax on 23 August that the U.S. is "in essence putting obstacles in the way of [the Duma's] ratification of the START-2 treaty" by planning its own national ABM system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 August 1999). Washington, he said, seeks to portray Russia as a "kind of nuclear monster that does not want to disarm." Pointing to the fact that the shelf life of Russian missiles will expire some 15 years before their U.S. counterparts, Popkovich argued that "Russia needs START-2 more than the U.S. does." Washington's intention to amend the ABM treaty "casts doubts on ratification" of START-2 by the Duma since the danger of "disrupted balance" may arise, he stressed. JC MOSCOW NOT PLANNING TO BUY GRAIN ABROAD THIS YEAR. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak told Interfax on 23 August that the Russian government does not plan to make any centralized grain purchases abroad this year. But he noted that some regions may have to do so on their own because the 60 million ton harvest the authorities have projected will not meet all needs. Meanwhile, the U.S. has now delivered more than half of the 3.1 million tons of food aid to Russia, according to the news agency. This assistance has reached 60 of the country's regions. PG NEW TAX CODE UNDER PREPARATION. The Finance and Tax Ministries are preparing draft income tax codes that would reduce the number of rates and raise the level of income at which the minimum tax rate would be applied, Interfax reported on 23 August. The two plans do not coincide but are very similar: the Tax Ministry is calling for four rates ranging from 12 percent to 35 percent, while the Finance Ministry wants three ranging from 12 percent to 30 percent. PG LUKOIL OPPOSES EXPORT DUTIES. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov told the Fuel and Energy Ministry on 23 August that the imposition of export duties on crude and fuel oil is unnecessary because bringing fuel to domestic customers during the winter is "our responsibility." Russia's Unified Energy Systems has been calling for just such a step. Meanwhile, the Fuel and Energy Ministry said that CIS countries owe Moscow 60 billion rubles ($2.2. billion) for fuel purchases during the first half of 1999 alone, while Gazprom reported that Russian gas production equaled 322 billion cubic meters over that period, 0.5 billion cubic meters less than planned but equal to last year's level. Energy shortages, however, continue in parts of Russia. On 23 August, ITAR-TASS reported that power cutoffs have lengthened in Arkhangelsk Oblast by another hour per day (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 18 August 1999). PG JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES MEET AS COURT CASE PROCEEDS. Some 15,000 Jehovah's Witnesses are meeting in Moscow this week as part of a country-wide series of sessions organized by the Christian group, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, however, a Moscow city court is considering a suit filed by the Committee for the Rescue of Young People to ban the group because of its intense missionary activities. The committee claims such activities are totalitarian in nature. PG TULA MINERS SUSPEND MARCH ON MOSCOW. Miners from Tula Oblast have halted preparations to march on Moscow to protest wage arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1999), Interfax reported on 23 August. According to a local trade union official, that move follows the transfer to the oblast of some 32 million rubles ($1.3 million), which will cover back pay for the past three months. The total sum owed employees at the Tulaugol company is 115 million rubles. The official noted that during Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko's visit to the oblast last week an agreement was reached whereby consumers will pay part of their debts to the mining company by 15 September. JC STEPASHIN GETS 'POLICE TO POLICE' MEDAL. The University of Illinois has awarded former Premier Stepashin a medal and certificate for his work in drafting a long-term "From Police to Police" program, which connects Russian and American higher educational institutions, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 August. Stepashin was given the award in St. Petersburg. PG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET. David Tevzadze held "consultative" talks in Moscow on 23 August with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, Russian agencies reported. The main topics of discussion were bilateral cooperation, the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia under a CIS mandate, and the future of the four Russian military bases in Georgia. Georgian parliamentary deputies have repeatedly demanded the closure of two of those facilities. A further bone of contention between the two sides are the conditions for Moscow's return to Georgian jurisdiction of 44 buildings previously used by Russian troops (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 25, 25 June 1999). LF KAZAKH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH SOUTH KOREAN, JAPANESE DIPLOMATS. Nursultan Nazarbaev met with South Korea's ambassador Lee Yen Minh in Astana on 23 August to discuss bilateral trade and economic ties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. It is unclear whether the alleged sale by Kazakhstan of MiGs to North Korea was also on the agenda. Nazarbaev held talks the same day with visiting senior Japanese diplomat Takemi Keizo on the ecological situation at the former nuclear testing ground at Semipalatinsk, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Japan is a major participant in a UN-funded program to clean up the territory adjacent to the site and will host an international conference on that problem next month. LF TOP OIL OFFICIAL FIRED IN KAZAKHSTAN. President Nazarbaev fired KazakhOil State Oil Company President Nurlan Qapparov on 23 August for "exceeding his authority in deciding important strategic issues," AP reported. Qapparov's deputy, Uzaqbay Qarabalin, was appointed acting president. Also on 23 August, Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Toqaev confirmed that in order to plug an anticipated budget shortfall next year, Astana may be constrained to sell part of its 25 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture, which is developing the vast Tengiz oilfield, according to Interfax. A spokesman for Russia's LUKoil told Interfax on 20 August that his company is interested in increasing the 5 percent stake in Tengizchevroil owned by the U.S.-Russian joint venture LukArco. LF KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTER SACKED AS TROOPS BATTLE GUERRILLAS. President Askar Akaev sacked Defense Minister Myrzakan Subanov on 24 August and appointed Chief of Staff General Nurdin Chomoev to replace him, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Late on 23 August, Kyrgyz forces attacked the group of guerrillas who took hostage Kyrgyz Interior Ministry forces commander Major-General Anarbek Shamkeev and four Japanese geologists in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier that day. According to unconfirmed reports, both sides incurred casualties during that fighting. A second group of guerrillas has seized control of two more villages, raising the number under their control to four. Parliamentary deputy Dosbol Nur Uulu told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that the guerrillas' strength exceeds 200. In Dushanbe, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov told Interfax that the guerrillas are loyal to ethnic Uzbek field commander Djuma Namangani, who refused to comply with the deadline to disarm issued by Tajikistan's National Reconciliation Commission. That deadline expired last month. LF KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER EDITOR ARRESTED. Aleksandr Kim, editor of the independent and outspoken daily "Vechernii Bishkek," has been arrested on charges of tax evasion, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 August. LF TAJIKISTAN HOSTS FRUITLESS AFGHAN TALKS. Representatives of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement and opposition Northern Alliance met for a second round of Pakistan-mediated talks in Dushanbe on 23 August, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. As at the 18 August round, no agreement was reached on adopting proposals made by Pakistan as a basis for ending the civil war. The North Alliance reportedly argued that Pakistan is incapable of acting as a disinterested mediator and called on Islamabad to stop interfering in the conflict, withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, and end its support for the Taliban. LF UZBEKISTAN RELEASES JAILED CHRISTIANS. Under an as yet unpublished decree signed by President Islam Karimov on 20 August, one Jehovah's Witness and all five known Christians imprisoned in Uzbekistan have been freed, Keston News Service reported on 23 August. Three of the five were Pentecostalists serving sentences of 10-15 years. The Uzbek authorities are also reportedly preparing to register several local Baptist and Pentecostalist congregations. Observers believe the gesture of leniency is intended to improve the country's image before the U.S. State Department presents to Congress on 1 September its annual assessment of religious freedom worldwide. LF HOSTAGES TAKEN, RELEASED IN UZBEKISTAN. Unidentified guerrillas seized control of a meteorological station in eastern Uzbekistan on 23 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The guerrillas released the staff of the facility and five local tourists after robbing them of documents, money, clothing, and food and fuel supplies. 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