|Change is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast. In the pool where you least expect it, will be a fish. - Ovid|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 177, Part I, 10 September 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 177, Part I, 10 September 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 Russian Media Empires V (In English and Russian) http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia5/index.html A pre-election analysis of media owned by Russian government and business entities. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * PUTIN, LUZHKOV GIVE DIFFERENT REPORTS ON CAUSE OF EXPLOSION * TALBOTT 'SATISFIED' WITH ARMS TALKS * FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER BARRED FROM RUNNING IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION END NOTE: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PUTIN SAYS CAUSE OF APARTMENT EXPLOSION STILL NOT CLEAR... In a televised address on 10 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said investigators are still trying to determine whether the blast at an apartment house in southeastern Moscow the previous day was the result of criminal negligence or was a terrorist attack. Eighty-four people are now known to have died in the explosion, while dozens have been hospitalized. Putin also said that 13 September will be a national day of mourning for the victims of the apartment blast as well as for those killed in the explosions at the Manezh shopping mall in the Russian capital and in the town of Buinaksk, in Daghestan. Interfax quoted Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Patrushev as saying that Putin has approved a plan to prevent acts of terrorism in Russia and Moscow proposed by the FSB and the Interior Ministry. JC ...WHILE LUZHKOV INSISTS BLAST WAS TERRORIST ACT. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told Interfax on 10 September that the explosion at the Moscow apartment house was "definitely the work of terrorists." According to the city head, industrial explosives were used and the time of the blast, at two minutes to midnight local time, suggests that the device was a time bomb. FSB chief Patrushev said that traces of hexogen and TNT have been discovered at the site of the blast, which, he added, "proves that the explosion was not accidental." However, he said that all other possibilities should continue to be investigated. JC TALBOTT 'SATISFIED' WITH ARMS TALKS... Following two days of talks in Moscow on nuclear arms reductions and possible changes to the 1972 ABM Treaty, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said he was "satisfied" with those discussions, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 September. He refused, however, to comment on their outcome. A U.S. Embassy source quoted Talbott as saying that he and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov had been laying the groundwork for a meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin within the framework of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Auckland. With regard to the money-laundering scandal, Talbott stressed that he does not believe it would have a negative effect on U.S.- Russian relations. JC ...WHILE MOSCOW CONTINUES TO OPPOSE AMENDING ABM TREATY. The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement after the talks making clear it continues to oppose any changes to the ABM Treaty, Interfax reported. And Grigorii Berdennikov, director of the ministry's Security and Disarmament Department, told RIA Novosti on 9 September that U.S. plans to deploy an ABM system undermine the foundations of the treaty and jeopardize strategic stability in the world. He said the deployment of such a system would not only hinder START-3 talks but also "force Russia to withdraw from the START-2 treaty," which the Russian parliament has yet to ratify. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen is due in Moscow next week for talks with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev. JC WITNESS IMPLICATES YELTSIN IN CORRUPTION SCANDAL. "The New York Times" on 9 September reported that Felipe Turover, a key witness in the Swiss investigation into alleged bribery of Kremlin officials, says he saw credit card bills and photocopies of credit cards bearing the signatures of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his daughters. He added that those cards were provided by the Swiss construction company Mabetex. Turover, who worked for the Swiss Banca del Gottardo as a debt collector in Russia, also said that senior officials of the bank had told him about a Kremlin meeting at which senior Russian officials accepted money and gifts from Mabetex. Banca del Gottardo spokesman Massimo Antonini declined to comment on Turover's claims. JC PARIS SUBSIDIARY OF RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK UNDER SCRUTINY. Citing "judicial sources," AP reported on 9 September that a Paris prosecutor has ordered an investigation into how the Paris-based Eurobank managed Russian Central Bank funds, including money from IMF loans. The preliminary investigation is aimed at determining whether Eurobank moved money from Russia's Central Bank to FIMACO on the Channel Island of Jersey. Eurobank owns FIMACO, and the Russian Central Bank has a 70 percent stake in Eurobank, according to the news agency. JC IMF TRANCHE TO BE DELAYED UNTIL NEXT MONTH? IMF First Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer said in Washington on 9 September that the fund's next loan installment to Russia, worth $640 million, could be postponed until October for "technical reasons" stemming from preparations for the annual IMF meeting at the end of this month. ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying that IMF directors are under no pressure from any member countries to slow down cooperation with Russia. Fischer also noted that Russia's economy has performed "a little better than expected" with regard to efforts to control the budget deficit, AP reported. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Lebedev, chairman of the National Reserve Bank and deputy leader of Our Home Is Russia, said that capital flight from Russia over the past 12 months exceeded $20 billion, Interfax reported on 9 September. JC OIL EXPORT DUTIES TO INCREASE BY 50 PERCENT. Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi announced on 9 September that oil export duties are to be raised from 5 euros ($5.26) to 7.5 euros per metric ton. The move is seen as a bid to put a stop to fuel shortages and rising gasoline prices throughout the country and to increase government tax revenues. The minister also noted that in the fourth quarter of 1999 Russia will reduce its oil exports by 2 million metric tons, compared with the third quarter of this year, Interfax reported. He said that this move will help boost fuel supplies to the Far North and to the agricultural sector. JC GOVERNMENT TO SELL 9 PERCENT STAKE IN LUKOIL. Prime Minister Putin has signed an order on the sale of a 9 percent stake in LUKoil this year, Interfax reported on 9 September. The news agency cited unidentified sources at the Ministry of State Property as saying that the starting price for the stake is likely to be $240 million. The buyer would also be required to invest an additional $240 million in the company, according to the same source. JC LUKOIL, GAZPROM ANNOUNCE FIRST-HALF PRE-TAX PROFITS. LUKoil posted a pre-tax profit of 11.7 billion rubles ($455 million) for the first six months of this year, AP reported on 9 September, citing Interfax. In the same period of 1998, the company's pretax profit was 1 billion rubles, which at the exchange rate that preceded the August 1998 ruble devaluation was the equivalent of some $167 million. LUKoil attributed the growth in profits to higher world oil prices and increased demand for energy. The same day, Gazprom announced its pre-tax profit for the first half of this year as totaling 32 billion rubles ($1.2 billion), compared with last year's 8.1 billion rubles (worth $1.4 billion at the time). JC ALL PENSION ARREARS TO BE PAID BY MONTH'S END. The head of the Pension Fund, Mikhail Zurabov, said on 9 September that all pensions arrears will be paid by the end of this month, Interfax reported. He noted that arrears shrank from 26.3 billion rubles ($1.02 billion) in January to 1 billion at the beginning of this month. JC LEBED SAYS RUSSIA NEEDS GENERAL AT HELM. Speaking in Paris on 9 September, Krasnoyarsk Governor and retired General Aleksandr Lebed suggested Russia needs a military man as president. France's General Charles de Gaulle "proved that a general can rule the state," ITAR-TASS quoted Lebed as saying. "In Russia, it is not only possible, but necessary. Nobody will believe in us without a general [in power]. The world no longer trusts us." The next day, however, Lebed denied that he intends to run for president next year. Interfax quoted him as saying that "I have not made any decision yet concerning my participation in the presidential election." JC SKURATOV'S APARTMENT, DACHA SEARCHED. Officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office searched the dacha and Moscow apartment of Yurii Skuratov, who earlier this year was suspended as prosecutor-general after Russian television showed a video of a naked man resembling Skuratov with two prostitutes. An investigation was subsequently launched into whether Skuratov accepted the women's service as a bribe. Skuratov claims he was suspended in order to halt corruption investigations he had launched against top officials. Recently, he said charges that President Yeltsin and his family received kickbacks from the Swiss Mabetex company have an evidentiary basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999). JC U.S. REPORT NOTES CURBS ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT REGIONAL LEVEL. In its first annual report on religious freedom worldwide, the U.S. State Department said that under a 1997 law, restrictions on religion at the local level are increasing in Russia, Reuters reported on 9 September. While noting that "to date, no religious organization has ceased operations as a result of the law," the report commented that "the vagueness of the law and regulations, the contradictions between federal and local law, and varying interpretations furnish regional officials with a pretext to restrict the activities of religious minorities." The report called the 1997 law on religion "restrictive and potentially discriminatory," adding that its "most controversial provisions" are those "limiting the rights, activities, and status" of religious groups that have existed in Russia for less than 15 years. JC RUSSIANS TARGETED IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA. The homes in Cherkessk of three Russian supporters of Vladimir Semenov, president-elect of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, were damaged by simultaneous explosions during the night of 8 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 September. The paper further noted the appearance in Cherkessk of slogans calling on the Russians, who constitute the largest ethnic group in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, to leave the republic. In an interview with that paper on 9 September, Semenov (a Karachai) confirmed that during talks earlier this week his defeated rival Stanislav Derev (who is Cherkess) had rejected the post of prime minister of the republic. Derev's supporters refused to acknowledge the republican court ruling that Semenov's election victory is valid, and are campaigning for the division of the republic into Cherkess and Karachai entities. LF CHECHEN PARLIAMENT MEETS. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov briefed a closed session of parliament on 9 September on unspecified measures to be implemented to "prevent the hostilities against the Chechen Republic from escalating," Interfax reported. Deputies declined, however, to impose martial law in response to the Russian bombing raids of the previous three days, which they condemned as "open and unjustified aggression." Deputies called on the OSCE to investigate those air strikes. They also adopted an appeal to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other international leaders to take measures to prevent "an all-out war" by Russia against Chechnya. LF TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA DASHNAKTSUTYUN TO SUE FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT FOR LIBEL. A spokesman for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation- Dashnaktsutyun (HHD) told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 9 September that the party is about to bring a libel suit against former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian had said early this year that he had suspended the party's activities in December 1994 because it was "engaged in terror." Some 30 HHD activists were arrested and brought to trial in 1996-1997 on charges of murder and preparing a coup, but the court failed to endorse the prosecutor's argument that the party as a whole was responsible for those activities. The HHD was legalized and its imprisoned members released following Ter-Petrossian's forced resignation in February 1998. LF ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES PLANNING TO SEND VOLUNTEERS TO DAGHESTAN. A spokesman for the Armenian Defense Ministry on 10 September told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that there is no truth to reports that it plans to send volunteers to fight against Islamic militants in Daghestan. The Azerbaijani news agency Turan had reported those alleged plans on 9 September. Turan claimed the Armenian volunteers would pose as Russian citizens of Armenian origin. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN ABKHAZ CONFLICT. Robert Kocharian told Caucasus Press on 9 September that he is prepared to mediate between Tbilisi and the leadership of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia if requested to do so by the Georgian leadership. Kocharian noted that some 72,000 ethnic Armenians, or 15 percent of the total population, lived in Abkhazia before the 1992-1993 war. He added that Armenia has an economic interest in the reopening of rail traffic from the Russian Federation via Abkhazia to Armenia. LF TRIAL OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER OPENS, ADJOURNS. The trial of Vano Siradeghian, former interior minister and chairman of the board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement, opened in Yerevan on 9 September, but was immediately adjourned until 17 September in order to enable Siradeghian to engage a fifth defense counsel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian is charged with ordering the murder of several government officials and police officers from 1992 to 1996. He has denied those charges claiming that they are politically motivated. LF UNHCR TO REDUCE FUNDING FOR DISPLACED PERSONS IN AZERBAIJAN. Meeting with President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 9 September, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said that funding for those Azerbaijanis forced to flee during the Karabakh war will be cut back, according to Turan. The UNHCR estimates the number of displaced persons at 800,000, while the Azerbaijani authorities says it exceeds one million. She noted that the UN has supplied $41 million in humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan, which is more than it granted to Armenia or Georgia. Such assistance is intended as a temporary measure pending a political solution to the conflict that would enable the displaced persons to return to their homes, Ogata said. Aliev had asked that assistance to the displaced persons be increased. LF AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA DISCUSS WESTERN OIL EXPORT PIPELINE... Officials from Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and the Georgian International Oil Corporation issued a joint statement after talks in Tbilisi on 9 September reaffirming their shared commitment to construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Interfax reported. Some international companies engaged in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian are reportedly reluctant to make a firm commitment to that pipeline. But on 5 September, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze rejected as misinformation reports that either Georgia or Azerbaijan or "foreign partners" seek to revise plans for that project, according to ITAR-TASS. LF ...AS NORTHERN PIPELINE CONTINUES TO OPERATE. A senior SOCAR official said on 8 September that the fighting in Daghestan has not yet negatively affected the transportation of Azerbaijani oil via Daghestan to Novorossiisk, Interfax reported the following day. A spokesman for the Russian pipeline operator Transneft similarly said that the hostilities in Daghestan are 80 km from the railroad that transports Azerbaijan's crude. He said Azerbaijan exported 1.4 million metric tons of oil via Russia during the first six months of this year, and 52,000 tons last month. Azerbaijan's quota for 1999 is 2.2 million metric tons. LF RUSSIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF OBSTRUCTING WORK ON MILITARY BASES. The Russian Defense Ministry has complained to the Georgian government over the detention since 23 August at the Russian- Georgian frontier of a convoy of over 200 trucks carrying supplies for Russian military bases in Georgia, Interfax reported on 9 September. Tbilisi disclaimed responsibility for the delay in allowing the convoy to enter Georgia, which it blamed on the British ITS company that now operates Georgia's customs service (see also "End Note" below). LF GEORGIAN FISHING CREW RELEASED. Nine Georgian fishermen whose boat was intercepted in April in what Abkhazia claims are its territorial waters were exchanged on 8 September for five Abkhaz police held hostage in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported the following day quoting the independent Rustavi-2 TV station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April and 25 August 1999). LF FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER BARRED FROM RUNNING IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION... Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission registered the list of candidates for the 10 October elections to the lower house of the Kazakh parliament submitted by the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan shortly before expiry of the deadline for registration on 9 September, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. But the commission refused to register party chairman Akezhan Kazhegeldin as a candidate. The party therefore announced that it will boycott the poll. In a telephone interview with "RFE/RL Newsline" on 9 September, Kazhegeldin predicted that he would not be allowed to participate in the poll. Kazhegeldin said that the present Kazakh leadership is compromised by a series of major economic and foreign policy errors, including the sale of MiG aircraft to North Korea, and would rather incur the disapproval of the international community by restricting election participation than risk losing power in a free and fair poll. LF ...WHILE HIS PARTY BLAMES AUTHORITIES FOR LAWYER'S DEFECTION... Also on 9 September, the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan issued a statement in Almaty characterizing the decision of Kazhegeldin's lawyer, Vitalii Voronov, to leave the party and break all ties with the former premier as "an episode in the uncompromising political struggle which the party is waging against the ruling regime," according to Interfax. LF ...AND ANOTHER OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CALLS ON LEADERSHIP TO RESIGN. Seydakhmet Quttyqadam, who heads the opposition Orleu party, told a press conference in Almaty on 9 September that "the time has come for the president and the government to resign," according to Interfax. He added that Kazakhstan has "enough competent, respected, and energetic politicians" to lead the country out of the present crisis. Quttyqadam also said that the government should immediately start drafting a concept for protecting Kazakhstan's statehood, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Both Quttyqadam and Kazhegeldin fear that Kazakhstan is ripe for social or interethnic conflict. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT WANTS CLOSER ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH UKRAINE. Meeting on 9 September in Astana with a visiting delegation from Dniprodzerzhinsk, Nursultan Nazarbaev advocated reviving traditional economic cooperation between the two countries, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev said that cooperation is currently hindered by the high railroad tariffs Russia imposes on foreign goods. Nazarbaev is scheduled to visit Kyiv next week for talks on the export of Kazakh crude to Ukraine for refining at the Lisichansk refinery. LF NO DATE SET FOR TALKS BETWEEN KYRGYZ LEADERSHIP, GUERRILLAS. Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan chairman Tursunbek Akunov, who is acting as an intermediary between the country's leadership and the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas entrenched in the south of the country, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 10 September that no firm date has been set for talks on the release of the 12 hostages whom the guerrillas still hold. Akunov said that there are now no more than 200- 300 Uzbek militants remaining in Batken Raion in southern Kyrgyzstan. He added that the four Japanese geologists and the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general whom the guerrillas seized three weeks ago are still alive. Some 2,000 of the estimated 5,000 Kyrgyz villagers who fled their homes to avoid being taken hostage by the guerrillas have now returned to their villages from the town of Batken, according to Reuters. A further 2,400 have returned to villages in Chon- Alai Raion, where no guerrillas remain. LF KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET FOR 2000. Finance Minister Oktyabr Mederov told a cabinet meeting on 9 September that the draft budget for 2000 envisages a budget surplus equal to 2.5 percent of GDP, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. It is the first deficit-free budget ever proposed by the government. Revenues are predicted to rise by 12 percent compared with 1999, and spending will be cut by 17 percent. Industrial output should grow by at 2 percent, and agricultural production by 5 percent, according to Interfax. The inflation rate is estimated at 12 percent. LF UZBEKISTAN ACCUSES TAJIK OPPOSITION OF ABETTING GUERRILLAS. The Uzbek official newspaper "Slovo Uzbekistana" on 9 September said that members of the United Tajik Opposition are behind the hostage-takers in southern Kyrgyzstan, and not the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as the Kyrgyz authorities claim, Reuters reported. The paper claimed that the guerrillas were armed by the UTO and are receiving supplies of arms and ammunition from areas of Tajikistan controlled by the Tajik opposition. LF TURKMENISTAN TO AMNESTY MORE PRISONERS. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on 9 September that he will pardon and amnesty a further 12,000 prisoners before the end of 1999, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Some 22,000 prisoners, or more than half the entire prison population, have been freed from the country's overcrowded jails in two separate amnesties earlier this year. Many of them were jailed for drug-related offenses. LF JAPAN HOPES FOR STRONGER ECONOMIC TIES WITH UZBEKISTAN... Kioko Nakayama, Japan's ambassador in Tashkent, told journalists that her country is interested in expanding trade with Uzbekistan, which last year stood at $122 million, Interfax reported on 8 September. Nakayama said that 16 Japanese companies currently have offices in Tashkent, but a further increase in investment is unlikely because the Uzbek currency is not fully convertible. Japan has invested over $1 billion in Uzbekistan since 1995, of which the Japanese government invested some $334 million. Nakayama said the Japanese and Uzbek governments will sign agreements later this month under which Japan will fund communications programs in Uzbekistan and rebuild three airports. LF ...WHILE IRAN ASSESSES PROSPECTS FOR TRANSPORT COOPERATION. An Iranian government delegation headed by Highways and Transport Minister Mahmud Hojati-Najafabadi is currently visiting Tashkent, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 September. The delegation will meet with representatives of the Uzbek government and the national railroad and airline. LF END NOTE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? By Liz Fuller Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov toured the capitals of the three South Caucasus states last week in what many observers both in those countries and elsewhere saw as a desperate attempt on Moscow's part to halt, if not reverse, the ongoing erosion of its influence in the region. Ivanov's stated objective of establishing "all-encompassing, equitable, and mutually advantageous" relations with all three states in the region is, however, unrealistic and untenable, given the suspicions two of those countries (Azerbaijan and Georgia) harbor concerning Russia's motives and given the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The existing tensions in Moscow's relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia derive from those two countries' pro- Western orientation and from their belief that Moscow has sought to manipulate the Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts in order to weaken them. Georgia and Azerbaijan have both made no secret of their desire to join NATO. Georgia is seeking the closure--on its own terms--of at least two of the four Russian military bases on its soil, while Azerbaijan wants Moscow to reduce its defense cooperation with Armenia, in particular by demanding the return of several billion dollars worth of weaponry clandestinely supplied to that country from 1994-1996. Moreover, both Georgia and Azerbaijan announced earlier this year that they have no interest in renewing their membership in the CIS Collective Security Treaty. In addition, those two countries are founding members of the GUUAM alignment, which many Russian politicians believe is intended to sabotage the CIS from within. Another priority of the GUUAM member states that is likewise anathema to Moscow is cooperation in exporting Caspian oil and gas to international markets via countries other than the Russian Federation. In talks with Ivanov in Baku on 2 September, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev harshly criticized what he termed Russia's differentiated approach to relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan and its "passive" policy toward the South Caucasus. That region, Aliev said, is no less strategic than the Balkans. Aliev told Ivanov that Baku expects Moscow to galvanize the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to find a settlement to the Karabakh conflict, adding that his own direct talks with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, are no substitute for such mediation. (Ivanov had said before his meeting with Aliev that he considers those direct talks "the best way" to resolve the conflict.) At the same time, Aliev noted that Moscow's increasingly close military cooperation with Armenia "is complicating the negotiating process on Nagorno-Karabakh." Ivanov, for his part, replied that Moscow "understands perfectly" that its defense cooperation with Armenia is a sensitive issue for Azerbaijan and the entire South Caucasus, stressing that it is not aimed at Azerbaijan or any other third country. He called for closer contacts between the defense and other power ministries of Russia and Azerbaijan. Ivanov also said that Moscow does not intend to favor either Armenia or Azerbaijan in seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Whether Ivanov made any concrete concession to specific Azerbaijani concerns is unclear. After the talks, however, Aliev struck a more conciliatory note, describing bilateral relations as "friendly." He added that, despite disagreements, Baku will continue its strategic policy of strengthening cooperation with Russia. In Tbilisi two days later, Georgian officials similarly made it clear to Ivanov that they consider the current state of bilateral relations unacceptable and that Moscow is to blame for that state of affairs. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania pointed out, for example, that for five years the Russian State Duma has declined to ratify the 1994 Georgian- Russian agreement on friendship and cooperation. But, as in Baku, it was the Russian military that proved the fundamental bone of contention. Some Georgian opposition parliamentary deputies, together with the chairman of the parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, Revaz Adamia, have proposed that at least two of the existing four Russian bases in Georgia should be closed. The U.S. has indicated that it may be prepared to meet part of the cost of doing so. But some Russian politicians have attempted to call Tbilisi's bluff. Adamia told the Russian newspaper "Vremya MN" last month that former Russian Premier Sergei Stepashin responded to Tbilisi's demand to reduce its military presence in Georgia by proposing to close at first the Russian military facility in Akhalkalaki. That base is virtually the sole employer for most of the disaffected Armenian population of that region. Ivanov made it clear that as far as Moscow is concerned, a withdrawal of its troops from Georgia is not on the agenda, since their presence there "serves Russia's interests." There were no reports on how Georgian officials responded to his offer to raise the level of military cooperation between Russia and Georgia to that between Russia and Armenia. By contrast, Ivanov expressed satisfaction after his talks in Yerevan with President Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian with the level of cooperation between countries that he termed "strategic partners." In all three capitals, Ivanov discussed the situation throughout the Caucasus, stressing the need for cooperation between the countries and republics there to restore stability to the entire region. But the priorities of those various republics and states are so diverse and the centripetal process in Chechnya so far advanced, that stability appears utopian. And Ivanov's statement that "it is impossible to settle conflicts in this region without Russia or against its interests" will inevitably be construed by many politicians in the North and South Caucasus as a threat rather than a promise. 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. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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