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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 185, Part I, 22 September 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 185, Part I, 22 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 Headlines, Part I * NEW REGIONAL BLOC FORMING? * TOP U.S. OFFICIAL FAVORS CONTINUED IMF ENGAGEMENT IN RUSSIA * GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY CONCERNS End Note: FLY THE SCARY SKIES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NEW REGIONAL BLOC FORMING? Russian media reported on 21 September that an appeal signed by a group of 39 regional leaders is in fact a declaration of the formation of a new electoral bloc. According to "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by media magnate Boris Berezovskii, Berezovskii is backing the effort and a founding congress of the bloc will be held in the near future. According to "Tribuna" the next day, the new bloc is intended as a counterbalance to the Fatherland-All Russia alliance and should be perceived as pro-Kremlin. "Tribuna" is financed by Gazprom. Among those regional leaders who signed the appeal are the governors of Kursk, Kaliningrad, Belgorod, and Sverdlovsk Oblasts, Primorskii Krai, and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, according to the dailies. Chukotka head Aleksandr Nazarov told ITAR-TASS on 22 September that more than 50 members of the Federation Council have already joined the new bloc, whose tentative name is Unity (Edinstvo). According to Interfax, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu may lead the new group. JAC REAL WAGES CONTINUE FALLING... The backlog of unpaid wages in Russia totaled 55.12 billion rubles ($2.2 billion) as of 1 September, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 September. According to the government daily, the state owes only one quarter of this sum, the remainder being debts of private firms to their workers. At the same time, the real monthly average wage continues to fall each month, having slipped 3.2 percent in August. Russian Statistics Agency reported earlier that real wages fell 35.9 percent during the first eight months of the year, compared with the same period in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). Economics Ministry "experts" told Interfax on 21 September the situation with regard to the population's living standards is troubling since the average monthly wage in August of last year amounted to $156, compared with only $64 last month and $67 in July 1999. JAC ...AS UNEMPLOYMENT REMAINS HIGH. The total number of unemployed persons in Russia at the end of August was 9.12 million, up 10 percent on the 31 August 1998 level. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" the next day, unemployment fell in August, compared with July, but only by 0.1 percent. Meanwhile, a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that labor productivity in Russia is low compared with the world's best performing economies. Productivity in Russia's most efficient sector, the steel industry, equals only one-third of U.S. labor productivity, according to Reuters on 22 September. JAC TOP U.S. OFFICIAL FAVORS CONTINUED IMF ENGAGEMENT IN RUSSIA. Addressing the U.S. Congress during its 21 September hearings on the Bank of New York scandal, Treasury Secretary Larry Summers sounded a similar note to that expressed earlier by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999). He said that the U.S. presidential administration supports continued IMF engagement in Russia because "to quarantine, contain, or write off Russia as too corrupt would ill serve our national interest." Summers noted that Russia continues to experience problems associated with the "profound corruption problems [inherited] from the Soviet era," but "at the same time, the record also demonstrates that Russia today is in many ways a very different country than it was a decade ago." Meanwhile, several Swiss banks have frozen $26 million in Bank of New York assets as part of the Swiss government's investigation into money laundering, Swiss police announced on 21 September, according to Western agencies. JAC IVANOV STRESSES MOSCOW'S POSITION ON ABM... Addressing the 54th annual UN General Assembly in New York on 21 September, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged that body to support continued adherence to the 1972 ABM treaty. Alluding to U.S. plans to implement a limited national ABM defense system, Ivanov said that unilateral steps aimed at "undermining" that treaty are "fraught with the most serious consequences," according to ITAR-TASS and an RFE/RL correspondent in New York. Ivanov also praised UN peacekeeping efforts, which, he said, have proven important in ensuring global and regional stability. JC ...AND SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ. With regard to the continued UN sanctions against Iraq, Ivanov commented that those measures are "extreme" and "can be applied only when other means of political influence have been exhausted," RFE/RL's correspondent in New York reported. He advised the UN Security Council to adopt clear criteria for imposing and lifting sanctions and not to allow "any free interpretation of adopted decisions, much less their use by anyone for selfish political or economic ends." JC FIRST-EVER RUSSIAN JUDGE APPOINTED TO EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council Europe on 21 September voted to approve Anatolii Kovler as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. The 51-year-old Kovler, editor-in-chief of a law magazine, is the first Russian justice to be appointed to that body. JC KREMLIN CHANGING ATTITUDE TOWARD DEFENSE, NEWSPAPER SAYS. In its 21 September issue, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argues that a "serious change" is evident in the Kremlin's attitude toward defense matters and that the administration is intent on "comprehensively strengthening" the armed forces and military-industrial complex. The newspaper puts this development in the context of incidents such as U.S. fighter jets' intercepting two Tu-95 Russian Bear bombers off the coast of Alaska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999), noting that the West, used to the "stupor" of the Russian armed forces over the past eight to 10 years, is trying to present any such maneuver in international air space as a "threat." It also sees as significant Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Arkhangelsk, where the prime minister attended the launching of a new submarine for the Northern Fleet and reportedly stressed that the "new priority" is the production of arms for Russia's own strategic needs. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" is funded by media magnate Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JC ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORY FOILED? Central Election Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov appeared to pour cold water on State Duma deputy Aleksandr Shokhin's theory, outlined in a recent article, that Russian President Boris Yeltsin will resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). Veshnyakov said on 20 September that a candidate for the parliament has the right to simultaneously run for president. Shokhin had argued that Yeltsin would resign on 19 October so that his main opponents would have to choose between running in the presidential elections and in the parliamentary elections. Shokhin speculated that the commission and Russian courts would likely interpret articles of the law on basic suffrage guarantees and the right of Russian citizens to participate in referenda in such a way that a candidate would be barred from running twice in the same district. JAC FORMER TRANSNEFT HEAD TO SEEK DUMA SEAT FROM NIZHNII. Dmitrii Savelev, the ousted head of the energy pipeline company Transneft, announced on 21 September that he will run for a seat in the State Duma in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Interfax reported. Savelev worked in Nizhnii until 1998 when then Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko tapped him for the Transneft post. The previous day, State Duma Property Committee Chairman Pavel Bunich told reporters that three Duma committees studied Savelev's ouster and concluded that since the state owns only 75 percent of the company's shares, a new director should have been appointed under the law on joint- stock companies rather than under the law on privatization. Carnegie Moscow Center's Nikolai Petrov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that the Kremlin was behind Savelev's dismissal in order to secure the maximum number of the country's resources before the election. JAC SOME STUDENTS' SUMMER VACATIONS EXTENDED EVEN LONGER. Teachers at about half of the schools in the Altai Republic decided on 21 September to extend their strike, which began on 1 September, until at least 1 October, ITAR-TASS reported. About 3,000 teachers from 103 schools are demanding payment of back wages. According to the agency, the republic owes teachers and other education workers 82 million rubles ($3.2 million). Meanwhile in Buryatia, teachers are threatening to go on strike in October if their economic situation worsens, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Earlier, they had decided not to disrupt the beginning of the school year on 1 September. The republic's government owes some 58 million rubles in unpaid wages. JAC CHECHEN, NORTH CAUCASUS PRESIDENTS MEET. Ruslan Aushev and Aleksandr Dzasokhov, the presidents of Ingushetia and North Ossetia, met with their Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov, in the new Ingushetian capital, Magas, on 20 September to discuss measures to prevent further incursions by Chechen militants into neighboring North Caucasus republics, Reuters and dpa reported. Aushev told Russian television that the three presidents had agreed on the need for an immediate meeting between Maskhadov and Russian President Yeltsin at which Maskhadov would propose measures to stabilize the situation. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 September suggested that at his meeting with Yeltsin, Maskhadov might give Moscow carte blanche to launch a covert operation to annihilate the militants' leaders in return for a Russian undertaking not to send ground troops into Chechnya and to halt the bombing of Chechen villages. Maskhadov also agreed to the other two presidents' proposal to convene a meeting of North Caucasus presidents in Nalchik on 27 September, Interfax reported. LF RUSSIAN TROOPS, CHECHEN MILITANTS PREPARE TO REPEL ATTACKS. Russian Defense Ministry sources told ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 21 September that some 13,000 Russian troops are currently deployed along Chechnya's borders with other federation subjects. But they denied that an additional 10,000 troops have been sent to Mozdok from the Moscow Military District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1999). The two agencies quoted Russian intelligence sources as saying that the Chechen militants concentrated at three locations on the Chechen side of the border between Chechnya and Daghestan are stepping up their attempts to monitor Russian troop movements in Daghestan. In Grozny, leaders of the militant Chechen forces, including Shamil Basaev, discussed preparations to counter an anticipated Russian ground invasion of Chechnya, according to Interfax. LF U.S. SEEKS TO REASSURE RUSSIA OVER CASPIAN PROJECTS... John Wolf, who is special adviser for Caspian energy issues to U.S. President Bill Clinton, said in Moscow on 21 September that he has told Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov that the U.S. is not trying to prevent implementation of the Blue Stream project to export Russian natural gas to Turkey, AP and Interfax reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry last month accused unnamed U.S. officials of systematically trying to prevent the implementation of that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). The U.S. supports construction of an alternative Trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmenistan's gas to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia, but that project may be jeopardized by disagreement between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over how much gas the latter may export via that planned pipeline. Wolf told journalists in Moscow that numerous possibilities exist for Russian-U.S. cooperation in the Caspian. He did not say whether events in Daghestan will impact on U.S. policy in the Caspian and South Caucasus, according to Interfax. LF ...WHILE PUSHING FOR BAKU-CEYHAN PROJECT. Wolf told a press conference at Interfax's main office in Moscow on 21 September that the U.S. shares the view of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia that the main export pipeline for Caspian oil should be routed from Baku to Ceyhan. The president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium that has begun exporting off-shore Caspian oil from Azerbaijan, told journalists in Baku the same day that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be profitable only if construction costs do not exceed $2.4 billion, according to ITAR-TASS. The AIOC would prefer to expand the capacity of the existing pipeline from Baku to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, but Wolf said in Moscow on 21 September that the U.S. opposes that option. Interfax quoted Wolf as saying he finds the AIOC's attitude "strange." LF RUSSIA SLAMS TURKMENISTAN'S CLAIMS TO CASPIAN... The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 September issued a statement expressing concern over a recent decree by Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov defining the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea as an "inseparable part of the state," Interfax reported. The statement noted that Russia has repeatedly warned that it "will not recognize any attempts by individual Caspian states to extend their sovereignty to any part" of the Caspian Sea. The deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states are to meet in Tehran in October in a further attempt to resolve their differences over dividing the sea into national sectors. LF ...SEEKS TO REASSURE AZERBAIJAN. Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii told Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 21 September that the planned pipeline transporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to the Russian port of Novorossiisk and bypassing Chechnya will be completed within six to eight months, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Apologizing for this year's repeated disruptions to exports of Azerbaijani crude via the existing pipeline from Baku to Novorossiisk via Chechnya, Kalyuzhnii added that the new bypass pipeline will have an increased annual throughput capacity of 12 million tons. He also suggested that some Azerbaijani crude be refined in the North Caucasus, where there is a market for it. Aliev affirmed his readiness for cooperation with Russia in the oil sector, describing that cooperation as "fundamental." He also hinted that Baku might modify its present insistence that not only the Caspian Sea bed but also its waters and surface area be divided into national sectors. LF CORRECTION: "RFE/RL Newsline" on 21 September cited an incorrect report in "The New York Times" stating that the name of the husband of Russian President Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, is Leonid Dyachenko. The correct name is Aleksei Dyachenko. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY. Thousands of Armenian troops, accompanied by tanks and new artillery systems, paraded through the streets of Yerevan on the eighth anniversary of the referendum on declaring the country's independence from the Soviet Union, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. It was the first such military parade since 1996, when the independence anniversary fell one day before the presidential elections. President Robert Kocharian said in an anniversary address that Armenia "is pursuing an active policy of economic reforms, promoting democracy and promoting regional and global cooperation," according to Interfax. Among the world leaders who sent messages of congratulation were Pope John Paul II and the presidents of the U.S., Russia, France, Poland, and Greece. Russian President Boris Yeltsin noted the importance of the "strategic partnership" between Russia and Armenia for stability in the South Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. LF NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH. Murat Petrosian, a deputy to the parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told a press conference in Stepanakert on 21 September that a new nationalist political party, the Armenian National Democratic Party, will soon hold its founding congress, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Petrosian said the new party will strive to "consolidate" opposition forces in Karabakh and Armenia with a "pan-national" agenda. The party's tentative platform calls for an elected "pan-national parliament" representing ethnic Armenians from around the world. It is likely to oppose the policies of the enclave's present leadership. Petrosian is a key supporter of recently ousted Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. Like Babayan, he takes a harder line than either Yerevan or the Karabakh Armenian leadership over resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY CONCERNS. Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh and Security Minister Astamur Tarba met with Georgian officials in Tbilisi on 21 September, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The talks were held at the initiative of Abkhazia's President Vladislav Ardzinba, who had expressed concern at the prospect of Georgian guerrillas' committing terrorist acts in Abkhazia in the runup to the 3 October Abkhaz presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze said after the talks that no such threat exists. He admitted that "certain forces" are interested in destabilizing the region prior to the Abkhaz poll and the 31 October Georgian parliamentary elections, but he said the Georgian authorities will do everything possible to preserve stability. A senior member of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia who attended the talks described them as "important." Bagapsh said they "proved that Georgia and Abkhazia can work out a constructive and civilized approach" to resolving problems. LF FOUR ARRESTED IN GEORGIA FOR SMUGGLING RADIO-ACTIVE MATERIALS. Security officials apprehended four Georgian citizens on 21 September at the Sarpi border crossing between Georgia's Adjar Autonomous Republic and Turkey, AP and ITAR- TASS reported. The four were trying to smuggle 1 kilogram of a radio-active substance, possibly uranium, into Turkey. LF CONTROVERSIAL KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER EDITOR STEPS DOWN. Aleksandr Kim, who is owner and editor of the independent daily "Vechernii Bishkek," has resigned as editor following disputes with the Kyrgyz tax police and other members of the newspaper's staff, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported on 21 September, quoting acting deputy editor Sergei Stepanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 August 1999). Stepanov said that the tax police continue to examine the newspaper's financial records and have begun a court case in which "Vechernii Bishkek" is accused of not paying a fair price for the purchase of its premises. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION PARETY APPLIES FOR RE-REGISTRATION. The Islamic Renaissance Party has applied to the Ministry of Justice to be re-registered, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 September. The party's deputy chairman, Muhammedsharif Himmatzoda, told the news agency that he was assured that provided the documents submitted are in order, the registration process will be completed within three or four days. Re-registration is a necessary precondition for the party to nominate a candidate for the 6 November presidential elections. The deadline for doing so is 6 October. LF TAJIK, UZBEK PRESIDENTS SPAR. During a "traditionally frank" telephone conversation on 21 September, Imomali Rakhmonov and Islam Karimov discussed a recent statement by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry accusing the United Tajik Opposition of supporting the ethnic Uzbek guerrillas currently holding 13 hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported, citing unidentified "confidential sources." They also discussed bilateral economic and trade ties as well as possible joint measures to combat organized crime. In addition, Karimov reportedly affirmed his support for "Tajikistan's policy of democratic transformations," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF END NOTE FLY THE SCARY SKIES by Julie A. Corwin It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the reputation of Russian passenger air travel hit its nadir, but perhaps it was when the story first broke in the spring of 1994 about the downing of an Aeroflot passenger flight over Siberia. The 15-year old son of the plane's pilot was reported to have accidentally disengaged the plane's autopilot controls during a "lesson." Or, perhaps it was in March 1997 when the fuselage of a passenger jet was so rusted that it fell apart in the air over Stavropol. Also that year, the Tupolev-154, a mainstay of the Russian airline industry, was involved in five major accidents, and the International Airline Passengers Associations advised travelers to avoid flying to or within Russia. More recently, Aeroflot has launched a new slick advertising campaign in major international cities and even banned smoking on short flights. But some recent news report suggest that a few kinks in airline safety remain. Last week, Russian Air Force Commander Colonel General Anatolii Kornukov declared that if more funding for the country's aging air traffic control system is not found, within 10 years flying in Russia could become four times more dangerous than in the West. Kornukov's comments followed advice from the U.S. State Department to avoid flying in Russia and other CIS countries around 1 January 2000 because of possible computer glitches caused by the so-called millennium bug. My own recent experience flying on four of the baby flots that sprang up since the break-up of the USSR-- Donavia, Vnukovo, Domodedovo, and Pulkovo--suggests that safety culture on Russian airlines at least seems more laissez faire than on Western carriers. On four out of five flights, I observed during take-off some passengers' seatbelts remaining unfastened, trays unlocked, and seats tilted. Only on Pulkovo did I witness a flight attendant ask a passenger to adjust her seat before take-off or give instructions on where the emergency exits were located. On Donavia, flight attendants continued selling food and drinks in the aisle during take-off. They kept one hand gripped on the back of a passenger seat and the other on the rattling metal cart. And they had to yell because of noise of the engines inside the cabin after take-off. In theory, smoking was prohibited on all of the flights I was on, but in practice--at least on the nine-and-a-half hour flight from Moscow to Vladivostok--smoking occurred but was confined to the bathrooms. The safety issue aside, the good news about the baby flots was that the level of comfort was comparable to that on most Western airlines, the food better than anything I have ever eaten on KLM or Malev Airlines, and the cost remarkably cheap. For example, a one-way ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok cost only 4,900 rubles ($193), while a one- way ticket from Ulan Ude to Moscow, a six-hour flight, cost only 3,460 rubles. While 4,900 rubles is several times the average monthly wage in Primorskii Krai, for example, the fare nonetheless compares favorably with similar long distance hauls across Europe or North America. The attendants, on the whole, were polite--sometimes even friendly--but always terse. It was probably just a coincidence, but it was on Vnukovo, the airline with the most serious labor problems, that I witnessed a stewardess sacked out during the flight from Ulan Ude to Moscow, stretched across several seats on which small black flight bags had earlier been placed. Curiously, my travel agent had told me some weeks earlier that I had gotten the last seat available on that flight. In mid-August, Russian media reported that a strike at Vnukovo was imminent because workers had not been paid for four months. At the beginning of the year, one of the workers' strike leaders was murdered. Perhaps the real drawback to flying within Russia is not the airplanes but the airports, where seats are a relatively rare phenomenon and where having to pay to use the bathroom is no guarantee that it will be remotely clean. Adding to the discomfort is the screeching noise of packing tape being wound around each piece of luggage. Not everybody tapes up their bags. Some people wrap them in paper, like a package that is going to be mailed, with a flimsy string or thin rope handle attached; others have it encased in plastic wrap by a man at the airport who charges 60 rubles for the service. But worst of all is the endless number of lines. First, there is one to check your luggage, one to get your ticket back, and then, if you're unlucky, one to pay a special airport tax. Then, once "boarding" begins, you must line up to enter one of the preliminary boarding areas, line up to go through security, line up to be herded to some area outdoors, and then line up for a bus to take you to the airplane, where you will line up to get on. By that point, you're happy to finally sit down in any kind of seat regardless of whether the tray in front of you remains perpetually open at quarter-mast. And once you land safely--without the fuselage falling off somewhere over Stavropol, let's say--you happily conclude that overall the flight was a pleasant, repeatable experience. 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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