|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 186, Part I, 23 September 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 186, Part I, 23 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 * RUSSIA BOMBS AIRPORT IN GROZNY * 'OPERATION FOREIGNER' CLEANSING MOSCOW OF CAUCASIANS * NORTH KOREA DENIES ACQUIRING MIGS FROM KAZAKHSTAN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA RUSSIA BOMBS AIRPORT IN GROZNY. Russia launched air and artillery attacks on Chechen targets on 23 September, killing an ethnic Armenian technician in a raid on Grozny's Sheikh Mansur airport. LF RUSSIAN FORCES 'READY TO INVADE' CHECHNYA. Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Igor Zubov told journalists in Moscow on 22 September that Russian troops are fully prepared for an invasion of Chechnya, Interfax reported. But he added that it is for Russia's leadership to decide whether to launch such an attack, which he termed "inexpedient" as it would entail heavy losses. Zubov denied that Moscow is planning to try to replace the present Chechen leadership. He estimated the number of Chechen and other fighters who participated in the recent attacks on Daghestan at 5,000- 7,000, adding that he believes that figure could rise to 30,000. Zubov said Chechen militants might target Ingushetia next or try to destabilize North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 September. LF DAGHESTAN STATE COUNCIL CHAIRMAN SETS TERMS FOR MEETING WITH MASKHADOV. Magomedali Magomedov told journalists in Makhachkala on 22 September that he will not attend a meeting between Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and the leaders of other North Caucasus republics on 27 September unless Maskhadov identifies and distances himself from those Chechens responsible for the recent attacks on Daghestan, Interfax reported. LF RUSSIA ASKS INTERPOL TO APPREHEND LEADERS OF DAGHESTAN ATTACK... Moscow has sent Interpol a list of some 20 people suspected of masterminding the August attack on Daghestan from Chechen territory, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 22 September. Those suspects include Daghestani citizens Magomed Tagaev and Adallo Aliev, the Saudi-born field commander Khattab, the brothers Shamil and Shirvani Basaev, and former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. LF ...GREETS SAUDI DENIAL. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 22 September welcoming assurances by Saudi Arabia's official press agency that Riyadh is not providing financial assistance to the armed Chechen militants fighting in Daghestan, Interfax reported. The statement reaffirmed Moscow's willingness to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in combating terrorism and extremism. LF TATAR OFFICIALS DENY RELIGIOUS INSTITUTE IMPLICATED IN TERRORISM. Tatarstan's State Security Committee issued a statement on 21 September rejecting Russia media allegations of Tatar involvement in the wave of terrorist bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Those reports were based on the detention of Denis Saytakov in connection with the Moscow apartment bombing. Saytakov studied for one year at the Yoldiz religious institute in the Tatar town of Chally and was expelled from the institute for non-attendance at classes. Russian media have claimed that other students from the institute left to join militant groups in Chechnya. Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev and the republic's Muslim Spiritual Board have also denied any link between the Chally religious institute and recent terrorist acts in Russia. LF 'OPERATION FOREIGNER' CLEANSING MOSCOW OF CAUCASIANS? Aleksandr Beldaev, the deputy head of Moscow's police, reported that from 14-20 September, 69,200 people were re- registered, while some 15,000 people were denied re- registration, Interfax reported on 21 September. According to Beldaev, those who have been refused registration will be forced to leave the city by train or by car and will be accompanied by police officials. Meanwhile, "Kommersant- Daily" reported the same day that some 20,000 Chechens have already left Moscow--mainly young people who failed to register and receive work permits. A Chechen diaspora group in Moscow has appealed to Muscovites and mass media not "to put an equals sign between banditry and the Chechen people," Interfax reported on 22 September. Human rights groups in Russia report that while the city's "Operation Foreigner" in theory applies to anyone, in practice it has been aimed at Caucasians, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. JAC SIBERIA ALSO SCRUTINIZING FOREIGNERS. "Novye izvestiya" reported on 22 September. the administration of Altai Krai is considering introducing certain temporary regulations restricting the freedom of movement of people who are guests in the region as well as additional restrictions for people from the Caucasus. In Sverdlovsk Oblast, local police have conducted their own "Operation Foreigner," rounding up some 300 people who lacked proper registration, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 September (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 September 1999). Meanwhile, an Interior Ministry official has declared that the current procedure for re- registering non-residents in Moscow does not correspond with federal law and that people who are not re-registered and are deported from Moscow have the right to take their case to court, according to the 22 September "Novye izvestiya." JAC COMMUNISTS FAIL AGAIN TO LIMIT PRESIDENTIAL POWERS. Amendments to the Russian Constitution that would have limited the president's powers failed to gather the necessary two-thirds majority, or 300 votes, in the State Duma on 22 September. The first vote was 221 in favor, while a second vote was 240. The Communist faction proposed the bill, which would have required the president to seek the Duma's consent for, among other things, the dismissal of the prime minister, his deputies, and seven key cabinet ministers, according to Interfax. The Duma did approve on its first reading an amendment to the constitution giving parliamentary investigations a legal constitutional status and enabling the lower chamber to set up commissions to deal with matters of public interest and compel witnesses to attend hearings. According to Reuters, the Duma now has a month to collect from the 89 regions proposals on the amendment. JAC COURT OKAYS LUZHKOV-PRIMAKOV BLOC'S PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS... The Supreme Court on 22 September upheld the right of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) bloc to run in upcoming State Duma elections. A private citizen had objected to the group's last-minute registration by the Justice Ministry. Leonid Kheifets, an OVR official, told Interfax on 22 September that another legal challenge is likely. JAC ...WHILE LDPR PARTY LIST READS LIKE POLICE BLOTTER. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 21 September that while many voters have questions about the criminal leanings of many persons on the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia's (LDPR) list, the "commission does not have legal grounds to refuse certifying the list," according to ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1999). "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 September noted that no fewer than five candidates on the list have been the subject of a criminal investigation. Viktor Averin, candidate number 17, was arrested in 1989 on suspicion of extortion, as was candidate number 16, Sergei Mikhailov, allegedly known in the criminal underworld as "Mikhas". Meanwhile, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii announced that his party will nominate Duma Geopolitics Committee Chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov for the post of Moscow mayor, "Segodnya" reported on 21 September. JAC NEW YORK BANK HEAD CONFIRMS EXISTENCE OF DYACHENKO ACCOUNTS... Addressing U.S. Congress hearings on the Bank of New York scandal on 22 September, Bank Chairman Thomas Renyi confirmed that Aleksei Dyachenko, the son-in-law of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, has two accounts with his bank at its Cayman Islands branch, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Renyi did not comment on reports that links have been found between these accounts and transactions that prompted the large-scale investigation of money transfers at the bank, according to AFP. Renyi added that the bank has insufficient internal oversight mechanisms and questions regarding large flows of money through various accounts "were not pursued with sufficient vigor or follow-through." Renyi also noted that the bank is reviewing whether to continue its business with Russian banks. JAC ...AS RUSSIAN SOURCES QUESTION MOTIVATION FOR INQUIRY. Also addressing the hearing that day was investigative journalist and State Duma deputy Yurii Shchekochikhin, who expressed skepticism about the U.S.'s sudden interest in corruption in Russia's financial sector, which, he noted, has long existed, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Noting that the new chief of the World Trade Organization, Mike Moore, told the Congress that Russia is not yet ready to join the World Trade Organization, "Izvestiya" concluded on 23 September that the U.S. "wants to use the 'Russia scandal' for certain economic ends." According to the daily, which is owned by Interros financial group and LUKoil, the U.S. is seeking to make the "scandal over the Russian mafia" into a pretext for "postponing the lifting of trade restrictions against Russia which have been operating since the Cold War era." JAC IVANOV MEETS CLINTON, ANNAN. At a short meeting in Washington on 22 September, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov focused on the issue of "strategic stability," in particular the 1972 ABM treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. According to AP, the two men also discussed allegations of Russian money laundering, and Ivanov pledged that investigations into those allegations will be "complete and comprehensive." The previous day in New York, Ivanov met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss issues ranging from fighting terrorism to the situation in Kosova. The foreign minister stressed Moscow's stand that Resolution 1244 must be fulfilled, not least the provision on guaranteeing Yugoslavia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. JC LUKIN SAYS RUSSIA WON'T BE WEAKENED IF U.S. WITHDRAWS FROM ABM. Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Vladimir Lukin told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 22 September that Russia's position would be not be weakened if the U.S. withdrew from the ABM treaty. "Russia will be able to compete with U.S. space defense systems or will begin installing multiple warheads on the Topol [intercontinental ballistic missile systems] or will even simply churn out more missiles," the newspaper quoted him as saying. Such undertakings will be "expensive but not that expensive," he commented, adding that "the threat of a preventive strike would nevertheless remain." JC TRADE SURPLUS SOARS. Russia amassed a trade surplus of $23.2 billion during the first eight months of the year, according to Economics Ministry estimates, Interfax reported. This figure does not include unofficial and shuttle trade totaling $18.5 billion. The official trade surplus in August was $3.1 billion, up 94 percent from the same month last year. Exports in August rose 5.5 percent from the same month last year. JAC EUROPEAN TEAM TO INSPECT LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN VLADIVOSTOK. A delegation from the Council of Europe arrived in Vladivostok on 22 September to investigate the lack of a locally elected government there, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. The Russian Congress of Municipalities invited the council officials to travel to the region to determine whether President Yeltsin's dismissal of elected Mayor Viktor Cherepkov violates council rules (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998). Russia pledged to uphold those rules when it joined the organization in 1996. The delegation was scheduled to meet with Aleksandr Voloshin, chief of the presidential staff, in Moscow earlier this week, according to the "Vladivostok News" of 17 September. JAC ...AS LOCAL BUSINESSWOMAN KILLED UNDER SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. "Vladivostok News" also reported that on 12 September assassins killed Taisia Ponomareva, a member of the ousted management team of the Vladivostok shipping company Vostoktransflot, just hours before she was due to fly to Moscow and meet with lawyers from the Prosecutor-General's Office. "The Moscow Times" on 23 September reported on the disappearance of documents that Ponomareva had collected allegedly proving that the takeover of Vostoktransflot by its former head Viktor Ostapenko was illegal. Those documents also allegedly contained information on the roles regional officials played in the change of leadership in Vostoktransflot, according to the Vladivostok publication. Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko backed Ostapenko's takeover, saying the company was headed by foreigners who were mismanaging the fleet and improperly selling off ships (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 August 1999). JAC SHUMEIKO TO RUN FROM KALININGRAD. Former Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko has announced his intention to run for the State Duma in a single-mandate district in Kaliningrad Oblast, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 September. That announcement comes some two months after Shumeiko was thwarted in his bid to take part in elections to the legislature of Evenk Autonomous Oblast, from where he reportedly hoped to return to the Federation Council. An oblast court, however, banned him from running in that ballot, citing major campaign violations (see "IEWS Russian Regional Report," 8 and 22 July 1999). JC ANOTHER PROTEST IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA. Some 1,000 supporters of defeated presidential candidate Stanislav Derev broke through OMON guards deployed around the central square of the republic's capital, Cherkessk, on 22 September. They demanded that newly inaugurated President Vladimir Semenov leave his office at the central administration building and hand over his duties to Valentin Vlasov, whom Yeltsin appointed temporary head of the republic in July, Caucasus Press reported. The previous evening, retired General Yurii Antonov, who played a prominent role in Semenov's presidential campaign, escaped injury when he was shot at in Cherkessk, Russian Radio reported. Caucasus Press reported on 23 September that following meetings between Aleksandr Voloshin, the head of Yeltsin's presidential administration, and representatives of Karachaevo-Cherkessia's Russian and Nogai communities, a special government commission has been formed for Karachaevo-Cherkessia on which the presidential administration, government, and State Duma are represented. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIA-DIASPORA CONFERENCE OPENS IN YEREVAN. Some 1,500 representatives of Armenian communities world-wide attended the opening in Yerevan on 22 September of a two-day pan- Armenian conference intended to boost ties between the Republic of Armenia and the world diaspora community, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Addressing delegates, President Robert Kocharian said Armenians need to set priorities in the political, economic, scientific, cultural, and other spheres and develop programs to achieve those aims. He said that the most important pan-national problems facing the Armenian nation are resolving the Karabakh conflict and expediting Armenia's economic development. LF ARMENIA RECEIVES NEW WORLD BANK LOAN TRANCHE. Oweiss Saadat, who is the World Bank's representative in Yerevan, told journalists on 22 September that the bank released the previous day the second tranche, worth $25 million, of a $65 million credit approved in December 1998, Reuters and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The 21 September payment was originally scheduled for June but was delayed until the passage of the government's proposed austerity measures to counter a larger-than-anticipated budget deficit. Last month, the Armenian parliament approved those measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999). The newly released payment is intended to support the budget and will enable the government to pay pensions and public-sector wage arrears within two weeks. Saadat noted that the Armenian government "had to overcome many obstacles" to receive the new credit, adding that the cabinet "has kept economic reform on track." LF AZERBAIJAN OPPOSITION LOBBIES FOR RIGHT TO CONVENE DEMONSTRATION. Police dispersed members of the opposition Musavat Party who were picketing the office of Baku City Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev on 22 September to protest his refusal to allow opposition parties to organize a demonstration in the city on 25 September, Turan reported. Eleven demonstrators were arrested. Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar told the agency that Allakhverdiev has no right to ban the demonstration, which is intended to protest the Azerbaijani leadership's approach resolving the Karabakh conflict. Also on 22 September, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan said the party has permission to stage a rally in front of the Baku town hall on 24 September to demand that Allakhverdiev sanction the demonstration planned for the following day. LF FORMER PREMIER'S PARTY UNDER PRESSURE IN KAZAKHSTAN. Amirzhan Qosanov, deputy chairman of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, which is headed by former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, told journalists in Almaty on 23 September that the city authorities have disconnected all telephone lines to the five-story building where the party has its offices, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Qosanov claimed that move was politically motivated, but a city official said it was due to non-payment of bills by other organizations that rent offices in the same building. Also on 23 September, Marat Qabanbay, who is editor of the newspaper "Sol-Dat," told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that all copies of the latest issue of that paper, which contained materials on the Kazakhstan prosecutor-general's recent abortive attempt to extradite Kazhegeldin from Moscow, were confiscated by Kazakh customs officials earlier this week. "Sol-Dat" is printed in the Russian Federation (Altai Krai) because publishing houses in Kazakhstan refuse to issue it. LF NORTH KOREA DENIES ACQUIRING MIGS FROM KAZAKHSTAN. Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said in Washington on 22 September that Astana has requested that North Korea return 38 decommissioned MiG-21 fighters sold to that country without the knowledge of the Kazakh government but that North Korea denied receiving those aircraft, Reuters reported. Also on 22 September, Interfax reported that Askar Gabidullin, president of the Metallist company, which organized the abortive transport of six MiGs to Bratislava, has been dismissed. LF OIL CONSORTIUM IN KAZAKHSTAN REJECTS POLLUTION CHARGES. The Offshore Kazakhstan International Operating Company (OKIOC) issued a statement on 21 September denying claims by the Atyrau Environmental Protection Agency that mud discharged into the Caspian Sea during drilling of the consortium's first well contains many times the permitted levels of certain pollutants, Interfax reported. The environmental agency claimed that OKIOC had violated the terms of its contract with Kazakhstan's government by ignoring environmental norms. In May, Atyrau's regional prosecutor opened court proceedings against a second international consortium, Tengizchevroil, claiming that it was causing ecological damage by extracting from test wells larger amounts of oil than legally allowed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). LF STALEMATE IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN CONTINUES. Kyrgyzstan Security Council Secretary General Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists in Bishkek on 22 September that the guerrillas holding 13 hostages in south Kyrgyzstan's Osh Oblast attempted again the previous night to break through to the Uzbek exclave of Sokh, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. They were prevented from doing so by Kyrgyz government forces, one of whom was injured in the clash. Djanuzakov added that government forces are training in Batken Raion for an assault on the guerrillas. LF TAJIK, RUSSIAN TROOPS HOLD JOINT MANOEUVRES. Russian and Tajik forces on 22 September concluded two-days of joint maneuvers with an exercise to deter an invasion by armed gangs, ITAR-TASS reported. Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov and Russian Ambassador Yevgenii Belov observed the 22 September exercises, which reportedly drew on Russian forces' recent experience in Daghestan. LF SOME SUSPECTS IN UZBEK BOMBING RELEASED. Uzbek Interior Ministry spokesman Batyr Zieev said on 22 September that more than 700 people detained in connection with the 16 February bombings in Tashkent have been released in recent months, RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau reported. He added that most of those released were members of the Islamic political movement Hezbi Takhrir. The deputy head of Uzbekistan's human rights agency, Abdurashid Irisbaev, said the initial charges brought against the suspects could not be corroborated. 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