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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 212, Part I, 1 November 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 212, Part I, 1 November 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 * ELECTION COMMISSION TURNS ATTENTION TO PRESS * MOSCOW DENIES BOMBING HUMANITARIAN CONVOY * SLAIN ARMENIAN LEADERS BURIED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA ELECTION COMMISSION TURNS ATTENTION TO PRESS... The Central Election Commission asked the Media Ministry on 29 October to take measures against Sergei Dorenko, the host of an "analytical program" on Russian Public Television (ORT), "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. According to commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov, ORT and Dorenko engaged in unlawful political agitation in their 25 October broadcast alleging that former Prime Minister and current Fatherland- All Russia leader Yevgenii Primakov was somehow involved in an assassination attempt on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Veshnyakov cautioned that "any mass media body can find itself in the same place as ORT," according to ITAR- TASS, while "Kommersant-Daily" speculated that TV-6, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, may be the next to be singled out by the commission. "Kommersant-Daily" is owned by media magnate Boris Berezovskii, who is reportedly Dorenko's close sponsor. JAC ...AS PUTIN STRESSES NEED FOR OFFICIAL NEWS OUTLETS. In a meeting with the heads of regional state-run television and broadcasting companies on 1 November, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared that the "state should have its own media outlets to bring the official position of the government to the public," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin added that state-run media should focus on economic problems, despite the acuteness of the problem in Chechnya, because "if economic problems are not solved, then federal forces in Chechnya will not have the necessary military equipment and we shall never achieve the goals we have set [there]." On 29 October, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, deputy head of the Fatherland-All Russia headquarters, said that the ITAR-TASS news agency selectively edits the comments and interviews of members of his political organization so that they appear less critical of the Kremlin. The agency responded that it does not participate in "information wars."JAC MOSCOW DENIES BOMBING HUMANITARIAN CONVOY... Russian Prime Minister Putin and military spokesmen in Mozdok both denied on 31 October that Russian aircraft were responsible for the bombing two days earlier of a convoy of vehicles transporting displaced persons and Red Cross personnel from Grozny to Nazran. Putin termed those reports Chechen propaganda. Several dozen people, including two Red Cross officials, were killed in that attack. In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement on 30 October appealing to all combatants to allow civilians to leave the combat zone unharmed. Russian aircraft continued bombing raids on Grozny and other towns, including Kurchaloi and Bamut, on 30- 31 October. Ground fighting is continuing around Gudermes, which is totally surrounded by Russian forces, Reuters reported. LF ...KEEPS CHECHEN BORDERS SEALED. The opening of four humanitarian corridors to allow displaced persons to leave Chechnya, originally announced for 29 October, was postponed until 1 November. A Reuters correspondent at the Chechen border with Ingushetia reported on 1 November that there is a 16-kilometer line of civilians desperate to cross into Ingushetia, which already harbors a total of 175,000 displaced persons. Visiting camps for such people on 30 October, Finnish Foreign Minister and EU President Tarja Halonen expressed concern that the high rate of disease and infant mortality among the displaced persons may rise with the onset of winter. She called on Moscow to remove obstacles to the shipment of humanitarian aid to the camps, Reuters reported. LF CONFUSION OVER RUSSIA'S OBJECTIVE CONTINUES. Interfax on 29 October quoted unnamed Russian Defense Ministry sources as saying that the Russian military command aims to break the back of the Chechen resistance and occupy strategic heights in Chechnya before the end of this month. Those sources explained that Moscow has already exceeded the quotas for heavy military equipment it may deploy in the North Caucasus under the revised Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which is to be signed at the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18-19 November. But a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow denied the following day that there is any deadline set for ending operations in Chechnya, or any link with the upcoming summit. Speaking in Moscow on 28 October, U.S. permanent representative to the North Atlantic Council Alexander Vershbow expressed the hope that the fighting in Chechnya will not derail the Istanbul summit. He called on all parties to avoid "the indiscriminate use of force," arguing that the previous war in Chechnya demonstrated that there cannot be a purely military solution to the conflict. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT SAYS WAR PLANNED IN ADVANCE. Aslan Maskhadov told Interfax on 30 October that the Russian incursion into Chechnya had been planned for three years and was in no way connected with measures to combat terrorism or crime. He reaffirmed his readiness for "constructive negotiations and extensive compromises" with Moscow, adding that "Russia and Chechnya can and must live as good neighbors." But Maskhadov stressed that the Chechen people will never give up their independence, which he termed their sole defense against complete destruction. LF SHARP INCREASE IN WEAPONS PRODUCTION REGISTERED AS EARLY AS JANUARY. "Megapolis-Kontinent" reported in its October 1999 issue (No. 43) that a sharp increase in output began at the Tula weapons factory as early as January of this year. As a direct result of the current Chechen conflict, which did not break out until some nine months later, output at the Tula enterprise has increased by 400 percent in the first three- quarters of this year, compared with the 1998 level. The Tula weapons factory produces components for tanks, armored personnel carriers, armored infantry vehicles, helicopters, assault planes, and fighter jets. "Megapolis-Kontinent" also reported that in the past several weeks, all state debts to the factory, some of which date back "many years," have been paid off. JC ALLEGED CRIME KINGPIN MAY BE EXCLUDED FROM ELECTION RACE. The Central Election Commission on 30 October registered the party lists of four election organizations: the Conservative Movement, the Russian Party for the Protection of Women, the Congress of Russian Communities, and the Yurii Boldyrev movement, ITAR-TASS reported. The next day, the commission registered the lists of the Party of Peace and Accord, Russian National Union, which is lead by Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin, and Spiritual Heritage, which is led by deputy Aleksei Poberezkin. Spiritual Heritage faced the most problems, losing 25 candidates. Its list now contains 130 names. The Conservative Movement, which lost 10 candidates, may lose another: the candidacy of Sergei Mikhailov, who is allegedly known in organized crime circles as "Mikhas," is being subjected to further scrutiny because he did not tell the commission about his dual Greek and Russian citizenship, "Vremya MN" reported on 1 November. JAC RUBLE SLIPS SLIGHTLY AGAIN AFTER LAST WEEK'S SLUMP. The ruble lost 2 kopeks against the dollar during trading on 1 November to close at 26.07 rubles to $1, according to Russian agencies. The ruble's loss follows a 29 kopek dip on 28 October. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded that day that the Central Bank, which had previously been propping up the ruble, has apparently decided that a new lower exchange rate is necessary. Such a decision, according to the daily, is likely connected with the State Duma's approval of the 2000 draft budget in its first reading and the need for the government to somehow come up with even higher revenues. However, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 October that the Central Bank plans to offer bonds worth up to 6 billion rubles ($230 million) in November to an effort to soak up excess ruble liquidity of Russian commercial banks. Some traders link that liquidity with the ruble's slump. JAC GAZPROM TARGET OF NEW TAX PROBE... "Izvestiya" reported on 30 October that an "unprecedented" audit of Gazprom began on 28 October, which will focus on the company's activities connected with exporting gas. According to the newspaper, which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, one of the goals of the new probe is to unseat Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. Another is to find monies to replenish "election" and "pension" funds. "Segodnya" reported earlier that tax authorities ordered Gazprom to pay the treasury 2 billion rubles ($80 million) over and above what is stipulated in an earlier agreement between the government and the company in both October and November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1999). "Vremya MN" reported on 1 November that the wholesale price of natural gas increased by 15 percent that day, the first increase in almost three years, according to the company's press service. JAC ...AS OLIGARCHS ALLEGEDLY DEPRIVED OF SAY AT FUEL MINISTRY. "Izvestiya" also reported on 30 October that retaining Sergei Bogdanchikov as head of Rosneft was one condition a number of Duma deputies demanded from the government in return for their support of the 2000 budget. That stance reportedly had less to do with support for Bogdanchikov than with their opposition to a replacement being promoted by Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais. According to the newspaper, Prime Minister Putin signed a decree at the end of October that excludes Chubais, Vyakhirev, Bogdanchikov, LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov, and Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovskii from membership on the board of the Fuel and Energy Ministry. Replacing them will be the heads of the Coal Committee and Gosenergonadzor. JAC DUMA PROTESTS USE OF FORCE AGAINST VYBORG EMPLOYEES. The State Duma on 29 October passed a resolution protesting the use of physical force and fire arms against workers at the Vyborgskii paper mill in Leningrad Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 October 1999), ITAR-TASS reported. Justice Ministry troops had stormed the factory and opened fire on workers who had barricaded themselves into the administration building in a bid to prevent the mill's foreign owners from assuming control. Justice Minister Yurii Chaika told deputies that the actions undertaken last month to resolve the dispute were "lawful in form but digressed from the law in content." Also on 29 October, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions appealed to the Russian authorities not to use force again to seek the resolve the Vyborgskii dispute. In a statement received by ITAR-TASS, the confederation said the use of force against employees violates both Russian laws and international labor standards. JC GOVERNMENT DRAWS UP PLAN FOR RENATIONALIZATION OF LOMONOSOV. Following a court decision earlier this month that the 1993 privatization of the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory was invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999), the State Property Ministry has "sketched out a plan" for the plant's renationalization, "The Moscow Times" reported on 28 October. According to the newspaper, details of the plan are unclear, and ministry officials acknowledged that they are unsure how the proposal will be implemented. Deputy State Property Minister Yurii Medvedev was quoted as saying that the government will recover from the factory an amount equal to what it lost through privatization and that it will do so "in kind, such as [in] factory kilns." Alastair Stobie, vice president of the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund, one of the major shareholders in the factory, told AP that the fund will continue to appeal the renationalization decision. JC FSB TARGETS ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCHER. The Federal Security Service (FSB) in Kaluga Oblast has arrested Igor Sutyagin, a researcher at the Institute for U.S.A. and Canada (ICK), on suspicion of disclosing state secrets and possible espionage, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 October. Shortly after Sutyagin's arrest, FSB officials searched the Moscow apartment of a U.S. citizen, Josh Handler, who is researching a doctoral dissertation on nuclear disarmament. After asking Handler many questions about Sutyagin, they took away a computer, camera, photographs, film, videotape, cassette tapes, and various papers, according to an article by Handler in the "Vladivostok News." "Kommersant-Daily" quoted ICK director Aleksei Yablokov as linking Sutyagin's arrest with the earlier detentions of military journalists Grigorii Pasko and Aleksandr Nikitin and the seizure of materials from scientist Valerii Soifer, all of whom have focused on environmentally hazardous practices of Russia's navy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 1999). JAC WILL TATARSTAN HOLD EARLY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS? The leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan is seriously considering holding the next republican presidential elections in June 2000, simultaneously with voting in the Russian presidential poll, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 October. The next Tatarstan presidential election is due only in March 2001, but the republic's political elite is afraid that should Russian Prime Minister Putin be elected president, then he would seek to replace Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, one of the supporters of the Primakov-Luzhkov OVR alliance. Moreover, Shaimiev's popularity rating is rapidly sinking as the republic's economic situation deteriorates. LF PRIMAKOV TURNS 70. Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) leader Primakov turned 70 on 29 October. President Boris Yeltsin sent his former premier a birthday telegram saying that his work in the state's "highest posts has been appreciated by the Russian public and the state," ITAR-TASS reported. According to EWI's "Russian Regional Report" on tk October, Primakov's meeting in Kazan on 28 October with Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov was connected with a discussion to change OVR's campaign tactics. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA SLAIN ARMENIAN LEADERS BURIED. Up to 100,000 people, including former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, attended the 31 October funeral services in Yerevan of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian, his two deputies, a government minister, and two parliamentary deputies gunned down in the legislature on 27 October. The eighth victim of the shootings was buried on 30 October. Also attending was a large Russian delegation, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, and former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, as well as Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Belarusian Premier Syarhei Linh, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos, and Turkish state minister Ali Irtemcelik. Speaking at the funeral ceremony, President Robert Kocharian termed the killings "an irreparable loss" and called on Armenians to "close ranks and stand by the Republic of Armenia," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF U.S., RUSSIA EXPRESS SUPPORT. Meeting with President Kocharian in Yerevan on 29 October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott offered his condolences over the shootings and assured Kocharian of his country's readiness to offer "every kind of support" in overcoming the crisis, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Talbott added that that he believes the democratic process in Armenia is irreversible. During talks with Kocharian the following day, Russian Premier Putin similarly expressed Moscow's support for the Armenian president. Putin also noted that the murdered men were all "true friends of Russia." LF ARMENIAN MILITARY DENY TENSIONS WITH PRESIDENT. Leaders of Sargsian's Republican Party of Armenia on 30 October denied that there are differences between the military and President Kocharian over the choice of a new prime minister and cabinet, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian told journalists on 30 October after his talks with Putin that an entirely new government will probably be named. According to press reports, the military also oppose the appointment of Republican Party Chairman Andranik Markarian to succeed Demirchian as parliamentary speaker. The Republican Party on 30 October endorsed the Defense Ministry's call two days earlier for the sacking of the interior and national security ministers. Meanwhile the five gunmen have been charged with terrorism and pre-meditated murder, Noyan Tapan reported on 1 November. LF PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS MAR GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY POLL... More than 60 percent of the Georgian electorate cast their votes in the 31 October parliamentary elections. Both pro- government and opposition figures cited violations of election procedure, including restrictions on voting in some constituencies in Adjaria and the mountain region of Lentehki, the theft of a ballot box in Gori, an attempt by an opposition member of the Central Electoral Commission to hack into the commission's computer, and an attempt at ballot stuffing by a commission member who belongs to the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF ...WHILE RULING PARTY HEADED FOR VICTORY. With 60 percent of the ballot papers counted, the Union of Citizens of Georgia, which has a majority in the outgoing parliament, had won more than 30 of the 75 seats allocated in single-mandate constituencies plus some 44 percent of the party-list vote. The Union for the Revival of Georgia polled 23 percent of the party list vote. Its leader, Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, claimed that the authorities had falsified the results, according to Reuters. The Labor Party and the bloc Industry Will Save Georgia are close to surmounting the 7 percent barrier for representation in the new parliament. LF U.S. DIPLOMAT IN TBILISI. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Talbott and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met in Tbilisi on 29 October to discuss regional conflicts, including Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and preparations for the OCSE Istanbul summit later this month, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. They also focused on the planned construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline and the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Talbott endorsed the Georgian leadership's economic policy and its crackdown on corruption. LF POLISH PRESIDENT VISITS AZERBAIJAN... Visiting Baku on 27-28 October, Aleksandr Kwasniewski met with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, to discuss Poland's support for Azerbaijan's accession to the World Trade Organization and integration into European structures, including full membership in the Council of Europe, Turan reported. Possible Polish involvement in the GUUAM alignment (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) was also discussed. Kwasniewski said Poland is ready to help prepare NATO's Caucasus strategy. The two presidents also discussed Polish participation in the construction of cement plants and sugar mills in Azerbaijan and the prospects for the export via Poland of Azerbaijani oil transported via the Baku-Supsa export pipeline. A memorandum on cooperation between Poland's state oil and gas company and the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR was signed at the meeting. LF ...AND KAZAKHSTAN. On 29 October, Kwasniewski held talks with his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbaev, in Astana, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. Those talks focused on preparations for the OSCE Istanbul summit and the prospects for Polish participation in construction projects in Astana as well as in the export of Kazakhstan's oil via Ukraine to the Polish port of Gdansk, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbaev termed the $100 million annual trade turnover between the two countries "not bad." LF OSCE PRAISES KAZAKHSTAN'S LANGUAGE POLICY. Meeting in Astana on 29 October with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel positively assessed both Kazakhstan's language law and efforts by the country's leadership to promote the use of the Kazakh language, Interfax reported. Toqaev quoted President Nazarbaev as aiming to establish trilingualism, given the growing importance of English. LF KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA TO COOPERATE IN INVESTIGATING ROCKET EXPLOSION. The Russian and Kazakh government commissions formed to investigate the 27 October explosion of a Russian Proton rocket shortly after blast-off from Baikonur announced on 29 October that they will set up a joint headquarters and three working groups, Interfax reported. But Kazakhstan's Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Kiyanitsa said that an assessment of the financial damage caused will be made only after the commissions complete their work, according to ITAR- TASS. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Toqaev had said the previous day that Kazakhstan will probably demand compensation exceeding the $260,000 paid by Moscow after a similar explosion in July. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION AGAIN CALLS FOR POSTPONEMENT OF PRESIENTIAL POLL. At a news conference in Dushanbe on 29 October, three opposition would-be presidential candidates again called on the country's leadership and international organizations to agree to delay the 6 November presidential elections, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Equality Party leader Saifiddin Turaev, Democratic Party (Tehran Platform) leader Sultan Kuvatov, and Islamic Renaissance Party candidate and Economics Minister Davlat Usmon proposed that incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov's term in office be extended until June in order to give time to prepare for free and fair elections. All three candidates had earlier called for a postponement of the poll on the grounds that local officials prevented them from collecting the minimum 145,000 signatures required for registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999). The Central Electoral Commission nonetheless subsequently registered Usmon, who on 29 October formally requested that his registration be termed invalid. LF 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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