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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 220, Part I, 11 November 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 220, Part I, 11 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 * GERMANY, NATO CALL FOR CHECHEN PEACE TALKS * GOVERNMENT TO FINALLY CLOSE FAILING BANK * KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SLAMS OSCE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA GERMANY, NATO CALL FOR CHECHEN PEACE TALKS. In a joint statement released in Berlin on 10 November, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson appealed to Moscow to cease hostilities in Chechnya, saying "there must be a political solution" to the conflict, Reuters and AP reported. But Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu told students in Stavropol the same day that the offensive must not be stopped, implying that he shares the Russian military's apprehension that the country's civilian leadership will opt for peace talks and leave the war unfinished, according to Interfax. Former Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov similarly told Ekho Moskvy on 10 November that "we must not abuse the patience of the military," and he condemned as pointless Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii's demand that Moscow embark on peace talks with President Aslan Maskhadov, Reuters reported. LF RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES MILITARY VIOLATES GENEVA CONVENTION. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told journalists in Moscow on 10 November that U.S. accusations that the Russian military is violating the Geneva Convention by using excessive force against civilians in Chechnya are misplaced and based on disinformation spread by "sources that turned Chechnya into a zone of terrorism," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). Rakhmanin said the Russian military selects its targets with a view to keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. LF OSCE DELEGATION TRAVELS TO INGUSHETIA. An OSCE delegation headed by Norwegian diplomat Kim Traavik traveled to Ingushetia on 10 November to examine two camps for displaced persons who fled the fighting in Chechnya. While noting that "much has been done," to assist those persons, Traavik assessed conditions in the camps as "very serious," noting that more shelters, food, clothing, and medications are needed. Speaking in Moscow the same day, Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev said another 2,500 displaced persons crossed the border into Ingushetia the previous day, raising the total number registered there to 184,430, Interfax reported. LF GOVERNMENT TO FINALLY CLOSE FAILING BANK. Despite an earlier 7.5 billion ruble ($286 million) bailout to keep the failing SBS-Agro Bank afloat, Agency for Reconstruction Credit Organization (ARKO) head Aleksandr Turbanov announced on 9 November that the bank will be liquidated, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. In a process that could take five years, ARKO officials plan to transfer the bank's credit portfolio to Rosselkhozbank and the Russian Development Bank, neither of which has yet been established. A representative of one of the SBS-Agro's creditors has accused ARKO of "conscious participation" in asset-stripping, according to "The Moscow Times" the same day. However, ARKO officials say that they have not had enough time to check the bank's finances thoroughly enough to determine whether asset- stripping has occurred. "Novaya gazeta" (No. 41) reported that it would be possible to locate the bank's assets in offshore zones, but no one in the government is interested in pursuing the matter. JAC MORE RUSSIAN OFFICIALS MOURN CAMDESSUS'S DEPARTURE... Commenting on the plans of IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus to resign at the beginning of next year, Mikhail Zadornov, former presidential envoy to the international financial institutions, said on 10 November that "it's unquestionably bad news for Russia," according to ITAR-TASS. He added that "Camdessus dealt with Russia for a long time and was personally involved in those relations and, for that matter, had certain personal obligations to Russia." First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that while Camdessus "played a positive role, that of guarantor of our relations with the IMF," his resignation "will not bring about any changes in relations between Russia and the IMF" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented that Camdessus was "a socialist" who "understood the essence of changes in the Soviet Union." JAC ...AS EES, SBERBANK RESIST FUND PLANS. Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told reporters on 10 November that members of the IMF mission currently in Moscow have requested that the ministry supply data on Gazprom's tax payments to the budget, according to ITAR-TASS. The IMF also expressed interest in Tatneft, which is reportedly now behind in its payments to the budget. According to Interfax, the government, Central Bank, and IMF mission are working out terms of reference for a financial audit of Sberbank that will be carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers. However, Sberbank head Andre Kazmin has said that his bank "cannot release information about our clients because the IMF and World Bank do not intend to keep it confidential," "Vedomosti" reported. According to that daily, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais is also resisting the fund and World Bank's request that EES privatize five of its regional companies. JAC MEDIA-MOST, KREMLIN TRADE ACCUSATIONS. The press service of Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company released a statement on 10 November accusing presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin of "engaging in extorting money for electoral expenses from large Russian financial and industrial organizations, notably Sberbank" and of trying to cut off NTV broadcasts. The statement added that information broadcast on state-controlled Russian Public Television about Media Most's outstanding debts to Sberbank is inaccurate and that the company has paid all loans that matured this year. Media-Most controls NTV, Ekho Moskvy, "Segodnya," and other newspapers. The Kremlin responded the same day that the presidential headquarters is not a party to the litigation pending between Media-Most and Vneshekonombank and "attempts at involving it in a scandal are doomed." Also on 10 November, a federal court ruled that another hearing must be held before Media- Most's assets are seized in its dispute with Vneshekonombank over a $42.2 million debt. JAC U.S. DENIES IT POSTPONED ABM TALKS... U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on 10 November denied that Washington has asked to postpone talks with Russia on the Anti-Ballistic Missile and START treaties. That denial came after Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that discussions scheduled for 16 November have been cancelled at Washington's request. According to Ordzhonikidze, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev were to have met that day, but Reuters quoted an unidentified State Department official as saying the two men never had "firm plans" to meet in Moscow on that date. Ordzhonikidze also took the opportunity to slam Washington's possible plans to set up a limited national defense system. "If the U.S. leaves the ABM Treaty," he said, Russia will not "copy the U.S.'s steps but will take asymmetric measures," according to ITAR-TASS. JC ...WHILE MOSCOW REBUKES U.S. FOR VOTING AGAINST UN RESOLUTION. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin on 10 November slammed the U.S. for voting against a draft UN resolution stressing the importance of preserving the ABM treaty. "We would not like to interpret the fact that the U.S. has voted against this resolution as evidence that the U.S. is not ready to reaffirm its adherence to the ABM treaty," Interfax quoted him as saying. Rakhmanin stressed that Moscow is prepared to continue cooperating with the U.S. in the security sphere, including those areas covered by ABM, "but only on condition that the ABM treaty remains in effect and is strictly complied with." JC U.S. KEEPS UP PRESSURE ON RUSSIAN COMPANIES COOPERATING WITH IRAN. Washington has announced it will continue to impose sanctions on 10 Russian research centers and companies that are assisting Iran with nuclear and missile technology, AFP reported on 10 November. In a report to the Congress, the White House noted that "despite the Russian government's non- proliferation and export control efforts, some Russian entities continued to cooperate with Iran's ballistic missile program and to engage in nuclear cooperation." Washington blacklisted seven Russian companies in summer 1998 and added another three to the list early this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998 and 13 January 1999). JC PRE-ELECTION BONUS PREPARED FOR PENSIONERS. The Russian government announced on 9 November January's pension payments will be made one month early and, starting in February 2000, pensions will be indexed. In addition, certain categories of pensioners, Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of Russia, and recipients of the Order of Glory will start receiving monies in addition to their regular pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, pensions will be paid early in order to avoid any computer problems associated with the transition to the new year. JAC POLICE ACCUSED OF SYSTEMATIC TORTURE. Human Rights Watch issued a report on 10 November alleging that police in Russia routinely torture criminal suspects to extract confessions that in most cases ensure a conviction. At the same time, Diederik Lohman, author of the report, said his group has been unable to find a single case of a judge throwing a confession out of court because it was coerced, according to AP. Research for the report was conducted over two years and is based on the testimony of more than 50 torture victims in Arkhangelsk, Nizhnii Novgorod, Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, and Moscow as well as interviews with lawyers, former police officers, prosecutors, and judges, according to Interfax. Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth told reporters that "the problem is not one or two bad officers," adding that police torture is "epidemic in Russia today." JAC PUTIN WANTS TO GET TOUGH ON ECONOMIC CRIMES. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has outlined the top three priority tasks for the Interior Ministry and other law enforcement agencies: reducing the shadow sector of the economy, combating capital flight, and preventing criminal groups from entering the government, "Vedomosti" reported on 10 November. Commenting on Putin's policy directive, Arkadii Dyurkovich, chairman of the Finance Ministry's Economic Expert Commission, told the daily that the danger exists that "the state will start fighting relatively legal capital outflow by force, while only economic methods are effective against such semi-legal capital exports" that are seeking primarily a less hostile tax environment. At a meeting with Interior Ministry officials on 9 November, Putin declared that if no resolute measures are taken soon, Russia will have a market economy governed by criminals. "To solve the problem, all types of crime must be combated and the regulating role of the state in the economy must be increased," according to Interfax. JAC GOVERNOR SLAMS LUZHKOV PARTY. Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko told reporters on 10 November that he found Fatherland "to be a conglomerate of all kinds of criminal groups. I approached [Moscow Mayor] Yurii Luzhkov and said this was wrong and that something should be done about it," according to Radio Mayak. Gorbenko, who recently switched from the Fatherland-All Russia alliance to the pro-Kremlin movement Unity, is one of the first regional leaders to offer an explanation for his action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). JAC SMOKE GETS IN THEIR SPIES? The headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) caught fire on 11 November and was put out some two hours later. According to Reuters, the fire damaged several rooms in headquarters in which the FSB's predecessor organization, the KGB, operated interrogation and execution cells. An FSB spokesman said that the fire might have been caused by a short circuit or an overheated electrical device, according to Interfax. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SAYS NEW DRAFT MEDIA LAW UNDEMOCRATIC. Meeting on 10 November at the Baku Press Club, representatives of the opposition Democratic Bloc of parliamentary deputies expressed concern that the parliamentary majority ignored most proposed amendments to the draft law on the mass media that is soon to be considered in the third reading, Turan reported. They termed the law as a whole undemocratic and incommensurate with the concept of freedom of speech. Specifically, they argued that the proposed issuing of licenses to media outlets constitutes a form of censorship and that political parties should not be eligible to establish electronic media. They also objected to the provision that empowers courts to close down media outlets for three months. LF AZERABIAJNI POLITICAL PARTIES SIGN NEW STATEMENT ON KARABAKH. Eighteen opposition parties signed a joint statement in Baku on 10 November detailing measures they consider the country's leadership should take with regard to the unresolved Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. Those measures include insisting that Armenia comply with four 1993 UN Security Council resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory. They also want Yerevan to pay compensation for material damage. The statement goes on to demand that the financing and professionalism of the Azerbaijani armed forces be improved. Also on 10 November, the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, which did not sign the joint statement, issued a separate statement calling for a political solution to the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. But it added that such a solution should not be "defeatist" and must not infringe on the country's territorial integrity. LF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER OSCE EFFORT TO RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT. Meeting on 9 November in Baku with the new French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Jean- Jacques Gaillard, Heidar Aliev again accused that body of "inactivity." He added that his ongoing talks with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, do not absolve the OSCE of responsibility for trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. Aliev had made similar criticism during the September visit to the South Caucasus of OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 1999). LF AZERBAIJAN DENIES IT WILL HOST CHECHEN FIGHTERS... Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Kuliev on 10 November rejected as "deliberate disinformation" a Russian Defense Ministry statement issued earlier that day claiming that Chechen fighters plan to relocate the bulk of their forces to Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Presidential Administration official Novruz Mamedov similarly termed that report "absurd," noting that it would be logistically impossible for the Chechens to relocate in such a way. The Russian statement said the Chechens have received permission from Baku to set up camps in Azerbaijan in return for an undertaking to assist Azerbaijan in a new war in Karabakh. It also claimed that the Chechens are considering moving to Turkey. LF ...WHILE GEORGIA SAYS IT WILL NOT TAKE IN CHECHEN GOVERNMENT IN EXILE. Also on 10 November, the Georgian Foreign Ministry officially denied the Russian Defense Ministry claim, which was made in the same statement, that Tbilisi will permit the presence on its territory of some Chechen militants and a Chechen government in exile headed by President Aslan Maskhadov, Caucasus Press reported. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and Defense Minister David Tevzadze both told journalists in Tbilisi that neither they nor any other Georgian officials have ever held talks on the subject with Chechen officials, according to ITAR-TASS. LF TWO GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES AGAIN CLAIM ELECTION OUTCOME FALSIFIED. Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 10 November that he has appealed to the Georgian Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the 31 October parliamentary election results, Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili claims that the Union of Citizens of Georgia, which according to official returns won an absolute majority, "appropriated" 300,000 votes cast for his party. Natelashvili says the Labor Party polled at least 15 percent of the vote, while Central Electoral Commission figures indicate it failed to surmount the 7 percent minimum required for parliamentary representation. The National Democratic Party of Georgia on 10 November similarly refused to accept the official outcome of the vote. It added that while it does not consider falsifications by both the Union of Citizens of Georgia and, in Adjaria, by the Union for Democratic Revival to be the primary cause of the party's failure to gain representation in the new parliament, those infringements nonetheless mirror "the anarchy reigning in the country," according to Caucasus Press. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S NEW GOVERNMENT SWORN IN. Speaking at the 10 November ceremony in Astana at which the new cabinet was sworn in, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the government's primary tasks are ensuring balanced economic development and expediting the reform process, RFE/RL's correspondent in the capital reported. Nazarbaev stressed that no overspending of the budget will be tolerated, adding that "unnecessary expenditures" by the presidential administration and government should be cut. He said foreign investment should be increased, but he noted this should be done by encouraging "solid investors" rather than "dark horses," according to Interfax. Nazarbaev described the struggle against corruption and crime as a further key task. He urged the government "to work as a single team" in a spirit of discipline and mutual understanding. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SLAMS OSCE... Speaking to journalists in Astana after the 10 November ceremony, President Nazarbaev accused the OSCE of indifference to developments in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the North Caucasus, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. (Afghanistan is not an OSCE member.) Nazarbaev suggested that the OSCE is not needed if it "does not care about Asian states." Nazarbaev has long been lobbying for the creation of an Asian equivalent of the OSCE, and two months ago it hosted a conference to discuss that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Nazarbaev again rejected the OSCE's criticism of Kazakhstan's recent parliamentary elections, noting that up to eight candidates contested each mandate. He said the poll constituted a difficult but real step toward democratization, adding that he considers Kazakhstan "the most democratic country in Central Asia." Nazarbaev said the use of "double standards" by any organization is "unacceptable." LF ...WHILE OSCE OFFICIAL REJECTS NAZARBAEV'S CRITICISM. Ulrich Schoening, who heads the OCSE mission in Kazakhstan, told the TV station 31 Channel on 11 November that he considers Nazarbaev's accusation that the OSCE is guilty of double standards unfounded, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Schoening affirmed the OSCE's readiness to continue cooperating with Kazakhstan, adding that he hopes Kazakhstan will not become the first country to leave the organization voluntarily. LF KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULING ON ELECTION LAW. A spokesman for the Ar-Namys party told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 10 November that the party has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on inconsistencies between the country's constitution and the Election Code adopted last year. The Election Code stipulates that only political parties registered with the Ministry of Justice at least one year before parliamentary elections may participate in the poll. The constitution does not contain any such restriction. President Askar Akaev suggested in June that the minimum interval between registration and qualifying for participation in elections should be reduced to six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1999). The Ar-Namys party was founded in July by former Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov and registered one month later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 1999). The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 2000. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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