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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 221, Part I, 12 November 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 221, Part I, 12 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 * PUTIN SAYS RUSSIAN FORCES CONSOLIDATING CONTROL OF GUDERMES * ELECTION COMMISSION TO CONTINUE EFFORT TO REIN IN PRESS * ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS SUPPORT OVER CABINET STANDOFF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PUTIN SAYS RUSSIAN FORCES CONSOLIDATING CONTROL OF GUDERMES. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on 12 November that the Russian flag is now flying over Gudermes, the second-largest town in Chechnya. Federal forces launched an all-out attack on the town early that day after a two-week siege. It is unclear whether Chechen fighters sought to defend the town or withdrew. There have been reports of disaffection among the town's population, and Interfax on 11 November reported that Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev, who commands the Russian forces' eastern front, was holding talks with the town's elders (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 45, 11 November 1999). Meanwhile the village of Bamut, southwest of Grozny, has been subjected to repeated intensive air and artillery strikes in the last few days, but Russian Defense Ministry spokesmen on 11 November declined to confirm that it has fallen to Russian forces. LF SERGEEV SAYS WAR MAY END THIS YEAR. Speaking in Moscow on 11 November, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said there is a chance that the war in Chechnya may be over by the end of this year, Interfax reported. Sergeev rejected Rusian media reports of serious disagreements within the Russian military over tactics in Chechnya. The first deputy chief of the presidential administration, Igor Shabdurasulov, similarly told a press conference at Interfax's head office on 11 November that there are no differences over Chechnya between the presidential administration, the government, and the power ministers. But Shabdurasulov did admit that Russian forces in Chechnya have made occasional "mistakes," for which, Shabdurasulov said, "we bear moral responsibility." A representative of the pro-Moscow Chechen community, Dzhabrail Gakaev, told the same press conference that he has evidence of accidental Russian bombing of fleeing Chechen civilians. LF RUSSIAN CIVILIAN LEADERSHIP STATE TERMS FOR CHECHEN TALKS... Shabdurasulov said at his 11 November press conference at Interfax that Moscow will negotiate a political settlement in Chechnya on two conditions: that Chechnya remains part of the Russian Federation and complies with its laws. He said that the Russian leadership has always maintained that the Chechen crisis cannot be resolved solely by the use of force, but he added that Russia has been compelled to resort to military means by "Chechen militants and international terrorist organizations." Shabdurasulov added that there is no point in holding talks with "warlords" Shamil Basaev and Khattab, or with Aslan Maskhadov as the Chechen president does not control the situation in Chechnya. He referred to Maskhadov, however, as the "legitimate president" of Chechnya. In early October, Russian officials had denied that Maskhadov was the legitimate president. Shabdurasulov called for the "consolidation" of the Chechen people as a precondition for their search for a solution to the present situation. LF ...AS DOES MILITARY. First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov said in Moscow on 11 November that the Russian military is ready to participate in peace talks with "constructive forces that are capable of bringing Chechnya back into the democratic world," Interfax reported. Manilov also denied that the Russian military plans to storm Bamut (see above), adding that control over the village will be secured by "modern remote control means aimed at eliminating the bandits." He did not elaborate. LF OSCE CHAIRMAN SAYS MOSCOW REJECTED OFFER OF MEDIATION. OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek said in Helsinki on 12 November that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov rejected an offer of OSCE assistance in resolving the Chechen conflict, Reuters reported. Vollebaek quoted Ivanov as saying that "he does not see a political role for the OSCE at this stage." Speaking in Moscow the previous day, OSCE official Kim Traavik again called for "serious measures" to assist Chechen displaced persons in camps in Ingushetia. LF CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES PLANS FOR GOVERNMENT, ARMY IN EXILE. The Chechen leadership has no plans to leave Grozny and form a government in exile, Kazbek Makhashev told Caucasus Press on 11 November. The Russian Defense Ministry had released a statement the previous day claiming that the Chechen leadership is planning to set up a government in exile headed by President Aslan Maskhadov in Georgia and to move its armed formations to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani and Georgian officials have rejected the Russian claims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). LF ELECTION COMMISSION TO CONTINUE EFFORT TO REIN IN PRESS... At a meeting with radio and television executives on 11 November, Central Election Commission Aleksandr Veshnyakov said he will submit to the State Duma amendments to the election law that would severely limit journalists' coverage of candidates and parties, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. According to the daily, Veshnyakov said that voters would be provided with sufficient information about candidates via a special issue of the government newspaper, "Rossiiskaya gazeta." Among other things, that issue would contain information on property owned by all candidates. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin indicated earlier that he had found that even in its current version, the election law contradicts the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 3 November 1999). JAC. ...WHILE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT MAY BE DRAWN INTO DISPUTE. However, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 November that Veshnyakov and Media Minister Lesin have reportedly agreed on a method for resolving disputes between the two bodies in instances where the former tries to prevent the press from violating the election law. According to the daily, the commission will refer all violations by the media to the ministry, and if the ministry agrees violations have been committed, it will sanction the media outlet. If it does not, the commission may then appeal to the Constitutional Court. Veshnyakov said that applying the mechanism in practice will not be simple since little time remains before the Duma elections on 19 December. JAC GOVERNMENT OUTLINES FOREIGN BORROWING PROGRAM... Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 11 November announced that the government has approved a plan for foreign borrowings totaling about $5.9 billion, according to Interfax. He added that Russia does not plan to issue any more Eurobonds before 2001 and that if the government is short of money to repay foreign debts in December, it will borrow from domestic resources. The next round of talks between the Russian government and its London Club creditors is planned for 16 November, while a meeting with the Paris Club creditors is to take place before the end of the year. JAC ...AS ECONOMISTS COMMENT ON DEBT-SERVICING PROSPECTS. In an interview with "Vek" last month, economist Andrei Illarionov said that it is a myth that Russia does not have enough money to pay its foreign debts. Russia's foreign debt repayments this year will amount to only 9.6 percent of GDP, compared with 88.4 percent in Brazil and 33.4 percent in Canada. He added that this year's positive trade balance of $30 billion gives the country at least $20 billion to spend on servicing foreign debts. With regard to next year, former First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said on 3 November that Russia can theoretically pay its foreign debt in 2000 without borrowing more on international markets. However, he added, this would deplete the Central Bank's gold and foreign currency reserves and dramatically increase the money supply, causing the country's financial situation to deteriorate, according to Interfax. JAC IVANOV SAYS MOSCOW TO PUSH FOR REVISED CFE TREATY. Speaking in Helsinki on 11 November, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told reporters that Moscow "will do all" it can to ensure that a new treaty on controlling conventional forces in Europe is ready by the 19 November OSCE summit in Istanbul, according to Reuters. Ivanov was quoted as saying that the treaty is "important for the future security of Europe and Russia." Meanwhile, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vienna reported on 11 November that diplomats negotiating the revised CFE treaty have failed to meet a deadline for completing that document. Unnamed officials in Vienna told RFE/RL that the main problem continues to be the Russian offensive in Chechyna. They said that Russia has "shown no willingness to meet the treaty demands now, arguing that it will do so when the Chechnya conflict ends." Moscow currently has more forces in the region than is allowed under the treaty. JC FEDERATION COUNCIL APPEALS TO U.S. SENATE OVER TEST BAN, ABM. The upper house of the Russian parliament on 11 November adopted an appeal to the U.S. Senate expressing "concern" that the latter body failed to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, thereby posing a threat to the "world process of nuclear non-proliferation," Russian agencies reported. The Federation Council also urged U.S. Senators to thwart any attempts to "disrupt" the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty. Revising the basic provisions of that treaty, Council members argued, will "inevitably bring back the Cold War times and threaten the entire system of international nuclear arms control agreements." Also on 11 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin announced that the next round of Russian-U.S. disarmament talks at expert level is likely to begin in two or three weeks. That announcement follows a Russian claim that the U.S. requested to postpone talks allegedly scheduled for next week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). JC KVASHNIN DECLINES TO GO TO BRUSSELS. Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Anatolii Kvashnin has refused an invitation to attend a semi-annual meeting at NATO headquarters of the chiefs of staff of the alliance and partner states, Reuters reported on 11 November. A NATO official said Kvashnin gave no reason for his refusal. The news agency cited diplomatic sources as remarking that Kvashnin's move shows that the Russians "are simply not interested at this time" in resuming a dialogue aimed at bringing Russia into the "European security family." JC CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CONSIDERS SKURATOV CASE... The Constitutional Court on 11 November opened hearings on the case of suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov. A final decision on whether President Yeltsin has the right to suspend Skuratov without first consulting with the Federation Council is not expected for several days, according to "Trud" on 12 November. Legal experts do not expect the court to pass a resolution vesting the upper legislative chamber with the sole power to suspend the prosecutor-general, ITAR-TASS reported. They believe that the court will decide either that both the president and the Federation Council have the power to order the prosecutor-general's suspension or that the president's earlier decree regarding Skuratov does not infringe on the competence of the court and therefore is not an issue that the court should consider. JAC ...RULES ON DUMA DISSOLUTION. Also on 11 November, the court ruled that if the president decides to dissolve the Duma, the lower house's mandate expires as soon as a dissolution decree is signed, ITAR-TASS reported. The court was responding to an enquiry filed in February, by some Duma deputies who posited that the powers of the lower legislative body expire only when a newly elected Duma assumes office. JAC POLICE UNCOVER MORE CASES OF BRIBERY. Moscow city police investigated 17 percent more cases of bribery among city officials in the first half of 1999, compared with the same period last year, according to ITAR-TASS on 11 November. According to the agency, the number of people convicted for abusing their official position increased two-fold. Last month, Transparency International, a corruption watchdog organization, released its new corruption perceptions index, in which Russia ranked 82 out of a possible 99. Denmark ranked number one, indicating that it has the lowest level of perceived corruption (see http://www.transparency.de/documents/cpi/index.html). JAC CHERKESS, ABAZINS PRESS DEMAND FOR SEPARATE AUTONOMOUS FORMATION. Leaders of the Cherkess and Abazin minorities, which together account for only some 15 percent of the population of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, have drafted a legal document providing for the separation of Cherkessia from that republic and its upgrading to the status of a separate autonomous formation, Caucasus Press reported on 11 November, quoting Cherkess activist Boris Akbashev. The Cherkess and Abazins rejected the compromise agreement concluded last month between the republic's President Vladimir Semenov and defeated Cherkess presidential candidate Stanislav Derev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). Meanwhile, Prime Minister Putin has formed a government commission, which is headed by his first deputy, Nikolai Aksenenko, to take measures to stabilize the situation in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 November. LF GAS SHORTAGE HITS RESIDENTS, TROOPS IN MURMANSK. Some 30,000 families in Murmansk Oblast are unable to use their gas stoves after the northern region failed to receive a shipment of liquefied gas, ITAR-TASS and "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 and 12 November, respectively. Deputy Governor Valentin Luntsevich pointed out that as temperatures continue to sink, those families may be deprived not just of hot meals but of heating, too, since some people light their stoves to make up for inadequate heating systems. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 November that barracks of the Northern Fleet are also affected by the gas shortage in the region. Local officials blame the shortfall on the fact that gas producers earn significantly more by exporting abroad. Meanwhile, shipments are reported to be on their way to Murmansk but are sufficient only to alleviate the situation for several days. JC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS SUPPORT OVER CABINET STANDOFF. In an attempt to resolve the ongoing dispute over the composition of the new cabinet, Robert Kocharian met on 10-11 November with political parties, including the Miasnutyun majority parliamentary faction, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). Kocharian reportedly received the unequivocal backing of only the nationalist Right and Accord Bloc and the center-right Orinats Yerkir party. Other parties, including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun, which had backed Kocharian's 1998 presidential bid, called for compromises by both Kocharian and newly appointed Prime Minister Aram Sargsian. LF ARMENIAN PREMIER PROMISES CONTINUITY. Meeting on 10 November with the heads of parliamentary committees and factions, Sargsian pledged to continue the programs and policies of his murdered brother and predecessor, Vazgen, Noyan Tapan reported. He said those policies are "of vital importance" for Armenia's future. In particular, Sargsian undertook to abide by the agreements his brother reached in late September with the IMF. He also ruled out tax increases in the next four years, saying he will simplify the tax system. Sargsian noted the "stabilizing" role played by the military immediately following the 27 October parliament killings but added that political institutions must be strong enough to prevent the army from assuming a political role. He also noted the need for a state security concept, the lack of which, he said, had facilitated the parliament shootings. LF PROMINENT ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR NEW ELECTIONS. National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian told journalists in Yerevan on 11 November that he believes new presidential and parliamentary elections should be held as soon as the political situation has stabilized in the wake of the 27 October shootings. He argued that those elections are necessary to restore legitimacy to the country's leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. While describing Aram Sargsian as "a clever and balanced person," Manukian added that those characteristics are not enough to qualify him for the position of premier and that he considers Sargsian's appointment to that post unwise. LF MORE AZERBAIJANI GROUPS WARN AGAINST SIGNING KARABAKH PEACE AGREEMENT... Former residents of Shusha, which was the largest Azerbaijani-inhabited town in Nagorno-Karabakh until the Azerbaijani population fled in May 1992, have issued a statement affirming that "a fair struggle is better than an infamous peace" and vowing to fight "those who are ready to yield even an inch of Azerbaijani land to the aggressors," Turan reported on 11 November. The statement expressed concern at the Azerbaijani authorities' refusal to make public details of the Karabakh peace process. The same day, Turan also quoted National Statehood Party leader Nemat Panahov as predicting that the present Azerbaijani leadership might be overthrown if it signs a Karabakh peace agreement that violates national interests. LF ...WHILE AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP SAYS NO SUCH AGREEMENT IMMINENT. Meeting on 10 November with a group of Azerbaijani writers, President Heidar Aliev said no formal Karabakh peace agreement will be signed at the upcoming OSCE Istanbul summit, but "only a joint declaration on common principles" of a settlement, Turan reported on 11 November. Foreign Minister Vilayat Kuliev has also denied that Aliev and his Armenian counterpart, Kocharian, will sign a "serious" document in Istanbul, the independent daily "Azadlyg" reported on 11 November. LF GEORGIAN TRADE UNIONS ANNOUNCE PLANS FOR LARGE-SCALE PROTESTS. Irakli Tughushi, chairman of Georgia's United Trade Unions, told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 November that his members are planning large-scale actions to protest the chronic non-payment of pensions and wages to state employees, Caucasus Press reported. Tughushi said that wage arrears totals 127 million lari (approximately $65 million) and pensions arrears 88 million lari. The Georgian leadership had received in August a $32.5 million IMF loan tranche to pay off at least part of the backlog prior to the 31 October parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 35, 2 September 1999). Also on 11 November, the newspaper "Alia" reported that more than 100 teachers at technical colleges plan a strike and a picket of the Ministry of Finance to demand that the Ministry of Education pay their salaries for the past eight to 10 months. LF GEORGIAN ECONOMY MINISTRY DRAFTS ANTI-CORRUPTION PROGRAM. In response to President Eduard Shevardnadze's call for a radical effort to stamp out corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1999), Georgia's Economy Ministry has drawn up a two-year program of measures to target the shadow economy, Caucasus Press reported on 12 November. Those measures include improved legislation, regulation of fiscal policy, expediting privatization, and the creation of a network of regional groups to target corruption. LF KAZAKH, ROMANIAN PRESIDENTS ASSESS BILATERAL RELATIONS. Nursultan Nazarbaev met with his visiting Romanian counterpart Emil Constantinescu in Astana on 11 November, Interfax reported. Speaking at a press conference after those talks, Nazarbaev noted with satisfaction a "quantum leap" in bilateral relations since his visit to Romania in September 1998, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. In that time, Nazarbaev noted, trade turnover between the two countries rose from zero to $30 million. Nazarbaev pledged to revive traditional economic partnership with East European countries founded in socialist era. The two presidents focused on the options available for increasing the transportation of Kazakh oil to Romanian refineries at Constanza, according to Asia Plus Blitz, citing Nazarbaev's press service. Those options include the Caspian Pipeline from Tengiz to Novorossiisk and by tanker via the Volga-Don canal and the Black Sea. LF KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES FOREIGN DEBT BURDEN. Urkalyi Isaev, who is chairman of the State Committee on Foreign Investment, told the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 10 November that the country's foreign debt currently totals $1.37 billion, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Isaev admitted that some loans received in the early 1990s were stolen and others totaling $379 million were agreed at a very high interest rate. Last month, ITAR-TASS quoted the Kyrgyz Finance Ministry as saying that in 2000 the country must repay $83.6 million, of which $30 million is owed to Russia and Turkey. LF JAILED OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS RELEASED IN TAJIKISTAN. The Tajik authorities on 10 November released 18 supporters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) who had been imprisoned for their role in the 1992-1997 civil war, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting UTO spokesman Khikmatullo Saifullozoda. The 18 men are the last on a list of 93 whose release had been provided for under the terms of the 1997 peace agreement ending the civil war. Saifullozoda, however, did not exclude the possibility that other opposition supporters may still be in prison. The release of the 18 men was part of an agreement concluded on 5 November between UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri and President Imomali Rakhmonov. LF PROMINENT TAJIK OPPOSITION POLITICIAN TERMS PRESIDENTIAL POLL 'FREE AND DEMOCRATIC.' In a statement that underscores nascent disagreement within the UTO, one of that organization's leaders, First Deputy Premier Khodji Akbar Turadjonzoda, told journalists in Dushanbe on 12 November that he considers the 6 November presidential poll to have been free and democratic, Asia Pluz-Blitz reported. The incumbent, Rakhmonov, was reelected by an overwhelming majority in that vote. Turadjonzoda accused opposition Islamic Renaissance Party candidate Davlat Usmon of playing "political games" that could have seriously destabilized the political situation in Tajikistan. Stressing that his differences with other UTO leaders are political, not personal, Turadjonzoda appealed to his supporters to back the policies of the country's present leadership. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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