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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 222, Part I, 15 November 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 222, Part I, 15 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 RECONFIRMS PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS * YELTSIN VOWS NOT TO HALT WAR IN CHECHNYA * ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON NEW CABINET xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA PUTIN RECONFIRMS PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS... Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 12 November confirmed his earlier declared plans to seek presidential office in June 2000 elections. His announcement elicited support from leaders of smaller political parties, some of which are linked to the Kremlin. For example, Aleksandr Gurov, one of the leaders of the pro- Kremlin interregional movement Unity (Edinstvo) said that Putin's candidacy offers "a historic chance to elect a less politicized person who will reconcile diametrically opposed parties and movements in society." Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the party he leads, Our Home Is Russia, may back Putin's presidential bid in 2000 elections, but its leaders will make up its mind after the upcoming State Duma elections. "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which receives financial support from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ, wrote on 13 November that Putin is "practically guaranteed" the support of the army. According to military analyst Aleksandr Pikaev, Putin "has turned to the military and security services for support" since he is limited in his political base and does not have the Kremlin's full backing, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 November. JAC ...WINS YELTSIN'S BLESSING. On 14 November, President Boris Yeltsin, who many have predicted is planning to dismiss Putin soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999), declared that Putin "is the most acceptable [presidential] candidate for Russia." He added, "Just look at his moves, they are so logical, clever and strong." Putin told Russian Television the same day that if President Yeltsin decides not to go to Istanbul to attend the upcoming OSCE summit, he will himself represent Russia. However, on 15 November, Yeltsin said that he will attend the 18 November summit. He also declared that "there can be no question of dismissing" Putin. JAC YELTSIN VOWS NOT TO HALT WAR IN CHECHNYA. President Yeltsin told journalists at the Kremlin on 15 November that Moscow will not yield to Western criticism of its military tactics in Chechnya, and will continue military operations there "as long as a single terrorist remains on our territory," AP reported. He added that the West has no right to criticize Russia for taking action against "murderers who decapitate their victims." Meanwhile, Russia stepped up air raids and artillery bombardment of the towns of Grozny, Urus Martan, Bamut, Samashki, and Gekhi on 12-14 November, while ground forces consolidated their control over the town of Gudermes. Reuters on 13 November quoted Gekhi residents as saying the bombardment was worse than anything they had experienced during the 1994-1996 war. LF U.S. DENIES PROMOTING INSTABILITY IN NORTH CAUCASUS. Addressing military officers in Moscow on 12 November, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that it is in the interests of the U.S. to keep the conflicts in the North Caucasus "constantly smoldering," AP reported. Sergeev said such a strategy could result in the weakening of Russia and the extension of full U.S. control over the North Caucasus. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington the same day that the U.S. finds Sergeev's accusations "hard to understand." Rubin said the U.S. recognizes "Russia's right to protect itself and its civilians." He added that neither Russia, the U.S., nor neighboring states benefit from instability in the North Caucasus, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. LF FORMER GROZNY MAYOR TO HEAD CHECHEN VOLUNTEER FORCE. Following an overnight session of the pro-Russian Chechen parliament held in Moscow on 11-12 November, Malik Saidullaev voluntarily stepped down as chairman of the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council (government) in favor of former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, Russian agencies reported. Saidullaev had been elected State Council chairman last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1999). But in an interview with NTV on 13 November, Gantemirov denied that he would assume the duties of head of government. He said he intends to return to Chechnya before the end of November to head a Chechen volunteer force that will fight side by side with Russian troops. He added that he will accept an official position in Chechnya only if asked to do so by the Chechen population. LF CHECHEN PRESIDENT AGAIN AFFIRMS READINESS FOR PEACE TALKS... In an address to a meeting of Chechen exiles in Moscow on 12 November, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov again expressed his willingness to embark on peace talks with Moscow and to undertake joint measures to combat terrorism, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Maskhadov again condemned the terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow, stressing that Chechens were not responsible for them. He also condemned "the aggression of Wahhabis" against Daghestan. He added that those attacks were undertaken at Moscow's instigation in order to create a pretext for Russian military retaliation against Chechnya. LF ...BUT SHABDURASULOV SAYS HE IS NOT THE LOGICAL PARTNER. Speaking in Moscow on 12 November, First Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Igor Shabdurasulov again said "it does not make sense" to conduct peace talks with Maskhadov, Interfax reported. Shabdurasulov had said at a press conference the previous day that Maskhadov does not control the situation in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). Shabdurasulov said Moscow is ready for talks with Chechen representatives once the Chechen factions reach agreement among themselves. He named Saidullaev and Gantemirov as possible interlocutors. LF KOSHMAN SAYS NO NEED TO REBUILD GROZNY. Nikolai Koshman, who served as pro-Moscow Chechen premier in 1996 and was named Russia's representative to Chechnya last month, said on 12 November that he sees no point in rebuilding Grozny and that Gudermes should be designated the capital of Chechnya, ITAR- TASS reported. In 1996, Koshman had criticized the Chechen assault on Grozny, terming it "a second Carthage" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 42, 21 October 1999). Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Ekho Moskvy on 13 November he supports the proposal to make Gudermes the capital of Chechnya. LF RUSSIA DENIES USING CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN CHECHNYA. In an exclusive interview with ITAR-TASS on 15 November, a senior commander with Russia's Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Troops denied that Russia is using chemical weapons in Chechnya. He said reports that Russia is doing so are intended to pressure the Russian leadership in the runup to the OSCE Istanbul summit. He added there are no facilities in the North Caucasus for storing such weapons. LF TAX WINDFALL LIKELY TO GO TOWARD CHECHEN OPERATION COSTS... Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 11 November outlined how 85 billion rubles ($3.2 billion) of unexpected, additional tax revenues this year will be distributed, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. Twenty billion rubles will be spent to cover the initial budget surplus and 15 billion rubles to index budget payments made in hard currency, while 18 billion rubles will go to regions and the remaining 32 billion rubles will be split among the army, coal miners, northern regions, and state-sector employees. The newspaper suggests that much of the 32 billion rubles is likely to go to the army in order to cover the cost of the Chechen campaign, which, according to "classified government documents," had cost 12-30 billion rubles a month ago. However, the official justification for transferring the money will be to cover the almost 50 billion rubles owed to the Defense Ministry in unpaid wages. JAC ...AS LAW SUIT CALLS FOR LESS DISCRETION WITH BUDGET SPENDING. Also on 11 November, "The Moscow Times" reported that State Duma deputy Sergei Popov recently won a ruling in a St. Petersburg court that the federal Finance Ministry illegally under-funded local projects. Popov is demanding that the Finance Ministry fulfill the letter of the budget law, which requires that any reductions in expenditure arising from revenue shortfalls be applied across the board proportionally. In practice, the ministry decides which budget items to fund at the whim of the president or prime minister or based on its own discretion when revenue falls short, United Financial Group analyst Aleksei Zabotkin told the daily. The ministry is appealing the decision, and the lawsuit is likely to take years to be completed. JAC TAX REVENUES TO GO HIGHER AND HIGHER? The Tax Ministry announced on 12 November that tax collection was up by 72 percent during the first nine months of 1999, compared with the same period last year, according to Interfax. According to "Izvestiya" on 11 November, the ministry collected in cash 36 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) in October, compared with 20.46 billion rubles projected in the budget. The transport sector provided the highest proportion of tax receipts in October, followed by the fuel and energy complex. On 10 November, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said his ministry is already ahead in terms of tax collection in November. On 13 November, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" suggested that the "euphoria" over tax collection is unjustified and that budget-funded programs have received only 50 percent of their funding JAC SUPREME COURT OVERRULES ELECTION COMMISSION... The Russian Supreme Court ruled that the Central Election Commission's decision to bar the Russian Conservative Party of Entrepreneurs (RKPP) from next month's Duma elections was invalid, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1999). According to the court, the commission's refusal to register the party because its number two candidate, singer Yurii Antonov, failed to declare all of his 1998 income was invalid. According to "Segodnya" on 13 November, the court declared that the commission had a right to reject Antonov but not the RKPP. The commission will appeal the ruling to the Appeals Collegium of the Supreme Court which is expected to make a decision in five days. JAC ...AS ZHIRINOVSKII MAY GET A THIRD CHANCE. If the collegium upholds the decision, then the election commission will not only have to register the RKPP but will also have to reconsider its rejection of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1999). The commission refused to register that party's list because of problems with its number two candidate, Krasnoyarsk Aluminum chief Anatolii Bykov. According to "Segodnya," the commission will face the difficult choice of either registering LDPR, the bulk of whose candidates are now members of the registered Zhirinovskii's Bloc or facing the prospect of lawsuits from those LDPR candidates who did not make it into Zhirinovskii's Bloc and are consequently unable to run for a seat in the Duma. JAC IVANOV SAYS REVISED CFE TREATY SIGNING DEPENDS ON GEORGIA, MOLDOVA. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Helsinki on 12 November that Moscow is willing to reduce its military strength in Georgia and Moldova in order to decrease its presence in the Caucasus and thereby meet the ceilings of a revised Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. "We are hopeful that Tbilisi and Chisinau will show a constructive approach and we can agree on outstanding points," Reuters quoted Ivanov as saying. He did not specify what those outstanding points are. Earlier the same day, Moscow had announced it will start withdrawing military hardware from the Transdniester region (see Part II). Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Georgian Defense Ministry told Caucasus Press that under the revised conventional arms treaty, Georgia is allowed to have 220 tanks, 220 armored carriers, 50 helicopters, and more than 120 artillery pieces. He noted that Russian hardware stationed in Georgia currently accounts for half of that quota. JC MOSCOW PLANNING TO FLY LONG-RANGE BOMBERS TO CUBA, VIETNAM? Mikhail Oparin, the head of Russia's long-range aviation forces, is quoted in the latest issue (No. 44) of the weekly publication "Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie" as saying Moscow plans to fly long-range bombers to Cuba and Vietnam next year. Speaking to Reuters on 12 November, Russian air force spokesman Nikolai Baranov commented that "if the government considers it essential to do this, the military will do it." Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, however, expressed surprise at the report, telling journalists in Havana that "it's really the first time I have heard anything like this." U.S. officials, meanwhile, played down the reports and emphasized there were no official statements from Moscow on the matter. Russian long-range bombers have not flown to Cuba for nearly a decade. Earlier this year, two TU-95 Bear bombers were intercepted by U.S. planes off the coast of Iceland but remained in international air space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 1999). JC U.S. CUTS FUNDING FOR RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SCIENTISTS. "The Washington Post" reported on 13 November that as a result of a sharp cut in funding, the U.S. Department of Energy will have to limit the so-called Nuclear Cities Initiative to one Russian nuclear city--namely Sarov, which was earlier called Arzamas-16. Launched last year, the initiative originally targeted three nuclear cities and was aimed at ensuring employment for Russian nuclear scientists in civilian jobs. The newspaper noted that the funding cut came after a report said U.S. funds appeared to be going to Russian scientists who were still working on weapons programs. JC MOSCOW PROTESTS JOURNALIST BEATINGS IN LONDON. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 14 November protested the beatings of four Russian television journalists who were filming a 12 November meeting in London to raise money for Chechen forces fighting against Russian troops. Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin was quoted by Interfax as saying that footage shown on Russian Public Television and NTV suggests that the British law enforcement officials "remained absolutely idle" while members of the mostly Muslim crowd attacked the journalists. The British authorities have denied the allegations of police inactivity and pointed out that none of the journalists has pressed charges or was seriously injured. JC CHERKESS, ABAZINS LAUNCH NEW PROTEST. Representatives of the Cherkess and Abazin ethnic minorities have begun a new picket on the central square in Cherkessk, capital of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, to demand the creation of a separate Cherkess autonomous formation, Caucasus Press reported on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). They also plan to adopt a resolution calling for a boycott of the December elections to a new republican parliament. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON NEW CABINET. Following consultations and overnight talks on 12-13 November, President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Aram Sargsian agreed on the composition of the new cabinet, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 November. Sargsian endorsed Kocharian's choice of two career police officials, First Deputy Interior Minister Haik Harutiunian and Karlos Petrosian, to head the Interior and National Security Ministries, while in return Kocharian agreed to Minister for Industrial Infrastructures Vahan Shirkhanian's retaining his post. Shirkhanian is believed to have been behind a 28 October demand by senior Defense Ministry officials for the sacking of the interior and national security ministers and of the prosecutor-general. The only other new cabinet appointee is Karen Jshmaritian, who replaces Hayk Gevorgian as industry and trade minister. LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO TURKMENISTAN. The presidential administration announced on 12 November that a visit by President Kocharian to Turkmenistan scheduled for 15-16 November has been postponed, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement noted that Kocharian was to have been accompanied by several government ministers, whose candidacies had not yet been officially confirmed at that time. LF YELTSIN DISCUSSES KARABAKH WITH ARMENIA, AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPARTS. Russian President Boris Yeltsin telephoned with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Kocharian and Heidar Aliev, on 12 November, Russian agencies reported. Yeltsin and Kocharian discussed bilateral relations, issues related to the latter's 5 November visit to Moscow, and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Interfax. Yeltsin also assured Aliev of Russia's readiness "to help in every way" to reach a mutually satisfactory solution to that conflict. A spokesman for the Azerbaijani presidential press service said that other topics discussed included the upcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul and Russia's proposed introduction of a "temporary" visa regime for Azerbaijanis wishing to cross the frontier into the Russian Federation. Aliev expressed understanding for that decision, while noting the difficulties it creates for Azerbaijani citizens, according to ITAR-TASS. LF GEORGIA HOLDS RUNOFF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. Runoff elections took place on 14 November in 24 Georgian constituencies where no candidate obtained the required majority in the 31 October parliamentary poll. Reuters and dpa quoted Central Electoral Commission officials as stating that the voting proceeded without incident. But Caucasus Press reported on 15 November that shooting broke out in Nadzaladevi when an independent candidate who was leading the poll tried to prevent falsification of the vote count aimed at benefiting his rival from the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK). The SMK already has a clear majority in the 235-mandate parliament. LF UN CALLS ON GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA TO DEMONSTRATE COMMITMENT TO PEACE PROCESS. In a 12 November statement, the UN Security Council called on the leaders of Georgia and Abkhazia to resume regular contacts with an aim to resolving the breakaway region's status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government and expediting the return of displaced persons, Reuters and AP reported. The statement stressed that such a comprehensive settlement must respect Georgia's territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. LF GEORGIA STEPS UP INTERNAL SECURITY... Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 November that the Georgian authorities have increased security measures for top officials and for strategic facilities such as the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline, Interfax reported. He said those measures were prompted by an intensification of military activity at Russian military bases in Georgia, particularly the reported arrival at the Vaziani base near Tbilisi of Federal Security Service Alpha troops. Parliament Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia said that Alpha troops had been sent to Georgia to carry out sabotage assignments and the assassination of top officials. Defense Minister David Tevzadze said that the Russian troop activity could reflect Russian plans to increase its military presence in Chechnya, according to Interfax. But an FSB spokesman on 13 November denied any Alpha force had been sent to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF ...EXPRESSES SURPRISE THAT RUSSIA IMPOUNDED UNIFORMS. Georgian Defense Minister Tevzadze and President Eduard Shevardnadze on 12 November both professed to be puzzled over the confiscation by Russian customs officials the previous day of a consignment of military uniforms donated by the U.S. for the Georgian armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. Tevzadze termed the incident "a misunderstanding." Shevardnadze denied that either the consignment contained arms or explosives or it was to be sent from Georgia to Chechnya, according to Interfax. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER OUTLINES THREE-YEAR PROGRAM. Qasymzhomart Toqaev on 12 November submitted to a joint session of both chambers of the parliament his cabinet's economic program for the period 2000-2002, Interfax reported. He said that by 2002 the government is aiming to increase GDP by 10-12 percent compared with 1999, to cut inflation to 4-5 percent, and reduce the budget deficit to 1.2 percent of GDP. Unemployment is to be brought down from the current 13 percent to 8 percent of the able-bodied population. Toqaev also called for a "serious reform" of budget policy, the liberalization of foreign trade, and cuts in customs duties. He also announced that measures will be taken to legalize the shadow economy which accounts for an estimated 25 percent of GDP, mostly generated by small businesses. LF KAZAKHSTAN DENIES PLANS TO MANUFACTURE CHEMICAL WEAPONS. Kazakhstan's National Security Committee spokesman Kenzhebulat Beknazarov told Interfax on 12 November that the country does not intend to begin production of either chemical or biological weapons. Speaking in Washington two days earlier, former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin had said that Kazakhstan might use funds allocated by the West for other purposes in order to produce such weapons. LF INTERNET PROVIDER DENIES BLOCKING ACCESS TO KAZAKH OPPOSITION WEBSITE. In a statement made available to "RFE/RL Newsline," the Internet provider Nursat, which is the largest in Kazakhstan, has formally denied blocking access to the Eurasia Website maintained by the Kazakh political opposition. It also affirmed that it neither condones nor supports any Internet "censorship". Internews's office in Kazakhstan last week quoted an unnamed Nursat technician as saying that access to the Eurasia site would be impossible for an indefinite period for "technical reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). LF TYPHOID OUTBREAK IN KAZAKHSTAN. Twenty-three people have been hospitalized with suspected typhoid in Almaty over the past three weeks, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. The previous day, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported that police have begun confiscating milk samples from non- registered traders from rural areas who sell milk on the streets in Almaty. It is unclear if contaminated milk is suspected to be the source of the outbreak. LF KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT, FINANCE MINISTER AT ODDS OVER MINIMUM WAGE. Finance Minister Sultan Mederov outlined the main parameters of the 2000 draft budget to parliamentary deputies on 11 November, Interfax reported. Revenues are set at 10.6 billion soms ($200 million) and spending at 11.7 billion soms, while GDP will total 53.3 billion soms. Agricultural production is expected to grow by 5 percent and industrial output by 1 percent. The government will also earmark $83.6 million toward paying the country's foreign debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1999). Mederov said defense spending will be increased by 46.6 percent. But when the debate resumed on 12 November, he rejected as not feasible a demand by deputies to raise the minimum monthly wage from 100 to 150 soms and to increase salaries for doctors and teachers, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF UN EXTENDS MANDATE OF OBSERVERS IN TAJIKISTAN. The UN Security Council on 12 November unanimously approved Secretary General Kofi Annan's request for the extension for a further six months of the mandate of the observer force deployed in Tajikistan, Reuters and AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). Those observers will monitor preparations for the parliamentary elections scheduled for February. LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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