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Newsline - July 19, 1996

A Chechen field commander claiming to be Salman Raduev, who commanded the Kizlyar/Pervomaiskoye hostage taking in January of this year and was reported to have been killed in a March shootout with rivals, gave a news conference in Gudermes on 18 July, ITAR-TASS and Western agencies reported. Raduev said he had undergone plastic surgery in Germany after being seriously wounded by Russian troops. Raduev also claimed that Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev, who was reported to have been killed in a rocket attack on 21 April, is still alive. -- Liz Fuller

Chechen press spokesman Movladi Udugov stated on 18 July that a group of field commanders had recently discussed possible options for strikes against Russian troops but decided to refrain from further full-scale military operations although they reserve the right to respond to "provocations," Ekho Moskvy and Reuters reported. Udugov called on the Russian government to honor the commitments signed in Moscow on 27 May and Nazran on 10 June, and added that the OSCE's role be upgraded from observer to "guarantor" of those agreements, according to Reuters. OSCE mission head Tim Guldimann was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying that he continued to maintain contact with both the Russian leadership and the Chechen separatist forces, but he was not optimistic that peace talks would be resumed. -- Liz Fuller

Formally presenting Igor Rodionov to senior generals on 18 July, President Boris Yeltsin called on the new defense minister to crack down on corruption among military officers, Russian and Western agencies reported. Dwelling on the "moral climate" in the army, he said "the officer corps is being corroded by corruption as if by rust." Rodionov said he intended to take up Yeltsin's challenge, arguing that the authority of the army depends on it. Military corruption has reemerged as a major issue following the sacking of Pavel Grachev, who has been accused of surrounding himself with "spongers" and "thieves." Rodionov, who is close to anti-corruption heavyweight Aleksandr Lebed, has the reputation of being incorruptible. Previous corruption campaigns in state bodies have, however, had little success. -- Penny Morvant

Declaring that "profound military reform" is needed to create a professional army, Yeltsin also announced that a new Defense Council will be created to implement the decisions of the Security Council, deal with issues of defense security, and supervise military construction projects, Russian media reported on 18 July. Rodionov told Russian Public TV (ORT) that he has "dreamed" that such a council would be formed to give the army "a second wind"; he added that it should oversee all aspects of military reform. In May, Yeltsin promised to phase out conscription and reform the army by the year 2000 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 May 1996). -- Laura Belin

Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who strongly advocated Igor Rodionov's appointment as defense minister, could gain almost "limitless authority" over the power structures under a draft law on a proposed new "Military Council," Kommersant-Daily reported on 18 July. The article, which was published before Yeltsin announced the creation of a Defense Council, reported that Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who also backed Rodionov, has already prepared a draft law under which the president would chair the Military Council. Decisions of the council would be "binding on all ministries and agencies under whose jurisdiction there may be armed forces, other military units, and military agencies." In the president's absence, the Security Council secretary would chair the Military Council. Kommersant-Daily speulated that given the president's "actual capacity to act" and overcrowded work schedule, the power structures and armed forces would consequently fall under Lebed's authority. -- Laura Belin

The most radical figures who supported Gennadii Zyuganov's presidential candidacy apparently will be excluded from a new left-wing umbrella movement to be called the Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR). Working Russia leader Viktor Anpilov, Russian Communist Workers' Party leader Viktor Tyulkin, and Officers' Union head Stanislav Terekhov are not on the NPSR's organizing committee, which is chaired by Nikolai Ryzhkov, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 18 July. Leading figures in the union, which will hold its founding congress on 7 August, include Zyuganov, filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, Russian Public Union leader Sergei Baburin, former presidential candidate Aman Tuleev, Derzhava leader Aleksandr Rutskoi, and the Agrarian Party leaders Mikhail Lapshin and Vasilii Starodubtsev. By excluding outspoken "irreconciliables" and depicting the Communist Party (KPRF) as only one of many groups in the NPSR, organizers hope to appeal to those who oppose Yeltsin but are reluctant to identify with a communist movement. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin's Political Consultative Council (PKS), which is chaired by former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, elected three deputy chairmen at its first meeting on 18 July--Women of Russia leader Yekaterina Lakhova, Party of Russian Unity and Accord leader Sergei Shakhrai, and Forward, Russia! leader Boris Fedorov, ITAR-TASS reported. The PKS will have 12 chambers similar to the Duma's committees, NTV reported. The presidential order creating the PKS called for members of all 43 parties that participated in the Duma election to join, but nine have refused, including the Communist Party and Yabloko. Vladimir Zhirinovsky participated in the session but later described it as an "ersatz parliament." Yabloko's Viktor Sheinis said the purpose of the PKS is merely to oppose the work of the Duma. -- Robert Orttung

The Duma has adopted a law on elections to regional legislative assemblies, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 18 July. The law stipulates that elections must be held within three months of the end of the outgoing legislature's term, although the assembly can set the exact date for the vote. The Duma turned down a Federation Council proposal that would have granted legitimacy to all those regional legislatures that had been elected in 1993 for two-year terms but later extended their terms in office by another two years. According to the law, such regional legislative assemblies must hold elections by December this year, Segodnya reported. The Duma confirmed that by the end of the year, regional elections must be held in all federation subjects as well as gubernatorial elections in about 50 regions. -- Anna Paretskaya

Pravda argued in its 18 July edition that Russia and the Muslim world can overcome their difficulties and establish strong political, military, and economic ties. Russia has been discredited in the eyes of Muslim countries, the paper asserted, because of its invasion of Afghanistan, its conduct in Chechnya, and its support for U.S. policies toward Iraq and Libya. Pravda recommended that Russia should work to lift the UN embargoes on Iraq and Libya and work to strengthen economic and military ties with those countries. In return, the Islamic world should understand that attempts to undermine Russian interests in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, and Chechnya will be rebuffed and that they only serve the interests of the mutual enemies of Russia and the Islamic countries. -- Robert Orttung

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 18 July ordered 10,000 tons of diesel oil to be transferred from state reserves to Primore, which has been experiencing severe power cuts because of a non-payments crisis. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko welcomed the decision but warned that the crisis is not over, noting that much more oil will be needed for the winter, Reuters reported. Nazdratenko blames federal ministries for failing to transfer subsidies to the region in a timely fashion to cover the difference in the cost of power production and the price to consumers. He said the Finance Ministry owes the region 900 billion rubles ($175 million). The Fuel and Energy Ministry, in turn, blames the regional authorites for setting electricity prices too low, ORT reported. -- Penny Morvant

The government approved a new privatization program on 18 July, ITAR-TASS, Radio Rossii and NTV reported. The program abandons the quantitative approach to privatization in favor of a case-by-case approach and extends the list of companies that require government permission to be privatized. It expands the privatization rights of regions and local authorities but abolishes privileges granted to companies' employees. The draft introduces a new principle for estimating a company's assets based on their market value on the first day of the quarter preceding the firm's privatization request. The program bars the liquidation of bankrupt companies with a federal equity stake of more than 25%; it also bars the privatization of mineral resources, forests, water, and off-shore resources. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov suggested that the privatization of enterprises dealing with construction and the production and testing of weapons be banned as a threat to national security. -- Natalia Gurushina

Russia's federal budget revenues for the first six months of 1996 totaled 136.3 trillion rubles ($27.7 billion) or 88% of the expected level, expenditures reached 196 trillion rubles or 98% of the planned figure, while the deficit was 42.9 trillion rubles, ITAR-TASS and Finansovye izvestiya reported on 17-18 July, citing First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kadannikov. The government's priority now is to boost tax collection. Although there was some improvement in this area recently (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 July 1996), tax debt to the federal budget increased from 31.5 trillion rubles in January 1996 to 61.3 trillion rubles in June. Resource-rich regions--such as eastern and western Siberia, the Urals, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug--account for about half of the increase. -- Natalia Gurushina

Speaking at the Federation Council's meeting on economic security, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said that the state should play a greater role in economic affairs, NTV and ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. At the same time, he stressed that the Chilean model of economic reform is not suitable for Russia. While calling for maximum regional independence, Lebed said that stricter controls should be imposed on the usage of budgetary funds by local authorities. Lebed pointed out that the question of land ownership is one of the most important aspects of economic security and that he favors private ownership of land. He added, however, that it should be achieved gradually by holding regional referendums. Lebed also called for measures to facilitate weapons exports and encourage the creation of financial-industrial groups on the basis of military enterprises. -- Natalia Gurushina

Representatives of the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition meeting in Turkmenistan have agreed to a ceasefire in the area around Tavil-Dara, according to RFE/RL and Reuters. The Tajik government dropped its requirement that opposition forces in central Tajikistan return to the positions they held prior to February; the new agreement allows both sides' forces to remain in their current positions. Both sides, however, have recently claimed that they are in control of the regional capital, Tavil-Dara. It is unclear which side will be permitted to control the town itself, which is near the only highway linking the capital Dushanbe with the strategic city of Khorog. -- Bruce Pannier

Visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Moahammad and his Kazakhstani counterpart, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, signed three agreements on economic cooperation and friendship in Almaty on 19 July, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. The agreements call for a cooperation memorandum between the National Bank of Kazakhstan and the Malaysian Central Bank Negara as well as the establishement of an air link between Almaty and Kuala Lumpur using Kazakhstan Airways. Mahathir said he supports Kazakhstan's application for membership in the ASEAN. A delegation of businessmen accompanying Mahathir are discussing possible contracts for construction projects in the new Kazakhstani capital Akmola. -- Bhavna Dave

Uzbek customs officials arrested four soldiers from the CIS peacekeeping mission in Tajikistan who were attempting to smuggle weapons into Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. The soldiers had weapons and ammunition worth $5,000 which they were reportedly planning to sell to Chechen separatists. The increase in military weaponry in the region as a result of the Tajik and Afghan crises has been a concern of the Uzbek government. Last week, Uzbek President Islam Karimov called for an arms embargo on Afghanistan, asking the UN Security Council to address the issue, the BBC reported on 17 July. -- Roger Kangas

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov concluded a four-day visit to Iran on 18 July during which he signed an agreement that will allow the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI) to build a 600 km optical fiber cable network through Turkmenistan, Western and Russian media reported. The network will follow up on an earlier TCI project that established an identical cable connecting eastern and western Turkmenistan, Reuters reported. Niyazov and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani also signed agreements on economic cooperation in anticipation of an increase in trade following the opening of the Meshed-Sarakhs rail link in May 1996. The current volume of trade stands at $50 million a year, with the potential value of Iranian projects in Turkmenistan estimated at $250 million. -- Roger Kangas

The National Security Council ordered the government to draft by 1 October a plan aimed at eliminating the country's gray economic market and clearing its huge arrears in welfare and wage payments, Ukrainian agencies reported on 18 July. The resolution was in response to the recent attempted assassination of Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, which is believed to have been related to his efforts to clean up the coal industry. The council also called on the Ukrainian Security Service to begin work on setting up a national anti-terrorism center and proposed stiffer penalties for organized crime and stricter measures against terrorism. Council chairman Volodymyr Horbulin added that the administration was planning to crack down on extremist political parties, especially those with paramilitary formations, that pose a "threat to national security." Among them, Horbulin said, would be the right-wing ultranationalist Ukrainian National Self-Defense Organization. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Democratic lawmakers and activists have warned that the Ukrainian government may use the 18 July attack on Premier Pavlo Lazarenko as an excuse to crack down on its political foes and grab more control of the economy, Ukrainian agencies reported on 18 July. Although he believes the attempted assassination was destabilizing, Democratic Party chief Volodymyr Yavorivsky said some of council's emergency measures "could antagonize the whole world." Instead of cracking down on the gray market, he commented, the government should "give the people more economic freedom." -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Minister of State at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sir Nicholas Bonsor held talks in Tallinn on 18 July with Estonian Premier and Foreign Minister Tiit Vahi, BNS reported. They discussed Estonia's accession to the EU, while Bonsor noted that the British parliament would ratify Estonia's association agreement with the EU in its fall session. Bonsor, who coordinates relations with Central and East European countries, underscored that the door to NATO must be open to all applicants but that these must give something in return. Education Minister Jaak Aaviksoo and Bonsor signed an agreement on cooperation in education, science, and culture. -- Saulius Girnius

A delegation of 11 Taiwanese parliamentary deputies began a four-day visit to Latvia on 16 July to discuss with Saeima deputies the prospects for increasing political and economic cooperation. One member of the Taiwanese delegation, speaking at a press conference on 18 July, suggested that Latvia open a representation in Taiwan because potential investors lack information about the state. The delegation wants to sign an agreement on avoiding double taxation with Latvia because it can be done without government-level relations. Taiwan has such agreements with many Western countries and is currently negotiating similar ones with Germany and Poland. Possible areas of Taiwanese investment are tourism. paper production, forest industry, and telecommunications as well as the planned economic free zone in Liepaja. -- Saulius Girnius

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Hans Blix met with President Algirdas Brazauskas in Vilnius on 17 July to discuss the safety and future of the atomic power plant at Ignalina and the state of the republic's entire energy system, Radio Lithuania reported. In talks with Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevicius the next day, Blix noted that Lithuania resembled France in that it received more than 80% of its electricity from nuclear power. He expressed satisfaction with the current safety situation at the Ignalina plant, which he visited, but added that old-style reactors should be replaced and not merely modernized. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati arrived in Dublin for a one-day visit on 18 July, Polish media reported. Rosati met with Irish Prime Minister John Bruton and Foreign Minister Dick Spring to discuss EU issues. Ireland currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Rosati proposed that East European security be based on three pillars: an expanded NATO, the OSCE, and special relations between NATO and Russia. Meanwhile, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski arrived on a private visit to the U.S to attend the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Kwasniewski was minister for sports during the 1980s. -- Jakub Karpinski

Michal Kovac told RFE/RL's Slovak Service on 17 July that he has pardoned two of his son's former business associates to allow them to testify before German courts. Munich police want to question the two men--along with Kovac's son--in connection with the $2.3 million fraud case involving the Bratislava-based Technopol trade firm. But charges have also been filed against the three men in Slovakia, and Slovak border guards recently confiscated Kovac Jr.'s passport when he tried to travel to Germany. Noting that the Technopol case has been politicized, Kovac told RFE/RL that "it seems that [Slovak authorities] are not interested in a quick conclusion." Kovac decided not to pardon his son for the time being in the hope that his passport will be returned and he will be allowed to travel to Germany. -- Sharon Fisher

Representatives of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 18 July criticized Helmut Kohl's recent statements casting doubt on Slovakia's prospects for EU membership, Narodna obroda reported. Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Dusan Slobodnik stressed that "Kohl is not an expert on Slovakia." Jan Cuper, the HZDS's legal expert, blamed the opposition for Kohl's remarks, adding that "we will be acceptable to Kohl when we raise the privatization activity of German capital to the level of the Czech Republic." Meanwhile, Austrian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Benita Ferrero-Waldner, during a visit to Bratislava on 18 July, stressed that Slovakia's political shortcomings can be corrected within several months if the "political will" exists. She said Vienna holds a "slightly different view" of Slovakia's chances for EU membership from Kohl's. -- Sharon Fisher

The Ministry of Agriculture has banned the import of live animals and animal-derived products from several countries in the Balkans for an indefinite period, Hungarian media reported on 18 July. The ban comes in the wake of the outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. At the same time, customs authorities have begun strict checks on food packages carried by tourists crossing the Ukrainian, Romanian, and Serbian borders. They will confiscate products that are potential carriers of viruses. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

According to a recent police report, corruption among policemen on duty is increasing, Magyar Hirlap reported on 18 July. Policemen often fail to issue receipts or tend to strike bargains when imposing fines for traffic violations. The opposition has repeatedly voiced concern about worsening public security, the growth of black market activities, and mafia operations. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

U. S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke told CNN on 19 July that he has obtained an agreement in Belgrade to remove indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic from Bosnian Serb politics. Following a second and unexpected round of talks between Holbrooke and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic signed a text saying he will withdraw "immediately and permanently [from all] political activities," including public appearances and interviews as well as state and party offices. Holbrooke summed up the agreement with the words that Karadzic's "political career came to an end last night." This opens the way for Robert Frowick, the OSCE's administrator of the 14 September elections, to authorize the participation of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in the vote. Frowick had threatened to ban the SDS from the ballot if it continued to have an indicted war criminal as chairman. -- Patrick Moore

Holbrooke also told CNN on 19 July that he has "no guarantee" that the latest agreement will work. He noted that Karadzic could still exercise considerable power from behind the scenes in a Bosnian version of what he called the "Pol Pot problem." He was referring to the fact that the Cambodian mass murderer withdrew from public life in the late 1970s but continued to control the Khmer Rouge through hidden channels. Holbrooke might have added that the people with whom he talked in Belgrade have made and broken agreements time and again. On the positive side, however, the envoy pointed out that the Serbs are fully aware of the "very serious consequences" they will face if they break their word, which presumably means renewed economic sanctions. He also stated that Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic will soon lead an economic delegation to Belgrade and that this shows that Serbia is serious about its relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina. -- Patrick Moore

Serbs in eastern Slavonia on 18 July sent a letter to the UN Security Council asking the UN mandate in the area to be extended by one year, Nasa Borba reported. The mandate is due to expire in January. The letter cited Croatia's "lack of cooperation" and claimed that Zagreb is seeking to avoid implementing the accord with the Serbs. But Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, meeting on 17 July with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, said that extension of the UN mandate was out of the question. He underscored the importance of holding elections in the area in December and that these elections take place in accordance with Croatian laws and the 1991 census.
-- Daria Sito Sucic

A large fire on 18 July caused serious damage to the buildings of local Croatian radio and television, AFP reported. No one was injured, and the fire was put out within hours. EU officials suspected no foul play behind the incident, but a team is investigating. A book shop and an alternative theater in the same building were also damaged. -- Fabian Schmidt

The Montenegrin Assembly on 18 July passed a law delineating 14 electoral districts for the upcoming ballot in the republic. Before the vote took place, deputies from three opposition parties--the People's Party, the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro, and the Social Democratic Party--walked out in protest, declaring that the division of the country into electoral districts was a ploy on the part of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists to stay in power, Nasa Borba reported on 19 July. The three parties have vowed to unite in a "national salvation coalition" to contest the elections. Meanwhile, Montena-fax reported that the ballot seems likely to take place on 17 November. -- Stan Markotich

A group of unidentified persons detonated a bomb close to the island home of Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, president of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, during the night from 17-18 July, Beta reported. Cicak and his family were spending vacation on Brac. Police said the group employed explosive materials designed for commercial use. The committee issued a statement saying the bomb was an act of intimidation resulting from the intensive campaign against the committee
carried out by the state-controlled media. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Milan Aksentijevic, a former Yugoslav army general, appeared in a Ljubljana district court on 18 July to answer questions about his alleged role in leading troops in campaigns against Slovenia during the 1991 war (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 July 1996). Aksentijevic's hearing is the first of its kind in independent Slovenia's history. STA reported the court would announce its verdict "within 48 hours." -- Stan Markotich

The Romanian authorities were irritated by the warm reception extended to Anne of Bourbon-Parma, former King Michael's spouse, and their eldest daughter, Princess Margaret, during their visit this week to Romania, local media and Reuters reported. President Ion Iliescu told a press conference in Bucharest on 18 July that Romania was a republic and "has no queen." One day earlier, the government issued a statement saying the behavior of local officials during the visit was "in total contravention of the country's constitutional norms." It added that it reserved "the right to sanction, in accordance with the law, those attitudes, which run counter to the status of civil servants." Romanian mayors, however, do not have the status of civil servants. The daily Ziua reported on 18 July that on the last day of their visit, Orthodox Church Patriarch Teoctist in the southern town of Targoviste received the two visitors with ceremonies "reserved for reigning monarchs." -- Michael Shafir

Col. Mikhail Bergman, who was dismissed by former Russian Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev, has been reinstated as commander of the Tiraspol garrison, BASA-Press reported on 18 July. The agency quoted Bergman as saying that Igor Smirnov, "the impostor leader" of the Transdniester breakaway region, "can do no good for the people since he is held in the clutches" of Security Minister Vadim Shevtsov, former OMON head in Latvia. Shevtsov, Bergman added, "will never willingly renounce his powers." -- Michael Shafir

Following debates over the past six years, the parliament on 18 July passed a controversial media law, Bulgarian media reported. The law provides for a National Radio and TV Council to oversee media operations and elect the directors-general of state radio and TV. Seven members will be appointed by the parliament and two each by the president and the government. Political parties, trade unions, religious groups, and non-profit organizations are not permitted to broadcast their own radio and TV programs, but political parties in the parliament will have the right to two monthly nationwide five-minute addresses on state media. TV and radio stations can be run by Bulgarian citizens, legal entities registered in Bulgaria under the commercial law, city councils, universities, or foreign broadcasters meeting the requirements of the new media law. One such requirements is that they incorporate themselves in Bulgaria. -- Stefan Krause

Andrey Lukanov on 18 July was removed as chairman of the board of directors of the Bulgaro-Russian "Topenergy" company, Pari reported. He is to be replaced by Iliya Pavlov, head of Multigroup, the biggest private business conglomerate in Bulgaria. Topenergy was founded in 1995 by Bulgargaz and Russia's Gazprom to coordinate Russian gas supplies to the Balkans. Lukanov is one of the most prominent opponents of Bulgarian Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, and his removal is expected to improve relations between Topenergy and the Bulgarian government. -- Stefan Krause

Lamberto Dini on 18 July urged the Albanian government to repeat May's disputed parliamentary elections, Reuters reported. Dini told his visiting Albanian counterpart, Tritan Shehu, that Italy wanted to see "a fully democratic dynamic in Albanian politics and the opening of a dialogue between the government and opposition." He added that such talks should "set out the political and electoral norms to allow a return to conditions of full democratic and constitutional normality, including the possibility of calling new elections in a reasonably short time." Dini also wanted to send special envoy Luigi Vittorio Ferraris to Albania to help in the process, Koha Jone reported on 19 July. -- Fabian Schmidt

Sali Berisha, following round-table talks with the opposition on 18 July, announced that local elections will take place on one of the last two Sundays in October, Reuters reported. Socialist Party deputy leader Servet Pellumbi confirmed the decision, adding that fair local elections could help restore Albania's tarnished image. The round table will continue to discuss possible changes in the local election law. Zeri i Popullit on 19 July published a list of the Socialist Party's demands with regard to the local elections. Those include a review of the law on local administration, changes in the electoral law, the abolition of the disputed "genocide law," guarantees by police and the secret service not to interfere in the voting process, and sufficient logistical assistance from the OSCE and the Council of Europe in organizing the vote. -- Fabian Schmidt